A black limo cut through the crowd. The Hand in the open window was dressed in a perfectly ironed sleeve over the squeaky- clean white cuff. Each finger was ringed. The soft purring of the engine stopped near us and the Hand produced out a pendant on a silver chain. The goldfinger pointed at my wife.
"Gracia for the scacci. This for you, signora."
It was a chess Knight, hand- crafted with a solemn look.
"Prego," I said.
The purring resumed. Quietly and deliberately the limo cleared the crowd and vanished. My wife put the pendant on.
“Nice,” she said. ”I thought they were here to kill us.”
In this place of smooth hills and grapevine fields things resembled people. Spades leaned on the doors after a day of hard labor in the fields while their owners were carwalking. Rows of cars crawled back and forth down the dusty streets stopping only to greet each other. Ice- cream was a king. You could get dizzy craving those giant cones in every window. I tried to count the flavors but stopped hopelessly after exceeding a hundred. The fruity and chocolate aroma mixed with the fish odor from the boats drying on the beach, the smell of gas and a touch of coffee coming from the open–air bars. Those nickel-chromium palaces of the culinary delight were dormant, waiting for the tourists. Only local aristocrats could afford a cup of coffee and a brioche there for now. Others frequented the trattorias at the end of the carwalking route. There the walkers indulged themselves in haughty conversations, playing pool or scacci, the local name for chess.
We were in the cradle of the Southern European chess school famous for the brilliant attack strategies. They didn’t produce any significant players in the modern times though. After watching through the ice- cream circle one could understand the reason: people were too lively here. What do I remember from my chess past? Endless nights full of cheap cigarette smoke, boring tournaments where I worked as a demonstrator moving pieces for hours on the hanging boards waiting for that one move, a brilliant spark in dreary clouds. I would trade them all for one chocolate cone.
There was no treat for me. Women were sometimes offered perks but not men. We were the UN children. We had allowances to rent the accommodations and not to starve. Sit tight. Keep out of trouble. Wait for the blue letter.
“Hey, they play chess there. You play good. Maybe we can win some money? You and me, huh?”
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