Gambling My Last Penny Away

The throw of the dice didn’t work in my favour. That was my last penny. I knew that. My hope for a win was dashed. It sank in slowly but surely. I was faced with a dilemma. A first of its kind in my youthful life at 13 years old. I needed all the experience I could muster to address and make sense the situation I was in. It was my own fault. No one else was to blame. Asking a favour from someone, had I met one who would care to listen, was out of the question. I had to face the consequence head-on – myself! I had to walk home – 3 to 4 miles of slog, and more. But it was a character-building moment. The lesson I learned from it and the realization arising from that experience have both informed and shaped my personality ever since.

The last Saturday of the Miss Hibiscus Festival in 1959 was floats day. As usual. Throngs of people packed Albert Park afterwards for the last few hours of swings and rides, and all you could eat. And Crown and Anchor of course. The last Saturday and the whole week, in those early days of the Festival, used to be rainless. There was fun galore. Boys and girls enjoyed the freedom to explore the fun of the festival and the fine weather. For some, it was an unusual freedom having to spend one’s once-a-year allocated pocket money. For many, however, that rare allocation did not come with a built-in package of financial prudence on how to spend one’s hard-earned resources. It did, however, come with clear and firm instructions on when the young spender had to be back home after the festivities.

At some point in the late afternoon, I was running low of cash. I thought that if I could get winnings from playing Crown and Anchor, I could spend a bit more with enough left for my bus fare home. Well, it didn’t happen. I lost all my pennies; and with that came the realization that I had to walk home. Never once did it occur to me that I could ask someone to pay or lend me my bus fare home. It just wasn’t the thing to do. I created my own dilemma and I needed to sort it out myself in the best way I could.

The best way to be on top of my personal problem, I decided, was to leave for home immediately. And the only way home which was known to me at the time was the bus route home. From the bus station in Suva up through Edinburgh Drive and Ratu Mara Road to Nabua, three to four miles away.

I crossed town from Albert Park to the bus station without being overly self-conscious of my situation. I just blended into the masses of people going to and fro. But that was to change soon. It was when I entered Edinburgh Drive to head for Samabula when I became very self-conscious of my aloneness and of the weight of the task I had unwittingly created for myself.

There were fully-loaded buses galore travelling to and away from Suva. When one of these buses passed me, I could feel all the passengers’ eyes glued on me. Their proximity was unnerving and only heightened my discomfort.

My sense of being alone and vulnerable played on me again when I came to the corner of Princes Road and Ratu Mara Road. The junction on the road immediately presented so much space and open area. I felt so small and insignificant. But at the same time, over-exposed for all to see.

The old shops of Samabula further on brought solace to some extent. I wondered why. I put it down to familiarity, having lived in this general area. But that sense of familiarity was to play havoc along the very next bend on the road. I knew relatives who lived at the bend of the road between Samabula town and where Courts is today. I imagined all their eyes pinned on me when I walked past that bend; and they would have wondered what on earth I was doing there. I imagined that my relatives would raise the matter sometime with my parents and my secret would be exposed.  I quickened my pace past the bend whilst averting my eyes from looking up at the house.

That sense of familiarity, in some very strange ways, sustained my transit through Samabula. The old Samabula Theatre was at the time a favourite haunt for Saturday matinees. I looked kindly up at its historic façade. It somehow re-assured me of my relative location from my destination as if I needed assurance. Nearby is an old house where my family had lived in the 1950s before we moved to Nabua. My mind was distracted to the various places I was familiar with regarding that house. I could see myself, for instance, cooking a pot of cassava on the hearth outside under the big tree that provided welcome shade on hot and humid days.

But there were still two more miles to walk. Or thereabouts.

Another bout of self-consciousness hit me at the bend before Grantham Road. I realized I was again so close to passengers on the buses travelling to and from Suva. I imagined that they could have reached out to me at the bend. Had they’d done so I could have shared perhaps some of my sense of vulnerability and aloneness with them. I don’t know though whether that would have been helpful to me at all.

But I was also very conscious of getting close to home and harboured the realization, falsely or rightly, that, of all the places I had passed along the way, this was the area where more people known to me and to my family would reside. In a perverse way, I didn’t want people to know of my discomfiture.

The last bout of vulnerability struck me at the corner of Mead Road and Ratu Mara Road. Again, it was the wide-open space that the junction presented that accentuated my relative aloneness. But it was more than that. At this junction in particular, I was again very close to bus-loads of people. But their nearness, this time around, was proving greatly unnerving to me, as if their proximity was the lid that would ultimately lift to divulge my secret before I was ready to tell the tale.

In retrospect, that gambling experience has taught me some important lifestyle lessons. I have always been averse to gambling in my later life, as it turned out. On occasions when demands for sociability called, I would enter a casino with friends. But I would quickly quit after the first tentative round of spending. When it comes to what may appear as a gamble in life or in business, I have always tended to err on the side of the lowest risks possible.

Those lessons have been valuable in my life to date. On occasions when I have slipped and created experiences where being self-consciousness has come into play, I have always tended to do what I did back in 1959, as a 13 year old: take the bull directly by the horns and elicit my inner strength. Find a way to singly control the beast within!

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