Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Backgammon in the Bahamas - Part Two
The bus driver eyed me when I departed the bus...perhaps he thought that he would have to describe me to Bahamian police later in the day. Yes, I was a young blonde American girl, going to the beach in the rain -- and I was alone. I bid him goodbye and strided towards the cabana. The ocean which had been so clearly azure earlier in the week, roiled green and thick. I was pleased to see the men huddled at their table with the backgammon board loaded for bear. They had two piles of bills weighted down with a beach rock. Their Cuban cigars stung my nose and their low guttural voices were like that of horses eating dinner on a cold winter night in the barn...
I placed myself on a stool at the bar and ordered a beer. The dark Bahamian bartender recognized me from the previous days, “Hey, where are all your friends? The rugby players?” I tried to be cool, cool as a young girl alone on a rainy Bahamian beach who was clearly looking for trouble could be. I didn’t know I was looking for trouble, I thought I was just looking for a good game of backgammon with some old men.
“Oh, them, they’re all back at the hotel...so tell me something...” The barkeep leaned over the counter, he was all ears. “Tell, me are those fellas here every day?”
“Yes M’am. Dat’s what dey do...dey play backgammon all day long, rain or shine. Do you play? ”
“I do, just a little, they wouldn’t play me, I would be wasting their time...” I took a sip of my beer and turned to look at the old men, they were fogged in by mist and cigar smoke...it hung about them like it would hang around a mountain top.
“Hey Fishmon! Fishmon!” my barkeep was calling to the men, they all turned, the smoke cleared and Fishmon answered...
“Can’t you see I’m in dis game?” he was clearly annoyed.
“Dis girly here, she wants to play. Give her a game or two!” I held up my hand to the men, I didn’t wave, just cocked my hand and smiled. They all looked at each other and then back at me. Fishmon smiled a sparingly toothed smile...a gold tooth in the very front gleamed at me.
“You come over den.” I got off my bar stool and walked over to them. They cleared the current game, just swept it off the board. They had a live one. “You got money? We don’t play for fun girly, we play for money.” I pulled my stash of jewel colored Bahamian dollars with the Queen’s turquoise portrait accompanied by a barracuda out of my pocket. They waved me to sit down at the board. “You know how to set up the board girly?”
“Yes, I think so.” I hesitated slightly with the pieces, I wanted to appear competent, but not cocky. Its at this point that I must admit, that I had the best of intentions when I sat down with these men. I wanted to have my Bahamian experience, hang with the natives so to speak, something to write home about. But there was clearly a problem right from the beginning. They thought they were going to take all my money and I thought I was going to take all theirs. Fishmon was the first to play me. They set up the doubling cube on the bar of the board. We rolled to determine who would go first...it went my way and I took that roll as my first move. I snapped my men into an automatic point - suddenly the air currents shifted slightly...Fishmon leaned in, looked at my first point and then at me. He sat back and rolled his dice, he smiled as though he was telling himself “Girly knows a little bit...”
The first game went fast - I kept my hands off the doubling cube. I didn’t want to strike too hard in the first game. I gammoned Fishmon and his cohorts ordered a round of beers and lit fresh cigars. They all jumped to be next, they jostled Fishmon aside. I had lightened his pocket by 10 Bahamian dollars and he was stunned.
My next opponent was the blackest of the group - he narrowed his eyes at me and pulled his fedora down over his eyes. But when it was all said and done, he leaned back in his chair, tipping the fedora back on his head and raised his unbelievably long arms to Jah. “Girly did it again! She took all my money!” I did take all his money, I turned the doubling cube a couple of times during that second game and cleaned his clock of thirty or so Bahamian dollars. The bartender came over, “What’s dis? Girly’s got de best of you den?” He pulled up a chair, the rain started to come down harder. The ocean was rising up on its legs and trying to tell me something, but I was high on the Cuban cigar smoke and my Elephant beer.
My third opponent couldn’t wait to play me -- he was heavy, with a round head like Idi Amin. He had more teeth than all his friends put together and they were lighting up the place...I took this to mean that he had money and he had skill...he looked like a man determined to beat Girly. He had been watching me play, he was going to trip me up. But I had another trick up my sleeve - the Anita Blockade - I had never tried it on anyone, but this seemed as good a time as any to give it a go. With my first roll I left two men wide open. There were giggles of delight, Fishmon leaned over me “Girly, you sure you want to do dat?” I bit my lip.
Immediately the fat toothy man took my men and turned the doubling cube. I rolled again, I got doubles and was able to put my taken men back on the board and then use my remaining moves to cast my line with three more uncovered men. The big black fish took it - and a few moves later it was like Anita was there with me, sitting on my shoulder, speaking Swedish to me. I was channeling her. Fat man’s home board was now completely blocked up with my men and he was being forced to use his dice in unconventional and risky ways. And then what I had been waiting for happened. He had to leave two men open and I pounced with a good roll of the dice, a double fives! I took his men and then began my exodus from his home board back to my home board - the cabana went horribly quiet - he had turned the doubling cube to a crazy amount and now all you could hear was the dice hitting the felt...and then, it was over. He never even managed to get one man off the board -- I slayed him with the most brutal of Swedish tactics.
He pulled out his money clip and layed his money down on the board. Close to three hundred Bahamian dollars...and just as I stuck out my arm to take the money, I had a terrible realization...I was all alone and these men were very pissed off. It wasn’t funny anymore -- Girly was a grifter. I let the money sit on the felt of the board. I looked around - I looked to Fishmon, the sea breeze came in and fluttered the bills and the bartender place his hand on them before they blew away. “Fishmon...one more game then...no doubling cube, just winner takes all of that and this...” I quickly took my other winnings, plus my reserve cash and put it down. Fishmon looked at the Fat Man and the Black Fedora man - they nodded. I felt this horrible heat down at the base of my back, like someone was holding a torch to it. My scalp was sweating. I needed to lose that game and lose it in such an utterly perfect way that they would redeem themselves and I wouldn’t end up being fed to the barracudas.
Fishmon won the roll for the first move. He deftly used his automatic point. I rolled, and when I rolled I hung my wrist, I tried to remove all the heat from my hand, to throw those dice with no thoughts in my head that might just make them land hot. I asked Jah to make my dice as cold as that green sea that was rushing in my ears. And Jah provided, roll after roll, was cold and rotten -- I made mistakes, but I had to make smart mistakes, mistakes that appeared to be failed strategy. I could not be a fighter throwing a fight or a jockey pulling a horse - no I had to lose for real.
And somehow I did - I lost in such a way that the ocean began to calm. That hot torch at the base of my spine was suddenly gone and the men patted me on the back. I had given them all my money and had returned all of theirs. The bartender went back to the bar and I pushed back my chair and thanked them for a good afternoon. Fishmon held out a five dollar bill, I hesitated, “Take it, you’re gonna need it for de bus back to your hotel.” I took it and ran out into the rain. I could see the bus waiting at the stop and I didn’t want to miss it.