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East Asian Drama Teens & Young Adult

Checkmate.

That was the first time you and I met. All it took was one more than the starting move, and just like that, I was already gone.

I remember then that I still hadn’t known you by name. You were but an avatar on a computer screen whose existence was as far from me as the sun is from earth. You were there as my first opponent, and the frustration that you hammered into this conceited newbie lingered more than I could admit, but your existence, no matter how apparent it was to me, no matter how close it was for that one moment, was blockaded by the anonymity of a stranger.

Back then, I didn’t know who you were, who anyone was—who I was.

Being alone in a room that reeked of cup ramen and listening to songs from the 80s were all that I could do. For the 5th consecutive year, I had successfully ensnared myself in a 3 meters by 2 meters tatami mat prison cell which I had grown much too accustomed to, the same way a domesticated dog would much rather be kept as a pet than to roam about freely in the frigid evergreen woods of its predecessors.

I kept myself shackled because I was afraid of the outside world, afraid if I was going to survive, afraid of being a burden. Given my inability to do anything useful, it felt to me as if my existence in and of itself was a burden to others. I was never clever, I was never truly passionate about anything. I was a flotsam on stagnant waters reluctant to move, and by that alone, would I not be a dead burden to the world? The fact that I was there stuck in my room by my own volition confirmed me of my suspicions. If that were the case, would it not be better to be a ghost, to be chained to the ocean depths where nobody could see or reach me?

So in my solitude, you became a sole source of excitement. I would play you in chess, and you’d always accept. Was it because you couldn’t beat anyone but myself? Even so, I didn’t mind, our matches had provided me with reprieve.

After three months, we became rivals, though you were always better than me, so perhaps ‘partners’ would be more apt, or perhaps a better analogy would suffice; You the boxer, and I, the punching bag. I’d lose again and again, but even punching bags could swing back from time to time with a force greater than you expected, and when you missed punching them back, the taste of victory would be immense enough to last me a whole day. When I had nothing and did nothing, the smallest of things would be enough to make a day eventful, and our matches, aside from new seasonal flavors of cup noodles in the convenience store, were most definitely the highlight of most of my lonely days.

It was not until a year till we truly grew to know each other. Phone numbers were exchanged and our ties tightened with your face remaining a blank canvas to me.

Unlike me, you were a person whose contact with the outside was not only through a mere glass sliding door—You were there on the streets crossing many paths to work. I watched from above on the sidelines, untouchable and furtive. When looking at the glass to peer at the crossing outside, had my eyes met you before? Maybe, but when you were with everyone else, you simply became one of the countless blank faces, and I couldn’t tell you apart.

You told me of the world outside, of the morning rush in train stations, of the gruelling overtimes, of the pollen allergy you battled bravely through summer, of the soft and granular texture of snow on the northern fringes of the country.

The more tales you told me, the more I thought of the world outside. Of how much changed since the outside and I had last met, of where that enthusiastic kid in me, ready to see the world, had gone away, though I very much knew the city would be far too much with all its incandescent lights and pandemonium, but I wanted to see your face, just yours and yours alone, as though I were trying to confirm that you truly were real and not just a delusion of mine.

And somehow as if the Gods had heard my plight, forgetting that they had already forsaken me, I did. I saw you that day when the ginkgo trees outside had turned yellow, when the air was cool enough that I could cut down air-conditioning costs by simply opening the window without the fear of being frozen still or swimming in my own sweat.

It must have been my lucky day that afternoon since I remembered winning a match against you, and you being the sore loser that you were, mentioned taking a breather and letting some chilly air in whilst pulling out a cigar. That was the moment I first saw you.

Across my room, just a building away across a narrow alley, you were there with your cigar, a trail of smoke waltzing from the tip. Your white uniform which had gone slack quivered in the gentle gusts and the dying sun shone through your greasy hair covering those dark sunken eyes atop those slender cheeks. You took a deep breath and your eyes met my window somberly, but I doubt you could see me at all.

I didn’t recognize it at first, but as I focused my attention on the leaves embellishing my balcony, you returned back behind the curtains, and the message to start was sent. Coincidence? I think not. But I didn’t tell you I knew. Perhaps it was the one road gap between us that allowed me to play you, or were you like me, and it was that too which allowed you to play me? If we knew each other, would you still be willing to play against me, or would you be disgusted by my cowardice the same way that others would?

I’d rather not know then, so I did what I was most especially talented in—staying silent, and I only glanced at your room from time to time half-wishing you’d notice, half-wishing you wouldn’t.

Nevertheless, seeing your face was enough. That would trounce new ramen flavors any season.

When you returned, you played on in that carefree style of yours. Perhaps it was what made you a bad player and I, even worse, but that was exactly what I felt comfortable with. You were not afraid to be foolish, and that gave me hope that perhaps there were others like you out there, others who would be willing to play a game without much of a care whether they lose or win, because no matter how much of a sore loser you were, you’d always return knowing that you’d still have my company, knowing that whatever the scenario, it would always be fun for the both of us, which made it all the more surprising when you did the impossible and stopped coming when winter came.

And when winter came, so did the bleakness it gave off, as where I lived, not a single snowflake would fall from the heavens, leaving the balding trees and desolate streets bare below the dampened sky.

Just as I got to spot you among the crowd, you vanished again. This time, with no more matches, no more messages, with no clues but that room ahead of me, still enclosed by those beige curtains. Had my virus contracted you perhaps? Had you castled yourself in your room the same way I did?

As days came passing, and weeks soon enough, your disappearance embedded worms of doubt wriggling through my mind. I wanted to know what was happening in that room, and I didn’t think it would get as bad as it did.

On that last day of the year, I wondered what exactly ran through your mind. When you stood on the railing wetted by the unexpected rainfall, shoes on the floor, eyes staring blankly at the dark sky shattered by the coruscating fireworks. Your feet and body were trembling, but your face, dead and pale as if ready to accept any outcome.

You thought nobody was watching, but I was there, still as ever watching from afar, wondering my next course of action, wondering if I had any say in it.

I watched you take a deep jittery breath. Clearly, you were afraid. Clearly, you were not ready to die.

I took my phone, and I called you for the first time.

From here, I could hear the ringtone, and I was relieved you hadn't muted me, but the thought soon vaporized into four words repeating in cycles.

Please, pick it up!

Please, pick it up!

My head was cantankerous, but the dead silence outside was numbing, and when you picked it up, you said nothing.

“Wanna play chess?” I asked, but in reply, you muttered silence. I couldn’t tell if the expression you wore on your face was that of horror or relief.

After a bout of silence, you said, “No, I can’t”.

“Why not?”

“Because I’m about to jump.”

“You are? Why?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know why you’re going to jump?”

“Nobody knows anything. I’m just scared of tomorrow. The world has lost its color, does it mean anything at all?”

“I don’t know. I’m no Aristotle, but I have something to ask.”

“What?”

“If I were to stop you from jumping, I want you to try out the new crab ramen from the convenience store with me.”

“What?”

“Did I stutter?”

“Whatever, I couldn’t care less.”

“Catch me, okay?”

“What?”

I went on the balcony and stepped on the railings, still slippery. I knew what I was doing was reckless and stupid, but I did it anyways. I crouched and loaded my plump legs like a spring, my body feeling heavy from the lethargy.

As my heart beat as though a percussion, I sent myself flying above the narrow road. I still remembered looking at your eyes wide open, revealing all four white corners of your eye.

And when you caught me—what a rough landing it was.

But as if it was only natural to me, when our two black marbles met, all I could say was "checkmate".

July 30, 2021 02:43

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06:18 Sep 13, 2021

Woah... kept me hooked till the end!

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