Smoked out!

I have a confession to make ... I took to smoking at an early age. Wish I had kept a distance from cigarettes; they are really injurious to health. After over three decades of smoking, I can vouch for the consequences.

Hey, wait! This isn't a sermon; I only wish to narrate an embarrassing situation I got into owing to this habit.

It was, perhaps, peer pressure that led me into smoking. We experienced no real pleasure from puffing, but considered it a macho thing to have a cigarette dangling from the lips.

Of course, every precaution was taken to avoid being detected by elders. There was a kind of Huckleberry Finn-like adventure in this stealthy smoking! If neighbours had caught me smoking and reported it to my father, I would have received the worst hiding of my life!

So, we made sure that we were at least five miles away from home whenever we wished to smoke. We never carried cigarettes or matchboxes in our pockets; we carried chewing gum instead. On returning home, we maintained sage-like silence for hours together, and answered questions by nodding or shaking our heads; we dared not open our mouths.

As months progressed, my courage also picked up. There was a cigarette seller who had converted a push cart into a cosy shop, and did brisk business only a few hundred metres from my home. The "shop" was strategically located, in the sense that it was beyond the visual range of neighbours and acquaintances. The cigarette seller found a new customer in me, and we became pals for life! My courage probably had to do with my financial independence now; the college days were over and I had landed my first job.

Every morning, on the way to office, I stopped at the "shop" for a smoke before proceeding ahead. This had become a habit. But, I still never carried cigarettes or matchboxes in my pockets for the fear of being found out.

Like any other day, I stopped at the "shop" and bought a cigarette. There was quite a crowd of buyers. I tapped the person in front of me on the shoulders (his back was to me) and asked for a matchbox to light my cigarette. The man turned to hand over the matchbox, and I felt my face turning red in embarrassment! The man, an elderly person, was my next-door neighbour! I mumbled something unintelligible, dropped the cigarette, hopped onto the saddle of my bicycle, and pedaled away furiously.

I lived in great suspense over the next few days. Will the neighbour spill the beans and inform my parents? Well, he did not do any such thing and I was relieved. But, I avoided the neighbour for many days thereafter. Unfortunately, despite this embarrassing incident, I did not quit smoking.

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