23/03/2015 by Siddiqui Fayesal
I was sitting across from him when he lit his cigarette. I saw him come, look around and sat down on his seat. It was something about his slow confident movement that made me shift, then altogether change the direction in which I sat.
I liked the way he shut his eyes and sat absolutely still for almost 3 minutes. Perhaps he was a regular here, I thought. Or else, the waiters don’t waste a breath “waiting” on patrons by smacking the dirt laden menu on the table. The waiters did not bother him at all. It was just his unkempt hair that attracted me at first but the moment he went into his apparent Zen-like routine I paid a little more attention to his apparels. He wore those thick frames that went out of fashion in the 70s. This either made him a don’t-give-a-damn or I’m-a-lout feel; both placed him out of the socially acceptable norms of the “in” hipsters.
Mind you, it wasn’t those large oval shaped ones that he wore. Those are still in vogue in a way. They call it nerdy these days like it was clothing that one could remove at will. In my days, it was either in or out. You can’t be nerdy at will. It was a personality trait, not a fad.
Anyway, he being out of the so-called circles that usually ostracized me; I perked up and saw him take that long drag from him stick. I suddenly felt like Dickens. I wish I had the words and, or, the mean to exquisitely describe his smoking ritual which was just as mesmerizing as the bread-buttering ritual Pip’s sister followed. Dickens must’ve really thought hard for that little passage. Or, perhaps, like me, had the fortune of closely experiencing it first-hand.
He had a steel case. He did not have those plastic attached filters, which I hated on account of being pretentious. I sat up a little straight as I saw him pick one out; not random, mind you. He picked out the first from his left. He tapped its filter lightly, expertly, on the wooden table to tightly pack the loose tobacco to the bottom. As an after-thought, he kept his cigarette upon the case and removed his glasses instead. Like an expert masseur, he rubbed his eye socket. I knew what it did. Being an avid reader, I knew that massaging the sockets at specific ‘points’ helped alleviate headache and eye strain. He did this for close to a minute followed it up by another minute of shutting the world out by concentrating on the blue-black darkness underneath his eyelids.
He sat put for a whole 2 minutes again.
Finally, done with his pre-smoking ritual, he turned his attention to his cigarette. He picked it up and lit it with a matchstick which he picked out, at random this one, from a box. A standard sized matchbox which can be bought for a buck from any dime a dozen drug stores that line a street. If you’re a regular the blokes there might just throw in once in a while.
The first drag tells a lot about the smoker. The way he holds a cigarette, the way his cheeks cave in when he takes a deep puff, whether his first puff is his deepest or just perfunctory, the way he taps out the flakes at the end of his stick, the way he inhales his smoke, the manner of his inhaling, if he inhales or not. It all explains a lot about the habits that a smoker forms over the years.
It’s easy to spy a newbie. The extra careful drag, the fidgety taps, the long stem of tobacco protruding from careless puffs, it all adds up and an experienced spy can pick them out from a dozen easily.
This guy had a careless charm. His smoking hand hung carelessly over his non-smoking one and his eyes lay affixed over a point on the ceiling. If I had to fathom a guess, I’d guess that he was staring intently at the wall beyond the fan, over the ceiling, over the roof and over the earth’s stratosphere into the very midst of the Milky Way.
I wasn’t here to fathom anything though.
He smoked with a nonchalance fit for a king. He took moderate puffs and his hands tapped out the excess in short expert bursts of action layering the inaction with a subtle move. His eyes lay latched on to the ceiling counting the stars, perhaps. Usually, the establishment did not allow smoking in its dining area. But, like I’ve made a passing reference, this one was not just a mere first timer here. No waiters bothered him; no one even came to put glasses of water for him. Then, suddenly, a tall tumbler of black tea, along with a glass of water, was presented and he thrust the half-smoked cigarette in the water and smiled at the waiter with a smile so disarming that the waiter, who was notorious for his rude behavior, turned into a servile man of soft words.
It all looked like a forced act; all part of a scheme. His genuine smile was a farce, his words were a farce. The only act of honesty was that when he dipped, and hence killed, the half-smoked cigarette in that glass of water.
I got up and walked away in disgust as my alter ego did the same.