The Games Peo­ple Play

Her daugh­ter was al­ways try­ing to get her on to so­cial me­dia, but Tyne pre­ferred meet­ing peo­ple face to face . . .

The People's Friend - - 8 - by Les­ley-anne Johnston

ANOTIFICATION burst on to the screen of the smart­phone, mak­ing Tyne jump. Your friend Carly in­vited you to play Candy Tow­ers.

Nor­mally it would have gone un­no­ticed but today it was a wel­come dis­trac­tion.

Tyne hov­ered at the liv­ing-room win­dow.

Oc­ca­sion­ally a car would en­ter the street and she would peek through the blinds ex­pec­tantly, as if the sit­u­a­tion she found her­self in was likely to change.

It was point­less. Even if the plumber she’d waited in for all day ar­rived now, the taxi which was due to take to her work would be ar­riv­ing at any mo­ment.

“What a waste of a day,” she mut­tered to her­self.

The smart­phone came to life again, gen­tly nudg­ing her to take ac­tion. Take ac­tion.

Those words had crossed her mind of­ten re­cently.

Tyne typed in her four­digit pass­code, and the so­cial me­dia site she only ever used when she was feel­ing nosy burst into life.

A short list of no­ti­fi­ca­tions awaited her. Noth­ing ex­cit­ing. A girl she knew from a slim­ming club she used to at­tend an­nounced her en­gage­ment. Un­der­neath a pic­ture of a ridicu­lously ex­pen­sive di­a­mond ring, her dis­tant cousin ap­peared to be en­joy­ing the hol­i­day of a life­time in Dubai, courtesy of his high-paid job. Be­neath his hol­i­day snaps, a school­friend was ask­ing her net­work of “mum­mies” for ad­vice on the health of her tod­dler.

The lux­ury of on-tap par­ent­ing ad­vice had never been avail­able to Tyne when her Carly was young. Tyne had been only in her early twen­ties, all the friends she had grown up with spend­ing their time so­cial­is­ing and en­joy­ing their youth. Tyne’s pri­or­i­ties had been a lot dif­fer­ent.

Now, with Carly away at univer­sity, it was easy to imag­ine that she might have man­aged to re­con­nect with old friends, es­pe­cially through so­cial me­dia.

How­ever, an older, more set­tled Tyne recog­nised that their pri­or­i­ties had

changed, too.

Since she was a girl she had been the one head­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion.

Of­ten it had meant miss­ing what her peers had ex­pe­ri­enced, just to go over old ground when she caught up with them again. She’d never imag­ined that the same per­son­al­ity trait would fol­low her into her adult life, too.

A text came in.

Your taxi is on its way. Black Mazda 6, plate 95. Mr Antony Daye.

Tyne locked the phone and slipped it into her hand­bag. Stand­ing at the bot­tom of her path, she spot­ted the courtesy cab which would trans­port her to her part-time job at the lo­cal taxi firm.

“Have you been busy tonight?” she asked po­litely, mak­ing con­ver­sa­tion as she slid into the pas­sen­ger seat. She’d never been col­lected by plate 95 be­fore. Antony Daye chuck­led. “I thought you’d know bet­ter than to ask that.”

Tyne’s cheeks flushed. Dur­ing the six months she’d worked as a con­troller at Steeple Taxis, she’d of­ten over­heard the driv­ers’ con­ver­sa­tions about the small talk their hires made.

The ques­tion that had just slipped off her tongue was num­ber one on their list of most asked – and most in­fu­ri­at­ing. She re­ally should have known bet­ter than to ask it.

It was clear that Antony liked to talk. Much of the short jour­ney down the by­pass was spent with him telling tales about his most mem­o­rable pas­sen­gers.

Tyne didn’t mind; it was easier to lis­ten.

“So I ask him, ‘What are you do­ing?’” Antony re­lated, “and he says, ‘They charge you five pence for the bags, but they don’t charge you for the bas­kets’.”

Tyne laughed.

