Forgotten Beneath an Old Fig Tree
Lionel Ross Vincer
Bo and Zee sat in the middle of a line of empty chairs running the length of the old fence under the craning fig trees as the ripening fruit fell half onto the soft grass, and half on the other side of the fence where the stoney surface and tar cracking weeds spanned the full area of the mostly empty parking lot. The steel arms of the chairs barely touched.
Past their table and beyond the shaded gardens stood the visitors tables—old varnished pine and wood-turned legs—draped with fresh white sheet cloths and filled with fruits and flavoured waters and vases of freshly cut jasmine that were set up next to the old stone fountain in the middle of the squared off hedges. Both men drank up the young feverish grins and carefully tilted embraces with desperate fervency as the wind rustled the leaves above.
“No visitors today Zee?”
“Soon I’m sure, but we can squeeze a game in before. Chess?”
They were each clasping in their hands their game of choice.
“You say that every time and every time nobody comes. Anyways I’m sick of chess. Today it’s checkers,” Bo said and lifted his board onto the table.
Zee nudged Bo’s board. “Shove off we play checkers everyday and if you don’t remember, yesterdays game was played for today, and I won. It’s chess old friend.”
They’d been arguing back and forth for nearly half an hour and Zee was convinced at the rate they were arguing, he’d be over there sipping a lemon water with the others while Bo sat playing by himself.
“You only won yesterday on the account of Rosey dropping the tablets in the middle of the dining room floor and you snuck two of my discs back on the board!” Bo said.
“First rule of any game; never take your eye off the target.”
“I never took my eye off the target, once she’d bent over to pick up the pills.” Bo said and laughed. “Anyways I say the dispute is at least worth a do-over.” He lifted the checkers board up again but Zee sat his ground.
“Not so fast!” Zee said.
“Fine, if you can prove when the last time somebody walked in from the outside to visit you then we can play as much chess as you like,” Bo said. “And before you start, the proctologist guy doesn’t count!”
“Easy.” But as Zee began to speak his mind drew a blank. “There was—wait—yes—no—definitely somebody I’m sure—yes last week when—no,” he sighed. “Oh I don’t know. Bit cloudy today,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean you win. Just give me five minutes.”
“Five minutes is all I need.” Bo said and he opened up the board.
“Why you so bent on checkers anyway?” Zee asked. “Chess too challenging a game for you?”
“I just prefer beating you at one game. Wouldn't want the others to start questioning your manhood!” Bo said.
“How's about you ask Mrs Collins down the passage about my manhood.” Zee said with a stern tone. “I’m sure she'd tell you over a large cup of tea if you catch my drift.”
“What, she catch a glimpse of your full bed pan on her way out the other morning?”
Zee shut the checkers board. “Wait!”
“No! Now I'm sure nobody's coming for you!”
Zee sat back in the steel chair and didn’t say a word.
“Seriously Zee, I don’t recall you ever speaking about any old friends?”
“No old friends around here besides you, and judging by that new shiny tank of yours, won't be for much longer.”
They both chuckled but Bo’s laugh wheezed into an uncontrollable cough and he immediately brought the mask to his face and after a few deep, sharp breaths he said, “This stuff’s as good as prune juice; it'll keep me ripe long after you’re gone.” He opened up the checkers board and began sorting the pieces. “Seriously though. Tell me about your old friends? Even I had a best friend once, long time ago. We all did.”
“Can’t remember his name but I remember he was a sly old fool. So what happened to yours? Or did the poor bugger have to die just to get away from your tricks and always wanting to play bloody chess?”
Zee pulled his bowler cap off and fixed his side parting. “I did have a best friend. Nearly every day after work we’d sit out on the kerb, long line of chairs much like this, and would whistle at all the birds as they walked past.”
“Drinking beer.” Bo smiled. “I could do with a lager.”
“We kept no secrets, ever. Best mates since we were little kids.”
“So what happened?” Bo asked.
Zee looked up at the fig trees again and considered the life he was convinced he’d lived. “I don’t know.” He scuffed some gravel below his feet. “I suppose, like these trees, our branches grew apart. Eventually, our fruit was dropping on different sides of the fence. Was neither of our faults, just life.”
“What was his name?” Bo asked.
“Does it even matter?”
“I suppose not.”
The two men sat quietly as the distant laughter of grandchildren drifted through the warm air.
“So you don’t have any friends and you can’t remember his name?” Bo asked.
And with Zee’s answer floating away, Bo opened the checkers board again.
“Hey what are you doing?”
“I just won our little bet! It’s checkers old mate.” Bo said and coughed.
Suddenly Nurse Rose interrupted. “I’m afraid it’s neither for the two of you.”
“But I was just about to beat—”
“Later Zee. Now come on Bo,” she said as she wheeled him away. “Your son is here, it’s your grandkid’s birthday.”
“I have a son?” Bo asked.
“Sure you do, and maybe you can keep some cake for your oldest friend over here,” Nurse Rose said, winking back at Zee.