Vignette, 06/20/2020

I still dream of cigarettes.

I think it was at the two-month mark after I smoked my last stick of Marlboro red that I started having those dreams. And they’re all the same, give or take a couple of details. Sitting at the gutter beside the corner store across the apartment building where I lived, happily puffing away, painfully knowing it would be my last taste of nicotine.

That was more than a year ago, in the Philippines. But every few nights I’d be reminded of that scene, in my dreams, and I’d be jolted awake. And every time that happened, I’d sit upright in my bunk bed, sweating in my boxers, licking my lips.

Sleep would elude me. Again.

Oh that glorious, glorious smoky flavor.

This time, though, I didn’t have to imagine.

Carlos had just finished ripping the top off a soft pack of Camels. He took a stick, popped it into my mouth.

“I quit, Carlos. You know that.”

I didn’t spit out the cigarette, though.

He lit my cigarette for me, and lit one of his own.

“Go on,” he said. “Smoke.”

I did. I sucked in my first taste of cigarette smoke in more than a year. Inhaled. Allowed the lightheadedness to consume me. Sweet, sweet nicotine. Exhaled. I took another long drag; Camel filters, like Marlboro reds, have an amazing throat hit—the best I’ve ever tried. I added more nicotine to my brain, increasing the lightheadedness, my vision blurring a bit. It felt amazing, though. I was in heaven.

This was supposed to be the part where, removing the cigarette from my lips, I’d use my index finger to tap out the ashes. I couldn’t do that, though.

Not with both hands tied behind my back as I sat there on a plastic chair, sweating, puffing.

“Now,” Carlos said, blowing smoke. “Let’s get down to business.”