Afternoon Castling

I met David when I walked past his vibrant store at the Thursday night art market and was tempted by the draw of unusual incense. His appurtenance spilled into the cobblestone street with racks of faded cotton dresses, Moroccan tapestries, woven bags, scrap materials, anything one might need in passing, and indiscriminately displayed pants the likes of any one who makes purchases upon arrival assuming it’s the local garb before realizing the only community they’re meant to fit into is one of gypsies. The style typical of the village is of that of a traditional community where the people match their clothes which match the walls which match the streets which match the outdoors – pastel tints, natural hues, earth tones, a town camouflaged into the mountainside.

David is a bit shorter and more slender than me, perhaps in his mid 50’s, though you wouldn’t know by how much of his natural hair color still overwhelms the few salt and peppers interspersed in his curls. His posture is perfect, a quality I quite admire when noticed, and his eyes are so blue that the sun reflects the immediate color onto his eyelashes.

He speaks perfect English, except for an occasional word swap such as “I learn (teach) you so many things,” which I still find endlessly entertaining, and choose not to correct for hope that he might do it again to my childlike delight. At our initial parting he takes a handful of the incense I was hounding and slips it into my bag, hovering his forefinger vertically over his lips.

I’ve returned every day to see David and we sit at the restaurant not 10 meters away to keep watch, drink orange juice before the bees sunbath in it’s sugar, and play chess – I still have yet to win. His moves are made with the confidence of a man who knows he’s been playing, and playing well, for 40 years, and though he laughs and shakes his head in disapproval when I make a poor move, sometimes even making me take it back and try again, he nods his head in affirmation when I shift a piece that makes him think, but never for long.

Sometimes the coffee vendor, Sebastian, will sit next to me and calculate my moves beforehand, and sometimes the bar owner, Abdul, will hover over the table with his arms folded assessing the progress, faking a smile when wandering tourists interrupt his concentration to ask for a bathroom. Sometimes we use a clock, punching in and out of every move, but I tend to squander my limited time early on, and David always looks away as he reaches over to reset it in my favor. Sometimes I tell him to go first, but when he does, he insists on shifting the board so that he has the white pieces. You can tell Chess has shaped him, and he’s committed to the rules it prescribes – “white always goes first,” “ when castling you have to touch the king before the rook,” “en passant only works in certain passing captures.”

Yesterday was busy in the store he now has me working in when he decides to stay home, so he stood after every move to tend to the shop. He’s taught me to expand outward from the middle with my pieces, and after a grueling 30 minutes scampering untouched around one another’s players, he urged one pawn forward, commenting “this is going to be the explosion,” before returning to the shop. I made the move I knew would cause mayhem on the table and stood to head home, shouting “to be continued!” over my shoulder.


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