We found ourselves in the stranger’s kitchen, playing an unfamiliar game. We sat surrounding the table in the dim, the stranger sat at its head. Silver cigarette smoke, monotonous music, remnants of late-night drinks and the darkness outside contributed to the bewildering atmosphere. Innumerable pistachio shells in a bowl, no nuts left. The beer in my half-empty glass had long-since turned warm and stale, I had had my fill earlier in the evening.
“The night is just beginning!” our host declared. When would it end? The rules were vague and convoluted, we lacked a clear understanding of them – our grogginess didn’t help. However, our host knew the game well, playing it was a proud family tradition he inherited from a young age. We followed his instructions as best we could as we went along. He understood the rules so well he seemed to bend them to his will – such was his skill I suppose. In him we trusted.
Enthusiastically and energetically he led by example. Inevitably, we made novice mistakes and we were penalized as the rules dictated. I felt I had been playing forever, and yet faring no better. Rewards for the most cunning players were promised though they were rarely received, and rarely worth the effort. However, if we played our cards right, we were told, success would be forthcoming. There was plenty of opportunity for that.
The hours passed and the kitchen walls closed in. The black world beyond is mad. The table is the centre and extent of our universe. Some pistachio shells now float in my beer, flicked in through moments of bored distraction. It is very late though I am unsure of the time. My fellow participants look tired too, although they probably did not wish to admit it. I’m weary of this game.
I dare not open my mouth now lest I miss my turn – a missed opportunity – and I seem so near to gaining something at last. I could give something away – some inadvertent sign. Giving something away would be a terrible mistake at this stage. Share nothing. Guard jealously. Poker faces around the table, trusting no one. Every person playing for themselves. Just follow the stranger’s instructions.
What are the others doing? They make such devious decisions. A hateful bunch, differentiated only by how worse than each other they are. I arrived here at one time with them, though I’m not sure how. Flukey bastards.
Those two made a deal. Favouritism! They’re plotting against me. Sabotage. Those two were always the best friends. There should be rules against that kind of behaviour.
All is quiet, but for the continuing explanations of our kind host, on which we depend.
Around and around we go taking turns. There was never a chance of finishing – no one else would ever win – the enthusiastic stranger is perpetually dominant. It could have ended. A new game could be played tomorrow. Oh to sleep and wake with the light of a new morning. If only someone admitted they were tired, we would all concur and retire and dream of the prospect of a new day. But we’re so close! We’ve come so far. It’s too late to change.
Interminably we continue, single-mindedly, sobering, without relief, further into the night.
It would have been rude not to.