Numbers

What does it mean, luck? Books of perforated lottery tickets sold by street waifs in the dusty plaza, outside church doors to catch the pious streaming out from mass. And then there’s Jueteng, from the Chinese Jue, flower; and teng, bet. A dog is 12, a cat is 26, a snake is 14. Whatever you dream, the cobrador can assign its mystical made-up number. Obliquely across the street from us, a bungalow ringed by concrete fence and concertina wire, where the numbers king of the north had set up a nice hideaway for his mistress, the mother of his child (#__). We saw her being pushed in her pram by uniformed nannies— Yellow layette and booties. Rattle that made a rattling sound before they disappeared again inside the gate. Select two numbers between 1 and 37 based on anything from the license plates of your political rival to the date of his planned assassination. When he ran for governor one election year, rampant rumors: snipers in the hedges, dark tinted cars closing in on our street. Father made arrangements for us to sleep overnight at a friend’s house on the other side of town: wormhole through which to slip away from gunfire. When we got there the drapes were drawn, but our host’s wife let me play a little on the piano, very softly. Or count the keys, she said. How many black? how many white? The hammers thudded with their little boots of felt.

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