18 Feb

“I couldn’t bum one of those could I? I forgot to pop into the shop on the way down here.”

I held out the packet and he took one of my cigarettes.

“Thanks a lot,” he said, as he put it between his lips. “Have you got a light?”

I lit it for him, hoping that the act of smoking would take his mind off of making idle chit-chat that I was finding quite boring. Standing a few feet away I could see some of the other players grinning in my direction, clearly enjoying the fact that I was the one on the receiving end of his attentions.

I’m not the chattiest of men even at my most social, but tonight I was even less comfortable than usual to find myself engaged in conversation with a stranger. The man smelt. No, smelt is too soft a word; it doesn’t begin to do justice to the man’s state. He reeked. A stench emanated from him that stuck in the back of the throat, making me retch. Describing the smell isn’t easy, but try to imagine the aroma that would accompany a fish monger who, after a 12 hour shift at work, went and sat in a bath full of piss, before taking a paintbrush and spreading himself from head to toe in semen. He wore dirty clothes and I wondered how he had been allowed access to the casino with such personal hygiene issues.

“Do you play here often?” he asked, not picking up on my body language, as I stood looking out across the coast road and over the English Channel towards France.

“Every now and then,” I muttered. “We better be getting back inside, the break is almost over.”

“Okay mate, thanks again for the cigarette. Good luck.”

“Cheers. You too.”

It was a cold November’s Friday evening and I, along with 45 others, was playing the £25 poker tournament in Brighton’s Grosvenor Casino. Some 30 of us had made it to the first break, and that was when I’d met David. We had been sat at the same table for the first 90 minutes of play, but hadn’t spoken. No one else at the table had spoken to him either, despite his efforts to be friendly and chatty. I was sat at the opposite side of the table to him, but the distance did nothing to protect my nostrils. I felt for the players that were assigned seats either side of him. As we went in to the break, him and I had between us about two thirds of the chips on the table. He had played well and I didn’t expect to be losing him from the game any time soon. I only hoped that our table would be broken up by the tournament organiser, and that we would find ourselves in opposite sides of the room. He had latched on to me as I made my way down the stairs and out to the main road for a smoke, introducing himself with a handshake, and that was how we had ended up standing together chatting about nothing in particular.

An hour and a half later I found myself in an almost identical situation. We were on the second break and there were now only about 15 players left. We were still both well stacked chip wise and, providing there were no sick beats or mistimed moments of madness, were both on course for an appearance at the final table, battling it out for the money. Again he asked for a cigarette and again I obliged. What could I do? I hope that I am not doing the man an injustice here. I don’t want to be misunderstood; there was nothing wrong with David other than his smell. He was slightly annoying, but that was as much down to my lack of interest in exchanging pleasantries as it was his desire to make new friends. A part of me actually felt like I had adopted him for the evening, as I was the only one giving him the time of day, and I certainly wasn’t going to join in with the comments being aired in the toilets about that “dirty stinking bastard on table three.” Hearing the insults acted to turn me into a kind of fan of his, in as much as I wanted nothing more than to see him go on and knock each of them out of the tournament. Well, I wanted me to win more, but I hoped he would finish 2nd.

As it panned out, that is almost what happened. In the end he crashed out in 4th, but it was good enough for a prize of £130. I busted out a while later in 3rd for £200 and went to join the cash game taking place on the other side of the casino.

“Cash game?” David said, after asking if I was going to make my way home. “I didn’t know there was a cash game here.”

He followed me over to the table and exchanged his £130 for chips. He then proceeded to play some of the worst poker I had ever seen, haemorrhaging chips with awful calls. The other players on the table, despite visibly holding their breath at times, didn’t want the “dirty stinking bastard” to leave just yet, as they were now in a race to get his money. The dealer wasn’t as enthusiastic about his presence, almost begging a colleague to come and relieve her so that she could go on her break and get away from the pungent odour. It took exactly 23 minutes for David to lose the last of his £130, before standing up with a look of disbelief on his face. I felt for him; I had stood up under similar circumstances in the past, and knew the feeling of nausea that he was probably feeling in the pit of his stomach. But that’s poker and that’s gambling and you have to take the losses just like you take the wins. I looked around at the other faces at the table; they didn’t look as sympathetic as me.

