of dice and life
What can one say about one’s own past? What can one do with those hazy memories of our childhood? For me it was another world. Tropical deluges throwing smells of soil into the air and sending scorpions indoors where the humble light of hurricane lanterns cast trembling shadows on the walls because the electricity looked for the slightest excuse to stop. And with warm concrete and burning kerosene dulling my senses, I would leap into the air trying not to step on said scorpions. There was also the high noon heat of parched dry seasons, flies buzzing in the air, landing, tickling my skin, dogs howling, the stench of their feces hanging heavy over the dry clay and burned grass… and when the sun set, the relief of the night gave way to the torment of the mosquitoes, and the smell of incense.
All these memories tumble out and still there’s one that stands above them all. It’s that of my father, though not the image of him (since that was usually an image that focused on eye level legs) but what he did. I should state that at the time, the nation we were in was experiencing an existential crisis as well as a great inflation whereupon in a week, one’s life’s savings were turned into beggar’s scraps. All this I gathered from listening in the corners as my father complained to his friends over dinner.
At that age, my allowance was a paltry sum for doing all chores required in a given month. I made some grumbles about its monthly-ness, as well as its size. To fix this my father decided to roll a 100-sided die twice; once to see if I would get paid at all (my age was the blessed number,) and if I was lucky on that roll he would roll again to see how much I was paid (with each number a percentage of the previous era’s allowance).
I should have protested, or along with my siblings started a strike. But they were barely sentient and I wasn’t allowed to read anything useful, so I remained ignorant of such avenues, and could only nurse a grudge. Besides, I still listened to my father’s dinners and now they focused on the increasing amount of bandits in the area, so I knew that my father was my protection and that I shouldn’t trifle with that.
I did manage to make the case, while dodging a scorpion, that some of the chores were surely worth more than others, and it wouldn’t make sense to do them all together for the same odds.
He agreed and after a lengthy negotiation we came up with a system whereby each chore was assigned an increasing amount of rolls, based on its difficulty to complete. I was elated with this little victory of mine. But the odds were stacked against me—I hadn’t been paid in a month.
The next week, I listened as my father and his friends discussed the ever-increasing inflation—our farm would have to be sold off—as a result of further government idiocy. They also discussed the audacity of the bandits who had recently dared to enter a neighbor’s house and chop him into pieces. My father and his friends’ solution for this was to introduce the army into the area, as apparently they were the only ones with any sense these days.
Later when I dared to ask my father how the bandits got into the neighbor’s house, he claimed a door was unlocked. When I asked how something so trivial could lead to being quartered like a cow, he let out a mournful sigh and clenched his furry jaw. When I asked about inflation and what it was, he clenched his jaw hard enough to make a clicking sound and walked out, squashing a scorpion underfoot.
The next day, I found that the rules for my allowance had changed. From now on the 100-sided die would be rolled twice, and I would have to get those same numbers each time to get paid and my chance at a third roll. But there was also to be an equal amount of numbers that would result in punishment.
At first I balked. “No chores for me,” I said.
Why would I risk punishment? But one day I finished the dishes by mistake, and as my father shook the die and released it, the thrill in my heart surprised me; I would do anything for another roll of the die.
When chores ran out, and my father couldn’t think of anything else, I started to break things in the house, just so I could have the chore to fix them or play some part in their fixing. When my father realized what I was doing, he reacted by doubling my punishment odds. My devilry increased. He seemed to realize this and ceased all punishment odds. And I ceased to care about chores. No amount of lashes incentivized me to work.
And as I speak, that’s what I remember clearly: my father’s face, crow’s feet growing, the first hints of white hair, and an odd look of recognition on his face as he stared at me. He was pleading with his eyes while trying to maintain an imposing and threatening appearance; it was as if he could see my life mapped out, or perhaps his life as it were. He walked off without a word, trembling. When he was asleep, I crept into his room and heard his murmurs about some mistakes and how a hit now, which could be his regression to corporal punishment, was better than the gallows later. I didn’t understand what he meant, but I felt an odd fear unlike any other. A half-squashed scorpion crawled in my periphery; I found a shoe and crushed it, feeling better. The smell of kerosene leaked into my nose.