Some games will last forever. Chess, Tina thought, wasn’t one of them. It just didn’t have the staying power of something like Minecraft, Tetris, Candy Crush or the billion variations on the same first-person shooter game which were, a Youtube video had told her, all basically versions of an old game from the early ’90s called Doom.
And that, Tina thought, was the test of a good game. People actually played it for fun.
After the local council had spent money revamping the park, they’d done the sophisticated thing of printing chess boards on some of the tables. And, as she leant against the scuffed checkerboard pattern – stained by the bases of a thousand lager cans and polka-dotted by a hundred little burns- she pulled out her phone and started playing Candy Crush.
A few minutes later, Larry showed up. Although everyone at the office thought that they were an item, they really weren’t. They just each thought that the other was interestingly weird enough to spend their lunch hour with. It certainly beat hearing the same banal conversations for the hundredth time.
As Larry sat opposite, Tina paused her game and reached into the bulky bag that was sitting next to her. She pulled out two plain cardboard boxes and handed one to Larry. He raised an eyebrow. She flashed a smug grin: ‘It’s from the stall across town. Ostrich with red pesto and parmesan. They were having some kind of closing down sale. Apparently, burgers really are more popular here.‘
Larry chuckled: ‘Well played. I can’t believe I didn’t think of that.‘ They ate in silence. She wondered, with a hint of smugness, whether Larry would be able to top this tomorrow.
Like all games, their lunch rota had started out as an ordinary practical thing and then mutated into something beyond all recognition. Every day, they tried to get something more unusual than the last day.
After Larry had almost caused a bio-warfare evacuation at the office by bringing in a spiky, pungent fruit called a durian, they’d had to tone things down a bit. Their new rule was that lunch had to be from within a one-mile radius and cost less than a fiver each. Although it had sapped the fun out of things for a while, they both came to relish the added challenge.
With a smile, Larry finished the sandwich and reached into his laptop bag. He produced a small, rattling sack. Tina laughed and said: ‘That better not be what I think it is.‘
‘That board has been staring me in the face for the past three months. I wanted to try it out.‘ He protested. ‘Plus, if I ever find myself face to face with Old Grim, then I want the practice.‘
‘Old Grim?‘ Tina said, closing her empty sandwich box. ‘I didn’t think that Stevenson played chess. But, it wouldn’t surprise me. I’d bet anything he’s been petitioning head office to allow him to write memos in Latin again.‘
‘No, it’s like a famous old film. Ingmar Bergmann. I haven’t seen it, but there’s that famous clip of the guy playing chess with the Grim Reaper.‘
‘Which proves my point, no-one plays chess any more. I mean, the only reason that Grim wins every time is because everyone else has spent their time playing more interesting games than boring old chess.‘
‘Exactly!‘ Something gleamed in Larry’s eyes ‘Wouldn’t it be great to catch him by surprise?‘
Laughing and shaking her head, Tina watched as Larry poured the pieces onto the table and started setting them out. Surprisingly, this was one of those gothic red and black chess sets. No doubt, she thought, it had been a regretted 3am drunken internet buy and Larry was trying to find some use for it.
After Larry set out the pieces and let Tina be red, they’d started. She’d moved a random pawn forwards. He’d moved a random pawn forwards. After a while, they started knocking each other’s pawns off of the board. This has continued for a few turns until Tina had spotted an opening and sent her bishop zipping across the board at one of Larry’s knights.
Of course, her glee had only lasted a few seconds before Larry had casually nudged his rook sideways and knocked her bishop off the board. Next, Tina had tried to remember the weird L-shaped pattern that knights have to follow before thinking screw it and moving a pawn instead.
With a silent laugh, Larry launched his rook across the board and removed the troublesome knight from Tina’s side. Tina had just rolled her eyes and nudged her rook sideways.
By now, they had become aware that a small crowd had begun to gather at a polite distance. With a showman’s style, Larry obliterated one of Tina’s pawns with his bishop. Raising an eyebrow, he whispered: ‘We’ve got an audience. They’re even cheering. And people say that chess is boring.‘
Tina rolled her eyes and let out a deep sigh. ‘Just listen. They’re jeering, not cheering. We’ll be in every viral video for the next two days. The only people who are actually playing chess on these tables.‘