With the Christmas rush in in its final frenzy, and few parking spaces, getting into the shopping mall took quite a while.
I’d hoped for a quick shopping raid, but as soon I entered the expansive lobby I was blocked by a dense circle of people who seemed oblivious to the industrial-strength retailing that was pulsating around them. They were all trying to see over or around anyone blocking their view, so I hoped they weren’t ghoulishly surrounding a victim of violence or illness.
I could hear strange sounds in there, but then noises from overhead caught my attention.
Glancing up, I noticed people pressing against the mezzanine level railing. They were calling to those around them and - like many of those on the escalators - pointing down to whatever had attracted the quietly jostling mass in my foreground.
All the movement made it surprisingly easy for me to find gaps to slip through to the front, and I soon found why so much scraping and thumping had been emanating from within this doughnut of humanity.
There, with spectators overhead and all around them, two teams of young people were energetically competing in a game of chess.
“Energetically competing” may seem a strange description, as might the number of spectators. Yet energy is mandatory to the action on a thirty-feet-square chessboard; and life-size sculpted plastic chessmen surely carry a strong first impression.
Two players were required to shift each pawn; and three to reposition the larger castles, knights, bishops, queens and kings. They had little time to think for themselves, for as per tournament rules, the clock was reset the instant each move was completed. Adding to the challenge, only team members were permitted to speak or pass suggestions to their team captains, who stood at opposite corners; from where they were giving carefully coded signals and gestures to their charges.
These captains stood at opposite corners, much like coaches at first and third base. But there were no baseballs in sight and they made no noise.
Their silence had me looking vainly for subtitles to help me grasp their non-verbal vocabulary of nods, smiles, frowns, shrugs, stoops, stretches - or standing on tiptoe; but each player was well-drilled to respond to their silent urgings.
All my efforts to grasp this corporate communication were frustrated, apart from two minor successes...
When one captain piously made the sign of the cross, even I sensed a bishop’s need to be moved or protected. Then, as the other one with his hands cupped to his shoulders, lowered his hands to a horizontal gesture of welcome, I could imagine a drawbridge being let down across a castle moat. And sure enough, as three of them quickly shifted a castle sideways towards the king, three others moved the king to safety on its other side; thus completing the castling strategy.
Intrigued, I wanted more time to delve further into these physical hieroglyphics, but I had to excuse my way out of the crowd to the far side.
That’s where I found a dozen or so older chess aficionados who were ignoring any call for spectators to be quiet, as they shared about chess tactics and strategies keeping them mentally alert.
But when they started bragging about the champions they had challenged and bested; I felt almost compelled to stay on.
Why? Because Christmas always touches my sentimental side; for I just love the sound of “chess nuts boasting in an open foyer...”
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