(In which I rest my survival in Life’s cruel game on a flat surface of white and green.)
The second unit of the academy is filled with busy people making do with the very sufficient time left before coming up with a presentation tomorrow. I, together with the other teachers who just came from a pictorial with a student who’s leaving, trotted towards the other aisle to see how the students’ rehearsal was doing when a petite, slim girl wearing a baby pink blouse approached me with widely open arms. I was actually surprised to see her since I thought she was supposed to be in school today. Nevertheless, I received her with equally wide-open arms.
“Hi! How are you?” Emily said.
“I’m fine. Thank you” I said, and followed it up with a cliché that I’ve mastered in this profession. “And you?”
“Yeah, good. Oh! –“
I automatically knew that there’s something juicy she wants to share. Then she began laughing like something’s tickling her and she looked around. She grabbed my arm and led me to my room. The door wasn’t locked and we entered. I leaned on the backrest of my chair and waited for her to speak.
“Tomorrow, “See-You” will have a sports fest. And they’re gonna join.”
“You know, Rain, Joe and…?” she looked at me, waiting for the dreaded name to be mentioned. I did.
She beamed. “Yeah, they’re gonna join the sports fest! Rain, is going to play taekwondo, Joe will be swimming and he will be playing – “
“No. Chess! Walang soccer.” and she laughed heartily.
“Not a bad choice. “ I said, smiling. “He’s good at that. But he said he rocks in soccer. (I remembered him bragging that when I see him play soccer, I’ll be oh so proud.) Were they required?”
“No, they just wanted to join. But I was laughing at him because he wants to play chess. So I told him ‘No one’s gonna watch you. Your game is so boring.’ That’s really funny!”
“Tell him I am.” And we both laughed.
“When was it?”
I nodded and looked at her. The smile from her hearty laugh remained. I refrained from asking more about him and the chess game.
“Oh! Terrible! You know? I have English 1 subject and I thought it’s madali. But no! I’m wrong! It’s mahirap!” she exclaimed, placing the stress on the wrong syllable when she pronounced the last word. She told me stories about how she thinks of me every time she has difficult essay homework and that she should have listened to my lessons more carefully when we’re talking about essay witting. I managed to respond to her inquiries while my heart is sinking. We went out of the room and were welcomed by the gazes of the students who were practicing how to sing Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World”.
I walked slowly to my other room. It seemed like the students are so busy doing their stuff that they don’t mind skipping classes. I sat down on my chair waiting for Jean. I thought for a moment. How long that moment seemed for I have went back to my old safe of memories within that short span of time.
He is good at playing chess. I discovered it when I asked him if he wants to play Scrabble.
“No. I like chess. You like chess?”
“I used to.”
“I want to play chess.”
“I don’t think we have a chessboard here. You should bring yours.”
“I don’t have. In Korea.”
When we finally get a friend to bring her chessboard, we played. Mine was black. And in a matter of six pieces, I lost. Not that he’s an expert for beating me but I don’t have to be an expert to see that he knows how to play. And he plays well. We never had a serious chess match after that. Either I get bored upon arranging the pieces or I give up at the first sign of defeat.
Once, he and his friend Deum had a bet. Chess match. Best of three. We were sitting around a huge rectangular table. Each player has their cheering crowd around them. Or should I say, Deum has his. I was sitting on the neutral corner. He looked at me with sweet, confident eyes.
“Who will win, you think? Me?”
“I think he’s better. We’ll see.”
“Aish! Ok. I’m alone. But I’ll win.” and he flashed a smile. It must be the kind-that-charmed-women-all-over-South-Korea sort of smile which Kaye has been telling me about.
The game ended. He lost and charged the other player of cheating, which Deum responded with “No! Touch move!” and was answered by another “Aish!” and an appealing sideward look at me. “Yeah. Touch move.”
One more “Aish!” was muttered.
The second round ended with a score of 1 – 1. The crowd was dispersed when the bell rang. Everyone was eager to go home. Deum gave him a thumb down. “I was just kind.”
“No! I won!” and he looked at me. “Right?”
“You did now. But it’s a tie. You still have one more game. So who won?” I inquired with a smirk. "No more. Time is finished." Deum responded.
I was facing the empty seat of Jean and I asked myself again. Who won? Come to think of it, everything that happened was like a chess match with crystal pieces. Mine was black. And I cringe when I look at the state of my game. I should have castled. My queen was gone. My rooks were gone. And I’m counting on a Bishop and a Knight, struggling for my pawns to get to other side.