Original literature: Fortunes Lost, Friendship Gained
That was it. I lost everything.
It was strange, the compassion I felt only after I had bartered my wife (after showing a picture of her, prised willingly, almost forcefully, from my no longer burgeoning wallet), and the fear of having to care for my two small children by myself. Was it even legal? It didn’t really matter now. I had done it anyway. The casino table is a decidedly cruel mistress, and today I was beaten, and punished for my ineptitude with the chips, the cards, with the tells, and the poker faces.
A man sat across from my seat, somewhat more skilful than myself, I have to admit, smiled. I noticed this before I allowed my head to follow its seemingly natural inclination to thump against the desk, and as I lifted the heavy weight from the now-dewy, formerly cool marble that had contrasted perfectly with my over-heated, mortifyingly embarrassed face, I noticed it again, realising, in fact, that it hadn’t stopped. This man, as I now saw him as if for the first time (though he had, I thought, been there since the beginning of the game), was rather strange. He had on a strange headdress from a Middle Eastern country, with a black cord ensuring its fixedness in this precarious position, the colour of which contrasted alarmingly with the brilliant shimmer of the material that was draped over his pendulous girth. The large stomach gave way to a laugh that spread all the way to his waxy moustache and dark, bespectacled eyes, leading me to the assumption that it had, in fact, originated in his toes. I was astounded at the utter rudeness, not to mention the insensitivity with which he treated the loss of my wife – not to mention most of what was in my wallet. I was relieved, however, that I had been careful enough not to bet my car or my house – they would have fetched much less than Aurora.
When I left the table, after phoning a certain outraged, not to say surprised and rather hurt young woman, I sat down and rested the back of my neck against the panelled boards of the wall behind me. The foyer to the casino was delightfully empty and I let my head resume its former state of drooping. I was shocked to lift up my tired eyes, tired of both the game and the day and desperate to close on the turmoil just passed and sure to come again upon my return home, and see the man from the table. The smiler. He was still smiling, which more than slightly unnerved me, until he held out his hand, pulled me up as he received mine, and guided me to the nearby, fully-stocked bar.
We shared a drink, or two, and were quickly talking as if he spoke a word of English, or I whatever foreign tongue he loquaciously wrought inside his capacious mouth, and it was soon time to leave. The bill settled – yet still one to try and handle with the utmost care – I was surprised again, as I had been rather a lot on that unfortunate day, to see a thin, young, scantily-clad woman before me. She could hardly be called a woman, yet she had a certain alluring quality that put her beyond the realms of girlhood. She walked to my new-found friend, smiled in a rather frightened and anticipatory fashion, and followed him to the casino room, in which the debtors still waited for my score to be settled. My alcoholic companion returned alone, with the familiar grin across his face. He patted my head, put his arm around my shoulder, and guided me to his limousine that, no doubt would take us to the airport. As it turned out, I was later told by his driver whose attempt at broken English was somewhat better than the lack of interest shown by his employer, more than one debt had been paid by the smiley man I took for a cruel fiend, adulating in my misfortune.
As I boarded the plane to Heathrow, where I would pick up my car and my luggage and return home as quickly as I could to deliver the good news that Aurora could stay (though whether she would was quite up in the air), I questioned my benefactors generosity. I suppose I would never really know his motivation, as I had then, as I do now, not an inkling as to the workings of his mind. Perhaps it was to prove to me that, unlike out western world of ego-driven gains and losses, there is a place where a favour is a favour, and that’s all there is to it. Still, I can’t help but be suspicious – I certainly would not have done the same in his place.
Read more short stories by James at http://metcalf1992.blogspot.co.uk/