‘Who will play first?’ the old lady asked.
‘The one who comes up with the highest number on the dice,’ the girl said.
The old lady nodded in agreement. ‘Bring the board,’ she said.
The little girl moved towards the corner of the room, dimly lit with spider webs at the edges. The rack was dusty, like no one had visited the place in ages.
‘Ha….shooo,’ the little girl sneezed and rubbed her eyes.
The metal board was heavy and had numbers from one to hundred carved over the surface with tiny little squares. The little girl hadn’t seen it before and wondered how the game is played. She knew a little about the dice which was used in the game.
She walked back to the place where the old lady was seated. The place was bright with the rays of the newly awaken sun entering through the windows.
‘You roll the dice first, Ma,’ the little girl said, grabbing the glass dice from the pocket and handing it to the lady.
‘Do you know the rules of the game, Arki?’ the old lady asked.
‘I know about the dice,’ she said.
The old lady wiped the board and it shone like a fine piece of metal. The little girl’s eyes widened by the sight.
‘Is it true, is it true?’ she asked anxiously.
‘Yes it is,’ the old lady replied. ‘The game is run by magic,’ she added.
The little girl could not hide her excitement.
‘Lets play, lets play,’ she said.
The old lady rolled the dice. it was a four. The little girl rolled it, it was a five.
‘You go first,’ said the old lady smiling. ‘You must get a one or three consecutive threes to get to the first square,’ she added.
The little girl nodded.
‘And then we move as per the number on our dice. A five would mean you move five spaces ahead,’ she added.
The little girl was getting impatient. She had never seen or played this game before. She had heard about the snakes that magically appeared and moved your token backwards and ladders made of iron, copper, silver and gold which could make your token jump over squares. She had heard about the golden ladder which was the longest ladder that appeared. But the ladder did not always appear, and not many who had played the game had seen their tokens climb it.
‘One or three threes, one or three threes,’ the little girl prayed silently.
She rolled the dice. It was a three.
‘Two threes…two threes,’ she prayed again.
It was a five.
The old lady took the dice and rolled it over. It was a one. She moved her token, a lion, over the first square carved with the number ‘1’.
The little girl rolled the dice. It was a two. She looked disheartened.
‘Soon, soon,’ the old lady said and rolled the dice. It was a six. She moved six spaces ahead. A wooden ladder appeared and her token, the lion marched ahead.
The little girl looked at her token. It was a bird with wings spread across, as if ready to take flight. She rolled her dice. It was a three. She wasn’t very happy. She rolled it again. It was yet another three. She rolled it one more time and closed her eyes with her tiny palms and peeked to see.
She beamed. It was a three. She placed her token bird over the first square. The old lady rolled the dice and moved four steps ahead. The little girl rolled and moved ahead. She waited for the ladder to appear but it didn’t.
The old lady rolled and a ladder appeared, this time was was made of iron. It didn’t sparkle like the golden was supposed to, but took the token a little higher. It was the little girl’s turn and she rolled the dice. She moved her token and a small ladder made up of copper appeared. It made the token fly and land where the ladder ended. She watched in awe.
‘Your’s a bird, it will fly,’ the old lady said.
The little girl looked delighted. She had never felt that way before.
The old lady rolled the dice and moved her token. A grey fume appeared and they could see a green snake. Her token moved backwards where the tail of the snake ended.
‘Nasty snakes,’ the old lady said.
‘Why can’t we see them beforehand?’ the little girl asked, startled.
‘That’s how the game is,’ the old lady said.
The little girl frowned. She rolled the dice and moved ahead, anxious of the unforeseeable snakes.
The old lady moved her token and a long ladder appeared. It did not look like gold. The girl watched the ladder, sparkling white in color.
‘This is the silver ladder,’ the old lady said.
‘You’re going to win!’ the little girl exclaimed with a disheartened look on her face.
‘You don’t know that yet,’ the old lady replied. ‘You’re not there till you’re not there. And possibly, one will never be there.’
The little girl looked confused but rolled her dice. She moved her token and a purple fume rose and she could see a blue snake who took her token downwards. She realized that her token had gone way back to possibly win the game.
‘But the golden ladder,’ she thought. She hoped it would appear before her grandmother reached the 100th square. She was already marching ahead at the 89th square.
The bell suddenly rang.
‘I’ll be back,’ said the old lady and went away.
The little girl looked around to see if anyone was there. She silently picked up the lion and placed it at the 79th square right below the 89th. But the token moved up. She tried a few more times but it would always move back.
‘Did you move the lion?’ the old lady asked as she walked in.
The little girl turned pink. She felt a fang of guilt run down her. She nodded her head.
‘I forgot to tell you that it moves back, didn’t I?’
The little girl nodded.
‘Let us continue.’
The game continued, a few more snakes appeared and so did the ladders. But the golden one was yet to show itself.
The old lady was far ahead and the little girl was stumbling behind.
‘May be I should have taken the lion,’ she thought and played.
The old lady’s token reached the 97th square. The little girl had almost lost.
The little girl rolled the dice and moved her token, waiting to lose. The old lady smiled. A sparkle of dust appeared and there came the golden ladder. It was indeed the longest and sparkled like the stars in the dark sky.
The bird flew up and up till the 100th square. The little girl watched in surprise and awe. The ladder was beautiful, she had almost forgotten about the game.
The little girl had won and she walked out stunned to see the golden ladder. The old lady was alone now.
‘Why did you make the ladder appear?’ a voice in the room questioned, hiding itself from view.
‘There are worse battles to lose,’ the old lady replied.
‘Indeed,’ said the voice. ‘She’ll have something to tell her friends tomorrow.’
The old lady smiled and put the board back into the rack.