The endgame

“I just worked out what it is! It’s my jacket that’s making me play so bad.”

Indeed it is, because when Justin takes off his jacket and stashes it on the shelf next to the jukebox, his play does improve. He sinks six balls without reply, and what began as a fisting, becomes a tight-as-hell, black-ball game. Indeed, a victory.

The kind of victory that demands a rechallenge.
“…Must always play the break at two-thirds pace…”
And as his fortunes improve, Justin becomes talkative. Getting married in December. Noordhoek beach. He needs a Plan B, but he still doesn’t realise it. He’s worried the surfers and dog-walkers will want to hang around and watch his wedding. As if anyone would want to watch a stranger’s wedding. In fact, his main problem is wind. If that Cape gale decides to blow, there’s gonna be nowhere to hide for kays around, and no one’s going to want anything to do with that sandstorm of a wedding, let alone come watch it.
            They met in rehab. Rehab romance. All those fragile psychologies, that first clarity after all those years of skew priorities…
            He’s inconsistent too. He’ll sink three balls, then play the white right off the table, so it rolls into the boys’ bogs there. There next to where the house rules say, “Challenger sets up and breaks. If you lose with seven balls on the table you must drop your rods and underjocks and hop around the table. If you fail to do this, you must stand the whole bar (and management) a round”.
            He plays a lot of pool for someone so bad at it. The other night he was at Ballbreakers in Northcliff still.
            “I was in the toilets and I had a hundred-rand note in my hand. I won’t tell you why. And this enormous Nigerian guy just takes it out of my hand, puts it in his pocket and walks out.
“So I followed him out there and said, ‘Hey gimme my hundred rand’”
“He just said, ‘Now you’re talkin’ too much’”
The second game goes down to the last ball too, but he’s too busy telling stories, he’s losing focus. His priorities are skew. He’s on about how he’s been a Lions fan all his life and how Loffie Eloff stays in his same townhouse complex.
            He needs to play the black ball hard, so it’s not parked in front of the pocket when he misses. He needs to use topspin when he’s doubling off the cushion.
            But his eye is good enough to get him through. One in four shots go in directly. It’s an angles game, not a touch game. But when you’re on the black, it can go either way.
            He’s going cross-table, with the ball about a foot from the pocket. Off centre. He’s been playing every shot full pace since the break, and that chirp about two-thirds.
            Justin’s worm has turned, and he’s tired of the sparkling waters and ordered a Castle draught. “Booze was never my problem. I was always a powder guy.”
            The place starts to fill up, now that the decent bands are on. The first one is often a bit kak, with a weird name that’ll surely only last that one gig. Not Even The Leftovers. My Aim. Spirit Of The Back Room. Cyst.
            The second band you’ve normally heard of and the third you probably know from seeing, or meaning to see. Vendetta Cartel. Pistol Whip 45. Jet Black Camaro.
            It hones of pizza, beer on the floor, brazier smoke, hormones, the bogs and probably zoelie, not to put too fine a point on it. That might be wishful smelling, though.
            More punters means more players means more coins on the table. Four so far. And the kind of impatient body language implying they’re not very impressed with the standard on this table and the sooner they get to win and take over, the better.
            As if sensing it, Just from Rehab starts playing even slower. Now that he has a captive audience of prospective pool players not prepared to let anyone snake them on their place in the coin queue and also not so impressed with the music from the next room that they’re actually going to go next door and watch. But they’re cool to listen.
            He really powered down that draught. It seems like just now he got it. And his game’s gone to shit. Still explaining out loud every shot he lines up and reverse engineering the increasingly iffy outcomes. “You see there? I should’ve played it with more backspin.”
            The next guy is putting his coin in before the black has even had time to settle into the tray.  He’s going to put an end to this bullshit. You can see. He breaks like a shotgun blast, sinks three in three turns and then has to wait for Justin who’s only now getting served at the bar.
            The girls are already going to the toilet together. The jukebox comes on in between bands, with the amended playlist affixed to the glass on a typed-up A4.  No one really knows how to fix these things.
            There’s a cute one, there with the off-the-shoulder top and the bunny slippers. There’s always one. Justin strikes up a conversation as he gets his draught.
            The new guy strips his moer. “Are you gonna play or you gonna talk to girls all night?”
Justin’s unfazed. Says nothing, but cuts short his chat with a wink. She goes back to her mates, but she’s noticed him. Seems her type.
“Right, what we got here?”
The night’s possibilities open wide before him, as Shadowclub come on. The ladies vanish next door, but they’ll be back.
He takes aim with an unsteady, but swashbuckling tip. Weddings, rehab, pool theory, all is forgotten. From here on out, it’s just instinct. You gotta fly while you still can, and tonight we flying on instruments.
He has talent, but has he luck?

Writer for television, print and digital, corporate and editorial. Editor and writer of books. Musical performance, spoken word as Inspector Ras. Guitar/vocals for The Near Misses, (Worst Band In JoburgTM). The last whitey at umsebenzi. Latest book 415 Action-Packed Neighbourhood Marketing Tips with Basil O'Hagan, out now. @hagenengler

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