Tomek reports what’s up in Warsaw: „We also play Boomtown, we play it till we drop. The Folks like it for its interaction. The women win. Same with Manila – there’s always some woman with most cash at the end, and boats with my men can never arrive. Some kind of conspiracy.” A week earlier he wrote: “Aska wins in Adel Verpflichtet every time. I have no idea how she does it.” Two weeks earlier it was my turn to flood his inbox with my sorrow, to report with sadness that I had been crushed by Merry in the Pillars of the Earth.
I have a regular correspondence with Tomek. We comfort each other and feel for each other, sharing our true astonishment for our Beloved Women and their unfair game table practices. Let’s say it aloud – women do not play fair.
When Tomek sits down to play a game, he has a plan. He has an idea for a win, and he follows that idea. You can see it in his every gesture and every word. You can hear it in a triumphant Ha! shouted after an especially successful move. You can see it in the proud way he reaches for his wine glass or how he hits his fist against the knee after an especially successful move.
Asia lacks all these sincere gestures. She smiles innocently and makes us put our guard down. Asia asks for a glass of wine or some tea biscuits. She won’t admit to having a victorious plan, she won’t betray it with any gesture or sign telling that behind those glasses of wine, behind those tea biscuits there is a machine rising. A machine that is about to crush me, Tomek and every other man at the table. It’ll flatten us like a steam roller. Women do not play fair.
As for me, my mouth doesn’t shut as they say. I comment, give advice, tell off and mock. I live the game, I live every placed tile, every played card. I live more with every turn, to the point where every opponent knows what to do, what not to do. I live it so much, that towards the end of the game everyone knows what the person on my left is supposed to do, even the neighbours from the opposite house.
Women pretend that the game doesn’t interest them that much. Merry manages to feed the kids, help both daughters with the homework and even do the washing. The board? Oh, she’ll move two pawns, play a card and goes back to pretending that something else has her attention. The dog needs walking, the canary needs water. Sometimes the deception is of epic proportions. I say deception, because it’s all a smokescreen. This nonchalance of moves, this apparent lack of involvement, it’s all there just to have us put our guard down, to make us not take her seriously. To allow her to stay unnoticed, underestimated, secretly striving for victory.
She always does it, and week after week we put our guard down. There’s admirable mastery in it, and insincerity deserving condemnation. Women do not play fair.
If things don’t go well for Tomek, he literally breaks the board with his forehead. He leans over it so deep, like he wanted to move pawns with his stare, to make them reconsider and get out of the spots that were reserved for him. He raises his hands to the sky imploringly, and frowns back at the pawns. Tomek does not approve of those opponents’ moves that cross him. And he demonstrates this lack of approval to everyone around. Including the neighbour from Nr. 3.
Asia doesn’t wave her hands. She doesn’t hit her knee. She doesn’t eye other players inviting them to share the drama that’s happening on the board. Like all women she calmly accepts what consecutive turns bring, calmly adjusts her plans and step by step gets closer to victory. Of course we, the fair playing men, have no idea such plans exist at all. She doesn’t fret and fume, doesn’t waste strength on rubbing her forehead and doesn’t brood over other players’ sins. Asia, and all other women with her, plays calmly and is carried to victory by her serenity. This is not fair.
I’m not asking you to stop winning. I’ve got enough pride not to beg for mercy or handicap, for letting some of my, or Tomek’s plans succeed once in a while. No, we don’t want your mercy. The only thing I’m asking you for, our Beloved Better Halves, is to at least pretend that you had to make some effort to defeat us. Don’t make it look so easy. I’m asking you, begging even.