The first time, I didn’t really know what I was doing. It wasn’t planned. We were just meeting up for a drink at Pivni. Pivni, barely pocketed away from the daytime hustle and bustle of the Shambles Market, or from the night-time pitch-black slumber of empty stall frames. The timber frames of this sixteenth-century house of yore creak beneath you, above you, and around you, as you sip your ale of choice for the evening. 

On one such a night, our glasses sweated on coasters that displayed the smirks and snarls of a caricatured Guy Fawkes and fearsome Vikings. Fearless, we impersonated them by wearing the coasters on our noses – until our laughter made it just impossible. 

At some point, somebody suggested: “Why don’t we?”

Somebody else approved. 

Someone else said: “I think they’ve got one here!”

And that was that. I was in it. 

One of us had to go downstairs, back to the bar, and trade an ID card for the Scrabble box – if it had not been taken by someone else. But on this occasion, nobody had. We received the box at the table with pride. 

“So you’re the ones who got it,” a guy in a pink suit sneered while walking past us on his way to the restroom. It turned out he’d just been told we had pipped him to the post for the box. And now he just lingered – hopeful we would let him join our game. 

One after another, the tiles were strategically placed on the board in a criss-cross of English, Spanish, German, French, Norwegian, Italian, and Luxembourgish. 

“Wait a minute,” the guy interrupted. Unbeknown to us, he was still hovering over the table where we were playing. “You’re making that up. Luxembourgish? That’s not really a thing – that’s German.” 

His attempt at humour fell flat. And now he had lost the approval of the Luxembourgish representation at the table, he thought he would try a stereotypical comment about Americans – again, misjudged. And then he knew that he might as well leave. At last.

Spurred on by this quiet but witty victory, it was time to confirm our claim to the board and raise our stakes. 

“Let’s bend the rules a little. Let’s get naughty!” the sneaky one of the group said. We unquestioningly followed suit, as if a spell had been cast that governed our linguistic competence and defined the arrangement of the tiles – so innocent in isolation, so foul in combination. This round led us to use words as improper as we had ever uttered in each other’s company. The board was soon filled with cursing and swearing, effing and blinding. Most of it was disguised in tongues unintelligible to many – so no one was likely to find fault in our private, inoffensive, and guiltless fun.

Private it stayed, until Guy In Pink Suit reappeared in the top floor, prompted by another call of nature. On passing, he gave our naughty board a puzzled look. 

Inoffensive it remained, until he inquisitively pointed his finger at one word. Five letters. Across. Seventeen points. 

Guiltless it continued to be – until the Luxembourgish girl saw this as her cue to deliver some unsolicited linguistic instruction to Guy In Pink Suit, who had earlier poked fun at her nationality. 

Sure, she could have dared him to look it up. Sure, she could have laughed it off. Instead – a pause, a steely mischievous look, and three words were enough to make Guy In Pink Suit turn away and walk back to his own table downstairs. These three words explained the meaning of the German word “fotze”. 

Our victory was complete.

María Eugenia Albónico

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