It was at 9am on a cold Tuesday in April that I decided to smoke my first cigarette. I got out of bed put on my pants and my favorite jacket. As I put one arm trough its dull orange-grey sleeve, I decided to not put it on. I didn’t want my favorite jacket to smell of smoke. So, I dug out a blue sweatshirt from the laundry basket. It had a chili stain and I hoped detergent would wash away the smoke with the dried up sauce. The nearest gas station was half a mile away and I decided against taking my bike. It was a sunny morning and the Sun had hidden all traces of the grey ice that covered the streets just a week back. I was happy I didn’t have to wear my ankle-high snow boots. Maybe if it snowed I would have not ventured out on this silly, childish quest. Silly because, as a child, I had despised smokers and found smoking repulsive. Yet, now almost 30, I was strangely drawn to it. I went down the driveway and turned left. As the distance from the gas station started increasing, I found my feet moving toward the convenience store. Maybe my fingers craved the warm Sun. Maybe my mind wanted to delay the inevitable. It thought that if it took longer, maybe I would turn back. It knew too well how easily I gave up on things. Like how it stubbornly made me sit in the car where I should have gotten out and kissed her. It knew Newton’s first law of motion. This time was different. It had forgotten that once set in motion it is all the more difficult to stop the moving object, all thanks to the same inertia. I had beaten it at its own game. I smiled to myself.
It really was nice weather. The barren trees were rife with squirrels playing tag waiting for spring to hide their joyful game behind green leaves. I wanted to stop and take a picture, but inertia knew I was a man on a mission. Within ten minutes, I arrived at Convenient Convenience store. It was run by an old Korean couple. I didn’t want to go to the closer, Simple Convenience store which was run by an Indian family. I had always suspected that the owner Mrs. Patel knew my mother and would instantly pick up the phone and tattle on me as soon as the store doors closed behind my back. Mr. Kim, on the other hand, would not care. Business is business. That why, Convenient Convenience was convenient. I entered the store and found Mrs. Kim behind the counter pinning up a black and white printout of an alleged shoplifter on her “Baned from Store” wall. The store was mostly empty apart from an Iranian woman standing in front of the dairy, reading the label off a pink carton of milk. I wanted to go tell her that it is in fact not strawberry milk but plain 2% milk, but didn’t. I also didn’t want to buy a pack of smoke in front of Riza. We exchanged glances and she smiled. I inadvertently raised up my hand in a feeble hello, and smiled a toothless smile. She went back to more pressing matters and decided to switch the pink carton for a blue one with strawberries drawn on them. Guess she didn’t really need me. I pretended to be interested in a pack of Doritos while she took the blue carton with anatomically perfect strawberries drawn on it to the cash counter. As I heard the doorbell chime, I quickly rushed to the counter. Mrs. Kim looked at me quizzically as I had shown up before her without any products. I stammered that I wanted a pack of smokes. Her lips tensed. With her narrow eyes fixed on me, she asked which brand I wanted. Whichever is the cheapest I blurted out. Amused by my answer and definitely judging me for my poor tastes she turned, bent a little and slid open a small compartment. It displayed colorful packs with horrid images etched on them. I picked out a pack of blue Camels. She scanned the item and the cash register rang “$12.53!”. I quickly took out my card paid for it, grabbed the pack and darted out.
Hastily I started waking back to my place. The wait (as you say) was killing me. Much like the time when I sat ridiculously close to this girl in the library back in college, hoping something would happen. As I neared my apartment, I realized I did not have anything to light it with. I had no choice but to cross my building and keep on walking to the gas station. I entered the gas station picked out a green bic lighter and took it to the counter. I didn’t care if there were people there. Neither did they care about my 9am decisions. The cash register displayed $2.10. I pulled out $3 in change, slapped it on the counter and walked out.
Finally, back at my apartment clutching the dark blue carton, I was ecstatic. I imagined myself to be a hard-boiled detective from a new wave flick, where I would be looking out into the sunset as I pull out a thin white cigarette against the darkening sky. It was more fumbling than classy. I struck the wheel of the lighter with my thumb repeatedly till sparks cohered together into a tiny flame. As I were to bring it to my lips, the flame went out. With my back against the wind, hiding the cigarette from the wind I tried again. It didn’t work. Then, cupping the thin stick, hiding it from myself, I managed to light the damn thing. I took a drag and instantly gagged. All that childhood revulsion came back to me. I coughed a little, steadied the cigarette between my fingers, and sucked in the warm pungent air. As the acrid smoke filled my mouth, throat and lungs, I felt a little dizzy. I staggered a little and leaned against the edge. I thought about Riza and marveled at her label reading skills. I hankered back to my first kiss in that dim lit library and laughed at how this cigarette was nothing as electric as that. I cringed at Mrs. Patel being disappointed at me, maybe a little more than my mother. I though many things and then nothing. I stared blankly into the horizon wondering how this brown dead plant rolled in thin white paper killed my dad this day five years ago.
She would desire a gift
The day of passion is nigh.
To save the river running dry
To fill this seeping rift
Turning stones, he doth drift
But what can this pauper buy?
He fogs the window with his sigh
For the smith is unfazed by his thrift.
So hidden within, curtains drew
From the shores of his empty cot
On paper white and cursive blue
He carved a flowing “you”
With a heart over the I’s dot
Colored it with love true
Do your words have any meaning?
By the strand on starry nights, I ponder.
Songs of love, on silly couplets time I squander
As I recite them oft, like a peafowl preening
Oblivious to your vile screening.
“Do you hold me dear?” Is all I wonder
Besotted by me? Who knows only to wander.
Was my passion but madness weaning?
For did you not toss me that rose?
As my song kissed your ears
Did you not blow kisses and smile?
Wet roseate cheeks, what were those?
Serpent of the Nile shedding reptilian tears?
Or just a cruel hearted jest at my exile.