Singing that famous French waltz, I open the shoe box. I pull out the tiles and lay them randomly on the table: hand-size foam rectangles: powder blue on the back, red on the front embedded with two colored shapes in contrasting bright hues. Romika observes what I am doing. In Bulgarian she says something like: “What is that?” I show her the capital letters on the top of the cardboard box: DOMINOES. I read: “Dominoes! –Aah.” She seems to recognize the word. I am not sure how the group gathered around me will play. I stack up all the tiles, face down, in front of Leila.
I pick up the top tile. I show it around. “What color is it? –Yellow.” answers Denise. George, the only English native speaker among us, stares with wide curious eyes, but stays silent, as usual. Romika and Leila repeat: “Yellow.” At the center of the table I place the double yellow: a yellow triangle on each side of the red rectangle. I pick a second tile from the pile. I show it around. “What color is it?” Everyone is perplexed. I lay it on the table and point at the small rectangle and square: “Blue, purple.” Romika and Denise repeat. I put the tile next to the yellow triangle’s one. “We need some yellow. We cannot use that one. Let’s put it aside.” I start a “rejected” stack.
Watching Leila, Romika protests: “What is she doing?” Leila has grabbed one tile from the pile in front of her. Using her fingers, she is trying to separate the front and back layers. “She likes to touch.” I explain. We watch the experiment. The tile does not come apart. Leila puts it back in the pile. I confide to all that I always want to extract the colored shapes from their little perfectly shaped nest, dug in the red side of the tiles. “If I do that, it may be a disaster, they might never fit and glue again.”
The next ten tiles, or so, are no match. No yellow in sight. They end up into the “rejected “stack. We laugh about this absence of luck. Finally there is a match. Our game gains momentum. The characteristics domino roads and crossroads are extending through the table. The words we exchange are colors. Usually Denise is the quickest to name the color. Romika repeats or say it in Bulgarian. I repeat her Bulgarian. We smile. I am happy to revisit my minimal Bulgarian vocabulary, learned 35 years ago. Romika is happy to practice her English. Maybe I smile because I found a purpose to our playing: a language lesson.
Finally all the tiles are connected. “What do we do now?” asks Romika. “We look at the drawing we just made.” I propose. A tiles mosaic is now covering half the table. I admire the patterns and lightly pass my fingers over the varied shapes: purple rectangle, white hexagon, green moon, black half moon, yellow triangle and more. Romika, again, seems to be interrogating, in Bulgarian. Because of her body language I interpret it as: “What’s the point?” I have no answer. I think of her animated face during the game, of our joy of being together around the table, creating something despite our very different backgrounds and diagnosis. I remember the recent words from an Australia visitor: “What is left is the essence.” This is the point of our game: opening up to our essence. It could also be called, enjoying a moment together.