Tales From Earth:Tower of Cards
Tower of Cards
It was a full house in the arena, and a hushed silence fell upon the eagerly waiting spectators. Not that they had been loud before; the initial whispered comments and nervous fidgeting had long since ceased, the tension was too great for that. But now as they felt the end was in sight that previous silence felt the equivalent of being on a busy building site.
Perched at the top of his ladder, some ten metres above the ground Chen Jun held aloft the final pair of cards, the cards that would cement his place in history, would make his name known throughout the world.
Although his body language suggested he was calm, inside it was quite another matter. Indeed, who could fail to be tense at this point? He had invested over three weeks in this latest attempt, and if it failed was not sure if he would have enough will to try again. That was always the way: try….fail....try….fail. Always so close, but so far the only emotions he had felt afterwards were those of frustration and disappointment.
But not this time, this time would be different!
Never before had Jun got this far, to the final storey. In essence this should be simple, place two cards onto the tower. Just like he had placed the two pairs below, and the three below that, and so on and so on, until the base layer that was placed what felt like a lifetime ago.
So why was it suddenly so hard? Granted for much of the building process he had been alone. After all, there are few people willing to sit through twenty-three days of building. The occasional passers-by had lingered for a while, admired the skilful work, and then carried on with their daily lives. Now he was increasingly aware of the packed crowd below him. Their restraint was commendable; his concentration had been broken only once that morning by a woman sneezing, and thankfully that had not been a critical stage.
It was a shame that children had not been allowed into the central seating area. Despite parental guidance it was almost impossible to get a youngster to sit still for that length of time, and Jun knew that they would be able to join in with the final stages in the comfort of their own homes. Or for that matter on one of the many large screens that had been hurriedly assembled in the main squares across the city. Hurriedly, because he was not supposed to be finishing for some time, and was somewhat ahead of schedule. The previous efforts had taken many more days. Probably it was all the practice, but still it did worry him slightly that things were going possibly too well.
The thoughts of children had entered Jun’s mind as it was when he himself had been much, much younger that his love of card building had begun. It had been his grandfather Chen Di-Jin, that had started him off; that had supplied that initial creative spark. After an evening of family card games, Poker and Rummy had been his favourites he recalled, his grandfather had cleared the table, and constructed a fantastic structure. Being quite small the tower, although not that high, especially compared to his latest work, had been as tall as Jun was; and he marvelled at how the cards could stand on their own, with apparently no support.
Pleased that he had such an affect on his grandson, Di-Jin suggested that he have a go himself. So Jun had picked up a couple of cards and tried to place them in the inverted V-shape on the table. His inexperience was clear as it took several attempts to get them to stand. Taking a couple more cards he lined them up alongside the first pair…………they collapsed.
He tried again…………again they collapsed.
After a few more tries there were two pairs with the corresponding top card ready to be the base for the next layer. Jun picked up two more cards and placed them on…………and the whole thing fell down!
By now Jun had lost patience with the game and told his grandfather so. Di-Jin looked at him in a disappointed fashion telling him that if people gave up when things got hard then nothing would have ever been achieved. The lecture given he offered the cards back to Jun and asked if he would like to continue.
Not wishing to disappoint, Jun accepted the cards and tried again. After a few more unsuccessful attempts there proudly stood on the table a two storey pyramid. Buoyed by this victory he continued to add to the structure. Sometimes the cards would stand, sometimes they would fall, but within a couple of hours he had managed to construct four layers much to his grandfather’s joy.
The rest of the family went to bed, but Jun and his grandfather stayed up well into the early hours of the next morning talking about cards and all the amazing things that could be made from them. Together they built towers, rings, bridges and his grandfather’s personal creation, a long winding structure he called the Di-Jin worm. Jun eventually went to bed tired, but content.
From that point on, the card building became a hobby, then an obsession, until finally he became good enough to challenge for the chance to be the best in the world.
Waking from these thoughts, the happy memory seemed to invigorate Jun. Despite the beads of sweat slowly running from his furrowed brow and the intense mental concentration, he began once again to believe that it was possible.
Steadying himself on the ladder, he began to lower the final two cards onto the tower. As always they were his special jokers. One was more special as it was marked with a lucky star drawn by his grandfather before he died. Jun would not dream of using any other cards as they had brought him good luck in the past and sometimes he thought that when he held them he could hear his grandfather’s voice urging him on to succeed.
As they touched the top layer, a tremble went through the tower. Jun paused, afraid that any movement would bring all his hard work crashing down. But the structure held. Relieved, and with the jokers placed at the correct angle he paused for one final time. This last release and the subsequent minute that the tower had to hold for the record to stand would prove the difference between another heartbreaking failure, and the achievement of a dream he had been working towards all his life.
He carefully lifted his hands away. The tower wobbled slightly as the contact was lost. A card on one of the lower storeys shifted slightly as the movement passed though it and the crowd produced what seemed a communal intake of breath. The card stopped its slide and stood firm. The minute slowly ticked by. Second after second after second, and with each one’s passing, Jun was closer to victory.
Finally, the moment arrived. The timekeeping official raised his green flag, and it was confirmed. Chen Jun was the world champion card stacker!
Amid the waves of resulting applause from the crowd, amongst the flashes of cameras recording the famous event, even through the balloons and confetti falling in celebration, all Jun could see was his grandfather’s face from years ago, smiling with pride at his grandson’s achievement.