The guy is good, I have to concede. He stalks his prey with a mixture of subtlety and power that has earned him the status and recognition, if not popularity, that his pedigree deserves. But you don’t become the Saturday morning pool champion of Gaborone bus station without having a few tricks of your own.

Money exchanges hands and the game takes on a new importance as the crowds gather. Who is this white boy in flip-flops, a backpacker waiting for his bus or a pretender to the crown? This is visceral. There is no chalk, no place to hide in the beating morning sun. Even the Coke lady has suspended her trading to witness the contest: thirst can wait when the stakes are this high. I am an unknown, here, and the betting is mostly on the champion. But two hardy souls believe in me, to the amusement of the rest. ‘Kill the killer’ one whispers to me both hopefully and confidently. I will not fail you, my friend.

My initial fears are allayed as I take to the table for the first time: the cue is true, as are the cushions. I play. It is a quick game, reminiscent of the first Cold War showdown between Kasparov and Karpov. Pawns fall rhythmically, mistakes are made and the table is emptied without a breath being taken. He takes the lead and it looks as though my fate is sealed as he pots three balls in quick succession. I will be nothing more than a footnote in combi car park history, it seems. But Lady Luck and an uncharacteristic lack of power allow me back in, from the brink. He stares in disbelief. On such margins empires have fallen.

These are the moments you live for: a black into the middle pocket, but with his last stripe hanging over the edge of a precipice that will surely spell my doom. Live or die. Glory or failure. Twenty-eight eyes stare at my right hand, at my tapping fingers. I stop for a second to reflect. If I had not resigned in September, if I had not taken a leap of faith and believed in a different future, and more importantly if I had heard my alarm clock this morning, I would not be here.

‘What is your name?’ Suddenly I hesitate. Is this sportsmanship from a man who senses imminent and reputation-shattering defeat or a sincere invitation to Botswana pool posterity? In that moment he reminds me of a black Clint Eastwood, and I understand his game. You see, there are two kinds of people in this world, my friend. Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig. I stroke the white ball, gently but firmly, and the black goes in.

A roar. An embrace from my backer. The killer is dead. As he comes over to congratulate me with a smile that reveals only seven teeth, he hands me the 20 Pula that he had already pocketed in his utmost self-confidence, and slaps me on my back. ‘Another?’ But that is not how it works. I say my goodbyes, saddle up and get on my bus to Johannesburg, on to the next adventure. Goodbye Botswana, you had a tough task after Namibia, but you came good.

February 2016 Gaborone Bus Station Open Air Pool Champion (runner-up in yellow, where are your fans now, buddy?)

A sporting arena built for prestigious events

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