The sys­tem box above Antony’s me­ter lit up with a short, sharp bleep, tech­nol­ogy in­trud­ing on life once again. Boy rac­ers on Etna Road. Take care.

Tak­ing care was all Tyne had been do­ing for a long time now. Carly had been her pri­or­ity for the past nine­teen years.

She’d all the time in the world now to seek out new ex­pe­ri­ences, yet be­ing alone was hold­ing her back.

There had been a time when she would have thrown cau­tion to the wind, but at some point over the years that as­pect of her per­son­al­ity had frozen and it wasn’t a sit­u­a­tion she could eas­ily fix.

“What time are you on un­til tonight?” she asked, shak­ing away

her thoughts.

“There you go again.” He laughed. “Ask­ing silly ques­tions.”

“It must be an ill­ness. Should know bet­teri­tis,” she replied.

Antony laughed “Sounds nasty. I’ll need to stay away from you or I might start ask­ing folk if they’re go­ing any­where nice on their hol­i­days.”

The silli­ness of her con­ver­sa­tion with Antony was re­fresh­ing. It felt good to have some­one to bounce off. The fa­mil­iar lights of the of­fice were now in view and Antony would have to take an­other hire. Still, it had helped to brighten her day, if only for a short while.

“Now don’t go giv­ing me the good air­port hires just be­cause I made you laugh!” Antony called out as she climbed out of the taxi, a cheeky smirk on his face.

It was a slow night at Steeple Taxis. The phone had rung only oc­ca­sion­ally. Time seemed to pass more slowly as a re­sult. Steeple 95 has logged off.

The com­puter sys­tem lit up in front of her, an­other driver giv­ing up and go­ing home. She couldn’t blame him. It hadn’t been much fun sit­ting in an of­fice all evening, but at least she’d had the oc­ca­sional call to keep her busy.

Tyne scanned the room, look­ing for some­thing to keep her oc­cu­pied. There were a few driv­ers out in the yard, talk­ing, but she didn’t feel con­fi­dent enough to go out to them and join in the con­ver­sa­tion.

It wasn’t that she was anti-so­cial; in fact, she had of­ten at­tempted to con­nect with peo­ple through so­cial me­dia. It al­ways left her feel­ing dis­con­tented, though. It wasn’t easy putting your life on dis­play, es­pe­cially when every­one else’s ap­peared so per­fect.

Your friend Carly is wait­ing for you on Candy Tow­ers.

Tyne stud­ied the no­ti­fi­ca­tion. She had never been one for play­ing on­line games; it was Carly’s thing.

Oc­ca­sion­ally some­one she knew vaguely from school would in­vite her to play one, but she had never rel­ished the idea of be­ing drawn into yet an­other area where her life could be com­pared with oth­ers.

With noth­ing hap­pen­ing in the of­fice, how­ever, Candy Tow­ers was tempt­ing. It wouldn’t hurt to have a look.

The screen lit up, ask­ing Tyne to al­low the ap­pli­ca­tion ac­cess to her ac­count. Af­ter click­ing the nec­es­sary but­tons, it turned a vi­brant shade of pink.

The aim of the game ap­peared to be to build a large tower of sweets. Noth­ing com­pli­cated about that: her Lego-build­ing skills over the years would trans­fer to the dig­i­tal world eas­ily enough.

Down the left-hand side of the screen was a list of names: peo­ple who played the game on a reg­u­lar ba­sis and were skil­ful enough to gain ac­cess to the top of a leader board. The thought of be­ing top of the leader­board was en­tic­ing.

“No harm in one game, Tyne mut­tered as she pressed the start but­ton and the game be­gan . . .

Game over – You scored 1360 points.

Tyne was be­gin­ning to re­alise that Candy Tow­ers was not as easy as she had imag­ined. Her ab­sence any­where on the leader board tes­ti­fied to that.

De­ter­mined not to be out­done by this new in­tru­sion on her time, Tyne clicked the re­play but­ton and threw her­self back into the world of con­fec­tionery ar­chi­tec­ture.

You have earned a re­ward – claim now.

Game over – You scored 2520 points.

