When fame is not as it seems…
They lied. He lied. What they had done to me cost me more than I knew. I was wealthy, admired, showered in jewels with the most dazzling counterpart to walk beside me at the grandest of games. We would spoil the paparazzi with our dazzling richness. They couldn’t avoid us. And we obviously couldn’t avoid them.
I walked with heavy rings on my fingers and thick chains of gold in its purest form around my neck and wrist. Diamonds sparkled where they could on whatever bare skin either of us had. We would turn to each other and share a knowing look. The both of us knew exactly how I had become so rich.
It began like no other tournament. The only difference was that I was winning on my own, every game I played. It wasn’t hard, the other guys were stupid and easy. They called themselves first class, but they were only third. Now I was first class. As was the only threat to my successful win of the tournament. Touché it was my first tournament. If I had played longer or flitted through the scene more often I might have known to be wary of the guy who stood before me. But as things were, I hadn’t played professionally before, and I hadn’t spent time in the smoky atmosphere long enough to recognise exactly the danger of the game I played.
What I did know, was that I was a winner.
I’d played cards since I was a little mousling. Granddaddy said I had the brains for it. And I believed him. I was devious enough to know just how far to push my luck. I was always the better bluffer in my family. It seemed I even surpassed the old man himself.
And he lived until I was twenty. Teaching me, talking to me, guiding me through a world I could only imagine but never feel, until I was at last sitting on a lucky table, winning every penny and dime from my rivals.
‘Confidence,’ he would grunt. That was his favourite word. A word that had eventually become mine. I believed in the confidence he spoke of. It was knowing you were better than the other person, and therefore you deserved their money. Simple as that.
So as I faced the old man who stood as my only rival worth acknowledging I took note of the frailness of his stature. He acted as old as he looked, and I would have bet he was looking his mind too. Being grey and wrinkly, as well as unbelievably pale with wiry, freakily electrocuted white hair protruding from his head. But I knew better than to judge by appearances. I’m not much spectacular either. Being rather slim and obviously not very old or gruff or even dripping in gold. I was much a deceiving physical character as this old man.
How else would he have gotten to his place on this table, had he not kicked the asses of the fifty or so other players before him?
His blues eyes caught mine, and I stared at him. Those eyes were intelligent. I considered my cards. They were good. Rather well done, but, I rubbed each card lightly. What was he waiting for?
The other players cast nervous looks in our directions and wary of a single-minded force of mental combat being played on the in invisible mental field folded. They knew they couldn’t win.
I wasn’t a fool, but I was very confident of the cards I held. They were a winning hand. It could not be anything else. But the old man, the old man was notorious. Granddaddy had said so. They had battled and Granddaddy had lost, but he had made sure, I was equipped to win, even though he had lost. He, who I considered an idol to be worshipped, had lost. And he wouldn’t say why.
I took him by his word though and followed his every instruction. This is why I know the old man bluffs with as much gusto as he looks aged. But Granddaddy had also said that I had to know when to play my cards right and when to accept defeat gracefully. It was important he said. My rival was more than just a mean judge of character, he was a sharp one. He could see better than most, granddaddy said, even if he looked blind. Looks can be deceiving. Don’t deny it. Accept it.
The pile of chips rose in mountains in front of me and him. And the pile in the centre bigger still. This was the most amount of money I’d ever seen. But I could always win more. I remember sighing as I laid my cards out. I hadn’t bet much, but still, it was more than I’d ever had.
As I suspected. His hand was only a degree greater than mine. I had lost, only just. And it burned. My pride burned in fury, but I kept to granddaddy’s wise words and held my tongue, making no gesture at all. Instead I picked up my chips, shook his hand and as civilly as possibly walked away. I would come back. But even if I didn’t, it wouldn’t be long before I found out exactly what he’d done to me. I remember his words, ‘Use it wisely’.
I say they lied because all my life they tamed me to be the perfect replacement. I had everything I wanted in the end, the jewels and gold and dripping richness. But I was miserable. The jewel of fame, is not as pleasant as it seems, not when the only game you ever won fairly was the only one you lost.
That night after meeting the greatest card player I’d ever met, he retired from the scene and hearing that, Granddaddy insisted that we play a round. I won. Which against him, I’d never done before. But I won, not because of my wits, but because I had the secret to winning. I had the jewel of fame. I won because it was a gift of seeing. I saw what the others thought I couldn’t see. I saw their cards.