Gambling with a Pomelo

The fair-haired lady in the flowery frock has seen one before in a Chinese supermarket; it's a dull yellow citrus fruit that wears a conical hat; she thought they were genetically modified grapefruits! Her Chinese lover buys the pomelo for her, plus the usual bottle of Portuguese sparkling white wine and a packet of chorizo sausages. Sex, that's what he's come to Macau for, and it's handy to have things to eat and drink in the room . But walking back to the hotel along a quiet waterfront road, she catches sight of a casino. 'Let's try our luck,' she says, squeezing his hand.

It's rocking gently on the South China Sea; a low rectangular building with an emperor- yellow tiled roof and an army of fantastically ornate red columns. 'Traditional,' he says, as they ascend swirling dragon steps to enter the dimly-lit interior. They pass through security gates. 'That bag, check-in; this bag, no bring inside,'' says a thin-lipped uniformed woman pointing to the bag with the pomelo in it.

'Wait here,' he says, retreating with the bag.

'I'm coming with you,' the fair-haired lady replies.

'Pomelos wash away bad luck,' he explains to her on the street. 'If there's a family problem – sickness, death, love loss, business failure – women make a sort of shower cream soup with the peel. Mrs Security must think we've had some bad luck.'

Street lights irradiate a line of parked cars: he suggests they temporarily hide the pomelo in the back of an empty truck. He swings the bag over the lip of the container and it lands with a thud.

Back inside, he cashes a fifty dollar note. The red carpet is stained, speckled with cigarette ends – so dingy, she thinks, rather regretting they didn't make the effort to go to Sands or the Venetian. A wall of slot machines are flashing seductively. 'Take your pick,' he says, as if to his daughter in a candy store. He stands by her side and offers her control of the lever. Dollar after dollar drops down a bottomless well, soon she only has nine coins left.

'One more shot,' she says playfully, takes a big breath and heaves the lever with both hands. The machine clunks, and freezes; mid-phrase the jaunty muzac stops. I've broken it, she thinks, until the numbers on an eye-level display counter start climbing, faster and faster, higher and higher. He's transfixed too now. 'What the ...?' he says.

Two pairs of blinking eyes; ten thousand, twenty thousand dollars, and the digits are still spinning upwards. They clap their hands, mouths agape. When the display freezes at a triumphant thirty thousand dollars, it's bedlam: trumpets and drums and flashing lights and coins spewing from the mouth of the machine, cascades of silver spilling over and spraying themselves on the carpet.

The security woman trips up on the carpet in her haste, three others appear from behind the walls, walkie-talkies buzzing, offering a bucket to collect the coins, to accompany their VIP customers to the cashier's. 'Tipsi, tipsi,' their nicotine-stained teeth say.

Arms fending them off, eyes peering through the bars of the cashier's, the Chinese man concentrates on a busty woman in a stained blouse pouring the coins down a chute.

'Tipsi, tipsi,' chant the three cashiers, reluctantly pushing stacks of five hundred dollar notes through a narrow collection point. 'OK, five hundred dollars each,' the Chinese man says. He aligns the notes in the palm of his hand, peels them off – crispy, fresh – and distributes them to an ever-widening circle of open hands.

The fair-haired woman is beside him, staring at the dwindling pile.

'They want to share our good luck,' her lover explains later, the pockets of his trousers bulging with their winnings. They'd remembered to pick up the bag, made a quick exit, and were descending the cool marble steps. She starts to ask another questions but he's not listening, he feels something's skewed, there's something missing, the lorry gone. 'Too bad,' he says, laughing, the bag of wine and sausage still safe, the hotel room beckoning.

She's laughing too now. They stop for a moment in a dark place, fold into each other, embrace. Then they retrace their steps to the corner shop to buy another pomelo.



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