Sliding in closer against the green baize, with great care and deliberation, I sized up the shot. Bringing the cue parallel to eye level, mentally measuring distances, angles and calculating expectations of all probable future scenarios.
I paused, a Zen-like omniscience descended. I became aware suddenly of the lizards creeping in the rafters, of the rats burrowing in the cellar, of every grain of sand sent fleeing before every stray ocean zephyr born on a butterfly’s wing beat, even of the rotation of the earth herself. Inhaling deeply, I took my shot. Rolling forward less than an inch the cue ball came to a gentle halt sandwiched between my two remaining striped balls. “You bloody Irish bastard!” shouted Andy swinging his cue over his head as if to club me.
We had become pool degenerates. Perhaps it wasnt so much the game but rather the unsettling cabin feverish rivalry which had gradually begun to envelope us. It had now become all-pervasive, twisting and consuming every activity from pool to trivial things like skimming stones across a pond to finding our bearings in a new town, engulfing and sucking the joy out of everything. In the downtime between these bouts we would engage politely in conversation, hoping the other would miss the furtive glances about for the next opportunity to administer a pool beat down. Eventually it all become a bit tiresome.
What had started in Hue over a jovial game of darts had grown into a monstrous rampaging beast following a most brutal smackdown on the chess board dished out by myself in the hostel bar. Andy’s forfeit involved drinking a shot from a bottle aptly labeled “Arse”. It’s sickly salted taste lingered on the tongue and bored into the soul.
It probably would have ended there and then had he not consistently defeated me at connect-four which sent me spiraling into deep brooding rage tinted meditation on the subtle strategic aspects of the game. So much so that months later the far-famed bar girls of Bangkok who specialise in fleecing those foolish enough to try quickly learned to refuse to play me.
“Alright lads!” The door of the bar swings open in march two Welsh lasses from the valleys, “play ye for the table”. I look at Andy, given our intense pool battles over the pervious days, these newcomers should be easily dispatched, we agree to the challenge. I line up the triangle and place the cue ball, the noise fades away until there is only Shunyakasha, no sky, the divine vibration of Om in the shapeless void. I strike, two balls fly off harmlessly leaving the majority of the triangle intact. Damn. Grabbing the pool cue, one of them swigs back a huge glup from her pint glass of lager, with her legs spread wide, cigarette hanging from her lower lip she hunches down low resting her pendulous breasts against the baize and wallops a ball into the far left corner. Andy tries to look nonchalant but I see the faint trace of concealed horror brush like a shadow across his face. She proceeds to clear the table and we beat a hasty retreat in ignominy.
In another bar we encounter two separate groups of Irish guys and a middle-aged American going by the name of Filthy Frank. Detaching himself from a group of other Americans Filthy Frank stumbles over to us glowering half eyed with the drink. For some reason unbeknownst to me this brings howls of protestation from some of the Vietnamese girls in the bar who begin whacking me with their hands. Backing away as I try to fend them off Filthy Frank grabs hold of me by the wrist, “Listen good to Filthy Frank son” he sputters at me, “the women in these here parts, they’re all looking for the same thing” “Whats that?” I ask recoiling in disgust. “Something BIG!” he roars as a film of saliva coats my face. I stumble backwards out the door into the dark batting away Filthy Franks grasping hands and the hoards of shrieking Vietnamese girls.