by Shom Biswas
“Lost again, Krish?”
“You wish! Made eighty bucks today.”
“Okay! The booze is on you then.”
“Aren’t you forbidden to drink at work, bartender?”
Snarl. “Bah! Go away, flyweight!”
I laugh. And walk up to the elevators. Round One to me.
Chris is the barman at the Marriott Courtyard, Las Vegas. I have been staying here for the past two weeks, and due in no small measures to the identicalness of our names, we have got friendly.
“Aha, so you are Christos. There you go, nice Greek name for a nice Greek boy.”
In response, he would look at the computer screen in front of him and press a few keys.
“Aha, so you are Krishnendu. Long Indian name for a little Indian boy”.
Chris is about five-feet-ten. He has a neatly trimmed beard, broad shoulders, large forearms and close-cropped hair. If I were four inches taller, we would have been exactly the same built. But that’s not surprising; Chris was a boxer in his youth, as was I.
It’s easy for us boxers to connect. We understand one another. What you see as violence, we see as science. It is the most technical of sports, boxing. And you will never know if you haven’t trained as one.
Of course, it helps that Chris loves banter, can take a joke and can give back in kind.
Chris always has time for a chat. When in Vegas, nobody drinks at the Marriott Courtyard. Nobody, except for people with a gambling problem, and less-than-infinite money. People like me.
I have promised myself that I will only carry a hundred-and-fifty dollars to the casinos every day, and catch a taxi and return to my hotel at 10PM; regardless of a winning streak or a stretch of bad luck. I have been good. I have kept to the promise. Religiously so. I am nothing if not disciplined.
Considering the eighty I have won today, I am in arrears by a mere two-hundred-and-seventy-five dollars. Apart from that one day at a Gentlemen’s Club with colleagues (disgusting! I am too old for strip bars…) and the couple of visits to the Cirque du Soleil (Mystère was amazing, Beatles’ Love was tolerable), I have played every day.
I am doing well, I think.
The house will win anyway, and I am far from broke yet.
“Hey Chris, you don’t go gambling at all, eh? And women?”
“Naah, mate. Stopped all that. No gambling, no lap dances for me anymore. Here, see…”
He takes off his wallet and shows me a photograph.
A smiling Chris, with a gorgeous brunette and two little girls.
“Oh she is pretty!”
As is the mandatory reciprocal action in such a case, I display the photograph in my wallet.
We look up. And stare at each other for a second or two.
And then he slowly extends a clenched fist at my direction.
“We boxers always get the prettiest girls, don’t we?” he exclaims.
I touch his fist with mine.
“Hell yeah we do!”
The CEO at my company does not trust me enough to allow me to stay at a hotel with a casino. He was with me last year when I blew nearly a thousand dollars in one night at Atlantic City. So he has ordered the Director of Sales to ensure that I am at a fair distance from casinos. Our CEO thinks of himself as a bit of an office-daddy for me.
It’s not a bad thing. Promotions happen quicker.
Ergo, Marriott Courtyard. The room rents are lower too.
I don’t complain much. I like these smaller Marriott hotels, the Courtyards and the Residence Inns; quiet, clean, comfortable, good breakfast spread… what else can a man want? And the reward points are all adding up.
It’s about four blocks from Mandalay Bay, a beautiful but rather less-feted casino, and about three miles from the MGM Grand and the New York New York, the ones you see more often on Vegas-themed movies and television shows.
What am I doing in Vegas? As our Sales Director says, you would still need hospitals in Sin City. And hospitals would need technology.
I am a salesman. I sell my company and its technology services to hospitals across the US. And yes, Sin City has hospitals indeed, a lot of them. And they don’t have slot machines in those hospitals.
The slot machine, though, is otherwise ubiquitous in Vegas; the slot machine and its more glamorous cousin the roulette wheel. They have a few at the airport; they have them in hotel lobbies, and nearly everywhere else. Even the “What happens in Vegas…” magnetic stickers are in the form of casino chips, the black-and-white $1, the red $5, the green $25 and even the mother of them all, the orange $1000.
