His bushy white eyebrows caught some wind and battled with his eyelashes. He dresses simple, now seventy-eight years old, Mr. Chen wears only comfort clothing. Always reading but never saying much Mr. Chen likes to hide in thoughtful games. Him and I meet at the park on Sundays just to move the pieces around in silent, sometimes awkward, warfare. When he seldom speaks I can barely decipher his heavy Asian accented English, but today was different, he was a coherent tangent instead of a steadfast mute.
While studying the board I caught the last bit of what Mr. Chen said, "...Whipped me on the back."
I looked up, "I'm sorry, what did you say?"
He watched me kill his pawn and restated, "I have not taken a beating this badly since the rice fields in China."
A wind swirled some leaves by my side like a miniature tornado; gentle colors played with autumn.
"What was it like growing up in China?" My question lit up his expressionless eyes.
"The heat is what gets you in the rice fields." he said.
Mr. Chen seemed to lean into me when he started speaking but it was I who was drawing closer-- trying to catch every word from his aged mouth that opened slow and sticky with spittle like raw dough.
"I remember running from father, only six year old at the time, as fast as I can. The rice grow taller than me, making me invisible in the fields. Reaching such haven was trouble. He had a bamboo cane in hand ready to bust my lip if I run, and bust my lip if I stay. The tops of my feet are blisters from the black, sun soaked soil, but I keep running."
My own sense of voice awakened, "Did you get away?" He looked up from the board with an expression that ached to cry, but Mr. Chen remained chiseled underneath his wrinkled eyes.
"Father managed a grab of my shirt and pulled me into his stomach with strangling hands on my neck. That was one of many beating I endure as child."
He extends his arm exposing skin chunky canyons that scar straight to the bone. My heart drops with my jaw. In silence we sit until the waves of my solemn thoughts are rippled to calm patience as I watch him struggle to begin talking again.
"I.. we.. I am just making joke" Mr. Chen smiled and slapped his knee as he went on to explain.
"I am a retired actor. I fell off of my motorcycle ten years ago wearing just t-shirt. that is how my arm was busted. The fool I am. You may have seen me on the Silky Slick Soap(R) commercial. That was the highlight of my career-- it's still running on tv! I am the one who chases the rats from the dirty shower stall, then add the soap, and make it sparkle clean!"
I couldn't find the words to respond so I gestured with a nod on top of a dumbfounded look. I did in fact know of that commercial, and I recognized,amazingly, that it was indeed Mr. Chen who had chased the rats. But that was all beside the point! He had just played with my emotions! What a dishonest, heart-wrenching story that was, and why? I was furious but managed to reign in my rage in order to question him and get to the bottom of his curious deciet.
"Why did you need to lie about your scar like that? I was genuinely feeling sorry for you. I didn't find it very funny. Abuse isn't a joke. But you know that, right? If that story is true you can tell me. I don't really understand why you would change all of a sudden."
"I know" he said sternly, eyeing the chess game with a cold and calculating demeanor. He picked up his bishop and slid it accross the board with a swift turn of the wrist. "Check mate." He non-chalantly let out of the corner of his widening smile.
My thoughts returned to the game at hand-- not fully aware of how sidetracked I had actually been until I saw the ugly result of my loss.
"Check mate," He proudly said again to a stranger passing by.
The passerby saw me sitting before the board like a dumb shadow plastered to the bench by what he assumed to be Mr. Chen's atomic genius--dismissing my devestation with a single "Ha," he walked on before I could explain the wicked trickery of the desperate old man, whose smile had invited a few chuckles along to stab at my inexperience further.