The Damascus road

The big sack of coal felt painfully heavy on my left shoulder. Struggling with it along the road, I was not even sure how I had managed to lift it, unaided, onto my shoulder. It must have been desperation. The desperation of knowing the reopening of school was only a couple of days away. The desperation of knowing my only pair of “good” shoes was now beyond repair and I did not have enough money to buy another. The desperation of knowing I could not face my father again to borrow one of his two pairs of black shoes. How did it come to this? I was a teacher, single, and not quite twenty, with no burdensome responsibility as a bank loan or children making demands on me. Although my monthly salary was not anything grand, when I apportioned part of it to my mother, I was still left with enough to take care of my needs. So why was I in this predicament? It was simple. I was addicted to gambling.

My addiction began innocently enough. At eight or nine, like many kids my age, I was consumed by the obsession of accumulating as many marbles and two-inch by one-and-a half inch pictures of foreign celebrities as I could. We didn’t believe in trading these pictures, so we devised games of chance in which two or more players participated. One such game was “man or woman.” It was a very simple game wherein one player would beat or shuffle his pictures, much like a deck of cards, and the other player or players would bet on whether the picture at the bottom was that of a male or female by saying, “man” or “woman.” Sometimes, we placed limitations on those bets and the maximum was agreed at five or ten pictures per player. Mostly, there were no limitations, and it wasn’t uncommon to have one or more players wiped clean after just one bet.

In my tenth or eleventh year, someone introduced us to the world of playing cards and card games. The colors, the suites, the values assigned to each card, the different rules associated with the various games, filled us with heart-thumping excitement and soon enough, we began playing card games for pictures and marbles. We didn’t, however, abandon the conventional games of “man or woman” and pitching for marbles. In fact, those games remained our preferred options, but we played cards often. By the time I turned thirteen or fourteen, I was into gambling, and before I turned sixteen ―although I didn’t know it yet―I was hooked.

Author’s note: The preceding is an excerpt from the story “The Damascus road” from the novella, “House of Tears”, now on Amazon Kindle 

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