A Million Stories in the City: Why Do I Love One About a Cigarette?

Last night my train of thought stopped on a memory from the Leap Day before last. Which is, of course, eight long years ago.

Back then I was a thirty-something working woman. A daily commuter. A regular smoker. Just a few of the ways it was a different life entirely.

While I am profoundly happy I kicked the cigs, I have many fond memories – hell, even friendships – that simply wouldn’t have happened without that shared habit as an ice breaker.

This story, which originally appeared February 29th, 2008 on Serendipity On-The-Go, illustrates this point beautifully. I like to believe that while so much has changed, perhaps I’m not so different.
Photo taken with a Sanyo MM-8300 picture phone.Veering right at the last moment, I headed out the doors of Grand Central instead of going down into the subway. I hadn’t had a cigarette since morning and I suddenly wanted one before I got on the train home.

I turned, walking past several other commuters satisfying the same desire, and stood looking in the windows of a designer store. I took in the clean lines of simple yet elegantly designed clothing.

By contrast the kid standing next to me was in cargo pants and a flack jacket over a beat up sweatshirt. Shaggy from sandy blonde head to sneakered toes.

He turned and apologetically asked to bum a smoke.
I obliged, commenting that no thanks were needed as I believe in Smokers’ Karma. And besides, my ultra light brand not being preferred by any guy, I knew he must be desperate.
“At least,” he smiled, “they aren’t menthols.”

We inhaled, exhaled and looked around at the Friday evening traffic for something to say.
Did I mind his asking if I was a college student?
My turn to smile. Thanking him, I allowed as how I was not. By a long shot.

Inhale. Exhale.
He explained that I didn’t seem cold or heartless, and in his experience in this City that meant I had to be either in college or born and bred elsewhere.
Which I was of course, and told him so.

And where was it he went to school?
Manhattan College, located ironically in the Bronx. Close, but not quite what he’d hoped for from the name. Good engineering program – not that he was in it.
Quite the opposite, in fact. Philosophy/Sociology major. Math not really being his thing.

Between the glasses and the theory I should have guessed Philosophy.

I felt in my coat pocket for my cigarettes. Removing my lighter I confirmed there was still one cig left in the pack.

I was saying how I’d considered Sociology, but ended up an Art major instead. Which was why I now worked in an office. He’d been in the middle of saying that was cool when my smirk interrupted him. We both laughed.

Inhale. Exhale.

I took my last drag, dropped the butt and watched my foot grind it out. I reached back into my pocket as I stepped to the right towards the door, passing in front of him.
He looked down at it as I handed the cigarette pack to him, saying that there was only one left, but as I had a carton at home…

He looked up. Looked me straight in the eye.

Looked at me in utter astonishment.

“That,” he all but whispered, “is a truly generous thing.”

“Happy Friday,” I said, now unable to stop smiling. I hoped he’d have a really lovely weekend.

About a yard away, walking sideways now. He’d gone back to looking at the pack in his hand, but realizing I’d kept walking his head snapped up.

“Hope yours is great too.” Right in the eyes again.

Nodding thanks, I turned and headed towards the doors.

Neither of us had asked the other’s name.
The entire exchange lasted perhaps 7 minutes.
But I walked away with a genuine smile and a warmth in my heart.

Seven minutes. A single cigarette.
A small act – a small generosity – a small wonder.
A moment.
A memory.

One thought on “A Million Stories in the City: Why Do I Love One About a Cigarette?

  1. I really like this story! Just 7 minutes – but it made an impact on both you and him. Anything you can do to put a smile on someone's face and make this a kinder world. Proves it by the smile it put on your face.


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