Lismore. Tuesday, 2.45pm
The young Iraqi man fails to pot the six. A camera flashes and his near miss is on its way to Kurdistan or Osaka or Beijing.
The ball was there for the sinking, lying just inches from the middle pocket. It rolled to the very edge, teetered, but didn’t topple.
The young Iraqi sucks in air and jerks back in disappointment, and then, regaining his composure, applies chalk to his pool cue. All the while, a smile never leaves his face.
‘Nearly,’ I say in a encouraging way – and then – ‘is not good enough.’
We both laugh as I circle the table looking for a shot. I have only one ball to sink before the black. I could actually win this. I feel unusually optimistic.
Behind us, here in the university bar where the language centre students continue their Christmas party, a pair of young Chinese blokes bounces on its heels as a Japanese woman at the other end of the table tennis table serves. A young woman speaks Chinese into a phone and then points it at the game.
I share my love of English with these young adults. In return, I see the world’s future taking shape. These people give me hope.
My ball is snookered. To pot the ball, I have to rebound off the cushion with a length-of-the-table shot.
‘Very difficult shot,’ says the Iraqi student.
‘Oh yes, difficult,’ says a Vietnamese student with a Santa hat. She’s thumbing messages into her phone.
Generally, I don’t know what to make of Christmas.
Obviously it’s a money-spinner. Yet, before Santa and his special deals, there was Jesus who said, very plainly, that the rich will not go to heaven. His life was a difficult one. (Imagine being born on Christmas Day!) No-one listens to him now. The money-lenders own the temple.
Yet before Jesus, Christmas was a solstice event. People celebrated the end of the dark days; the coming of light.
There’s something of that spirit in this room; a spirit that goes beyond the flashing decorations, the consumptive bingeing, the Christian pomp. With these young adults, I sense a growing awareness, a planetary connection being born. Could the world be readying for a global spring after a winter of disconnect?
Probably not, but you never know.
The cue ball is touching the cushion so I raise my elbow and angle the cue down. The chances of my hitting the ball, let alone potting it, are slim. But I’m strangely hopeful.
People of different nations are closer to each other than they are to their governments. And governments around the world, shackled together by antiquated corporate values, are closer to each other than they are to their people. They are crumbling edifices of the long past. They are not the future.
As the current generation fills the air with carbon dioxide, the sea with radiation, the reef with sand, the aquifers with poison, the taps with fluoride, the airwaves with lies and the banks with profit, the next generation is connecting around the world like a nervous system. The planet might just rouse itself from darkness and wake in light.
Well, maybe not. Probably just the Christmas Coopers talking. But you never know.
The cue ball slams into the cushion, recoils, and rolls smartly towards its target.
‘Oh,’ says my Iraqi friend. ‘Good shot.’
A purposeful ‘clunk’ and my coloured ball drops into the pocket. I’m not surprised. A flicker of flashes sends my lucky shot around the world.
‘Good shot!’ laughs the Vietnamese girl still texting a friend in Ho Chi Minh City.
Merry Christmas, people. May the darkest days be done.
You never know.