I was happy that the ‘hide and seek’ year had finally ended. Our 1st year of engineering. We called it ‘hide and seek’ because the whole year we had to escape from the eyes of our seniors, a preventive measure for not becoming a victim of ragging. I was ragged only once. Luckily the senior who caught me was quite polite. He didn’t ask me to do hardcore weird things. Rather, he asked me to have a cigarette with him. For the first time in my life I touched a cigarette. I held that injurious thing between my fingers and fearfully took the first puff of my life. The next moment the senior hit me on my head and shouted “You idiot! Is this the way you show respect to your senior? Suck it in deeply, fill your lungs completely and then breath out like a king.” Intimidated and scared, I did exactly what he told. I reduced 11 minutes of my life that day. That is the actual cost of One Cigarette, as they say, “11 minutes of your life”. At first I coughed like crazy. It was the most awful experience. I felt the smoke burning my throat as it made its way down towards my lungs. But then, the second cigarette didn’t feel so bad. Soon, nicotine played its role. I felt happier and lighter. A momentary sense of escapism.
I never touched it again for the next one year, despite the consistent nagging from my smoker friends. I knew it was harmful. And I cared for my life. Until, I caught my girlfriend cheating on me. I cried. I shouted. Reached out to friends to share my feelings. Nothing helped! I started skipping breakfast, stopped studying. Those miserable days, how could I forget. I lay on my bed for hours listening to music and just thinking about her. She left. And in doing that she left a void in my heart. I needed something to fill that void.
I was desperately looking for something, anything. And then I found it. Cigarettes. Every time her memories ran across my mind, I kindled it, counting up to 20 per day. I reduced 220 minutes (3.667 hours) of my life daily. I cared less for my life. It didn’t seem like something worth preserving. Each puff gave me a relief, numbing my mind to the pain. For evanescent times, my pain was lessened. Three years passed this way. Nicotine rush felt much better than the feeling of love. And I knew it would never leave me, unlike my ex. That’s how cigarette gained my trust and we became best friends.
I never felt the need of having a girlfriend again. I got placed in an IT firm. Moved out of the city. Though corporate life kept me busy, I never ignored my best friend-‘Cigarette’. I was loyal. I met her in the smoking zone every two hours.
With time, I moved on. I gained the strength of forgiving my ex. We were good friends on Facebook, who regularly liked each others’ pictures. One day I was writing a java code, sitting in my office cubicle, when a girl approached me. She looked good in a denim shirt and white trousers. She was my new team mate. ‘The tallest girl in our team’. Gradually we became good friends. However, I didn’t like one thing about her-‘She despised smoking’. I had to suppress the urge to smoke whenever she was around. I kind of respected her for that.
It was my last birthday, when love found me again. We were partying in my house. On that evening of celebration, I found some time alone with the ‘tallest girl’. We kissed. A week later, She proposed me and we entered into a relationship. My love was split between two now, the cigarette and the tall girl. I started spending most of my time with my girlfriend. The number of cigarettes per day came down to 10. A day came when she asked me for a promise-“Give up smoking.” I refused. Cigarette was there for me when no one was. Cigarette would never leave me. It won’t cheat. It won’t hurt me ever. My best friend. My girlfriend had to accept that I won’t quit smoking ever. She understood me. I started feeling complete. My girlfriend and I were like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle which connected perfectly to each other. Soon, we planned our marriage.
I wanted to invite my ex to my marriage. I went to my ex’s home with the invitation card. Her apartment smelled the same. It took me to the past. I remembered how I hugged her first time in this very house. I remembered how we exchanged our first kiss. I remembered her young face. The songs we danced to, our evening gossips, those cycle races which I let her win every time, her laugh and the sleepless nights gazing the stars. Everything appeared before my eyes. Nostalgic! Though, she cheated on me, I had no hard feelings now. At this moment, I just wanted to see how she looks now. Had she gained some weight like myself? Did she still laugh the way she used to? With an air of anticipation I entered the hall. Her mom recognized me and somewhat reluctantly ushered me to my ex’s room. I was shocked. She looked weak, pale, lying on her bed silently. She wasn’t smiling. She was in a deep sleep. She was no more the beautiful young girl she used to be. The side effects of chemotherapy were apparent. Heavy medical equipments surrounded her. I felt sick in my stomach. Tears rolled down my eyes. The invitation card felt heavy and uncomfortable in my hand. She was suffering from blood cancer. I got to know from her parents that she was diagnosed with the disease 4 years ago, the same year that we broke up. My heart cringed. I felt helpless. She was now incurable. I silently sat next to her on the bed. I waited for her to wake up. After an hour she opened her eyes. She saw me and uttered my name the same way she used to. Hurriedly, she tried to sit up as if everything was all right. I let her do so while I watched. Her eyes still had that young spark in them. She wore the same young smile. She was the same young girl I fell in love with. We talked. I told her about my marriage. She felt happy for me. The next few days I visited her house every day. We laughed remembering our old times. We cried. We hugged. Our chemistry was as intense as it had been 4 years ago. Happiness mixed with sadness. Life’s cocktail!
She died the following week. During her last days, she confessed to me that she had pretended to cheat on me with one of her male friends, because she was afraid that I loved her too much. She knew I wasn’t a guy who would leave her so easily. She had to make a right plan to break up with me.
Now she is gone and I am married.
Whenever I remembered my ex, I used to smoke a cigarette. To wipe out her memory. But not anymore. I don’t want to forget her. I want to let her stay in my mind. I don’t want cigarette to replace her. It can’t. I want to keep her alive in my heart. I have left my “best friend”-Cigarette. I don’t smoke anymore. I have no reason to.
Images used are for representational purpose only.