I’m lying flat on my back on our living room floor. The lights are off and the room is dark. Apparently I’ve been killed, but I don’t know who killed me.
We’re playing Mafia. It’s a Saturday night. By now, countless Goldfish crumbs and bits of Oreo cookies from our carpet are probably clinging onto the exposed parts of my scalp and the dried ends of my hair. But I suppose I shouldn’t really be worrying about that. After all, I’ve just been killed by the Mafia.
Someone’s foot brushes against my shoulder, and a few moments later, the lights turn on and they gather on the carpet. They sit criss-cross applesauce like we used to sit when we were in kindergarten, ready to catch the Mafia. He rests his elbows on his knees, and looks in her direction, raising his eyebrows. It seems to me like he’s awfully quick to accuse her. But the rules say that once you’re dead, you can’t speak. So I stay silent. She tries to defend herself, laughing as she explains that she couldn’t possibly be the Mafia. He doesn’t believe her. His eyes get smaller and he turns to look at the rest of the group. They furrow their brows and scrunch up their noses, looking into each other’s faces as they try to decide who’s lying and who’s telling the truth.
Generally, I think humans are quite complicated, perhaps the most complicated species to ever exist. They talk, but oftentimes, they don’t mean what they say. They act, but sometimes, they don’t know what they’re doing. They think, but usually, they don’t tell anyone what they’re thinking. Understanding another person is practically impossible. We’re all just too complicated. But tonight, as I sit criss-cross applesauce with my college friends in the living room of our apartment, it feels oddly simple. Tonight, we’re just little kids playing pretend. I almost wonder if we ever really grew up to begin with.
Because when the music turns on, Sarah dances in the middle of the kitchen like she wouldn’t care if the whole world was watching. And while we order dinner, Chris stays slouching on the sofa, fingers moving rapidly and eyes glued to his phone screen, watching his avatar run through fantasy lands and swim through sparkling oceans. And when Agastya’s stomach starts to grumble, he pulls open the refrigerator door and grabs a strawberry Danimals smoothie bottle — covered in a gigantic cartoon monkey, expertly marketed to all those animal-loving 5-year-olds and all the not-particularly-animal-loving, sleep-deprived, yet somehow still-energized 18-year-olds. And as they all sit on the living room carpet, they squint their eyes and scrunch up their noses and furrow their brows as if the only thing they care about is catching this Mafia.
For a moment, it almost feels like we’ve forgotten about all the things we have to do tomorrow. Lab reports and research meetings and problem sets and lunch dates and laundry. Well the laundry can probably wait until next week. Maybe even two weeks from now, though that might be pushing it.
Regardless, we try not to think too hard about tomorrow because tonight, we’re all just little kids playing pretend. Tonight, I’d like to think that I never really grew up to begin with. Because somehow, I am still that same little girl from back when everything was so much simpler — that girl who screams at the sight of needles and believes in lucky rocks and pukes at the thought of airplanes and chooses chocolate over all else. Perhaps we don’t really have to be so complicated after all. Perhaps we’re only complicated because we make ourselves complicated.
We talk in code words, dropping ever-so-subtle flirty hints and quietly mumbling passive-aggressive phrases, never really saying what we mean because we don’t want to seem too direct or too straightforward. God forbid we sound desperate. We leave snarky comments and strange emojis on social media, expecting that our crush or our ex-best friend or our now-worst enemy will know why we’re so upset. We act cold and distant because we want them to notice. We want them to care. Never once do we consider that they might just not understand. They might have a billion other things running through their minds — things that we may never even know about. They might be hoping for something simple.
Because, in a world where we have to act so grown-up, I think that sometimes, we all want something simple. Sometimes, we all want to feel like we’re little kids again, little kids just playing pretend, little kids before everything got so complicated.
The lights turn off and the game goes on, and I stay lying on our living room floor, playing dead and listening to the sound of their footsteps as they race through the hallways. They hide in the bathrooms and lock the doors, trying to get away from the Mafia, following each other as they shuffle through the darkness. I stay staring up at the ceiling, thinking about the fact that a year ago, we didn’t even know each other. A year ago, we were thousands of miles apart — Spain and India and Texas and Virginia and Illinois and Connecticut. A year ago, I didn’t even know that these people existed. But now, we’re here, running through the same hallway, sitting criss-cross applesauce and looking into each other’s faces, trying to catch the Mafia. I want to believe that I’ve known them forever because it feels like I should’ve known them forever. But I guess even the best of friends were once just strangers. I guess even the people who once seemed so complicated are now the people who make life feel so simple.
Their footsteps get quiet as they find places to hide away from the Mafia, and I stay lying on my back as the Goldfish crumbs rub against my head, thinking about the fact that alone, each of us is quite complicated. We all have our own to-do lists running through our heads, our own problems we want to solve, our own things we want to do and things we wish we could undo. But together, we’re not so complicated. Tonight, I’d like to think that the world is not so complicated. Perhaps it’s just a bunch of little kids playing pretend.
Rafaela Kottou | firstname.lastname@example.org