Yesterday, when you were still walking bare foot through water
This short story was written by Gabriel Florin Ursu, and may be copied with no restrictions.
This entertaining story captures the life of a young man discovering Go, and excellently portrays the many feelings the game invokes.
You remember. You still remember. There was a time when you were happy. Happy or, at least, satisfied. You were a kid. Your father was alive and he was taking care of the family. Of you, of Hara and of your mother. He was good. He was better than most of the others. Anyway, he was among the top 20 of the village, so no one could say you weren't doing great. Your mother used to smile. When was the last time you saw her smiling? When was the last time you had a decent meal? Neither you, nor her, or Hara. You eat what you can get, what you find. Left-overs. Left-overs from the meals of the good ones. You are 14 and you don't know. You don't know how to play. You had a good father but he never taught you to play. He didn't expect to die. Not so soon.
Pity. What a pity that women aren't allowed to play. You used to be proud of it while your father was still alive, but now you feel hurt. Your mom plays bad, but, at least, she can play. You can't. You can't because you weren't allowed to. And you suffer. You'd like to play, but you haven't got a board, or stones. In fact your mom never played. She just watched your father's play and she got something. Your mom is not stupid. She's not stupid, but she doesn't own stones either. Nor a board. Now Hara. Hara is two years younger than you. You get along well. She doesn't talk. She has never talked. She looks intensely at you. She knows. She knows you are the one who must get food. She knows you don't know. You don't know how to play, and your mom isn't allowed to. Women must not touch the stones.
You're thirsty. You go to the river and drink. It's cold, but it's troubled. You drink. You feel warm. You undress and get into the water to cool off. You are alone. Canil is a little lower, with the other kids. They aren't younger than you, but you aren't a kid any more. You aren't a kid any more and you are not allowed to play like a kid. You must play. And then you are poor. Now. But you won't be any more. You wish that with every piece of your body and you sink. You try seeing through the water, but the water is troubled. You'd rather stay there, but you're scared. You thought of your mother and your sister. They need you. You are lying to yourself. They need you, all right, but this isn't the real reason why you came out of the water. You're scared. You admit this. You admit it for yourself and you get on the shore. You don't wait to dry and you put your trousers on.
You go straight to the halls. To the playing halls. In fact, you go to the first hall. You aren't allowed to enter in another one. Your father was. He was allowed to enter any one of the halls. He was always playing in the last one. The last hall. He was good. He was among the top 20. Don't you forget that! You know he was called once to play at the manor. You ate deer that time. You ate deer. You smile. Your stomach cries cupboard of hunger, but you keep smiling. You think of Canil and the others who avoided you earlier. You are poor and they avoid you. You also used to avoid before the poors. You are poor. You might be poor, but they have never eaten deer. You told them. You told them then. "It's sweet", you said. "It's so sweet! It's so tender! It feels like it melts into your mouth." You could have told them anything. You knew you could tell them anything that passed through your mind. You made up a lot of things, and they envied you. They watched you. They sipped avidly every word of yours. Your father had been to the manor. You were proud and you were lying. You weren't lying, you were fooling yourself, you were trying to prolong the moment. Your moment.
The door was open. And this was a sign. A sign of people's decadence inside the hall. A sign of their weakness. Your father told you once, long time ago, how it is inside the playing hall. "The door. The door is always closed. Nobody plays with the door open. When you're inside, you belong only to The Game. The outer world has nothing to do in the playing hall. Not in the last hall."
Your father played seldom. At most five games a month. With two victories he kept his present social position. With five victories in five games he got an invitation to the manor. One game. That was the only game in that month. The game of the manor. He didn't have to win. He wasn't expected to win. After the game, unless he suffered a disastrous loss, he was granted special privileges and then he got back to the hall. To the last hall. You didn't know what would have happened if he won the game. The game in the manor. Your father didn't know. He didn't know anyone who knew this. With less than two victories he got excluded from the last hall. It happened twice to your dad. It was difficult. It was more difficult for you. You have never thought it could be like now. In both cases, your dad succeeded to come back in the last hall after several months. He needed seven victories out of seven.
In the first hall, men play all the time. A few of them dream of making headway. Of passing to the other halls. They know they can't. Each one tried at his time. Now they don't any more. Now they resigned themselves. They are satisfied with the victory bonus. They play all the time. They hope they will win from time to time. After all, there is no draw. There is a chance out of two. You too are going to try that. You know this is not a lottery, but you have nothing to lose. You've got a chance out of two. Theoretically. You'll try. You'll keep on trying. You have to. You have to win, at least once.
