The all night Monopoly game was at an interesting stage. I was wedged between a capitalist to my right who owned half of everything – big red hotels were plonked on each property – and a communist leaning tree-hugger on a roll. She was kind enough to lease her property portfolio to me at a very modest rent until I could get back on my feet. At one point I genuinely felt touched, although such unconditional charity served merely to extend my grubby run of luck. I was officially in a form slump. (Alastair Cook knows what I’m talking about.)
It was my turn again. The others looked at me with the gambler’s expectation of a big win that comes from deep disappointment. I rolled a 4, not the kind that jumps over the boundary rope, rather the kind that lands on a very expensive walled property on the wrong side of Community Chest. My silver token bobbled in delight. I lowered my head in disgust while an inner voice berated me with a succession of base oaths, as if I had been run out on a dead wicket without facing a ball.
My benefactor sighed. She pushed another wad of notes in the general direction of my brother, the unforgiving capitalist pig in the pink striped shirt. A match stick moved from the pile of 3 on her right to the 7 on her left. She carefully added a zero to the amount owing under my name.
“I’m sorry”, I mumbled. “It’s my hamstring.”
“You shouldn’t be playing if it’s that bad. I’ve never seen anyone roll so many low numbers.”
“We aren’t losing.”
“WE aren’t playing.”
“… Have you lost faith in me?”
She stole a glance at the match sticks then very kindly said “Bad luck continues or not. So does injury, real or imagined. Your hand looks fine. Why can’t you roll something decent? Seriously, are you doing this deliberately? I did apologise for eating your ice block in 1994…”
“I remember. Why did you do that?”
“I don’t know. It was there, unattended. I was hungry. I ate it.” She shifted closer to my brother, like a true Whitlamesque socialite.
I felt I had been thrashed with a wet willow. It was left to my brother to pronounce “Socialists have no need for petite bourgeois perrier drinkers like you 17th. Don’t you know. We’re all on our own bro’. Dog eat dog.”
I brushed this broadside off with a tilt of the head. In truth, I was glad to engage in a conversation removed from matchsticks.
“What about family? loyalty? team?”
“Dirty honey mate. There is one eye in family and no team in ‘individual brilliance’. Nothing. Team is dead. It’s a boiling swamp of stinking sulphur. Read Animal Farm. Nothing is clearer. ‘LOOK AFTER YOURSELF FIRST’. Only sheep wander about looking for their own kind.”
“But the cricketing family. Hughsey and all that…”
“All genuine emotions, very familiar. But so what? One less dog wanting a cap.”
“Well, what about selections?”
“Mate, listen up. The process is buggered, just like at school. Parents lobby the teacher, the Head is tipsy at 3pm, little Bloomington or Prudence get a ‘school blue’ for bugger all. It’s all about playground popularity! Remember?!”
He was laying it on good and thick. I began to think that I was sort of well, you know, normal.
“Don’t think you’re normal”, my sister said staring at me. “You’re like us.”
“I didn’t poison the Teachers Common Room after the Geography Prize was announced. You did that by yourself.”
“She deserved it. Miss Poonz needed a week off anyway… At least I know how to play Monopoly.”
Yes, I did get it. Some people are more equal than others. Suck up to the teachers, laugh when they laugh.
“That’s how it works everywhere” my brother said “in everything. That’s why I work in the capital markets. Your damn lucky I’m so patient.”
“So if you get voted off the communal island, you’re gone?”
“Dirty bats, dirty balls. ECB, BCCI, they’re all the same.”
“Are the best teams ever on the field then?”
“Are you nuts?”
“I just need to know. The World Cup…”
“Do the smartest people work for Macquarie Bank? Come on!”
My sister chuckled “Are cricketers from Tasmania really called Xavier.”
She had a point. Sucking gets you in. Lucking out boots you out.
It was my turn to roll the dice. Three. For God’s sake!
I decided to suck up to Swampy Marsh when I next see him. He spends a lot of time in the Teachers Common Room these days. Maybe he needs a third son with a first class batting average under 37.11.