Each deformed piece makes no sense. Some have a blur of colour on them; others a transient pattern. Occasionally, a propitious one or two bear a distinct feature to indicate that it might be the 7th piece from the northeast corner of the jigsaw puzzle. The end goal is clear: assemble the jigsaw pieces to exhibit the image on the cover of the puzzle box. The process is, however, laborious.
Sieving through 1000 pieces of squiggles to find the four corner pieces and the sidepieces is not evident. There is no reference piece. All it takes is patience to line up the framework. Then, like an investigator, different colours or parts of the puzzle are classified and separated into chunks on the outskirts of the frame on the coffee table.
Sometimes, what seems to be a pitch black sky backdrop is actually segregated into pieces of charcoal black, mahogany black, silky black, and gradients of black fading into an ash grey. Eyeing the pieces under natural daylight aids in differentiating what looks identical, into their respective approximate positions, perhaps from rows two to four and columns seven to eight counting from the northwest corner. This is a rare time when impulsive personalities as myself are at their most meticulous and focused.
An onlooker would assume that attaching adjacent pieces from the random mess scattered across the coffee table as strokes of luck. Yet one with experience is in sync with the jigsaw. We can see through the monotony and discover logic. Instinct tells us two pieces that look exactly the same as the other 998 pieces belong together. Each piece has a subtle difference. Each piece is unique.
When two pieces find each other, they click with seamless precision. No air leaks in between. A smile of contentment spreads when we have found the third adjoining piece, placing the cluster at 60 degrees below the top, roughly in the middle third of the frame. It is not a grin of pride due to accuracy, but a reassurance that each piece serves its purpose – and that we have helped the piece achieve its destiny – weaving them into the 1/8 of the image with its neighbours. With steady and consistent actions, the small lumps will expand to form 3/8 of the image.
However, the process is not straightforward. Blockages in insights mean that one must abandon the area being tackled and pick up other pieces instead. Maybe the piece with a nose could be stationed in the center, and the white furry tip could be the tail, approximately 10cm in from the southeast corner? The velvet green, lime green, and duck poo green might make up the forest in the background, while the sprinkle of yellow must be somewhere near the tiles at the bottom.
Discipline is repeated in matching the pieces over several days, sometimes weeks. The transformation from lonely pieces to small huddles to bigger patches happens without my knowing, for I was focused on finding each individual piece. To regain perspective, I sometimes assemble the puzzle looking at the pieces upside down to realize that the piece with a teapot indentation must be five pieces away from the cluster at the top. When my back gets sore from leaning too close over the table for an extended period of time, I get up, sip some herbal tea concoction prescribed by my acupuncturist before returning to the puzzle, looking at it with a helicopter view. Suddenly a piece waves and beckons me to pick it up, cradle it between my fingers, and lay it gently just below the equator of the frame.
I wonder if jigsaws are inherently miscreant, trying its best to conceal the solution by a matrix of indistinguishable pieces. But the cold appearance of the puzzle pieces melts once I was willing to invest time to empathize their origins, and the stories they want to tell by the mesh of pixels. Sometimes I finish a puzzle in a day. Sometimes I am not even half way through after a month. Yet as the pieces fall into place, and the image emerges in its entirety, I am excited by the proximity of the next step.
A corner of the silver pouch is cut, and a lava of clear glue streams out onto the finished puzzle. Methodically, I spread it with a small plastic palette into the hair like spacing between each piece, cementing their fate to be married to each other for as long as I live. Once the glue has dried, I place the glass over the puzzle and seal off the frame, to be hung on the wall to keep the other accomplishments in the Bear Room company.
Stretching out, I pour myself more tea and toast the puzzle wall, a silent smile to myself.
Piece by piece, step by step, with patience. We can all get there.