Bilamu grew up in a small town. As a young man, he would start the day by helping out his parents in their small shop, then by afternoon, he'd be in the local bar, playing cards with the friendly drunkards. "Oi, I think I can beat ya this time," they'd holler at the kid, "I'd bet a fiver on it." "Okay, if you insist," smirked Bilamu. And he'd win, just like yesterday, and the day before. Without fail, Bilamu would put in a light shift of work, head to the bar, swindle the hapless Drunkards and return to his parents' house.
Once while minding the shop, the bell on the door chimed and a stranger entered. Dressed in long, gray robes, sporting a long, gray beard, and a long, gray hat, the mysterious visitor didn't look at any wares, fixing his eyes on Bilamu instead. Seconds passed. "Can I help you?" a befuddled Bilamu asked. "No, I'm afraid you can't. Perhaps you should help yourself," said the Gray Man as he began to turn around. Perplexed by this strange riddle issued by this strange man, Bilamu responded, "Excuse me?" The Gray Man snapped back, "Young man, do I need to write it on your forehead? Take a look at yourself! Do you really plan on cheating drunkards out of their pocket change until you're as old as I? Get yourself a life." The Gray Man stormed out, muttering something about young people these days, slamming the door shut. The bell fell off, clattering as it hit the tile floor. Bilamu was left stunned. Who was that guy?
Later, Bilamu told his parents about his encounter. They started laughing uncontrollably. "What's so funny?" Bilamu questioned. "He's right!" they exclaimed, "Son, what are you doing with your time? Seriously, do you have any plans for what's next? We're certainly not going to be around forever, nor is the shop." Silenced by the truth, Bilamu almost felt betrayed. Why couldn't he stay? What was wrong with working till noon, gambling till sunset and sleeping till dawn? Bilamu went to bed beside himself.
At sunrise, instead of working in the shop, he told his parents that he did have a plan. "Oh really?" they remarked. "You've come up with a plan that fast, huh?" Bilamu, now eager to prove himself, declared that he'd go to the city. He packed a bag with clothes and a deck of cards, slung it over his shoulder, and set out.
Bilamu arrived in the city. Glittering with hundreds of shining buildings, showered in light, his eyes held hope of finding purpose. Yet, he found none. Without money, he could afford no roof over his head, nor food for his stomach. He spent that first night on the streets. As he dozed off, he cursed at The Gray Man for insulting him, and his parents for questioning his path. Slowly, as he slept, his anger turned inward. He cursed his own naivety, his foolishness. Never again, he vowed, would he lie hungry under the stars.
The next day, Bilamu remembered his cards. He began playing the other homeless vagabonds for spare change. Five cents here, ten cents there. He gambled himself enough for a room for the night. But, he knew that wasn't enough. What about tomorrow night? He kept playing, moving around the city as he dried up the pockets of the hobos in each neighborhood. By sunset, he had enough money for room and board for exactly one year and a day. Never again, he vowed, would he lie hungry under the stars.
He kept playing though, still. No longer Bilamu, the streets began to call him Bhukha, since his hunger for victory and money was insatiable. He graduated to the underground gambling rings, playing poker. At first, he'd lose a game or two, just to gauge his opponents. Then, he'd come back and win the entire pot, mercilessly. When he'd enter, everyone in the room would gather around the table, watching as he dispatched players from all over the city. And after each day, he'd spend all his money on lodging, racking up years' worth of stay at the inn. Now, he would never lie hungry under the stars.
Once, while playing cards, the guard at the door gasped and a stranger entered. Dressed in a big white suit, sporting a big white hat and a big white belly protruding from his dress shirt, the mysterious visitor didn't look at any of the other players, fixing his eyes on Bhukha instead. The guard cried out, "Attention! We are in the presence of The Boss." Everyone shot out of their seats, bowing down to the plump man. A startled Bhukha dropped his cards, turning around agape. "I've heard a lot about you," said The Boss with a deep, mellifluous baritone. "Come, I have a challenge for you." Bhukha complied, having heard of what this man did to those who questioned him. Without warning, The Boss stuffed Bhukha into a burlap sack, and hurled him into his car.
