The Unlit Cigarette has been edited by Aashna Kanuga.
Lost in my thoughts, I gazed at the horizon letting my cigarette burn away as rapidly as my thoughts. Carried away by the strong breeze, the ash did not settle at one place in the City of Dreams. Marine Drive, they say, was a place to relax. Indeed it is, but what they didn’t tell me was that it brought back memories that were meant to be forgotten, memories that had lost their relevance in life.
As the song, ‘Numb’ played at the back of my head, my eyes followed the cigarette butt that I tossed, as it landed amidst the plastic waste between two huge grey boulders. Staring back at the horizon I wondered what life wanted out of me. It had been a year, but my struggles were endless.
“Can you lend me that?”, a man sitting beside me extended his hand and asked me as I fished out the last cigarette from the box. I jumped. He was a man with a dark complexion and a lean stature. Dressed in a crisp pale cotton shirt and black trousers, his oiled hair slicked back and glasses hanging on the bridge of the nose. “Only if you are not going to have it”, he added nervously.
“Sure, here you go”, I handed it to him. I had already smoked two and knew the third one would make no difference to my misery, as they never have. “So, are you a born Mumbaikar?”, he asked, holding the cigarette between his slender fingers. Usually, I avoided talking to strangers except when directions or address were asked, but today it did not matter.
“No, I moved here from Jharkhand four years ago.”
“Well you can call yourself Mumbaikar then, this city can make anyone her own in few months.”, he said with a throaty chuckle.
“What kind of work do you do?”
“I have been shifting from one job to another, unable to continue for more than six months at a time. Since I am only a business graduate no one wants to hire me. And without any salary, I do not have the money to get a master’s degree. It is a vicious circle. I have applied for a lot of jobs, but no luck. Even working multiple jobs at a time did not work out. I guess money is just not in my cards. And on top of that, just got diagnosed with lung cancer”, I smirked with disappointment.
“It’s strange how a cigarette can make you happy but slowly kill you at the same time.”
“What about your family?” he asked, pulling out a half-eaten packet of groundnuts from his pocket. I got little irritated with his reaction. He found nothing disturbing about what I just told him, nor did he show any consolation. I wanted to walk away, but after all, he was just a stranger. Why should my woes matter to him? “My parents passed away when I was quite young. My uncle raised me. But being a farmer he hardly earned enough money to feed his family, let alone me. I helped him a little in the fields. After schooling, I borrowed money from my landlord, came here, did small jobs and completed my graduation”.
Shifting my attention from the raging waves that crashed against the boulders, I turned to him as he saw him popping groundnuts one by one, still holding the cigarette between his fingers. “Oh, sorry, do you want some?”. “No, thank you”.
I was in no mood to eat anything. But the next moment I heard myself saying, “Actually, sure. Why not?”, and took the last few of the remaining nuts. While I was eating, he asked, “What are you going to do now? Surely these treatments cost a lot?”.
At that moment I felt like I was giving an interview about my life. I chuckled a little at this thought, “I really don’t know. I still haven’t figured anything out. Maybe I will die out of pain. Who knows?”, I shrugged. Looking up at the sky, I realized grey dense clouds had crept over the city. First showers are always blissful. It is as if the city halts for a moment to embrace the rains.
“What do you suggest?”, I asked turning back to him.
“Well, you can either wait it out, or you can live by fulfilling your own wishes every day,” he said.
Glancing at the clock he continued, “It is getting late, I should leave”. That very moment, the skies burst out with thunder and roar, and before I could ask him his name, I saw him fading away.
I still did not get what life wanted out of me. But now, I had to smile with life. I will no longer sacrifice those little desires that I missed to achieve my “ultimate” goal. I sat there for a little while longer, as the rains brought about hope for a new beginning. Suddenly, my eyes fell on the drenched, unlit cigarette lying beside me. I laughed. I guess it was never meant to be lit.
To read more by the author of The Unlit Cigarette, click here.