Black and White
by C. La Shure
No! The boy looked frantically at the board. In his eagerness to set up his plan he had neglected his defenses. His father had taken advantage of the opening. He could feel the sweat beading up on his face. He tried to steady his hand as he moved a knight to protect his king. It was not enough. The knight was captured and he was in check again. His king scrambled to safety, and the boy prayed a silent prayer.
‘Please, just two more moves. I can’t lose again.’
He could feel hot tears pushing up from his chest to his eyes, and he squinted hard to hold them back. He was on the run now, and his father was plucking his pieces from the board. Finally, though, there was an opening, a moment’s rest. He moved his queen into position and dropped his hand to his side. One more move.
‘Please God, don’t let him see it.’
But his father never suspected anything, and captured the last remaining white rook. The boy took a deep breath, and with a trembling hand moved his queen across the board to take the pawn. When he took his hand away, his queen sat alone in front of the black king, a single torch in a sea of darkness.
The boy sat back in his seat and stared first at the board, then at his father. His father was silent, his face empty of emotion as he waited.
“I think,” began the boy, “that’s checkmate.”
His father looked at the board and breathed in deeply through his nose. The corners of his mouth turned up slightly.
“I think you’re right,” he said, and held out his hand. “Good game. Congratulations.”
Mutely, the boy reached out and shook his father’s hand. Then, leaving the chess set on the table, he stood up, left the kitchen, and shuffled down the hall to his room. He sat down on his bed and stared at the wall. His body was numb, and there was a ringing in his ears. He had won. Why didn’t he feel victorious? Why did it feel like the walls of his world were crashing down around him, and he could only watch as he was buried beneath the debris?
He had no idea how long he sat there, but then there was a knock at the door.
“Come in,” he mumbled.
His father opened the door and looked at him for a moment, then stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. He turned to look at his son again and came to sit next to him on the bed. The boy never took his gaze off the wall, and his father pursed his lips for a moment and then sighed slowly. He joined his son in staring at the wall.
After a number of moments had passed, his father finally spoke. “You know, when I was young, I used to play chess with your grandfather quite a lot.”
The boy nodded very slowly, almost imperceptibly. His father continued.
“He beat me all the time, of course, and I made it my goal in life to someday beat him at chess. That someday eventually came.” He paused. “After that day, we never played chess again.”
Finally, the boy looked up at his father. “Do you think we will ever play again?”
“I don’t know, son.” Then he smiled. “We can if you want to.”
The boy looked down at his hands. He knew why his father and his grandfather never played chess again. It was not a game, it was a quest—a quest to slay the dragon. Once the dragon was slain, what good was it to gallop around the carcass waving your sword? He knew that, just like his father and grandfather before him, he and his father would never play chess again. They had shared something, no matter how painful it might have been for the young boy, and now it was over.
His father shifted his weight slightly and cleared his throat. The boy looked up at him again. Everything had been said. What more could he want to say?
“Son,” he began, “you can learn a lot from chess. Things like problem solving, pattern recognition, logical thinking. That’s one of the reasons I encouraged you to play.”
He stopped, put his hand on his son’s knee, and looked straight at him before he continued.
“But chess is not life, son. It’s a game, and it can teach you some things, but it can’t teach you everything. And it certainly can’t teach you the most important things.”
The boy felt the heat of his father’s hand on his knee, and he waited for him to continue.
“Life is not black and white. No one is purely good, and no one is purely evil. If you think of life as a game of chess, you will be miserable. You will be miserable because, although you may understand strategy and logic, you will not understand people. People are not black and white. People are gray.”
The boy furrowed his brow as he thought about this, and his father saw it. He took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. When he spoke he was looking at the wall.
“You probably don’t understand why I do a lot of the things I do. To tell you the truth, I don’t know why I do them either. I think I learned a lot of it from my own father.”
He shook his head. “I know that’s no excuse, but it’s the truth. Your grandfather and I didn’t have the best relationship when I was younger. I didn’t understand him, and I was sure he didn’t understand me. For years I hated him. I saw only the monster; I couldn’t see the man. I couldn’t see because I saw everything in black and white.”
He steeled himself and looked into his son’s eyes. “It took me many years to forgive my father, but my father wasn’t the one hurt by all those years of bitterness and spite. I know now that he tried to raise me in the way he thought best, and though he may not have always succeeded, in everything he did he always loved me. Just like I love you.”
His father stopped and shut his mouth tight.
“I just wanted you to know that,” he said after a moment, his voice thick. “I didn’t want you to have to wait all those years to find out.”
The boy just sat there with his mouth open, staring up at his father. When the words finally came, they were, “I know, Dad.”
His father smiled a tight smile and nodded. Then he put his arm around his son. “I’m glad to hear that.” He stood up and walked to the door. “Good night, son.”
When the door closed, the prince got up from his seat and walked out of the tent. The fields below him were empty. The bitter winds that had once blown had softened to a gentle breeze, and yet it was enough to blow the fog off the opposite bluff. He looked across the fields to where his enemy had once stood, but the heights were devoid of even a single banner. Strangely enough, they didn’t seem quite as far away as they once had.