Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The well-deserved smoke

 Note: This episode is nearly 24 hours late. I'm sorry, I confused my dates. That happens a lot with me. Oops. :)

As Mr Rai dreamed on in the glossy warmth of Tapati’s black bathroom, the ‘large’ bathroom in the flat on the third floor witnessed a very different scene. Rajib entered surreptitiously and quietly locked the door behind him. He turned on the little ventilation fan and the geyser too. Nandita was still helping to clean the roof but there was no saying when she would be back. In the meantime, he had to have a cigarette.

He had given up smoking last month, officially, yet again, and Nandita and his mother were keeping a very strict eye on him. Bhombol had actually refused to sell him one when he went to the cigarette shop the day before yesterday! Apparently Rajib’s mother had had a word with him on her last visit and he felt obliged to listen to ‘Mashima’, as he called her.

He could try some other shop, he knew, but he was fairly certain that Nandita’s wide circle of friends and acquaintances around the neighbourhood would find out and have no hesitation in letting her know. In the end like a coward he got Poltu, the young boy who doubled as peon and night guard in his office, to get him a packet.

He scowled at the thought of being a grown man needing to sneak around for a richly deserved smoke. He pulled a stick out, lit it carefully and inhaled deeply. And then he cursed as he realized that he had remembered the room freshener and breath mints but forgotten to bring something to ash in or wrap the butt in. Sneaky smoking was not the easiest of practices.

He looked frantically around the small bathroom, searching for something he could wrap the butt in. Nandita’s kitschy little tissue paper holder – an early birthday gift from a friend working at Chumbak – was empty. There were no clothes he could sacrifice in the laundry bucket. There wasn’t a newspaper, magazine or even a book he could desecrate by removing a page.

While he hopped frantically around the bathroom his cigarette continued to smoulder on uncaring, the way cigarettes make a habit of doing. A bit of ash fell on Nandita’s special bath soap, the organic stuff she made her mother-in-law bring her from Bombay on each visit. Some more ash fell on the toilet seat and got smeared there when Rajib abruptly sat down to think of a way out of the situation. The bathroom didn’t have a window.

Then inspiration struck. He would put the damn thing out on the inside of the toilet bowl and carefully chuck the butt through the fan opening. He leaned back to smoke what remained of his cigarette only to find the stick nearly all gone. With a muttered expletive he stubbed it out, pulled the flush and carefully angled the butt around the fan and out of the bathroom. He gloomily gave up on smoking yet again and popped a breath mint into his mouth wondering if that would make him feel any better.

As the spent cigarette butt sailed gracefully down onto a little bottle of pickles that Mrs. Rai had left slightly ajar to catch what sunlight she could on her kitchen windowsill, Nandita stood on the roof taking in a soul-stirring drag. Nothing beat the first cigarette of the day, she decided. It was a pity Rajib was forced to quit and she had announced that she would keep him company. Look at her now, a grown woman forced to sneak around for a well-deserved smoke!