“I won again. Fifth time in a row!”
Raghav turned to Suli. The grand announcement came from the frail ten-year-old, playing board with three other girls.
“It’s so simple! I cross over my opponent’s piece, and then it’s mine. Right?” She stroked her dull hair and gave a wide grin.
“So I keep taking over pieces. Quickly. Just a few minutes, and I win. Every time!”
Raghav smiled proudly. “You are becoming an expert, Suli.”
“Whatever! But it’s boring now. I want something new.” Her dark eyes twinkled.
“New? A new game?”
“Not a new game! Something new in this game!” She was firm.
“Look, Raghav. All these nine pieces are not the same. These two are fat and squat. These two are thin and tall.”
“True. There should be more pieces, Suli. Sixteen white and sixteen black, in total. But now we have only these nine.” He explained patiently.
“Really? But we can still make the game interesting.”
“We give them different names and different moves.”
“Yeah, see this one looks like a horse.” Suli put the piece on the old tattered board. The sixty-four black and white squares stared at Raghav.
“See, this horse will be the fastest. Maybe four places in one gallop. And these squat ones – they’ll be the slowest. Only one place.”
“And then what?”
“This piece moves only forward, and this one moves only sideways.” She tested. “Yeah! Then it’ll be big fun! You know why? Because I must think a lot before moving any piece.”
“I also must think about which piece my opponent will play, and which one I’ll play after that. Got it? Then her move, then my move again. I need to play after imagining all these moves, right?” She was delighted just by the sheer scale.
Raghav was taken aback. With pure joy, and a tiny bit of jealousy.
He had never played the game of chess. Had merely seen some pictures of it. Rest of the group members had not even heard about it. The board and the pieces obviously belonged to some brainy guy. Much before. Raghav often wondered how that frayed board ever ended up in their random belongings. He had casually given it to the kids, showing the plain rule of playing. The only one he knew.
But Suli now wanted something more. Something more complex. Something more challenging. She wanted to break free from the ordinary stuff. She wanted something extraordinary.
Raghav sat stunned. He had a hurting notion of what he had missed all his life. Different pieces moving in different ways? Was that the way Chess worked? Was that the way it had evolved?
He glanced at them. Twenty-four kids. Seventy-three adults. Minimal Resources. And a barren world after the nuclear disaster.
It was one thing caring for those kids. It was altogether another feeding their increasingly hungry minds. How would they do it ever? He cursed himself. And the other remaining survivors.
“What say?” Suli was shaking him up. “Hey Raghav, what do you say?”
Hope surged within him. No, these kids wouldn’t need anyone or anything else. They would leap up themselves from this old board and reach for the sky.