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  • Writer's pictureKayleigh Willis

'American Pachinko' by Brian Simmons

Nearly two years have passed since I moved to Japan. During the weekend, I would frequently drive by a pachinko parlor. The lights and sounds piqued my interest. Everyone playing seemed to be enjoying themselves. I walked in and took a seat next to an older Japanese man, with thin balding hair.

“Do you even know what you are doing?” the old man asked, in perfect English.

“Not really,” I replied.

“Typical!” he said, as he turned away in disgust.

I was surprised by his brashness.

The inside of the gaming room was enchanting. It reminded me of an old beach arcade, from my childhood. Each machine had a different theme, similar to that of casino slots.

Prior to leaving base, I had exchanged my U.S. dollars for Japanese yen. Sixty thousand yen seemed like enough money to play around with. I placed a basketful of tiny metal balls into an opening while feeding five thousand yen into the insert. All of a sudden, hundreds of additional tiny metal balls started springing out. I tried to knock the balls into the catcher, to trigger a payout. This, of course, was the object of the game.

Like a flash, my machine started blinking. A computerized voice was singing to me, in Japanese. My Japanese was pretty good, but my senses were overwhelmed, by the noise and flashing bright lights. An elderly Asian woman, wearing a blue bonnet, started walking towards the commotion.

“You hit,” she said.

“I know I did,” I replied.

She could tell that I did not know what I was doing, but continued to engage me.

“You are very lucky,” the old woman said.

“How much money did I win?”

“It doesn’t work that way. You don’t win money, only tokens.”

I disappointedly collected all the balls and turned them in for tokens. I was about to exchange my tokens, for small arcade prizes, when I was approached by a haggard old man, smoking a cigarette.

“Hey, American! Don’t turn your tokens in there. You won’t get anything for them!”

“What do you mean?” I replied.

“Come with me,” the old man said.

I followed him into a deep dark alley. My intuition told me that something was wrong. Within a second, I could be robbed, or beaten by a group of thugs. The old man knocked on a tiny rundown wooden shack that had a grey tarp completely covering the outside. A shady-looking character, dressed in a knockoff Italian suit, came out. The two men started shouting at each other. I could not tell what they were saying.

“Give me your tokens!” the old man said.

“Why?” I replied.

“Just do as I say!”

I reluctantly handed over the winnings. He rushed over to the associate in the booth, with my tokens. After a while, the old man came back with a stack of bills.

“The next time you win, go outside, knock on the window and wait for someone to come out.”

“Is this legal?” I asked.

“Who cares if it’s legal? You’re an American. You can do as you please.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” I replied.

The old man handed me fifty-seven thousand yen. Perhaps, he had pocketed some winnings for himself. Who could really say? I was still grateful for the education.

“Thank you for your help,” I said.

“My pleasure,” the old man replied.

I left the alley, happy to still have my limbs intact. My heart was racing. The anticipation and danger caused a massive surge of adrenaline. Japan sure was a strange and confusing place. I decided to return to base. This was enough fun for one evening.

Two days later, my orders came in, to transit to North Carolina. I was filled with a sense of dismay. As fast as my love for pachinko had started, it was taken away. Twenty years have passed since I left Japan. I often wonder if I will return to play again. Only time will tell.

All rights. Brian Simmons.

Brian Simmons is a school teacher in Johns Island, South Carolina. He served in the United States Navy during Operation Iraqi Freedom. His previous flash fiction work, “Morning Drive” and “Ghost Tour” have been featured in Fiery Scribe Review Literary Magazine. His flash fiction piece, “Ghost Ship” was featured in Bullshit Lit. Magazine. “The Mighty Sharleen Chang '' was featured in Neuro Logical Literary Magazine. “American Pachinko” is his latest flash fiction piece.

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