Stephen Chan

The Late Home-coming Prodigal Son – Chapter 3

A translation from ‘遊子遲遲歸’

Chapter Three     Gambling and Stealing

I learned all kinds of gambling games when I was young. Mahjong, card games, poker, etc. were our household entertainments during festivities. We learned all these games on our own. New Year’s Day was the special day for gambling. The adults had their mahjong (麻将) or tien-jiu (天九) table, and we children had our square table for poker and small roulette, etc. As long as we gambled in a hidden place, the adults would not bother us even if we skipped our meals or bedtime. After all it was New Year’s festival day. If we quarreled, we would be lectured, but grandma or some aunties would come to rescue us because it was once a year festivity, children should be allowed to enjoy—–but the fact was, we had lots of those once a year festive days. It was understood that children of wealthy family should learn to play social games as they would need those skills to survive in the society later on in life. Hence, we children all loved to gamble. My older brothers and older sister became gambling addicts. By the grace of God I was spared, otherwise I would have been a mess.

Sins have a vicious domino effect, especially with gambling. Gamblers cheat, lie, deceive, and fantasizing in hitting a jackpot someday. Some dare to risk everything hoping to recover their loss, and ended up in lifelong disasters.

When I was about eight or nine years old, I would wage bets on the street. There were street vendors swindling children to bet on horse racing, small roulette wheel, billiards, and even Chinese chess game. My daily allowance for school was five cents, two cents for bus fare and three cents for lunch. I usually lost all my allowance in gambling. So I planned to cheat my mother. Our school held many charity or fund-raising events. I would keep my mother’s donations to myself. I would also help buy groceries for others, and for every dime given I would spend only nine cents, put one cent into my pocket. However, all this stolen money could not satisfied my covetous desire. I could not understand why my brother attending Wah-Yan College (华仁书院) got two dimes for daily allowance, while I attending King’s College (英皇书院) got a net of three cents instead? I told myself it would be alright to steal from my mother’s wallet just to get even. So I started stealing.

My mother was a cautious lady. She was very careful with her valuables because there were too many people in the household. She always locked her wallet in a chest with hidden drawers. The key was always put on a small china plate. Whenever she went out, even if someone was home, she would lock her bedroom door. So I had to steal when she was home.

Under normal circumstances, I dare not go into my parents’ bedroom. The only time I would go in was when I got hurt and needed some iodine or antiseptics, or after dinner, to get some toothpicks which were stored in their room. My mother ate her meal very slowly, so whenever I wanted to steal, I would finish dinner quickly, and then go into my parents’ room while everyone was still eating. I had to pick up the chain of ten odd keys, quietly opened the drawer with the right key, opened the wallet, took the money, put everything back in place, stuck two toothpicks in my mouth or some iodine somewhere on my skin, and walked out of the room as if nothing had happened.

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