Well done! – You have gained ac­cess to the donut level.

Steeple 34 has ac­cepted the hire.

The sound of the sys­tem in­ter­rupted Tyne from her game. She stared at the words on her com­puter screen. How could Steeple 34 ac­cept a hire? There had been none!

“Wel­come back,” Antony said, lean­ing against the door­way. Tyne had failed to no­tice him. “You didn’t hear the phone, then?”

Read­just­ing to her sur­round­ings, Tyne en­deav­oured to take in what Antony was say­ing. “Phone? No . . . what?” Antony chuck­led lightly, his head tilt­ing back­wards as he did.

“I was mak­ing my­self tea when I heard the phone ring­ing off the hook,” he ex­plained. “I thought it might be best to check you were still alive in here.”

Tyne was mor­ti­fied. Driv­ers shouldn’t be an­swer­ing the phone for her!

“I’m so sorry,” she replied. “It’s this game. I shouldn’t have got in­volved in it.”

Antony peered over her shoul­der, drag­ging a chair to sit be­side her.

“Ah, Candy Tow­ers; that’ll get you ev­ery time.”

“You won’t re­port me to the boss, will you?” Tyne asked, her voice trem­bling.

“Well, it’s a tough de­ci­sion,” he replied. “But if you prom­ise not to re­port me for at­tempt­ing to use my win­ning per­son­al­ity to gain air­port hires, then I’m sure we can call it a deal.”

Tyne smiled, let­ting out a breath of air.

“I’m sorry,” she said, study­ing the chipped var­nish on her fin­gers.

“What are you sorry for? We all need some­thing to keep us oc­cu­pied on slow nights like this. If you can get your friends in­volved, too, then all the bet­ter.”

Antony’s chair creaked as he swung from side to side.

“Oh, I wasn’t talk­ing to any friends,” Tyne in­sisted.

“Good,” he replied. “I’d be dev­as­tated if you’d been chat­ting to any­one fun­nier than me tonight.”

Antony was funny, but Tyne had no in­ten­tion of telling him – his ego was big enough with­out her adding to it.

“You have a high opin­ion of your­self.”

Antony laughed.

“Not re­ally,” he replied. “There’s noth­ing wrong with be­ing con­fi­dent, though. That’s why I’m top of that leader board there.”

A small pic­ture of Antony blinked back at Tyne from the top of her phone screen.

“One hun­dred thou­sand points!” Tyne ex­claimed. “How did you man­age that?”

In the short space of time Tyne had been im­mersed in the world of candy con­struc­tion, it had be­come clear that she could never get any­where near the score Antony had man­aged to ac­cu­mu­late. He must have a lot of spare time on his hands.

Tyne had never re­ally considered that be­fore, how much time the driv­ers had to spare be­tween hires and how lonely it might be.

Antony clearly wasn’t the lonely type, tough, not with his happy-go-lucky at­ti­tude. He in­trigued her. He had been like a breath of fresh air all evening.

“I could tell you how I did it, but then you would never an­swer the phones.” Antony’s chair squeaked as he stood, walk­ing back to­wards the door. “Any­way, I’m much too busy try­ing to make tea to be telling you my Candy Tower se­crets.”

“You’ll be telling me you’re a world-class tea-maker next.” Tyne flashed him a smile.

“Dis­tinctly av­er­age, I would say. It’s a pub­lic ser­vice, re­ally.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Well, it’s ob­vi­ous, re­ally. I can’t be funny, good at Candy Tower and a good tea-maker, now, can I? That wouldn’t be fair on every­one else.”

With a regal wave, Antony dis­ap­peared out of the door as the of­fice filled with the un­fa­mil­iar sound of Tyne’s laugh­ter.

Tyne com­posed her­self at the sound of the tele­phone ring­ing, giv­ing her a chance to redeem her­self for her ear­lier fail­ure.

Later, as she dis­cussed the avail­abil­ity of the dis­abled ac­cess ve­hi­cles with Mrs Furey, the smart­phone which had lain so silently on the desk buzzed back into life.

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