I had come to admire people who smoked cigarettes, not the act itself—that I found revolting, it was the prop of the stick that interested me. The lighting of it, the fire at the end that glowed instead of blazing, the tapping off of the ash, and eventually the putting it out.
It was in that way that I bought a pack of cigarettes on the evening that I was meeting Michelle. It was cold and the wind whirred with determination. Even mother nature was on my side tonight, I decided as I sat on the gazebo section of the restaurant I frequented.
I placed the pack on the table and before it settled the waitress came rushing. We had a flirty energy going and we usually talked as she served me. “Hi Liz,” I greeted her and she flashed a smile. I think she loved that I saw her, unlike most people who saw their food, drink, or a mistake whenever they saw waiters and waitresses.
It was in that way that Liz always ran towards me when I came in. She eyeballed my pack of cigarettes, wanting to ask, yet feeling she would be intrusive if she did because our relationship was still new. She placed my usual order of a cold White Cap next to my cigarettes and dissolved to the next table, and as she did, Michelle arrived—her heels tapping on the linoleum.
Michelle was a slender, light skin girl in her mid-twenties and she had a thing for breaking rules. On this particular night, she was breaking them with her earrings; long, winding things resembling two snakes doing a mating dance. Her rule-breaking was part of her appeal but it was not what got me to stay. It was her curiosity about life. She did not just want a sip of it. She wanted to drink it from the source.
“So you smoke now?” she asked immediately after she sat down. Her dress climbed up to reveal her yellow thighs and the ornaments on her earrings clinked together, making a melody of their own.
“No,” I answered curtly while pouring my White Cap into a transparent glass. I watched as the frothy foam rose and then fell as Michelle’s earrings clinked again and reminded me of her presence.
“Then what are you doing with a packet of cigarettes?” she followed up, giving me a confused look as she tacked a long braid behind her ear.
“It’s a prop,” I said, opening the packet and popping a stick out.
“Yeah, it adds style to my demeanor. Like the earrings you’re wearing. They don’t have a function per se yet there they are hanging on your earlobes.”
She touched them as if noticing them for the first time. “They are beautiful and I like them,” she said.
“Exactly,” I said while dangling the stick on the edge of my mouth and lighting it.
She raised an eyebrow then like the foam in my beer she settled down into a calm expression. Being a writer, I always liked that about women. How they could soak up anything like a sponge if you were convincing enough. I could already see the role plays. She could be Jenny from the block or Samantha the nurse when all the flavor drained from our sex life and we needed to spice things up.
“Are you fantasizing about a story again?” she asked.
“What,” I said while coming out of my stupor.
“I’m I in your fantasies, or are you just wasting my time?”
“And what is the harm in that?” I asked while removing the cigarette from my mouth and taking a swig from my beer. I held the stick between my fingers, Michelle’s eyes trained on me. Keen to see how the cigarette would burn without being smoked. Eagerly waiting to prove me a liar, not knowing that mother nature was on my side.
“Nothing wrong with killing a little bit of time with a non-smoker,” I continued while sipping my beer. “2-3 hours off your phone screen,” I added. Michelle was amused at this point as the wind took long pulls from my cigarette.
“Still,” she said as Liz joined us. She had sure taken her time since Michelle had arrived. I thought while tapping the ash on the provided ashtray, finally having a use for it.
“Michelle, Liz; Liz, Michelle,” I introduced them.
“Huh,” Liz said, with an edge to her tone that seemed to say, look what the cat dragged in. “Hi Michelle,” she corrected herself just as quickly.
“It’s good to see you again,” Michelle said to Liz.
“So you two know each other?” I asked curiously as Michelle nodded.
“What will you have?” Liz asked briskly.
“A Tusker Cider,” Michelle said when she would have otherwise ordered a cocktail.
“Afraid she will spit in your drink there Michelle?” I teased while taking a sip from my White Cap and an awkward silence followed. “Frenemies?” I asked after Liz had left, eager to get to the bottom of the catfight.
“We used to date,” Michelle said calmly as I collected my jaw from the floor. It was a time when I was feeling experimental but my taste changed and she had gotten attached so the break up came like a knife to the heart,” she added as the ornaments on her earrings clinked in the wind, which was puffing away at my cigarette.
This new revelation was in the past yet it unnerved me. If anything it should have added a new layer to her, making her more appealing but I was unsettled. We met many times after that, albeit not in the same restaurant nor with my non-smokable pack of cigarettes, until she developed a taste for something else or I did; Or what we thought we had died a natural death by talking less and seeing each other even less.
“So, you are the one wasting my time,” I said jealously leaning back on the chair and looking at her with an eye I had never used before. And at the same time forgetting and taking a pull from the cigarette in-between my fingers.
“No, not at all. Think of my relationship with her like a prop that adds style to my demeanor,” Michelle said as a new waitress arrived with her Cider and as I coughed and coughed and crashed the cigarette on the ashtray.
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