Cigarette

There’s something else you should know, and I’m not really sure how to describe it. It starts in the strange purgatory that lends itself to the space between bars.

I had vowed never to drink again and so I was (quite temporarily, it turns out) endowed with a type of lucidity, which I was positive I had all but killed in myself. I had new eyes to see the world and the world was strange and new, itself. But the space between the bars was still there and the wanderers in the street were still there and still wandering and on this night I was once again among them.

It doesn’t quite matter what I was doing when I saw her, but there she was. She had short curly hair that sat on top of her head like a helmet. It looked particularly unwashed, and her face bellow looked hard and abused. Beaten-in by Time and Wind and a million things and experiences I would never know or care to. She spoke to me, desperately, violently seizing my arm in the street. I wasn’t particularly fazed, and wanted to just keep walking, but I was pulled back by her sheer strength. How did she get so strong? It was like a gorilla’s grip!

I’m seven months pregnant, I just want some change for a McDouble,” she said.

I looked down, her belly hung over her waist, limp and misused. She might have been pregnant, I don’t know.

I got nothing,” I said and kept walking.

I thought this was the end of it, and that, like nearly every other human being on this Earth, we would go our separate ways and never again be united. But this wasn’t just any human being. There must have been something– something magical maybe—yeah, sure, something magical—about her. I know this because, although we went off in opposite directions, I ran into her again only two blocks down the line. It was impossible. There was no way she had doubled back so fast, but there she was.

I couldn’t tell if she recognized me, but she looked at me knowingly. Like she was privy to some great secret, and (this time with no desperation or strength at all, but in fact quite softly) she leaned in and asked me for a cigarette.

She could have been pregnant, like I said, I don’t know. But I’ve never been one to judge (except for when I have) and besides, this seemed too big. This woman I was looking at was special, maybe the most special person I’d ever met, and to me, at the time, it seemed like denying her would be the same as denying God a smoke. So I gave it to her and she winked and lit up.

There, in that moment, for the first time in my life, I felt I truly understood another human being.

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