I am tempted. Often. This is the city of temptations.
“Mayweather’s got great technique, sure. Technique-wise, he is probably the best in the world. Even the Mexicans guys, Morales and Barrera and Marquez cannot touch Floyd on technique.”
We were discussing the rumoured boxing match between the two best welterweights in the world, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
“So if they fight, you think Manny will lose, eh?” I ask.
“Not necessarily. In fact, if you ask me, I think Manny will win. Floyd is definitely the better boxer, but Pacquiao is the better fighter. “
He thumps his chest with a clenched fist.
“Heart! Manny has heart.”
He continues, “Like you have heart, Krish. You are a flyweight. I have twenty pounds on you, maybe twenty-five, but if I ask you to spar with me now, you will not hesitate for a second.”
I lighten it up: “Oh no, I will hesitate alright. I wouldn’t want to beat your ass. You are a friend.”
“Ha ha. I really should fight you sometime.” Chris guffaws.
Chris is a much more pedigreed boxer than I have ever been; he had won the Golden Gloves while in the army, he says. I have no reason to disbelieve him.
Plus, he is probably a super-middleweight, or at least a middleweight. I had fought a couple of middleweights during my time, but I have never been heavier that a super-lightweight myself. That’s sixty-four kilos.
As for flyweight, flyweight is fifty kilos. I have not been a flyweight for a long, long time.
Bhombol-da’s gym comes to mind.
Bhombol-da was my boxing coach. He used to say the same thing.
“Keshto, you have heart. Jigar! Work hard. One day, you will be at the Asian Games, at the Olympics.”
My knuckles cracked a thousand times. My fists bled so much that many a day, I had to go to school wearing a bandage on my hand.
I worked hard.
I had no footwork. I had short, stubby arms. Taller, longer boxers would always get to my chin with jabs and crosses.
But I promised to myself that I will never get knocked out.
I never got knocked out.
“Bhombol-da, that’s it. I cannot stand up any more. Let me go today.”
“You weak middle-class boys. Go home and study. Be a doctor. Be an engineer. Why do you even come here? Go home.”
I would get up, and continue on the skipping rope. And then on to the punching bag.
“Hurts?” Bhombol-da would ask.
“It does. Yes.”
“Just a hundred sets more, beta. You can do it. Maar, Keshto!”
And I would do it. I would do a hundred-and-fifty. I would do two hundred.
I would never back down… I never would, I promised to Bhombol-da….
I shiver slightly in this Vegas cold.
This man is not that boy.
Krish is not Keshto.
“Got the deal, did you?”
“Yeah. Not much money in it though.”
“So you would leave tomorrow morning, eh?”
“Back to Dallas?”
“Back to Dallas.”
“Was good knowing you, Pacquiao.”
“Good knowing you too, Golden Gloves.”
“Maker’s Mark and Diet Coke?”
“This one’s on me. And I’ll have one too. To hell with it.”
5AM is always the best time for a run. In any city in the world. You start your run when it is night, and end when it is day. By the time the world is waking up, you are already on your way.
You pound away the miles, you push yourself that little bit more. Each tomorrow should find you farther than today.
I have been running for the last fifteen years. Running to get there. And running to run away.
There was a town once. A small town. A small life. Small victories and small defeats.
This place is miles and miles from that place.
5AM, though, smells the same in any city, in any town.
Simon and Garfunkel’s boxer carried the reminder of every glove that laid him down. And somewhere in some corner of the universe, a road warrior will put on his suit, pick up his laptop bag, and hail a taxi to the airport.
Soumyadipta ‘Shom’ Biswas is an engineer-MBA and works as a marketer in Bangalore. His work has been published in Out of Print. He is a collector of antique sports books; and is consistently one of the best EPL fantasy football managers in the world. He is also an active community member of the Bangalore Writers Workshop. He is NOT in the process of writing a novel.