Pryground

Grandpa was pleased they’d built a new playground in Lucerne. His grandchildren were on the other side of this vast country and he saw them only twice a year. Now he could watch children play daily; it would be something to look forward to.

It was a pretty fancy playground; in his day there would have just been a roundabout, see-saw and swings. This playground had those, but also a complicated climbing frame, something that looked like a maze, and a series of long tunnels. The central features were two artificial hills, one higher than the other, the launch and terminal for a zip-line for children to ride along in a suspended tyre. The red metal fence enclosing the playground had only one entrance, with a hut beside it, manned by a guard.

Everything was privatised these days, maybe even playtime; he wondered if there was an entry charge. “Gooday Sir,” said Grandpa. “What a fabulous playground you have here. Is entry free?”

“Of course it is. We’re not going to charge these angels. What do you think we do – rob children?”

Grandpa didn’t like his choice of words; they were unnecessary, but he smiled just the same. There was no harm in being friendly. He said, “Okay, thank you. Have a good day.”

As he entered the playground, the guard called out, “Wait a minute! Where’s your child?”

“My child is forty-four years old,” said Grandpa. “He’s on the East Coast, rearing my grandchildren.”

“What? You don’t have them with you? No? I’m afraid this playground is for children.” He gave Grandpa a suspicious look. “Adults can enter only as guardians. That’s a strict rule. No unaccompanied adults.”

Grandpa was disappointed. However he accepted that in this paranoid modern world, they needed to keep adults away from children. Because of a few sick individuals, the most natural thing in the world – an old person interacting with a young one, sharing generational wisdom – was forbidden. It was, in a sense, even purer than a parental relationship, which primarily served genetic interest.

Grandpa watched from beyond the red fence. He ate an apple and sucked on mints as he watched children playing. They were sort of enjoying themselves, but things didn’t seem quite right, and it took him a while to notice why.

This playground ran like clockwork; children were moving between attractions in an orderly manner, their moves timed to coincide. What was going on here? Weren’t playgrounds meant to be chaotic places with children running wild? How would their enthusiasm express itself, and their sense of adventure? Their curiosity, feelings and emotions? Why were they behaving in such a strange way? Grandpa was confused and went home.

He thought about it all night, and in the morning returned to the playground. He said to the guard, “I’m with my grandson today; he’s visiting from the east coast; look there he is.” He pointed to a child on the zip-line, and the guard nodded him in.

Grandpa chatted to some children. They all seemed scared. He noticed that within each group one child acted as leader, shepherding other children around. Sometimes quite casually, but at other times they pushed and bullied. Many children wore grazes and bruises, and worse than this, they wore looks of fear, and of pain.

His casual questions and observations revealed that The Authority ran a programme designating superior children as Lifetime Leaders (LL). Their job was to develop their own leadership skills, and via this process, shape other children’s characters to be downtrodden; to become yielding, malleable future citizens.

A Lifetime Leader reported Grandpa to the guard. He was arrested and banned from the playground forever.

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