To a child a playground is a wonderland. To a teen a playground is a place of past memories. To an adult a playground is a place to bring the kids. But to me? A playground is my life.
I am Maya and this is my story. I am fifteen and I live in a playground. Not a metaphorical playground, full of ups and downs and adventures but a real playground with slides and climbing bars. I'm not homeless sleeping in a little tunnel in the local playground or the daughter of the people who own the largest indoor playground in North America, I am simply me. Maya. The girl who disappeared.
I haven't seen my real parents for years and years. When I was just a small child I was taken, spirited away from a regular, average existence and thrust into something different, something unknown. There was no plan to my kidnapping that anyone could ever see. They didn't steal me because they wanted a child, or because they wanted ransom money. It wasn't because they wanted some little kid to torture or maim. It wasn't for fun. Only now am I beginning to realize what may be the truth.
My life in the playground began at age four. I wasn't the only person there, within the confines of the abandoned-mall-turned-playground. No, I was the third. Lucky number three. The first child, Desmond, has been a resident here since birth and is three years older than me. Rumour goes that he is the son of one of the "captors". The second child, Miguel, has also been here since he was born and is two years older than me. I was the first girl. After me came many others, none older than six when they first entered.
We have never met the captors. Not ever. Not even when one of us falls from the highest bars and crashes to the ground. An invasion of sleeping gas and awakening to whatever bones have been broken having been set and cast is the only clue we get. We know they watch us. We see the cameras and the mirrors that are not mirrors. We feel their eyes. Our food is delivered to us by a conveyor belt three times a day at exactly 7, 12 and 6.
Escape is out of the question. Why would we anyway? We have food, shelter, a family of sorts. It is all we have ever known. Those of us who might consider it also believe that one day we will be let free into the world. Some of us even doubt there is a world beyond the walls. We have only vague recollections of one and not even anything from books. We know how to read because of The Voice which resides in one wall and teaches us occasionally, but the only books we have are what they call "fantasy".
Half asleep in my hammock, one leg hanging over the edge, my foot dangling, the sounds of birds filters through the bars and ropes to my ears. I've never seen a real bird, at least not that I can remember, but the captors like us to hear soothing sounds in the morning as our wake up call. Sometimes it's the sound of water, wind or waves but more often than not, it's birds.
Today is May 28th, whatever meaning that may hold in the outside world is lost on us, but more importantly, it is exactly four months since the last arrival.
The captors have settled into a routine lately and every four months, a new child joins us. There used to be no schedule to it but for some unknown reason nowadays the new arrivals are regular. More importantly about today, this is the last. The very final arrival. The newest child will enter today and then no more. Life will go on as usual.
"Hey, Maya. You awake?"
I let my eyelid flutter to show Des just how awake I am and he chuckles.
"Good enough. I've got news."
I twitch my finger at him to go ahead.