June 29, 2007

Unlit Cigarettes

When I was younger my grandfather used to send me on errands to buy him cigarettes. Red "More" Luxury Cigarettes; I can still remember them as though it was yesterday. I would walk a few blocks in my sando and oversize flip flops to the nearest store and buy a couple of those weird-smelling sticks. I was always fascinated by those sticks: the odd but eerily fragrant smell, the smooth paper cover, and the fact that most of the men that I considered to be big and tough usually had them clamped between their lips. I would sniff them constantly on the way back, put them in my ear or in my lips just like I saw my father or grandfather did. But when I was in sight of our house, I would put it back in my hands along with the change, for fear that my grandfather would spank the hell outta me for messing with his sweet-smelling cigarettes.

But that was before Grandfather died in 1997. A former cockpit owner and "banig" seller struck down at the age of 86 by heart attack. He left behind 13 children and more than thrice that amount of grandchildren, including this boy who would buy him his cigarettes.

And as I grew older I realized that cigarettes were bad. I learned that they contained harmful chemicals with weird-sounding names like nicotine and formaldehyde which could make you sick. I saw pictures of lungs turned black with soot, of reddish human organs that look like they were taken from the local meat market. They were addictive and bad for you, they said, and that I should stay away.

And so I stayed away from cigarettes. But at that time I also stood away from the rest of the world. I was an outcast, a weird organism who never smoked. I saw other boys of my age who would swagger like those in the movies at the local town cinema, with a burning stick of cigarette in their mouths. I wanted to be like those boys. I wanted to be cool, because I want to be part of the world.

But I still stayed away from them. And as I grew older, I learned more about those burning sticks. I learned that they were made by multinational corporations which made lots of money from those tiny sticks. I learned that there was a lot of people who were fighting against it. I learned about conspiracy, compromise, bribery, bureaucracy, red tape, frame-up, blackmail, and salvage. And that people kept smoking them. They said it calmed the nerves, made them think better. Sometimes I wonder if they were right.

I had my first real puff when I had a bad cough back in college. My roommate gave me a stick of "Hope" Menthol Cigarettes. He said it would make my cough go away, and that it should put some meat on my lungs. I took a drag, inhaling the smoke as it went its way from the filter to the recesses of my throat. A wierd bitter taste grew inside my mouth, and I coughed it out. My roommate laughed in the darkness and took back the stick from my hands.

And more time passed by. My grandfather's body has probably turned to dust now, and my roommate is somewhere basking under the desert sun of the Middle East. I've finished school and found a job, and almost found love. I have died and been reborn so many times, and have learned other more important things to do and to think about.

But until today I still find cigarettes fragrant.

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