(Posted by anna)
I was so embarrassed. For a second, I had actually thought about lying. And I hate lying. I was even more embarrassed, in fact, for the fact that had I lied, it would have been the most rubbish lie that ever lay.
I was clearly, you see, holding a cigarette already. Thus to lie, and say ‘I don’t smoke’ would be comedy falsehood. To lie and say ‘I’m sorry, this is the last of my tobacco’ would sound like truth, and would therefore be worse. I hate lying. Plus – I’m really bad at it. He’d only asked for a cigarette, after all. And who can deny another human being one cobble on the path to lung cancer if you happen to have one on you? If they ask nicely, that is?
Anyway, the more society hates us, the more we smokers seem to feel that we should band together, so it’s imperitive that, in a times of nicotine need, we do each other these small acts of kindness.
I’m thinking of giving up smoking. You may have got that from the little cancer pebble I dropped in the post-pond earlier on. I’m thinking of giving up smoking because I always said I would stop if I didn’t enjoy it any more. And I don’t, not so much. Also my lungs kind of ache. And I get out of breath. And I don’t like being addicted. And I hate the smell.
But I like the nicotine.
Oh the quandry.
There are other reasons, also, for giving up. And they were brought home to me sharply the other day by the man who asked me for a cigarette.
He asked me for a cigarette, and I was embarrassed, because I almost said no. He was homeless, and he was smelly. And also a little off his face. But I had a cigarette, and so I couldn’t say no, because it would have been a lie. The thing is about rolling your own, though, is after you’ve said yes you can have a cigarette, there’s then between thirty seconds and a minute while you roll one. And that’s enough time to strike up a big old conversation. By the time the fag was rolled and handed over, John – his name was John – had taken a shine to me (on the spur of the moment my name was ‘Clare’) and my beloved (his name was ‘Bob’).
To be fair, his name actually IS Bob, but it still sounds made up when you say it.
John was pretty charming, when he wasn’t mentioning “That five stretch for GBH” that he did. We talked about the difference in begging income in – “Nah, nah, nah hang on, it weren’t GBH, it were aggrivated assault, that one” – ah, right, thanks. Great. Where was I? – in West London “full of Paddys, they’re f**kin great, Paddys“, and North East London… “s’full of, wew, you kna, don’t you, eh?” – No, actually, I have no idea. Apparently in the four hours he’d been sat on Newington Green, he’d made £6. In West London he would have made £50. As a West Londoner by birth, I kind of felt proud. Or sort of.
We talked about his brother, who had got out of prison for a total of four days before being arrested again (it was John’s fault, he said, he was a bit sorry, but his bruvver deserved it) and his sister, who is a police officer. We talked about his 19 years on the streets, and the best way to get to Dalston at that time of night on buses where he wouldn’t have to pay. We talked about the importance, in this life, of “‘avin’ a bubble“. He said I was a bubble. He congratulated my beloved on me. He said my beloved was lucky to have a missus who was such a bubble.
Not speaking cockney rhyming slang, I was confused about this for a couple of days. I couldn’t work out what I’d done that was quite so pleasingly spherical and soapy.
The bus took a very, very, very long time to come.
A very, very long time.
And I wouldn’t have minded, but for the hugs and kisses on the cheek he bestowed on me. While touching in their honest (if incredibly inebriated) affection, they made me feel stinky. And the with the smoking, I was already stinky. So then I was stinky times two.
When the bus came, and I stood there, smelling a little of smoke, and a little of man sweat and ground-in Super-Tennants, I decided I should probably giving up smoking. Because enjoyable as surprise conversations can be, I like to have a little control over them. And just once, if someone walked up and asked me if I had a cigarette, I would like not to lie. I would like not to be hugged and tagged with the super-strength-lager peff. I would like not to be mean, and not to lie, I would like to smile, and say sorry.
I would like to say No.