It was a cold day in Darjeeling’s December, and I was walking with him, my fingers firmly lodged inside his overcoat pocket. He was staring straight ahead, a thin cheroot dangling from the tips of his finger. He was here for a spell, and I knew he would be gone tomorrow. I just wanted warmth.
So I pulled the cheroot off his fingers and quickly took a puff.
The rest was history. Laced with red, streaming eyes, and a hacking cough.
That is when I first tasted it, and somehow, it was the only way I could make him notice me, I felt. So I stole cigarettes from his packet the next day and smoked under a tall tree, puffing quickly while furtively looking around me to see if anyone saw me.
No one did.
I loved that thrill… the sense of freedom and daring. The feel of the forbidden.
He didn’t know then. When he did, he yelled at me. I said nothing, head hanging down, looking at my feet with their imperfect nails. The left toenail looked stubby and darker than the rest. His words hit me. But I didn’t care.
I was free. When I did that, I was free. He couldn’t boss me. He paid all his attention to me, and he got mad. I had found the key. So it didn’t stop then. It didn’t stop when he found the twenty-pack hidden carefully behind the books. It didn’t stop when I inexpertly asked my gardener for a bidi. It didn’t stop when I started craving a light so much that I would go out to the roof, in the cold, cold night, and smoke one or many, depending on my mood.
And my mood changed from being a general shade of sunny to dark and wanting. I didn’t know it then.
Until one day. When I realized my fingers shook when I couldn’t find my pack in time. My mouth formed words, but nothing came out. I couldn’t even make a sound… merely whimper, because the craving got that bad. I would walk out in the middle of a meeting and run to the loo for a quick smoke. The smell of old sweat and stale tobacco started to surround me, and my repulsion towards it reduced with time.
Until one day, when he wasn’t around, because he had long since been gone, his glasses and cheroots abandoned for a life beyond this, his lungs ferociously overworked, slowly closing in on him till he choked and cried out in sheer fear, but there was nothing to save him.
He faded before my very eyes, and all I could do was smoke a cigarette.
And when he finally faded away, I closed my eyes, and felt for a cigarette, and yes, it was there, but it had lost its touch – he had taken it away with him.
That’s the day I quit.
Disclaimer: In association with Kolkata Bloggers, supporting #WorldNoTobaccoDay.