The day was arid and the breeze balmy at the park. People were mostly lazing around on the lawn; the men shirtless and the women in their bikinis. Some half-naked children were cavorting in the fountain. My friend and I were slumped on a picnic mat, finishing leftover wine and potato chips. From a distance, we could see a very young couple petting and necking on a bench, both of them seemed like they hadn’t grown body hair in the right places yet.
“That’s the reason why I’m quite apprehensive about raising kids here, if ever I would have kids” she quipped. And then we guessed how old exactly they could be. Nine? Eleven? Definitely not more than twelve.
A few feet from us, a slew of sick-looking pigeons were feasting on Buddha-knows-what. They’re also having a picnic, my friend said with a faint smile. On normal days, she regards the creatures with disgust and calls them ‘flying rats.’
Life seemed less harrowing that afternoon, especially under the shade of a flimsily foliaged tree, which barely shaded us from the evening sun (for the sun sets around 10 p.m. here). Homesickness, apprehensions, and other afflictions were momentarily dissolved in the boiling air as we discussed life, politics, intolerance, plans, and other people’s lives.
By and by, her boyfriend arrived and we started playing UNO cards. When a guy from another group of picnickers signified his intention, quite absurdly, to join our game, he—my friend’s boyfriend—told him it was our last game and we were about to leave. And we did, slowly, for such sun-drenched nights discouraged haste. The plan was to have dinner at their apartment and then continue playing cards, or just hang out.
At the apartment, another bottle of wine was opened and we feasted on bread, stinky (but great-tasting) cheese, and ready-made pasta. After some sumptuous dessert bought from a local boulangerie, we had three or four games of bingo chess (which they called Puissance 4). Each time, he won. I made a mental note of his strategy. Next time—maybe, just maybe—I would defeat him.
Several games of UNO came after that. They both made fun of my colorblindness. Fortunately for me, the cards’ colors were pretty solid and unmistakable in my eyes.
“Or maybe he can’t read numbers, too!” he later commented when, in between laughs, I made a mistake with the numbers. If they could see my grades in Math when I was in school, they would probably be convinced that number-blindness, indeed, exists.
I was luckier with UNO this time. I won several games. And even if we were just three, we still managed to gang up on each other.
“It’s two Asians against a European,” she said. Later on, he retaliated: “This time, it’s two boys against one girl!”
When we got tired of UNO, we started playing Carcassone, a tile-based German board game named after a medieval French town. It involved building a terrain with castles, bridges, prairies, and abbeys, and then stationing followers—vassals, more like it—on them. They both tried to explain the game to me as we played.
“Can I kill your followers?” I asked.
“No, you can’t do that.”
“Can I raise an army to invade your castle?”
“What if I wanted to?”
“Nothing of that sort. Your violent tendencies are showing!”
Since I was a neophyte, they were both kind to me and helped me build my fortified castles. By the time the game was done, I had the most extensive castles on the terrain, which of course, meant more points.
It was already midnight when we decided to stop. Since it was raining that night, he suggested that I spend the night there. Fearing that I would no longer get a bus ride home, I agreed.
He inflated an air bed, lent me some comfortable clothes, wedged earplugs into his ears, and then went to bed. She, on the other hand, decided to watch TV first. So I decided to stay up with her. We ended up just talking about scandals, gossip, pretentions, fathers, more gossip, table manners, life, and her school application. And then the night deepened. The balmy breeze gave way to a cool gentle wind. The aridness of the day had finally ended. Even in the absence of the stubborn sun, there was still no haste to go to rest.
But when I finally decided to sleep, I tormented their earplugged dreams with my divine snoring.