There’s a Khmer board game that’s sort of similar to chess, except all of the pieces move the way rooks do– vertically and horizontally only. All of the pieces are the same, except for the king.
The object of the game is to capture your opponent’s king. The way to capture pieces is to either surround them with your own pieces so that they cannot move in any direction, or by moving your piece into a gap between two of their pieces. The latter is the most exciting way of capturing pieces since you get both pieces.
It starts out very similarly to chess, except that the front and back pieces have an empty row between them, and the king starts in that middle row, at one side of the board. As with chess, the game can move very quickly or excruciatingly slowly.
I first learned how to play the game from my great uncle. The one who lived in the living in the big house in Bellflower (which now belongs to someone else, unrelated) where he used to coax bushes of roses to bloom and planted papaya trees that still gives us luscious fruit a decade after losing his care.
I played with my grandmothers, too. Both of them.
I almost always won those games. I feel like a brat, now, thinking back to the times I would repeatedly beat Grandma H at the game, and the look on her face each time.
She never got angry at me or frustrated. I don’t know exactly what that look meant.
My brother used to play with her, too. Later, we talked about it, and he mentioned that he would let her win from time to time. A wave of regret washed over me because I hadn’t given them the same reprieve at all. Not that I ever gloated about winning. I was not generous in that way, like my brother. When I tried to be, when I let my grandmother win, it still didn’t feel quite right.
I felt like I was tricking her. Or I felt like she’d know that I’d done it on purpose, and maybe that would upset her more than losing every time. I know I would have hated it.
I guess I can take comfort in the fact that she still wanted to play, despite that. Maybe she did because it was one of the few ways that we could continue to relate to each other as I grew older and more assimilated into “American” culture. Maybe she didn’t mind losing because it was one of the rare times when I would just sit there, in her company.
Maybe. I hope so.