♠ Scroll 17
Yesterday they closed the casino. It's just as well—I had gotten tired of throwing the dice. Even the heavenly bodies are taking a chance these days, especially when it comes to fast money. Everybody dreams of becoming a millionaire by clicking a mouse, or touching the head of a white tiger. Not knowing what they should feed to wild animals, carrots are scarce in the supermarket. There's a strong breeze blowing off the sea, sending a howl like a stray wolf's. It is strange at this time of the year to watch the tips of the waves foaming into spray, and to hear them crash against the shore, all down the coastline.
Outside the sad casino a dense fog hangs low, wrapping up the streets of shops and bars with only a scattering of people about. On a day like this I have to decide quickly which way to take when I go to my favorite cafe to write. One wrong turn and the whole journey becomes hectic, as usual, like entering a huge food mixer, tossed from side to side, back and forth, with pieces of carrot, broccoli, onion, celery, garlic. In case of danger what I need are a pinch of salt and a lucky slice of lime to rub on the back of my hand. Today I chose a street I rarely take, just because I noticed a new sign "No Man's Cafe" at the entrance of the street.
I couldn't resist going inside to see what the place was all about, but as soon as I opened the door I knew I'd made a mistake. I was the only customer in the dimly-lit room, and as I entered a hoarse call of a bird welcomed me. I looked around and found a rattan birdcage hanging from the ceiling, but there was no bird in it—only a blank sheet of paper. I stared at it for a moment, picked it up, and started folding a crane with the paper, which is the traditional way to do when we are in desperation. I thought it a better way than gambling with dice, or drinking my way back to clarity—although both have proven successful in the past.
Immediately the paper crane leapt from my hand and burst into flight, squawking and circling the room several times, and went inside the birdcage. I felt thirsty and wanted to order a glass of wine but there was only a half-finished bottle of retsina—dastardly drink from the wrong side of the Mediterranean. Desperate, I fled the cafe and headed for the casino, knowing full well it was closed, but I wanted to see it with my own eyes. There was a rumor floating around that the casino was still operating, in a secret room, accessible through an unmarked back door. Maybe there was a way to tell the correct back door from other similar ones.
Regretting I had left my dog in the car, I tossed a coin into the air, caught it in my palm, and without looking at the coin, entered the first door that I came to. A passageway led to a waiting room. I found on the door of the consulting room a sign "Dr. Suzuki" and I entered. A nurse looked up from her desk, smiled, and asked me, "What has been ailing you?" I was surprised, because I was feeling happier than ever before, and I knew that she was asking for the password to be admitted to the secret casino. "Boredom," I answered without hesitation, and, as she pressed a button under her desk, the back wall of the office swung back, revealing several men, stripped to the waists, with large dragon tattoos overall, gambling with flower-printed cards.
(Photo by James C Hopkins: Kathmandu, Nepal)