You go to the referee. "I want to play", you say. He looks at you surprised. He doesn't know who you are. He smells of beer. He's fat and perspires. His shirt is missing some buttons and one can see the hair on his chest. He's fat and smells of beer.
- Who are you?
He looks at you. You can feel he's not bad. You see him in front of you, big and fat and you feel you aren't totally alone. You feel, with no reason at all, you could win. You trust. It feels strange, but you trust. You trust yourself.
- Does your father know you want to play?
- I... I'm no longer a child.
He is not looking at you any more. He feels sorry to ask. You feel he's troubled.
- Lemmi. Lemmi Ta.
He knows. You realize he knows. He remembers. He knows your daddy. He knew him! He breathes, he looks at you and opens a book. He pulls a pen out of his chest pocket, he sits on a chair behind the desk, then, remembering, he asks:
- Do you know how to play?
You lie to him. You know you must lie, or you wouldn't be admitted. He hands you a card-board with your name scribbled on it.
- This will be your ID. I didn't write the rank on.
He felt the lie. He comes near you and hits your shoulder fatherly.
- Tomorrow. Tomorrow morning you'll be on the competition list. How many games do you want to play?
- I don't know. As many as possible.
You don't leave. You walk among the tables. Tomorrow youll be sitting on one of the chairs. Tomorrow you'll be a player. Your mom doesn't know yet. Anyway, you're the head of the family. You'll have to get used to it. You won't ask for her permission, but you'll let her know. You'll tell her you'll be playing tomorrow. She won't contradict you. She's a woman.
You look at the playing tables. You'll be playing tomorrow and you must get some idea. You can't ask for a regulation. You think you aren't allowed. You'd like to own a game, but you can't. You can't buy one. Everything was taken away of you when your dad died. Everything, His game also. Even his game. The black stones were made of marble. Black mat marble, as the regulation states. The white ones were made of shell. The board, of wood. Lacquered. They were beautiful. You admired them, but you have never had the courage to touch them.
You got home. Your mom looked at you. She wanted to ask you. Ask you where are you coming from. She's so used to consider you as a kid! Her kid!
- I was at the hall, you say. From tomorrow on I'll be a player.
You feel, somehow surprised, man. You feel embarrassed. But you know you're the head of the family and you are supposed to talk this way. Your mom smiles at you. She's got tears in her eyes. She knows you can't play, you don't know anything about The Game. She takes your hand into hers and says:
- Come! I'll explain the rules to you.
You are astonished. You know you don't own any game. Mom calls Hara. She takes you both to the river. To the river by night.
- Come, she says, we'll pick stones.
You're gone to pick stones. You don't know why. Your mother said this and you didn't ask her. You didn't ask her why.
You understand. You understand while you are picking them. You are picking stones and you know why. You'll own a game. Your game. It won't be as beautiful as your father's, but you'll own it. And it won't cost you. It won't cost you a dime. You love your mom. Her and Hara.
You get up early in the morning. You're hungry and nervous. You eat left-overs and you go to the hall. At the entrance it seems different from yesterday. You'd like someone to ask for your ID, to show you're a player. Nobody asks you anything. You just go inside. You find your name on a list. Your name. Your name is on the list. You go to the table shown to you. It's early. It's still too early. Not many came yet. You sit down. In front of you there's the board, there are the stones. A real game.
You touch them. You feel the coldness of the stones. They are as cold as the river stones. This night your mom explained the rules to you. It's easy. It's very easy. You understood almost all. You didn't expect to understand it so easily. You're almost sure you are going to win. It's easy, you have a chance out of two. Hara watched you and your mom while you were trying to understand the rules. She understands. She understands what is spoken around her. You regret you can't talk to her, but she speaks to you with her eyes. You know her. You speak to her, and she listens. You think she understands everything. The kids were laughing at her, but you always stood for her. You once hit one of them right in front of his house. Since then they weren't laughing at her no more in your presence. But they were. You knew they were laughing. Canil said to you they were joking now on your account too, "Lemmi Ta and his crazy sister". Hara isn't crazy. And she isn't stupid. If only she could talk!
A man sits in front of you. He introduces himself. You mention your name too. You shake hands. You're doing it for the first time, but you try too seem familiar to the protocol. It's a noble game. An art. There are no opponents, just competition partners.
He's not like you expected. Your partner. He intimidates you. You hadn't thought of a certain partner, you didn't expect him to look in a certain way, but you didn't expect him to be like that. He's taller than you. Much taller. He seems very sure of himself. At least you see him this way. You are impressed. A little impressed, you'd like to think.
