When we got out of the car and stood in the parking lot, Eva and I discovered we were Woodlanders.
“Across the field,” said a big lady.
I heard the word “bye” sprinkled around me like rainfall and I said my own bye – “See you in a week!” said my mother. I could see my sisters in the car, their faces at the window. I turned and followed my cousin across the field.
When we found the Woodlanders section Eva and I walked up the wooden steps of the first platform tent. I chose the cot next to the front tent flaps and Eva took the one close to mine.
Then we heard a rough shout and a whistle. We stopped talking and looked out of the tent. It was the big lady, and she wanted everyone to sit in front of her. She stood with her hands on her hips in a brown T-shirt and dirty jeans and she did not smile. I thought of my mother’s red and white tank top.
We sat cross-legged in the dirt in front of the big lady and she told us her name was Molga.
My cousin laughed.
Molga knew who laughed and held her stare on Eva. I giggled and knew my giggle was wrong. We watched as Molga’s arm raised in the air like a tree branch as she bent down toward Eva, and before I realized what was happening she slapped my cousin’s leg. She said a story about being good and I felt badly for my cousin and scared for me so I stayed quiet.
Soon we walked in a line to the lake in our one-pieces and learned from the swim counselor that the lake had fresh water sharks. I stayed by the edge until someone made me jump in for a swim test. I looked for sharks as I swam, panicking, and wanted to go home.
At bedtime we laughed with the girls in our tent about Molga and imitated her voice and pretended we were Frankenstein. But as the silliness of lights-out turned into dark, a true dark with no access to a kitchen light, the night became a hovering presence outside our tent. Serious questions about Molga began. We tied our tent flaps together and took out flashlights. When animal screams came from the woods we leapt near each other next to Eva’s cot, the dark now owning the tent we were to sleep in and our thoughts reflected the primitive shift – “maybe she’s a woods witch.”
Eva separated a space between the tent flaps and called the name in a spooky way…
We giggled, then crawled under our blankets. I hid my face underneath and held my flashlight.
The next morning I took out my toothbrush and sat on the edge of my cot. I watched Molga at the group sink. Her arm muscles looked like chopped wood. She did not brush her teeth dainty. I realized we had not seen Molga laugh or teach but maneuver around as if she lived in the woods with the screaming animals and did not know people.
“Are you going to brush your teeth?” asked Eva.
“No,” I said.
“Let’s leave now to eat,” said Eva, and walked down the tent’s steps.
“Shouldn’t we wait for Molga?”
My cousin started talking to a tentmate so I followed.
Eva led us through the woods instead of the path. We pushed back branches and crunched on dry leaves, the woods leaving small traces of itself in our hair and scratches on our skin. When we found the food building we ignored the Woodlanders and sat together in the corner. Between us was a nuance of survival, and it replaced our giggles.
A serious lady in a green blouse came over to us, hesitating. “Where’s your counselor?”
“We don’t know,” said Eva. The rest of us stayed silent and watched Eva.
Eva stood and announced she was getting food. We followed.
While we ate, I was quiet, hungry, but then a girl in our group broke the silence. Her open-faced peanut butter sandwich landed in the middle of our table and we laughed. It was funny! Then in a single movement we each grabbed the food on our plates and threw it at each other. Food went everywhere. On the table, in our hair, on the floor, and we laughed and laughed and laughed!
We were stopped as fast as we started and we couldn’t go swimming (who cared). We were given brooms and washcloths and we were to clean the mess. The adults were stern and angry, circling us like wolves as we cleaned. I was still hungry.
As we walked back to our tent, I lagged far behind. I was upset we had gotten into such big trouble. It made me want home more than ever. I hurried back to our tent and saw Eva sweeping the top step, and Molga walking over to her, slowly. I stopped. Other girls did, too.
Molga paused at the bottom of the steps and stared up at Eva. Her hands were in her jean pockets with her elbows sticking out.
Eva continued sweeping.
Molga said something. She placed one boot on the bottom step but in a single movement, Eva swept her pile straight into Molga’s face.
That night, in our tent, we started to get ready for bed. We now had chores amongst ourselves. I went to the rolled-up tent flaps in the back and started to untie them. Did I see rice krispees in the rolled-up flaps? As the roll unfurled a loud waterfall of black ants fell from the roll like hard rain on the tent floor. I screamed. We all screamed.
“Eva!” I screamed.
Big black ants scattered like marbles. The ants crunched under our feet. It was sickening. We pushed and swept and kicked the ants off the platform and back into the woods. We kept screaming as we worked. I don’t know how long it took.
We got rid of the ants by ourselves.