are you just tuning in? Start here with the Intro
Somewhere along the ride in the tuk tuk back to the house, I convince myself that all is going according to plan and this nightmare will end soon. I’m going to come into unexpected wealth. This is the vedic astrologer’s prophecy coming true. I’m going to win. Don’t panic. It’s fine.
When we get back to the house Mr. Razak Aziz is already there waiting for me. Hair still slicked back, hands still wriggling in furious anticipation. Still overflowing his fold-up chair.
I now must muster an unforeseen inner resource of courage and confidence.
Uncle Epol pulls me into the hallway and I watch my hands give him $2,000. For reserve. Epol looks pale as a ghost, terrified. He puts my money in a manila envelope. I assume the money from his business partner “Mr. Leeko” is in there.
But something isn’t right.
He didn’t get the full amount, he says. He’s come up short, he says. But it’s fine he assures me. No need to worry. I just need to show my cards and I’ll win.
I watch myself sit down in my chair farthest from the door. Epol and Mie wait in the doorway until I’m seated. Sunny is once again, gone. I start to open my sealed envelope with my perfect 10-5-6 inside.
But Mr. Aziz interrupts asking, “wait a second Ms. Niko, have you brought the full $37,000?” I don’t respond because my consciousness is barely present now. I hear Epol say, “Ms. Niko was not able to get the full amount from her business partner, but not to worry Mr. Razak Aziz, if you are to win, Ms. Niko will give you the rest tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow I am taking a bus to Siem Reap at sunrise.” I hear myself tell them. “I have important business to take care of in Siem Reap.”
“What a coincidence! I am going on a business trip to Siem Reap tomorrow as well, Ms. Niko, we can arrange a meeting there. Perhaps we should wait until tomorrow to open the envelopes and reveal our cards. We could travel there together, I will have a driver for us”
I hear myself assert, “I am confident I will win, we can finish the game tonight.”
“Well Ms. Niko, I am very confident about my cards too, but I am not confident that you will pay me tomorrow. How do I know I can trust you?”
I consider bringing up my t-shirt slogan “been true” that had intrigued Mr. Razak Aziz, but my mouth doesn’t work. I hear Epol mention something about a promissory note. I feel like the only time I’ve ever heard anyone talk about promissory notes is at the college financial aid office, but the next thing I know, Epol and Mr. Razak Aziz have written an entire document for me to sign.
“I ________________ will pay Mr. Razak Aziz $36,800 in full tomorrow on June 24th, 2015 if I am the one to lose the Blackjack game to Mr. Razak Aziz. No one has forced me into this game, it was my own choice and free will to cheerfully participate in this game of classic 21 Blackjack on June 23, 2015”
It was a bizarrely worded way to sign all liability away from them. I couldn’t stop staring at the phrase it was my own choice and free will. Was it?
But what else can I do but sign their promissory note? This shit wouldn’t hold up in court, right? I mean fuck, I’m playing an underground Black Jack game with fucking strangers and I’ve been cheating the entire time. (Not to mention the one I’ve been cheating is an oil billionaire who owns guns) None of this is remotely legal. They can’t hold me accountable, right?
I imagine myself being chased by the Cambodia National Police through dusty streets and trying to figure out how to translate that I’ve been tricked by some sort of voodoo magic that has something to do with spaghetti. I imagine escaping into the night unscathed and then one day, maybe a week from now, maybe 10 years from now, Mr. Razak Aziz finds me and I put my hands up thinking if only I hadn’t signed that goddamn promissory note. I imagine dashing through the rest of my life like Jason Bourne. I imagine Mr. Aziz pulling a gun out of from one of the crevices of his mammoth body right now and putting the barrel of the gun in my mouth and how my brain would be splattered all over innocent little Mie, my faithful fucking tour guide. I imagine opening my envelope of cards and discovering I actually don’t have a perfect 10-5-6 and I’ve been horribly tricked. I imagine infinite possibilities, none that end well, but how it actually ends up going down isn’t even a figment of my imagination.
But I mean, I’m going to win, right? I swallow my better judgment cuz at this point all I can do is do what they say and hope to get out of this as soon as possible. I wonder if they notice how badly my hand is shaking as I sign my name and seal my fate.
“Ms. Niko you must rewrite the statement.”
“All of it?”
So I do.
I, Ms. Niko Bellott, will pay Mr. Razak Aziz $36,800 in full tomorrow on June 24th, 2015 if I am the one to lose the Blackjack game to Mr. Razak Aziz. No one has forced me into this game, it was my own choice and free will to cheerfully participate in this game of classic 21 Blackjack on June 23, 2015.
I feel a delusive tidal wave of relief after I dot that last period. Mr. Razak Aziz gives me back my dead iPhone. Then he gives me back my passport. The game continues.
“Can we open our cards now?”
“Well Ms. Niko, we’ve paused the game twice now, and pauses are not allowed in Black Jack. Rules are rules. I trusted you to leave the game and get the money you will owe me, but you did not do so. I am tired from being so patient. We can finish the game tomorrow after you have the money.”
Epol chimes in, “She did not know she’d be playing a game of Black Jack tonight, Mr. Aziz, as she was just visiting the home of her dear friend.”
Every time I think things can’t get any more complicated, they do. Every time I think things can’t get worse, they fucking do. I numbed by fear.
My body and mind are held hostage. Reality is painstakingly surreal. The world around me shatters into fragments I can’t possibly grasp onto. I don’t remember to breathe. I don’t occupy my body. I don’t–
“Ms. Niko here is what I will agree to: we can finish the game now and if I win, you will be accompanied to your hostel until you can get the money you will owe me. However, if I lose, you must agree to play five more rounds. It is only fair that you give me the chance to redeem myself. You know, I lost $50,000 last night already–but I do love the game of Black Jack.”
“I can’t” I hear myself tell him.
“But Ms. Niko, rules are rules.”