I won! Wait, I won?
It takes quite a lot of skill to throw a game convincingly. The fact I'm still uncertain over whether the game was actually thrown is testament to my opponent's crafty generosity, if he really did let me win. I suspected something was awry when I narrowed his lead over me while he kept encountering a rash of difficulties with getting the 8-ball into any pocket, until that cathartic moment when, after a few of my own fumbling moments with the 8-ball, I won. Wow. At that moment, as strongly as I sensed victory was being handed to me, a feeling of redemption engulfed any other worries or misgivings I had. For an instant, lingering questions on the legitimacy of the victory evaporated, as did the tension of being down 0-4 games, a tension I grew so accustomed to as to fail to recognize how taut and clenched-fisted it had been keeping me. While the tension seemed permanently subsided, those lingering questions were less willing to go, coalescing into an anvil and thudding atop my head with the pestering realization that I need to think of how to respond beyond showcasing motionless stupor and disbelief.
What's the protocol, I wondered; do I sneak in a teaser about how he let me win? Should I thank him for the gracious gesture? Perhaps he would be offended if I garishly threw noise on a donation he so discretely made. Then again, I did still have to struggle - he certainly wouldn't have fiddled with that 8-ball long enough to embarrass himself. In fact, in addition to the onus of winning being on me, I had to endure the added pressure of potentially losing to someone playing on a five shot handicap. Yes.. yes.. the victory was well earned. Besides, I continued to reason, it would be sacrilegious of me to call his act an act when he expended considerable effort to make his loss credible. I decided to accept his donation; I played the intended part and offered a courteous "good game" with an appreciative smile and a nod. I instantly second-guessed myself, wondering if silently accepting someone's largesse would be considered tawdry, but, thankfully, the comforting return of relief from my opponent's starkly more relaxed look allayed any fear of misstep. He bought the act, or so I believe.