“Seat open!” one of them called out to the floor manager, indicating that a space at the table had become available.

David hadn’t left yet; preferring to just stand, still looking stunned. And then he cleared his throat.

“I’ve got to get home to Worthing now, but I haven’t got any money left for the early morning train. Would any of you be able to spare me a pound each, just to get me home? I will pay each of you back when I’m here next.”

It was excruciating to watch; the humiliation of the moment just didn’t sit right. I tossed a £1 chip his way.

“Thanks,” he said, keeping his eyes on the floor.

And then something happened that I hadn’t been expecting. Each of the other players all threw him a £1 chip from their stack. He picked them all up, thanked us, wished us good luck, told us again that he would pay us all back, and then made his way out of our lives. We knew we wouldn’t see him again; not one of us had seen him before, and we were all regulars.

“It was worth a quid just to clear the air,” snorted the player to my left.

“Yea, too right. Fucking hell, that was nasty,” added another.

“Dealer, can we get some air freshener brought over please?” joked the man who had made the original comment.

Only he wasn’t joking; the dealer actually called a waitress, who returned a minute later with a can of the smelly stuff. The game then continued as normal, not concluding until late the following morning.


“Hurry up mate! If we don’t get there before midnight we’ll have to pay to get in,” called Steve, from further up the street.

“Yea, hold on!” I shouted.

It was a mild December’s Saturday evening. I looked up and saw the three of them growing impatient, but I was going to be a bit longer yet.

“Hello mate, how you doing?” I asked, as I knelt down to get to his level.

“Oh, you know, not too bad,” he replied, looking at me trying to work out from where he knew me.

“Have you been playing lately?” I asked, knowing that this would jog his memory.

“Ah, no, not recently. Haven’t had the funds,” he told me, looking embarrassed to have been found in this position.

But it all made perfect sense. The smell that night hadn’t been because he was someone of bad hygiene, but because he was living on the streets. He didn’t need the money for a train to Worthing, he needed it for a hostel or something to eat.

“What happened?” I then asked, indicating the meaning of my question through tone and facial expression.

“Gambling. I’ve been homeless for a year; lost everything to the bookies. Fiancée, nice flat, decent enough job. Everything. And my mum had already given up on me by then so I had nowhere to go, no one to help me out. It’s not that bad; Most nights I manage to get enough from begging to pay for a bed in a hostel, and every now and then I’m able to save enough through the week to enter a tournament on a Friday night. I just need that one win to get me back on my feet again. It will come.”

My mates had given up on me now and gone ahead to join the queue for the club we were going to. I needed to join them; I needed a distraction from the thoughts and feelings that now overcame me. David was probably a couple of years younger than me, with the same addiction as me. The only difference was that when I’d hit rock bottom – when I’d lost my job, my home and my fiancée – I’d had people that I could depend upon for a while until I got myself out of the shit. He hadn’t. When I looked at him, I saw myself.

‘I just need that one win to get me back on my feet again.’ That is the sickness, and one that I don’t believe there is any proven cure for. How sick is it that even after the irreparable damage gambling has done to a degenerate’s life, that he will never lose belief that the big win will come with the next spin of the wheel or turn of the card.

“Look after yourself, alright,” I told him, as I rose to my feet. “And play wisely with this,” I put a tenner in his hand. “I gotta go.”

“Thanks. Good luck,” were his final words to me.

“Fucking hell, what took you? You didn’t give that tramp any money did you, you mug? He’ll only spend it on drugs and alcohol.”

“Nah he won’t.”


One Response to “David”

  1. Dennis Cardiff November 25, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

    We all have weaknesses, disorders, addictions. We are all the same, we seek happiness and an end to suffering. ~ Dennis

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