I used to dream. I once had grand dreams of becoming a world-renowned chess player. What happened to them? Perhaps these aspirations have been eroded by the march of time. I once stared at the 2 x 2.5 inches board and its 32 pieces with the utmost fascination and curiosity. What happened to my love? Perhaps maturity and songs from chirping birds have forced me into committing adultery towards my past endeavor.
As I stood in the vast sea of moving people, I felt like an insignificant fish in a swarm of fish. With the bright, neon signs blazing around me, I felt like I was onstage as a background dancer, whose sole job is to make someone else shine. When the salesmen, the fishmongers, and the greengrocers called out their products and prices, I felt like I was stripped of my identity in the nameless, infinite expanse of customers they advertise to.
Is this what it felt like to be the 95%? Working a nine to five workday trapped in an office and constantly looking forward to the two days in the weekend to relax and waste time on fruitless pursuits? Am I a failure as a twenty-five-year-old average office worker?
“Hey, hey, wake up! What’s gotten into you? We’re in the middle of a super busy street and you’re frozen, daydreaming?” Forced back into reality by a co-worker, I quickly hurried home- the compact apartment that I call my own. Tired and exhausted after a day of torturous work, I drifted into my thoughts.
Huh? Where am I? I found myself standing up in the middle of what seemed to be an attic. The bright, glorious sun rays penetrating through a small, singular window on the roof illuminated the dark room. There were a few bookshelves holding a plethora of huge trophies and books filled with… what? I walked closer to examine the small print. Woah, this is Herman Groot’s “Chess Strategy for Club Players.” I remembered that I haven’t seen this for- for at least 17 years! I continued to explore the spacious attic, when my eyes fell upon a tall and what seemed to be a brand-new mirror in the corner. What do I look like? I marched forward.
As I admired myself through the mirror, I discovered a young, energetic 5-foot-8 teenager. Wow, this must have been when I was around 10 or 11 years old. My luscious black hair was trimmed into a low fade and gelled with extreme precision, while I donned a black Champion hoodie and Nike shorts. While I looked like I was full of excitement, a closer examination revealed dark, serious eyes, the kind of eyes that were always in thought, the kind that was always strategizing, thinking about the next move.
I heard faint laughter coming from below me. The smell of freshly baked cookies entered my nose and tantalized me. As I crept down the stairs leading to the downstairs, I stumbled upon… myself? A carbon copy of me was playing chess with- with my grandfather? But that couldn’t be- he died years ago. What is this? I continued to observe.
“Yes! Yeye I’m gonna win! You’re going to lose for the first time ever!” the young version of me cried out. “I ate so much of your pieces, now there’s only a few pieces left. Prepare to be defeated!” he cried out.
“Come on Julius, I wouldn’t be so sure” Grandfather laughed.
I suddenly remembered the lesson when Grandfather taught me perseverance in chess. Having more pieces or better positioning simply meant having a challenge. Not losing.
“What? What do you mean?”
“Don’t worry about it. Let’s continue.”
As I continued to observe the match, I slowly saw my doppelganger’s pieces fall, one by one. Soon, it was either a stalemate or checkmate in Grandfather’s favor.
“But- but how? How is this even possible?” an exasperated Julius threw his hands up in defeat.
“Well, Julius, son, you left your guard down when you thought you were going to win. Chess is a war of attrition and a battle of wits and perseverance. When you grow up and compete in the big leagues, remember this well.
“Yeah! I’ll be just like you, and I’ll bring home lots and lots of big trophies!”
I laughed. My grandfather always loved teaching me chess. At least- at least before what happened. Suddenly, my world turned dark.
I was yanked out of the darkness and into a bathroom stall. As I stepped out of the stall, I admired the cleanliness of the bathroom and how nice it smelled. I looked down at myself and saw that I was wearing a nicely ironed white dress shirt, dark pants, and dress shoes. I wonder when this was; I certainly didn’t often dress so formally nor did I usually go to such a fancy bathroom. As I peered at my surroundings, I noticed a broken mirror near the bathroom door. Filled with intrigue, I cautiously advanced forward. The mirror above the shiny quartz sink was cracked in every corner. Inside the mirror, I saw a deformed and distorted image of myself. My black hair was unkempt and disheveled, my black eyes seemed unclear and wandering, and my classy clothes were unrecognizable in the dilapidated mirror. My thoughts interrupted by the screaming and running coming from outside the bathroom door and in response, I opened the door to scan the outside.
“Stop! Julius, I- please stop!” Grandfather yelled desperately as he chased Julius across the hallway.
“Screw this crap, I’m done with chess!” Julius replied, and kept running.
