Up in Smoke
Up in Smoke
I was startled by a gentle tap on the shoulder as I was on my way to catch the morning bus to office.
The speaker in question was around 60 years old, pretty shabbily dressed. He had not shaven for probably a month and stood there with a grin on his face.
"Yes, how can I help you?", I said.
"If you don't mind, can you please give me Rs 10? I have a bus to catch, but someone stole my wallet!"
I said, "Okay!" And did not think much before I handed him over a ten-rupee note.
He gave me a wide grin and grabbed it quickly. Then without waiting for a moment, he hurried his way.
(You must be thinking it's all good so far! A good samaritan act on my part! But wait, there is more to come.)
I noticed that this person was walking in the opposite direction to the bus stand. If someone intends to catch a bus, I would expect him to move towards the bus stand, not away from it. This made me very curious.
I glanced at my watch and saw, my bus was a good 20 minutes away from arrival. And curiosity got the better of me.
I started following this man. He, of course, never expected anyone to follow him. He was walking at a brisk pace as if he had a target in mind. I kept a fair distance from him anyway, to avoid any awkward situation.
But then, what I saw surprised me. He made his way to a roadside betel shop and emphatically asked for a cigarette! He handed him the same ten-rupee note I had given him for his bus fare. Once the shopkeeper provided it to him, he quickly lighted it and then suddenly looked my way.
Instinctively I looked away. But then I gathered some courage and looked straight at him. His look was a mixture of ecstasy and victory, as he looked upwards and exhaled a ring of smoke!
I turned around, looked at my watch and retreated towards the bus stand again, thinking to myself -
"What a moron! How addiction drives a man to lie!"
I also felt bad at aiding his addiction. Had it been food, lying would still be okay, but nicotine is harmful!
***After a few days***
I was on my way to the office again and saw this same man asking for help for his 'bus fare' from passers-by. In fact, he even started to approach me. But this time, he remembered my face.
But before I could say something, he started blabbering on his own!
"Oh, you! Oh, you won't help me have my share of happiness today, would ya! Your quota is complete! Go away now, go!"
And he nearly shooed me away.
I couldn't help but wonder if his words had a tinge of sadness about it or if he was just a slave to his addiction and wouldn't care for anything else or anyone for that matter.
In a big city like mine, every day there will be someone to hand him a ten rupees note. And every day he will have his share of happiness as parts of himself slowly die and decay along with the rings of smoke he exhales.
Sometimes I wonder if it is worth living for moments of induced happiness and head for an actual death, rather than dying everyday.
After that day, for some reason, I never saw the man again. Probably he is already up in smoke, laughing insolently and shouting at each one whoever helped him meet his daily quota of smoke -
"Hey, you! Yes, you! See, can you see me? Yes, up here! See my quota is completed! Yipee!!"
And then leaves a long ring of smoke up in the clouds as he himself vanishes amidst the vapours...