There is the odds drawing. You have the first move. It was decided you to be the first one to move. You lift a stone. They are bad, cheap stones, but they look very beautiful to you. They impress you. You don't know what to do. Panic? Your mom explained the regulation to you, But she didn't tell you where, where you could place your first moves. Where and why?
You put the stones on one of the square drownings intersections. You don't know why you put it and he moves at his turn. Somewhere else on the board. You have no idea why. You don't know what you have to do. The match started. The first match. It started and you aren't sure any more you'll win.
Your first match finished fast. You lost. You don't know how, nor why, but you lost. You both played by the same rules, but you lost. What did he know that you didn't? You lost. And by a terrifying difference. You don't understand. Yesterday it was all so easy!
You sat at the playing table for the second match. The opponent didn't intimidate you this time. Still, you aren't optimistic. You play. You can feel the others have a plan. You don't have any plan, any tactic.
You try to do better than them, you focus on local fights, then you realize with surprise you lose more and more field. You have lost the match.
You got home late. You haven't eaten anything. You have lost 6 games. One after the other. "Try seeing the board as a whole", advised you, after the game, one of those you played with. The board as a whole.
You sit at the table. Your mom doesn't ask you anything. She knows. She knows you lost. You eat left-overs and you wish you had won just once. You would have had money for half a bread. And you would have had a victory.
It seems harder and harder. The rules are the same as yesterday, but it's harder. You can't quit and you wonder if you would do it if you could. Your mother looks at you with sympathy:
- Shall we play?
You are surprised. You look at the door. It's closed. You smile to her as an accomplice. Hara looks at you. You place river stones on the painted floor.
You are again at the playing table. You've lost. You're stupid. Much more stupid than your father. No, you aren't stupid. You don't know how to play. Not yet. Not well enough to win. Not yet. By evenings, at home, your mom beats you. She plays better than you. But she isn't allowed to play. She told you to try to memorize the games. To replay them at home. You tried, but you don't know if you succeeded. You leave. You go home. The fat referee looks at you helplessly. "First moves are more valuable in corners." He gave you a piece of advice. You find it hard to believe, but the referee gave you an advice. You'd like to thank him, but he's already back to work. He's scribbling on some papers. "In corners".
You analyze the games. As much as you can remember. At home. You and mom. Hara looks at you. She looks at you all the time. You think she likes it. You think she understands. You smile to her. She understands.
You've discovered some errors. You think you have discovered them. You'll try to avoid them in the future. You're glad you have someone to talk with about your helplessness. In fact, it isn't so bad. You smile. You hold the stones in your fist and smile. You're hungry.
You play better now. You feel you play better. Your mother keeps beating you, but now you can understand. You understand a few items. You can't look at the board as a whole. It is too big. But you have understood the importance of the corners.
You sit at the table with more confidence. Your opponent doesn't seem too sure of himself. He doesn't seem too sure to you. You want to win. You know that once you will win. Now. Why not now?
The first moves. You know why they were played where they were played. It's supposed to be like this. And you know why. You're satisfied. It's your turn to move. The opening phase is over. Maybe. You both have two corners each and some portions of the edges. You don't play bad. You understand a lot much more than before. Where are you going to play? You don't know for sure. You want to win and it is important to think well. You inhale air. You aren't sure, but you decide to attack one of his corners. It's first time you have the initiative. You place the stone. You feel good. You don't know if you'll succeed in the corner battle, but you feel as if you too started to count in the game.
You were right. Your competition partner is not sure of himself. He replied in a different way than you think would be right. You profit. You attack. You attack deeply in his structure. He wouldn't give up. If you take his corner you'll have an advantage. A comfortable advantage. He fails. Again. You separate his stones. You separate and conquer. You feel his panic. He doesn't know what to do. He can't save the corner any more. You watch the board carefully. You calculate. You recalculate. You know that victory depends upon the next move. You may win. You take a stone in your hand. You want to place it. You stop. It's a big move. You wouldn't like to make a mistake. It's worth to think more. Longer. You put the stone back into the bowl. You stand up. It's hard. You look at the board. You decide. You lift a stone and place it on the board. With noise. Strongly. The corner is yours. You see this in the eyes of the man in front of you. You won. You have got a big advantage. The game is not over yet, but you can win. You lead. For the first time you lead the game. Your opponent doesn't know what to do. He wants to give up. He wants to give up! It's so hard for him, so he places another stone. Timidly. You return to the game. You're anxious. You want to finish the game. To win. For the first time. You play fast because you want to win. Fast.
