There was a room in the back of a bar where three nearly intoxicated companions shared second-hand smoke and a mellow, effortless discussion. Russia drank the most, but she held it well. North Korea drank the second most, but he couldn’t really feel it. China drank the least, but the mess in the ashtray at the center of the table was mostly his doing.
“Why did we stop playing?” North Korea asked gently as he looked over the cards scattered on the table top.
They answered at the same time.
“Because Russia was cheating.”
“Because China hates losing.”
Another bottle, mouth red with the smeared imprint of lips, joined the growing collection to Russia’s side. She let out a soft but satisfied sigh before cocking her head toward North Korea as glassy eyes followed. “I love gambling,” she admitted fondly through a grin.
“That’s because you’re like China.”
North Korea sat back in his chair with agitation in his frown and annoyance on his brow. “It’s unreliable. It demands you to forfeit control for vulnerability.”
Russia leaned in as she smiled, one elbow propped up on the table and chin resting on the back of her hand. “The risk is what makes it fun. It’s so exciting to play against the odds and bet on a game of chance! To win everything…it’s a thrill like no other.” She paused, maybe to cherish a brief moment of nostalgia. “Of course, there have been times where I’ve bet everything and left with nothing.”
“Are you talking about the Arms Race?”
For most of the night China had sat there quiet and unengaged, but his remark solicited attention from the pair. And it only took a second or two before Russia burst into a chuckle that was as equally vexed as it was sincere.
“Why don’t you tell North Korea about some of your great bets?”
“I don’t gamble,” answered China, to which Russia only laughed again. She turned back to North Korea, who sported the faintest hint of a curious smile.
“Visit with me sometime and I will teach you how to poker.”
“Oh,” North Korea started, smile gently fading. “I already know how to play.”
“You know how to play, but not how to win. But you’re a smart kid. You will figure it out. Easily,” Russia ended with a reassuring wink.
When China left the bar that night, there was a bitter taste in his mouth and it had nothing to do with nicotine.
After all, he did hate losing.