The lucky streak

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What happens when the lure of easy money becomes an insatiable and unstoppable desire for wealth, writes RANI JHALA

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She stood beside the window and gazed out at the landscaped garden and colourful blooms. Serene and beautiful, it was the ideal location in which to sit and contemplate her life, meandering through the pathways that she had chosen, and to that all-crucial moment. Sanita was an addict and like all addicts she had remained in denial for over a decade. During that time she saw her marriage fall apart, her children lose faith and her friends disperse from her life. Of course, she regretted her every act and her every lie. She would always regret those, but despite the many losses she had brought about in her life, she had been unable to take control.

Then one day, feeling lost and desperate, she had stood at the edge of her fifth storey balcony and looked at the concreted ground below. It welcomed her, and it offered her a conclusion. Then just as she prepared herself for the jump, two questions arose within her: What were the odds that she might survive? And if she did, what were the odds that she would recover completely? Busy working out the odds, that decisive moment to jump passed, and Sanita realised that she really did not want to leave this earth, at least, not as a failure.

And for the first time in her entire life, she also admitted that she truly had a problem because even at the moment when she was ending her life, she was betting on the odds.

Carefully she had climbed back onto the balcony and, sitting down in an outdoor chair, she spent the next three hours contemplating on all that had happened. Like the pages of a book, she flipped through each and every moment of her life.

Her birth had been welcomed, her childhood had been happy, and her youth was joyous. Everything about that phase of her life was normal and beautiful.

At 21, Sanita married the man of her dreams. He was everything that she had wanted in a partner – handsome, funny and generous. Everyone loved him, even the kids in her family. They had a wonderful six months which she treasured even today. If one thing lacked in their lives, it was the freedom to spend what they wanted and the liberty to stay where they liked. Financially they were comfortable, but not rich. With both of them working full-time they had managed to buy a lovely home, small but quaint and close to her family.

Sanita had always seen her mother dependant on her father for everything. He made all the decisions, and whenever there was budgeting to be done, it was always her mother who made the sacrifices. While Sanita and her husband combined their income, she maintained the liberty of having her own account and she retained the freedom to shop as she wanted.  One by one, she had decorated each room in their new home and there had been just two more rooms to go. One of them was a nursery.

In the seventh month of their marriage, Sanita found out that she was pregnant. The initial joy was soon overridden by their financial worry. She would have to give up work and the moment she did that, they would have to sell their home. She was not prepared to make that sacrifice.

She kept the pregnancy a secret from her husband for a week, while she debated on her action. At the end of that week she had come to a decision. The baby must go. Nothing was ready for it. She and her husband had planned a world trip which would have to have been put on hold. She had also just bought her first car. It would have to be resold. They would not be able to educate the child in a private school, nor offer it all the luxuries they had planned for it.

On the morning of the seventh day, she gave her husband the news. He was ecstatic, but that euphoria lasted just a few moments before his countenance turned to one of worry. His look gave her the courage to give him her second piece of news. This she relayed as a decision. They would not be keeping this baby as they were both young, and could have another baby in a few years as planned. While her husband did not verbally agree, he did not disagree either. And the relief on his face convinced Sanita that she had taken the right decision.

A week later, their life had returned to normal. There was no baby and there was no conversation about it. They worked each week and saved each month. A year later they had cleared the car loan. The second year they had saved enough to go on their trip. By the third year, they had sold their home and bought a larger one. This increased mortgage meant that they had to postpose having a child for another couple of years.

As she turned 31, they were in a position to think about starting a family, but it still meant that Sanita would have to return to work, leaving their baby in childcare. It was this plan that unnerved her. It was also at this time that she befriended a woman at her new job. Nita was a genius at making money. She called it a lucky streak, and promised that she could solve Sanita’s problems too.

And she was right. On their first outing together, Sanita had made $50,000. Money that would make her year-long maternity leave, worry-free. On their seconding outing just three weeks later, she made another $25,000. The outings became a regular ‘all girls’ event. A year later she fell pregnant again. Two years later she had her second child. Through it all she successfully maintained her two lives.

Her husband never once questioned the ‘bonuses’ that she was frequently receiving, but still she set up another secret bank account and began depositing the funds in there. Not once did her husband delve in the details, and not once did he pick up that she had become a gambler.

The lucky streak lasted nearly ten years, during which she moved from the racing circuit to casinos, and was now well and truly hooked onto internet gambling. They were getting so far ahead in their payments that her husband even spoke of early retirement.

Then just as if the skies had moved and the stars had shifted, that lucky streak ended. In the hope of a recovery she began to draw money from her secret stash. When that was exhausted, she began drawing on their joint account. That too was emptied. Still hopeful, Sanita began using the mortgage payments. It was hard work juggling money around, but she managed for another nine months. She increased the home loan by forging her husband’s signature. She would have been able to get away with it again, had the kids not overheard a call to the bank and repeated it to ‘Daddy’ that evening. By the time Sanita’s husband returned from work the next day, he had found out everything. Every desperate act and every fraudulent deed!

When he did not express either anger or horror, and instead blamed himself for not being actively involved in the financial aspects of their life, Sanita knew the meaning of shame. When the bank foreclosed on their loan, she experienced the meaning of pain. And when her children told her that they hated her for making them lose their home, she knew the meaning of degradation.

They moved into a small apartment and the children even had to move schools. Sanita too had to change her job, to a non-financial institution. Through it all her husband blamed only himself. Had he blamed her, life would have been bearable. Had he yelled, her days would have been tolerable and had he told her that he hated her, her marriage would have been workable.

He did none of these; instead he found a second job and she had sought an outlet on the balcony. It was at the balcony that she had that life-changing moment.

She admitted herself into the clinic in which she now resided. She declared herself as a gambler and she promised her kids that she would never let them down again.

The recovery would be long, the journey hard and the experience unpleasant, but she would succeed because the one person who should have walked away, who was justified to leave her, never did.