The Games People Play
Her daughter was always trying to get her on to social media, but Tyne preferred meeting people face to face . . .
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
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’.”
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
“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.”
“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.