Tanmayee Thakur’s short story is a tender narrative about a cigarette vendor who falls in love with a customer and decides to heal her tobacco addiction.
I had seen several women buy cigarettes. They all had tell-tale signs. Some would loom around the shop waiting for the hoard of jobless men to clear. Some would come asking for chewing gum and whisper for two clove blacks to go along with it. Some would pretend to be on a phone call with their brothers and clarify that they were simply running an errand on their behalf. I did not care. It was a matter of their lungs that involved me in no way. She however was entirely different. It was a blue Monday morning, and the string of local aspiring cricket boys had lined up at the entrance of the shop to watch a match on TV. After several attempts to disperse them, I had given up and was busy reading my newspaper. The headlines roared on about the impending doom which never actually seemed to come and the marriage of the country’s prime minister.
Was the headline about doom perhaps a comment on his nuptials? She crossed the road and walked straight up to the shop. She pushed her way between the first two boys with such panache that the rest of them seemed to part on their own, to let her through. She walked right up to me and said “One Marlboro.” Having worked in this shop for years, my hands knew where everything was, I didn’t need to devote my eyesight to the task. So I stared at her as my hands fetched the tobacco stick. She was young. There was a dissonance between her petite body and her willful gait. She paid me. When I tried to give her the change, she asked me to keep it. She reached into the shirt pockets of one of the boys and retrieved a lighter. A plume of smoke was the only evidence that she had been here; for she walked away as quickly as a cat in search of warm milk.