I suddenly remembered. Why I was here. Why Julius was here. Why I was in such a big-shot place and dressed nicely. And what happened? I finally made it to the state championships for chess, as the youngest ever competitor at the age of 14. I recalled losing in the final match when it was down to the wire because I ran out of time. I was frustrated beyond imagination. I trained for hundreds and thousands of hours- problems, games, puzzles- just to lose to time. I lost the most important war- the war of perseverance. Parallel to my loss, I lost the war with my parents; my parents wanted me to pursue a more conventional career in life. If I had won this tournament, I would have been accepted. I had one shot, and I missed it.
I followed Julius and my grandfather, as their chase went down the stairs and finally, to the streets. It was a rainy day. The rain battered on the passing cars, and each pedestrian was armed to the teeth with umbrellas and warm clothing.
“Julius, look, it's not the end. You can win next time! I’ll speak to your mom and dad; don’t do anything dumb!”
“No. No, no, no, no. I’m done. I can’t. I- I’m done.” Julius took one look back and ran across the street amid the speeding cars.
The next scene played out like a stunt in an action film. Perfectly timed, precise, and in slow motion. A car couldn’t brake fast enough in the rain for my elderly grandfather. He was sprawled on the street, unmoving, and expressionless.
Once again, I was whisked away into another one of my memories. This time, I was sitting in the back of a black limo. I was dressed in all black, while my parents sat in the middle seats. As I glanced at the window, I saw my reflection- or lack thereof. The window was misty and murky.
“Julius. It's time to plan the rest of your life.” my mother expressed emotionlessly in the car.
“Not now, please. Whatever,” Julius replied in defeat. He realized that without his grandfather, his chess dream was gone. Vanished in thin air. It didn’t matter much anyway, he guessed. He was growing up and having dreams of being a professional board game player was just immature.
The rest of the day was a blur.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. The sound of my alarm woke me up. As I snoozed it, I threw away the thoughts from my dream and resumed my monotonous morning routine. I brushed my teeth, washed up, and cleaned up my face. I looked bored. Mundane. Old. The spark of competition and winning and defeating strategies was gone from my eyes. My hair remained disheveled. Honestly, I didn’t care much for it anymore. I suppose I used to dream.
As I went to the kitchen to make breakfast, a strange light invaded the table. The sudden blinding flash of light knocked me out of my conscience.
I was greeted by the smell of freshly baked cookies. The warm, yet not dominating, rays of the sun hit my skin and provided a coat for me. When I opened my eyes, I witnessed heavenly lights all around me and it felt as if I was on clouds; I felt as light as a feather. As I gazed down, I saw a table full of delicious breakfast dishes and a man on the opposite side. It was my grandfather. I quickly rubbed my eyes and looked again. Nothing changed.
“Yeye? Is that you? What- where is this place?”
“Shhhhh. Take in the moment; smell the cookies, feel the sun, and eat the food.”
“Ye- yeah, but what are you doing here?”
“Have you ever heard of the Chinese folk story of The Cow herder and the Weaver Girl?”
“No. Not really. My parents never taught me a lot of Chinese stuff? But never mind that. How-“
“The love between the cow herder and the weaver girl was forbidden. Yet, they rebelled and their romance flourished. As punishment, they were banished to opposite sides of the Milky Way, never allowed to be with each other again.” Grandfather chuckled. “You’d think that something divine like this would separate them?” He smirked. “Think again. Each year, magpies would use their bodies to build a bridge so the two lovers would reunite for a day.”
“Wow, that’s pretty interesting. But what’s the point?”
“Aside from all opposition- reasoning, time, and divine intervention- the cow herder and the weaver girl were determined to be with each other. They had a love like a child. Not time, nor anyone could stop them.”
“Grandfather, what are you saying? Are you even real? Wha- what is going on?”
“Unfortunately, I do not have much time here anymore. But I’ll leave you with this.” He pulled out a golden chess board with silver and gold-plated pieces from thin air. “You did so well at protecting your king from your opponents. Now, it is time to protect your dreams from everything else.”
With that, grandfather vanished. I was back in my kitchen. It seemed as though nothing had happened- nothing was out of the ordinary, and nothing changed.
Things have been strange lately. Drifting into old memories, reliving past traumas, and having visions of my late grandfather. Maybe I need a psychologist. I shook my head in disbelief and prepared to leave for work.
As a grabbed my keys from my closet, the corner of my eye spotted a mirror. And a…. a what? Is that a golden chess board? With golden and silver pieces? I don’t remember having a chess set in this house.
The recent events began to flood into my head: my ambition to reach the top, my hope to make my grandfather proud, and my dream to pursue a chess career. Perhaps this time, I won’t fail to protect the king. Either way, I won’t know until I tried. When I glanced at the mirror, something caught my eye. I could see myself. Not deformed or hidden. But I could see my entire self. I looked sharp once again. The twinkle in my eyes which housed constant thinking and insatiable ambition returned.
About the author
Sometimes I wish I had the power to control the seas like Percy, call upon the name of the wind like Kvothe, or be as inspiring as Kelsier. But then I remember that we hold an even greater power: the power to create.