"Come play with me," he beckoned from a park bench. He had careless hair and a crooked smile. He had one of those old-time chess boards in front of him with all the pieces lined up for a duel. His words wound up the key to my heart. Like a wind-up toy, my gears buzzed with life anew. I didn't stand a chance.
I was lost and ripe for an epiphany. I looked around to make sure he was talking to me. He welcomed me with a smile and motioned for me to sit. I sat across him, my messenger bag sliding from my shoulder to the grass. A few strands of hair covered his eyes as he aligned his pawns across an imaginary line.
"Do you know how to play?" he asked.
"A little, I guess." I lied. I was the class champion in my senior year but I'd gotten rusty throughout the years. "What are we playing for?"
"Oh! A gambling man, I see. Well, what do you think?"
"We can play for quarters. Let's keep it friendly?"
He ran his fingers through his hair, brushing it away from his forehead. He surveyed the pieces carefully, weighing the pros and cons of his battle with a stranger. He looked up, a quiet flame in his eyes and asked me, "Why don't we play for love?"
He explained that chess was a lot like love. All the while, his long, graceful fingers danced across the board with ease. Within a few moves, he'd captured a bishop and one of my knights. I barely escaped with his rook and a pawn.
His queen did most of his bidding, a dangerous but effective way to play. "The queen is like the mind," he told me. "She can move any number of squares and in any direction. She does what she wants. She temps, she taunts, but most of all, she can seize." His queen moved closer towards my pieces as it devoured my last bishop.
"Your mind is very powerful then." I surveyed the board and saw he was winning.
"The king," he continued. "is your heart. You must protect it at all costs. The whole ship could go down but you must keep him locked away." With one move, he had his queen at a straight angle to my king. "Check."
I quickly moved my king out of harm's way. This boy was a hustler and he had both my heart and curiosity piqued.
"And what about you? Has anyone claimed your king?" I asked. I began a relay to capture his queen, my knight setting up a trap on the northeast corner of the board.
"There'll be no talk of that," he said, his crooked smile on full display. "Don't ask questions you can't afford the answers to."
"So you've got a boyfriend. I've got one too. We're just playing chess."
He looked me straight in the eye and for a second, I could see a glimmer of a little boy drowning in those dark brown pools. Help me, he cried out. In my chest, I could feel the weight of a million promises starting to break.
We had major casualties on both sides of the board. Towards the end, he was left with a pawn, a knight, a queen, and his king. I had a rook, two pawns, my king but no queen. He'd captured my literal and metaphorical mind in five swift moves. We both knew the game was coming to an end. The gears of my wind-up were slowing and tiring as each second ticked by.
"See this is why you have to be careful," he warned me. "You have to stay alert and keep thinking. Otherwise, you'd be left with your heart out in the open." He tapped my king lightly, his touch rocking the piece gently on its felt base. His words started to sound more calculated, his tone growing colder by the minute.
"Maybe I wanted it this way. Maybe love is about abandoning logic for the sentimental. About throwing caution to the wind, devil may care."
"But no one wins by being careless. It takes skill, not luck, to be victorious."
"In chess, maybe. But in love?" His eyes were transfixed on the board, calculating each and every step. I wanted to reach down into his heart, wondering who could have damaged it so severely that one would have to press an ear to it to hear its mellow ticking.
"There's got to be some merit to keeping your head in the game," he said. "No one's ever died from a broken mind but many have fallen with a broken heart."
"So you'd rather think about love than just feel it? I don't think you can call that love."
"What do you call that then?"
"I don't know." I told him. "The name escapes me now but I know that's not love."
In the end, his queen took my last rook in three moves. My heart, defenseless, was suddenly his for the taking. Within seconds, the game was over. Checkmate. He shook my hand and congratulated me on a game well played.
"You said you only played a little. I think you lied." His voice sounded cocky but his face betrayed a tenderness that lay beneath.
"Well you said we were playing for love. Were you lying, too?"
"I don't know."
"Well now you have my love. What are you going to do with it?"
He shrugged and shook his head. We sat there in silence for a moment then he got up and placed all the pieces clumsily back into the box. Soon, imaginary appointments were made as we both rushed to opposite sides of the world. It was too late when I noticed that a lonely chessman had wandered into my bag. I reached in for it, the crown digging hollow pits into my palm.
It was his heart.
I don't think you can call that love, I told him and so he asked me for its name. It escaped me then but as soon as his figure left my horizon, the words came rushing into me like a wayward breeze. It was Self-Preservation.
I still keep that wandering piece with me, a prayer that one day we'll meet again. The grinding gears in my wind-up spin one last time as it slows to a halt. In my mind's eye, I still see him on that dusty park bench – careless hair, crooked smile, chessmen ready for battle. Come play with me, he'd beckon and these four little words would wind me up once again.
♫: Vanessa Carlton | Pretty Baby (2002)
- Mugen's Minsan Lang Ikaw Bata
- LoF's The Wind-Up, A Challenge
- Dindin Magada's Cheese Stick Pesto or Classic Pandesal
- red the mod's (re)wind-up
- NOX's Wind-Up
- the geek's wind-up
- Atty. Mico's The Last Trip To Yokohama
- citybuoy's on the games we play
- boyinwolfsclothing's Never surrender
- Désolé Boy's Randy
- Aris' De-Susi
- The Angel's denouement
- One Spoony Bard's on tenses