Five Hours and countless rounds of craps later, he stood up from his wobbling wooden stool defeated.
More in debt, he looks under the brim of his fedora, slyly scanning left and right. He lifts his collar, covering his shagged and unshaven face, and pulls his coat tightly around his shrunken body.
Quickly, he makes his way towards the exit, making sure not to make eye contact with the other gamblers and staff. He slips out the door, confident he hadn't been noticed, yet feeling the familiar uneasy pit in the bottom of his stomach after each night leaving the blaring sounds of the slot machines and the shuffle of playing cards.
The cold air immediately bit into his skin as he was greeted by the unforgiving winter breeze. The same thoughts ran through his mind. Blaming himself, scolding himself, reasoning with himself, and crying to himself.
Every night as he made his way back from the office, he tried to avoid the obnoxious lights of the casino, desperately trying to remind himself that the previous night he told himself that would be the last night. But every night, the urge to step in was too strong that as each step he took away from the luxurious entrance seemed to be heavier and heavier. And the only thing to cure this, he told himself, was to turn around and play a quick game. "I will just be there for a few minutes, in and out just like that," he repeated to himself. But even inside, this wasn't convincing enough once he was engulfed in the haze of cigar smoke and stench of spilled alcohol.
Back and forth, he drowned in the self-loathing and justification. As he walked home, he recounted the amount he gained and lost that day. Again, like the past few months now, he fell short. After half an hour of trudging through the muddied snow, the comfort of his rusty metal gate was finally in sight. Quivering, his brittle keys gingerly fit into the lock, giving way to safety.
With a flick, his dim lights turn on, revealing instant noodle wrappers, half finished pizzas, empty plastic bottles, cigarette butts, and a half full liquor bottle lying the room as if they were the permanent residents and he was just the guest. And knowing it wouldn't work, but still hopeful, he tried to turn on the heater. Unsurprisingly, nothing. He impatiently tears open a HotPocket and throws it into the microwave. Within five minutes he was leaning on the kitchen counter, his frozen coat off, a HotPocket in his left hand, and the glass bottle in the right.
He woke to a violent rattle of the metal gate and thumps along his walls, like someone was banging at it with baseball bats. "Shit, they're here already?" he thought to himself.
The microwave clock read 1AM. He had only been home for an hour and they had already caught on.
"Since when did they check their security cameras this late at night?"
Usually they checked in the mornings, before the casinos got busy. But they probably caught on since it has been a week of sneaking out. He just didn't have enough to pay for his losses anymore. The lights were already on, but if he stayed silent, maybe they'll go away, thinking he fled already. Voices mutter outside the thin walls. Pleading under his breath, he asked them to leave. Eventually, with disgruntled shouts and a few more bangings of metal on metal, they left him alone.
He woke up, shivering, but unsure of whether it was in fear or from the cold. "I hate that dream," shuttering as it replayed in his mind. Ever since he began sneaking out, he has been haunted by those voices, that banging. Yet, he only heard it when he was asleep, as if he subconscious was warning him, or possibly punishing him. "No more," he begged. "Please, stop, I'm sorry...I really am. I'm trying my best." Even if the voices stopped, the bills were piling up, and threats of eviction from the apartment manager were hard to ignore.
In need of fresh air, he made his way to the roof. Standing on the edge, playing with the idea, but leaning back just enough to keep his balance on all that he had left. He no longer felt cold. The dizziness of the alcohol was finally dissipating, leaving in its stead a sense of euphoria and was that a sense of courage? There was only one way to leave this hell hole. He just needed to confront his mistakes. And so he took a step forward, smiling because whatever was waiting for him had to be better than this.