Smoking

“I am not without my own vices; I, too, have my preferred poisons.”

eizinsuzuki
Art by Eizin Suzuki

Just breathing is not enough sometimes.

When the weight of all the worlds is crushed up against your spine, tightly pressed into your lungs, it is never quite enough. Every now and then, I take breaks just to breathe. Deeply, without some misplaced fear of air ever running out.

Meanwhile, some of the people I work with take moments out of the day to smoke, talking about things I can only guess at. Inexplicably, and though I loathe the smell of cigarettes with thinly-veiled passion, I cannot help but feel that maybe people have quite deep conversations over a lit cigarette. On a balcony that quietly overlooks the town and its ocean view (and its waters you can even see glittering from afar), with the sound of the air-conditioners humming in the background to mask the silence, how can you only talk about the weather? As you share in the experience of a favoured kind of poison, how do you not bond? Non-smokers like me do not understand. I don’t think they —we—can. This trade with death—slow, blissful poison that fills your lungs, that settles your restless, drifting, wandering thoughts, for a few years off your life.

An onlooker as I have been most of my life, I watch, from afar, how chests expand and eyes close in unveiled bliss. I follow the trail of relief that comes with the exhale, deep from the lungs, ascending through the throat and liberated through open lips. The relief is so profound, so real. Where the smoke disperses into the atmosphere, its comforts remain. It makes me feel a little like a child. As though one day, someone will look closely and uncover the deceit, and tell me I don’t belong on a balcony with men who are smoking. I’m not sure if that would be a relief or not. I am slowly transitioning into a hybrid of an adult and an evergreen child, I think. Always the late bloomer. And never quite blooming the right way; I’ve always grown a little sideways, a little crooked.

Even so, I ask myself : during the winter days when the sky pinkens far too soon, in the silence between two drags of smoke (ironically so grounding), what do you say ? Even then, even when you say nothing, there is something different about the atmosphere. As though a visible peace has settled, and an invitation for deeper questions, more meaningful conversations, confessions even, is given. I think smoking probably feels a little like this : As though you were a kite that had its string cut before, and were being blown away into oblivion, but the smoke is what reels you back bit by bit to calmer skies.

And yet, I am not a smoker. So for lack of a cigarette between my fingers, I make my way to the balcony where the smell of tobacco lingers still, clinging to the walls in a way the wind could never take away. And in spite of the smell, of the layers of smoking breaks stuck to the air, I breathe in deeply. Taking steadying, shuddering breaths, concentrating instead on the faint yet persistent smell of iodine perpetually tickling my nose. A town with an ocean view, indeed. Really, it is not nicotine I crave. For lack of a cigarette and someone to smoke with, my mind reels back to quiet days and the view from another window.

I am not without my own vices; I, too, have my preferred poisons.

I remember my eyes sweeping across the view outside that window, cracked open to let the sunlight filter in. And I thought : “How bright and warm that light is.” But then you talked, and your eyes lit up, widened, poured light on the things your vision touched, as though what lay behind your eyes, beneath your skin was something akin to the sun, and it, too, filtered through the blinds that ironically, would be your eyes. And the light of the sun touched the inner corner of your eye, where the most delicate, most golden light creased, shimmered in the littlest nook between your eye and nose.

But unlike cigarette smoke, when the vision disperses, it leaves behind no comforts, no ashes. No illusion of warmth to hold onto. I am left cold, like a flickering candle in a damp room.

Dreaming is a slow poison, too, you have taught me.


Listening to :

Trouble in the City

“Houses so close to each other you can almost feel your neighbour’s breath on your cheek, rooftops so close they almost collide like artificial tectonic plates, making the sky look like an azure crack in the ceiling.”

grantsnider
Art by: Grant Snider

As thrilling as the city is, its modern interpretation is more lacklustre than not to me. There’s something about it that doesn’t seem natural. Something that’s not quite right.

Houses so close to each other you can almost feel your neighbour’s breath on your cheek, rooftops so close they almost collide like artificial tectonic plates, making the sky look like an azure crack in the ceiling. Apartment buildings and flats too small to house any imagination, to welcome any overabundance of ideas. But at the same time, it’s almost impressive how we are living lives of hedonism and intemperance in tiny rooms only large enough to fit our limbs. But what do we do of our dreams then? What place will they have to grow? Do we just throw them out of the window? Bid them goodbye as they go with the winds?

We’re too stressed, too hurried. Like the White Rabbit worrying about lateness, but more generally, time. We’re constantly worrying about missing out on something because there’s always something  happening. And it’s exciting that there’s always a fun thing to do anytime, but it’s just that for some reason, everything in the city is “important”. From the emails to the brunches. Yeah, even brunch holds a certain authority. Everything in the city seems to be an institution. But even so, everyone seems to be aware of it. Like we know not to take it too seriously.

But I just worry sometimes, as I gaze at the last stars in the sky, the ones under threat of disappearance by smog, that we will forget. We will forget to spend time watching ships as they go quietly by in the harbour. I worry that we will stop watching birds fly, that we won’t people-watch or contemplate the rain.

What I fear most though, is that we will stop admiring our place in the Universe. That our lives will be confined to this city and our gazes will never travel beyond its well-defined borders.

 


Note: This is Day 20 (!!!) of my little NaNoWriMo Writing Challenge. I’ve also written about the city before, so you can also check out this piece of writing here 🙂

The Oldest Happiness

“In these last moments, it will always be the quiet, innocuous days that stand out most. Nameless and blurry, anonymous as they may be, I revisit them with a warm, gooey feeling even now. “

AnnaPan
Art by: Anna Pan

When I die—or at least right before—I don’t think I will think about all the crazy, wild things I will have done. In these last moments, it will always be the quiet, innocuous days that stand out most. Nameless and blurry, anonymous as they may be, I revisit them with a warm, gooey feeling even now.

Late breakfasts eaten on the terrace
The warm glow of the sun on round cheeks
Easy chatter and even easier laughter
Midnight conversations spoken in hushed tones
The spaces between printed words where you get lost in a novel
Finding out a surprising thing about a sibling
Watching kites in the sky

Or quiet, otherworldly afternoons-turned-evenings, dipping wooden spoons into mounds of delicious, melting ice-cream. Staring ahead, above the clouds, wandering past the limits of the Earth, travelling to moons and planets far beyond. Then being startled back into the here and now by very fluffy cats. Then wondering what life as a cat is like.

It’s all such idle contentment, such effortless happiness. It’s the oldest happiness I know.