A CHANGE OF PACE
by Tari Gwaemir
They took to arranging their private games in odd places.
As their schedules grew busier, it became more difficult to meet, outside of matches and the occasional run-in at the Kiin. They took to arranging their private games in odd places. "Sunday, 11 AM," Touya would write on a note before slipping it into Shindou's hand as they passed each other in the hallway. There would be a hastily drawn map beneath, and Shindou would take the train that weekend to some sleepy town (invariably getting off at the wrong stop along the way). After some frantic, futile calls to Touya's handphone (it figured that Touya would choose places with bad reception), he would find himself at the right place, an hour late. Touya, waiting expectantly, would have the goban ready for a game.
Sometimes they visited a shrine, discreetly setting out their board in a dusty corner, surrounded by a calm, ancient silence. They both found it soothing for different reasons and did not interrupt it with conversation. Other times they met outdoors and hiked to a picnicking spot on a local mountain or settled themselves down by a tranquil lake. Touya's mother packed ham and cucumber sandwiches, which they ate absently while poring over the black-and-white patterns of their game. Once, they tried to go to a beach, where they had to shade their eyes against the merciless sun and pour the sand out of their shoes. By tacit agreement, they never went back.
On occasion, Shindou would be the one to suggest the location. He chose prosaic settings but devious routes: sneaking into the old clubroom at Haze through an unlocked window, finding a shady-looking go salon hidden away in the middle of Tokyo's fashion districts, occupying the corner of a stairwell in the middle of a busy subway station with no regard for the people stepping impatiently around them. "Why do you always choose places that will get us into trouble?" Touya asked once, as they were being escorted out of a department store by a security guard (they had broken out into a loud argument and drawn the attention of a small crowd). "Don't bother to answer," he added as Shindou pulled him into a nearby arcade.
"Meet me at this park. Across the street from my house," came a text message to Touya's phone, on a Friday afternoon after his tutoring session for the day was canceled. He took the train to Shindou's home--it was a familiar route now, so familiar that he could almost close his eyes as he walked--and found himself at a children's playground by evening. Shindou was crouched on the pavement, drawing something on the ground with chalk.
"There you are," he said, catching sight of Touya. He stood up and brushed off his hands. "I forgot the magnetic board at home, so I thought of this."
There was a nineteen by nineteen grid on the ground, marked in unsteady lines. Touya gave Shindou a skeptical look.
Shindou just smiled. "Here, have the chalk. You can be white, and I'll be black." He pointed at a pile of small gray stones heaped up next to one corner of the grid.
"And you're weird."
A glare, a grudging smile, and without another word, they settled down to begin the game.