Man from the South Roald Dahl - chapter 1
It was almost six o’clock, so I thought I’d buy a beer and go out and sit by the swimming pool and have a little evening sun.
I went to the bar and got the beer and carried it outside and wandered down the garden. It was a fine garden and there were plenty of chairs around the pool. There were white tables and huge brightly coloured umbrellas and sunburned men and women sitting around in bathing suits. In the pool itself there were three or four girls and about a dozen boys, all splashing about and making a lot of noise and throwing a large rubber ball at one another.
I stood watching them. The girls were English girls from the hotel. I didn’t know about the boys, but they sounded American, and I thought they were probably young sailors from the American ship which had arrived in harbour that morning.
I went over and sat down under a yellow umbrella where there were four empty seats, and I poured my beer and settled back comfortably with a cigarette. It was pleasant to sit and watch the bathers splashing about in the green water.
The American sailors were getting on nicely with the English girls. They’d reached the point where they were diving under the water and pulling the girls up by their legs.
Just then I noticed a small old man walking quickly around the edge of the pool. He was beautifully dressed in a white suit and a cream-coloured hat, and as he walked he was looking at the people and the chairs.
He stopped beside me and smiled. I smiled back.
‘Excuse me please, but may I sit here?’
‘Certainly,’ I said. ‘Go ahead.’
He inspected the back of the chair for safety, then he sat down and crossed his legs.
‘A fine evening,’ he said. ‘They are all fine evenings here in Jamaica.’ I couldn’t tell if his accent was Italian or Spanish, but I felt sure he was some sort of a South American. He was old, too, when you looked at him closely. Probably around sixty-eight or seventy.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘It’s wonderful here, isn’t it?’
‘And who are all these? These are not hotel people.’ He was pointing at the bathers in the pool.
‘I think they’re American sailors,’ I told him.
‘Of course they are Americans. Who else in the world is going to make as much noise as that? You are not American, no?’
‘No,’ I said. ‘I am not.’
Suddenly one of the young sailors was standing in front of us. He was still wet from the pool and one of the English girls was standing there with him.
‘Are these chairs free?’ he said.
‘Yes,’ I answered.
‘Mind if I sit down?’
‘Thanks,’ he said. He had a towel in his hand, and when he sat down he unrolled it and produced a packet of cigarettes and a lighter. He offered the cigarettes to the girl but she refused; then he offered them to me and I took one. The old man said, ‘Thank you, no, but I think I will have a cigar.’ He took a cigar out of his pocket, then he produced a knife and cut the end off it.
‘Here, let me give you a light.’ The American boy held up his lighter.
‘That will not work in this wind.’
‘Sure it’ll work. It always works.’
The old man removed the cigar from his mouth, moved his head to one side and looked at the boy.
‘Always?’ he said slowly.
‘Sure, it never fails. Not with me anyway.’
‘Well, well. So you say this famous lighter never fails. Is that what you say?’
‘Sure,’ the boy said. ‘That’s right.’ He was about nineteen or twenty, with pale skin and a rather sharp nose. He was holding the lighter in his hand, ready to turn the little wheel. He said, ‘I promise you it never fails.’
‘One moment, please.’ The hand that held the cigar came up high, as if it were stopping traffic. ‘Now just one moment.’ He had a curiously soft voice and kept looking at the boy all the time. He smiled. ‘Shall we not make a little bet on whether your lighter lights?’
‘Sure, I’ll bet,’ the boy said. ‘Why not?’
‘You like to bet?’
‘Sure, I’ll always bet.’
The man paused and examined his cigar, and I must say I didn’t much like the way he was behaving. It seemed he was trying to embarrass the boy, and at the same time I had the feeling he was enjoying a private little secret.
He looked up again at the boy and said slowly, ‘I like to bet, too. Why don’t we have a bet on this thing? A big bet.’
‘Now wait a minute,’ the boy said. ‘I can’t do that. But I’ll bet you a dollar. I’ll even bet you ten, or whatever the money is over here.’ The old man waved his hand again. ‘Listen to me. Let’s have some fun. We make a bet. Then we go up to my room here in the hotel where there’s no wind, and I bet you cannot light this famous lighter of yours ten times one after another without missing once.’
‘I’ll bet I can,’ the boy said.
‘All right. Good. We make a bet, yes?’
‘Sure, I’ll bet you ten dollars.’
‘No, no. I am a rich man and I am a sporting man also. Listen to me. Outside the hotel is my car. It’s a very fine car. An American car from your country. Cadillac-‘
‘Now, wait a minute.’ The boy leaned back and laughed. ‘I can’t offer you anything like that. This is crazy.’
‘It’s not crazy at all. You strike the lighter successfully ten times and the Cadillac is yours. You’d like to have this Cadillac, yes?’ ‘Sure, I’d like to have a Cadillac.’ The boy was still smiling.
‘All right. Fine. We make a bet and I offer my Cadillac.’
‘What do I offer?’
The old man said, ‘I never ask you, my friend, to bet something that you cannot afford. You understand?’
‘So what do I bet?’
‘I’ll make it easy for you, yes?’
‘OK. You make it easy.’
‘Some small thing you can afford to give away, and if you did lose it you would not feel too bad. Right?’
‘Like, perhaps, the little finger on your left hand.’
‘My what?’ The boy stopped smiling.
‘Yes. Why not? You win, you take the car. You lose, I take the finger.’
‘I don’t understand. How do you mean, you take the finger?’
‘I chop it off’
‘That’s crazy. I think I’ll just bet ten dollars.’
‘Well, well, well,’ the old man said. ‘I do not understand. You say it lights but you will not bet. Then we forget it, yes?’
The boy sat quite still, staring at the bathers in the pool. Then he remembered that he hadn’t lit his cigarette. He put it between his lips, opened the lighter and turned the wheel. It lit and burned with a small, steady, yellow flame, and the way he held his hands meant that the wind didn’t get to it at all.
‘Could I have a light, too?’ I said.
‘God, I’m sorry, I forgot you didn’t have one.’
He stood up and came over to light my cigarette. There was a silence then, and I could see that the old man had succeeded in disturbing the boy with his ridiculous suggestion. He was sitting there very still, obviously tense. Then he started moving about in his seat, and rubbing his chest and stroking the back of his neck. Finally he placed both hands on his knees and began tapping his fingers against them. Soon he was tapping with one of his feet, too.
‘Now just let me check I understand,’ he said at last. ‘You say we go up to your room and if I make this lighter light ten times one time after another I win a Cadillac. If it misses just once then I lose the little finger of my left hand. Is that right?’
‘Certainly. That is the bet. But I think you are afraid.’
‘What do we do if I lose? Do I have to hold my finger out while you chop it off?’
‘Oh, no! That would not be good. And you might refuse to hold it out. What I would do is tie one of your hands to the table before we started, and I would stand there with a knife ready to chop the moment your lighter missed.’
‘How old is the Cadillac?’
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE
Popular Last 24 hours
- Bloody Legacy Michael Bac... 35 views
- East 43rd Street Alan Bat... 23 views
- The Interpreter 16 views
- Age of Dragons By Antoine... 13 views
- Rebecca 13 views
- A Devoted Son By Anita De... 13 views
- Campfire Cooking in Anoth... 11 views
- Leonard By Adrienne M Fra... 10 views
- Marley and Me 9 views
- A Nose for a story By Fra... 9 views