Suppressing the Pariah

She inhaled like a kid devouring a lollypop and exhaled steam venting from a volcano. A hard suck on a cigarette, fast becoming ash.

Head down, hunched over, her attention was captivated by the mobile-phone in hand. Slender body, a pigeon-toed walk, anchored by the tiniest set of ankles ever seen. Her skin was smooth, rich milk chocolate, with black rings under dark eyes the same colour of frizzy humid-weathered-hair. Clothed in a sleeveless sack of faded brown, embellished with a patch-pocket that cradled precious nicotine-sticks inside.

Sweat glistened off her top lip gave glimpses of yellow teeth hidden behind taut lips. She ingested cigarette smoke that rolled down the lungs like a warm wave, entering the bloodstream, catapulting a chemical buzz to the brain. Her eyelids half closed as exhaust fumes gushed out, and evaporated into skin, hair, and clothes.

Inhaling, exhaling the drug with the efficiency of an express train speeding to turnaround inside the station’s lungs. Slender, nicotine-stained fingers trembled as another, fresh, pristine white, cigarette met the dying butt of the other. Ignition upon connection and the finality of a haphazard flick to the alley’s floor. It was soon squashed under the tallest of scuffed wedges, maneuvered by the skinniest of ankles, and became just another piece of scattered debris.

Like a societal pariah, she’d concealed herself in the alleyway between parked vehicles – in front of my car. With windows up, I watched. Absorbed in her own smoke-bubble she didn’t see me sitting in front of her. She didn’t see the parachutist float down from the sky landing in the park behind her. She didn’t see the pair of half-dressed clowns walking past the alley entrance heading to the Car Yard Sale down the road.

All she saw was her cigarette – and it owned her.

I remembered that scent. Could taste the weightless smoke rolling over my tongue, warming down my throat, heating up my lungs, barrel rolling, turning and twisting like a swimmer in a pool, before ejecting itself up toward my sinuses and out through my airways, appeasing my brain.

Immersed in the memory – it owned me.

Until awakened to stale ashtray aromas clinging to clothes, the paint-peeling acidic bitterness in the mouth and the eye-watering sourness secreting from the skin. All the goodness stolen from the body. Cells destroyed. Self-esteem robbed. Soul absent.

Taking a deep gulp of air, I held it and jumped out of my car to avoid ingesting second-hand cigarette smoke. I’d tried to refrain from indulging in all pungent fumes due to sensitive sinuses. I’m hypersensitive all over. Nevermore exposed, with no smoke shield or alcoholic haze to hide behind.

I glance back as she breathed in that cigarette, then exhale like her life depended on it. She never noticed me. But I noticed her. She’s everything I once was – and fight against daily.

(475 words)

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