Once, this girl at my café, Janine, came in looking flushed and said, ‘Well, I’ve found out the reason why I’ve been feeling so shit. I’m pregnant.’
‘Oh, fuck,’ I said. ‘Wow. Fuck.’
‘No it’s fine,’ she replied, nodding, ‘I’m taking it as a good thing. I’m happy about it.’
She stood there nodding, biting her lip, until I said, ‘Shit, I’m sorry. I’m being a dick. Congratulations!’ Then Janine burst out crying.
I told her at least she’d finally be able to quit smoking.
Janine blew her nose and said, ‘Oh. Yes. Good point. Thank you.’ Then she took her pouch of tobacco and her lighter from her handbag and gave them to me. After I asked a couple of times whether she was OK, I went outside for my break and rolled a cigarette. I blew these big, fat blue-grey smoke-rings and got that under-the-covers feeling when I thought about how I would never, ever have to worry about what Janine was going through.
Then Janine came outside and sat down. She didn’t say anything and I didn’t say anything. The pouch was open on the table, the sun giving the clumps of tobacco a red-brown sheen. In a measured, reverent way, Janine reached forward and took out some tobacco and held it in her hand. She looked down at it. Two thick clumps. I watched her chest rise and fall for a moment. And then she reached forward, grabbed a paper, and rolled the cigarette with speed and precision. She put it to her lips.
‘No filter?’ I said
‘Well, if this is going to be my last cigarette for nine months,’ Janine said, I really want to taste it.’
‘Makes sense.’ I held out the lighter for her. She looked at the flame for a second, and then cupped her hands around it, bowing her head slightly so the cigarette could meet it.
Janine took her time with the cigarette, held the smoke down deep, and breathed it out slowly. She was a beautiful smoker. She looked away from me, into the sun, and either didn’t notice or didn’t care that I was watching her. When she stubbed the very last of it out I saw that her hands had stopped shaking.
I got up to go back to work, reaching for the pouch.
‘Can you leave it?’ Janine said, not looking at me.
I tried to think of something to say. Even in my silence, Janine wouldn’t look at me.
I couldn’t think of anything, so I said, ‘Sure.’
Janine sat there for most of the morning, smoking her cigarettes. I covered for her as best I could, and took her a coffee or a tea every couple of hours. She didn’t say anything to me when I brought her the drinks, and after a while I noticed she’d gone back to using filters. We didn’t speak about it after that.