You didn't notice. You didn't understand from the beginning what the previous action was after. You didn't pay attention and now you've got a group in danger. Separated by the other stones and in danger. You don't know if it's big enough to cancel your advantage. You can't calculate. It is too hard. The game got too complicated. You try to save it. You place stone after stone. You run in despair. The white stones are going for you. Your group, the black group, has become big. Too big. Too big and still in danger. You aren't allowed to lose it!
You stand up crying. You made a mistake. You've lost. You've lost a won game. You are crying. You hate your opponent. The opponent.
You would have time to play another match, but you rather go home. You go home crying.
Your mother quarreled you. She, the woman, quarreled you. Not for losing. But for thinking badly of the one who beat you. "It's not him who won, you are the one who lost. You should be mad at yourself". She's right. You understand that. You are angry for having lost. You're sorry for offending him. In your mind. You're more sorry for having lost. You'll try to forget.
Today you came home earlier. You came home earlier. You called your mom and your sister. You put half a bread on the table. You put half a bread on the table. Your mom is crying. She's got tears in her eyes and she's biting her lips. She's chitching her hands and she's looking at the bread. And at you. At Hara, too. Nobody says anything. You all shut up. You shut up and eat. You eat bread.
You don't play so often anymore. At the hall. At home, you go on analyzing. You have bread almost every day. And potatoes. Once you bought meat. You had money. You had money and bought meat.
You've decided to save money. You save money for buying a game. A real game. A cheap one.
You win often now. Regularly. Day by day. You lose some. Enough. More than you win. For now. You've got money. You've got money for the game. You could buy food. Lots of food. You're hungry and you'd like to buy food. But, in the morning, your mom told you to buy a game. You'll eat some other day. Maybe tomorrow.
Analyses are more interesting now. The positions show clearly on the board. You haven't erased the squares on the floor. You haven't thrown the river stones. They belong to you. Your river stones.
You put the board on the table. You'd like to discuss a game that seemed interesting to you. You find it normal to discuss it with your mom. You know she must not touch the stones. Touch the stones. She's a woman. You know, but you pull out the board. The stones too. Hara is watching you from the edge of the table.
You place the stones. One move after the other. You remember. Almost everything. Almost the whole game. You talk. You give your opinion on certain move. It is a game you have won. By a big difference. You have succeeded to capture a group. It was a difficult battle. You explain your judgments to your mom. You have done good moves.
Hara. Hara touched a stone. You look at her and you don't know how to react. You don't know what she is going to do. It is a black stone. The board. She looks at the board and she places the stone somewhere, on an intersection. You don't understand. You look together at the now-built position. It is an interesting move. You haven't thought of it. And neither did the man you played with. He played somewhere else. He moved something else and lost the whole group. Just as you've calculated. As you too have calculated. And him too. You think of a response. You replay. Hara places other stones. She can play. She understood. Hara understood by watching. She understands. You continue the game within the new variation. Against Hara. You can't capture the black group. And you lose. You lose the game. You could have lost it even in the competition. And you were so satisfied! You have lost against Hara. You're glad. You're glad for your sister. You look at her, tighten your lips and shut up. She's your sister. She's your sister and she plays. Good.
You are in the hall. In the playing hall. You are happy. Today you have sacrificed for the first time a big group of stones. You have sacrificed it. Your sacrifice brought you a bigger advantage somewhere else on the board. You lost the game. You lost, but you are happy.
You understand. Now you understand that, sometimes, not only victory counts. A match can make you happy. Even if you lose. Now you have another understanding of The Game.
You've played more. Quite a lot. You do well at the hall.
You don't think of the past. You aren't hungry any more.
Hara plays well. Better than you. You didn't beat her until now. You've learned a lot by playing with her. She explained to you how she thinks you could win. She explained you the strategic game. She didn't say anything to you. She showed you. The stones talk for you. And the board. The stones and the board.
You are decided to promote. You want to pass in the second hall. Hara thinks the same. Your mom watches you playing. She sits at the edge of the table and she watches. Satisfied.
You announce the referee, the fat referee, that you wish to promote. "Yes", he says. Nothing else. You feel him close to you. You have to win 25 games out of 30. A lot. And all you'll play with want to promote. They all have ambitions. Most of them are good. Maybe better than you. Maybe.
-By Gabriel Florin Ursu, the 4th of March 1997Return to Top
This text may be copied with no restrictions. In case of reprinting, please contact the author first.