Stunned, Bhukha awoke, seated upright, in a dark room, with only a green felt table before him. It felt like home to the seasoned card player. Before him sat Jack, and Bhukha recognized his face immediately. The Boss, standing to the side, issued Bhukha a challenge: "Beat my three best players, and you can stay in the city forever". Bhukha, drooling at the possibility, happily obliged. Jack played poker ruthlessly. No matter what, Bhukha couldn't find his tell. Whenever Bhukha would pull a three of a kind, Jack would pull a flush. When Bhukha pulled a straight, Jack would pull a four of a kind. Bhukha couldn't take it. While the dealer collected the cards between turns, Bhukha stole a glance at the deck. He knew when Jack was going to bluff. Bhukha went all in with a single pair, and won the pot.
Next was Rajni, an expert blackjack player. She played so safe that she never bet unless she knew she was going to win. She had Bhukha pinned, she made him nervous. She saw all his little tells and secrest. Bhukha couldn't outplay her cautious strategy, it infuriated him. His face grew hot with embarrassment. While the dealer dealt another hand, Bhukha calmed himself. Now patient, he began counting cards. Slowly but surely, he started to get the advantage. His hand became hotter as he began to win more and more. And finally, he counted his way to victory over Rajni.
The Boss then introduced his final player, Rex. Rex had never lost a game of rummy. Rex slaughtered Bhukha. In five short minutes, Rex stripped Bhukha of all but one of his chips, yet none of his cunning. Between turns, while the dealer and Rex had their heads turned, Bhukha stole a set of royals from the deck. "Tell you what, this round is all or nothing," Rex wagered. Rex knew that Bhukha had a bad hand. Bhukha laughed. At the end of the round, the cards were revealed. Bhukha had a royal run, Jack, Queen and King. Rex, stunned, revealed his Queen, Jack and ten.
"HA!" exclaimed The Boss, "What a set of games. Who knew my players could be beaten by this runt from the country! Very well. You, Bhukha, can stay in the penthouse suite for as long as you'd like. My Royals, you are now banished! You shall never again be seen in my city!" And with that, the Royals left, cursing the name of Bhukha, vowing revenge. Bhukha wept with joy.
Every day, Bhukha woke up in his penthouse, the highest in the city. He saw the sunlight shining off the windows at dawn, and the reds and purples of sunset that put the city to sleep. He saw the glamorous lives of the other wealthy people across the gap between buildings, and the squalor of the homelessness he left down below. Bhukha was finally at peace.
On a clear morning, Bhukha awoke, looking out the window. In his view was the past, a sight he hadn't seen in many years: the town he left. That day, Bhukha left the city to visit the place that felt so familiar, yet not. He walked past an old bar with the Drunkards, who failed to recognize this new figure in town. He approached what looked to be an abandoned storefront that felt like home, but wasn't. He saw blood on the walls, dried up. He saw the faces of two rotting corpses. Bhukha jumped back, turning pale. Slowly, he began to recognize them.
Bilamu fell to the ground with a loud cry, tears streaming down his face. His neighbors heard the commotion, and entered in a state of alarm. After seeing his face, they exclaimed, "Oh Bilamu, we haven't seen you in such a long time. We thought you knew..." Eyes now bloodshot, he garbled, "Who do this? Did I do this? The Boss??" His neighbors could only repeat, "We're so sorry, we're so sorry." Bilamu stood up, swaying as if on a boat at sea. He stumbled out of the decrepit house. Bilamu blundered his way into the bar. Staggering into a seat at a table, he slurred, "Play me!" The Drunkards didn't seem so drunk anymore. Now sober, they asked, "Oi, think I can beat ya this time, no?" Bilamu slurred his words, unable to respond coherently. Recognizing pain, The Sobers said "Hey, there was nothing that could've been done..." Clear that The Sobers weren't intent on playing cards, Bilamu staggered to his feet and out of the bar.
Tripping as he walked, Bilamu returned to the city. Searching and searching the streets, Bilamu stumbled about, trying to return to the life he once had, or perhaps looking for vengeance. He tried playing again, but never won. The fortune earned by Bhukha was gone. Bilamu was left on the street, aimless, looking for Bhukha, or maybe himself, yet to be found. Always now, Bilamu would lie hungry under the stars, the voice of the Drunkards, now Sober, echoing "nothing that could've been done to stop the angry hand of Royals."
To my peers, all of this was for you. thank you