Memory is a bitch. Each time one dives in, one finds strange new wounds.
I used to see him whenever I used to wait there to catch a bus. He used to sit underneath that flyover, playing chess with random strangers in the evening.
A dark-bearded guy with male pattern baldness, almost fifty. Wearing dirty yellow checks and navy blue pants every Wednesday. His sleeves folded to his elbows. Sandals, instead of shoes. Paying little attention to the game – watching people speed by.
His frayed cheap chessboard compensated the lost plastic white queen with a black pebble. He lost regularly, I suppose – his opponents never returned. At six, all the king’s men would troop to their doom, jumping into the dark crevice that was his office bag – but the pebble – that went to his left pocket.
He didn’t have to look at his watch. He would look around, pick up his belongings, and disappear into the crowd. He wasn’t handsome enough to be missed.
It was raining that day, when I shook my umbrella dry, and sat beside him unknowingly.
“Chess?” he asked. It sounded like chase, his tone dripping with the local accent.
Startled, I looked around.
Embarrassed at my uncomfortable silence, he looked down and started placing his pawns in position.
“Harle kintu kalo pathorta amar!” (If you lose, then the black rock is mine!) I joked to break the tension, not knowing why I said that.
“Besh”, (Okay), he groaned.
I always thought myself to be good at this game, and so it went.
By the 11th move, I had scalped the bishop.
Both rooks, dead by the 18th.
He seemed unperturbed by the massacre that I was causing – watching the raindrops making puddles on the road.
I was winning! My bishop, rooks and queen were still on the battlefield, and I had cornered his struggling army, and then something very strange happened.
He looked at me.
“Bhalobashai bishaash koro?” (Do you believe in love?), he asked in his deep calm baritone.
“Maney?” (What do you mean?), I muttered incongruously.
“Pawa, bujhle. Jete dite parbona.” (It is given, please understand. I can’t let it go), he said, cryptically.
By the 22nd move, he had lost the black rock.
But then, I was checkmate too.
It was past six. He packed up hurriedly. With an awkward smile, he picked the pebble up. It seemed to shine in his lifeless eyes. I felt myself waiting for the ‘my precious’ line. He shoved it inside his pocket.
“Chinte parbena naholey, bujhle khoka?” (Wouldn’t recognize me otherwise, kid), a hop, skip, jump later, he vanished.
To each his own, they say. The collector of souvenirs trudged back home, with a heavy pocket, but perhaps a heavier heart. I sat there, dumbstruck, waiting for the rain to stop.
~ Sushir Rahaman | Edited by Nandini