DADA DOES DOMINOES
Jamie is so drunk he's unable to hide his cheating. After loudly slamming down his first and only legal play, mumbling something in the South Caicos Creole I can only sometimes understand from sober lips, he attempts to place a second domino near my end of the table. His fingers fumble the delicate procedure. Looking for an ally, I eye Raz across the table who’s studying his own hand too closely to notice. Not wanting to leave the errant domino squatting for long, I snatch it up, “No you don't,” and hand it back to Jamie.
“Ah, tryin' to cheat again?” Raz says as he and Clarence throw up their hands and shake their heads dismissively.
Before coming to the islands I hadn't played much dominoes, and when I had, never took the game seriously. Here in the Caribbean players mean business. Money exchanges hands amongst players as well as spectators during betting games in South Caicos, though tonight we're playing for pride.
George, or so we'll call the captain of the sailboat I’m hitching a ride on, is three sailors deep in conversation on the balcony, while at the domino table I only just begin to understand that strategy has something to do with counting. “How many of each number are there?” I ask the table.
“Seven,” Raz smiles at me. “Now that one’s catchin' on.” And laughing, adds, “watch out boys.”
I'm not exactly sure how to use this information. Mindful of the five six-dotted dominoes currently resting on the table, I play the six in my hand to make sure I can play it at all. Clarence knocks on the table to pass. Raz looks at me and winks. These Caribbean men accept me more than the three American sailors on the balcony whose interest in me is inversely proportional to their age; the older the man, the less he cares what I have to say. Never mind the two years I’ve spent hitchhiking on sailboats and the 10,000 nautical miles I’ve sailed. Rather than fight to be heard in a conversation about rough passages and anchorages with bad holding, I can lay down a domino without reproof, accepted at the table just for my willingness to play.
After shuffling and reshuffling his hand, Raz triumphantly slams down his play, popping dominoes into the air and scattering the long backbone of our board. Clarence and I straighten the table and while we all wait for sauced-up Jamie to put two and four together, Raz says, “Y'know, all the people around here have two names. My government name is Terraz, but nobody goes by their government name.”
“What would my second name be?” I ask.
“I dunno,” Raz says. After consulting his hand a minute, he says, “I know. I have an aunt named Glenda we call Dada. That's you, Dada.”
“I like it.”
For the rest of the night it's, “Good one Dada,” and, “Come on, Dada.”
Late in the evening George catches my eye from the balcony and motions with his head that he's ready to leave. His cadre of white-haired sailors are nowhere in sight. Raz just dealt a hand and I mouth, “One more game?” raising my eyebrows to punctuate the question.
George nods and turns back to his beer. I hope I’m not pushing his patience.
And then, somehow, in that last hand luck combines with my new knowledge of sets of seven.
For the first time all night, I win.
*Dada Does Dominoes was published by Word Riot.