First published in Gulf News Opinion “Off the Cuff”
Image credit: Google Images. (Image for illustrative purposes only)
The breeze had picked up a little and humid as it was, 37-year old Janine liked it when the wind gently caressed her hair. To her right the Burj Khalifa sparkled, all 828 metres of it, as though in dream-like glory, as she sat on a bench right opposite the dancing fountain. Janine expectantly scanned the faces of the people around her. He hadn’t come yet.
She smiled ruefully as she remembered how beautiful life had been seven years back, when they had been together. It had all gone wrong when he had first asked her to quit smoking. Janine had indignantly asked what smoking had to do with their relationship. Wasn’t it about love? But as months turned into years, that became the main bone of contention between them and he hated the habit so much that he gave her a choice — it was either him or the cigarettes. Janine had found it impossible to let go of what had in many ways become a lifeline to her, and the romance had ended on a bitter note.
But now things had finally changed. For two years, Janine hadn’t touched a cigarette, and bless Facebook, they were in contact again. Tonight, they would meet again after years and he would realise how much he missed her. The thought made her tingle with excitement as she quickly checked her reflection in her pocket mirror again.
Minutes ticked by in anticipation as a young woman came and sat next to her and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. Janine watched as she lit one with the easy dexterity of a hardened smoker and inhaled deeply. As she tipped the ash off the cigarette with a perfectly painted fingernail, Janine abruptly looked away, but the familiar smell left her awash with longing. With every puff she would exhale contentedly and smoke would billow as though it were a hushed whisper from her lips. If only the rest of the benches weren’t full, Janine would have moved. She tried hard not to think about how satisfying every puff must be. Perhaps just one cigarette wouldn’t hurt, she thought to herself, but quickly dismissed the idea. He would come all the way — only to find her chugging away on a borrowed cigarette? She waited patiently for him even as the woman smoked continuously.
When the longing became an urgent desperation for nicotine, Janine knew she had to leave the bench. But she did not want to stand in the throng of people for he would surely miss her. She decided there was only one way. “Excuse me, could you please stop smoking?” Janine said nervously. The woman looked taken aback and responded with a curt, “If you have a problem I suggest you park your bottom elsewhere.”
Janine wasn’t sure why, but she felt strangely connected to the young woman. After a brief introduction the two began to talk and when Janine left the bench a couple of hours later, a life had been transformed. She had told her story to a virtual stranger, who had responded with her own heartbreaking tale. A tête-à-tête had ensued in the most unlikely of locations in the shadow of a glorious edifice, and had ended on a positive note when the young woman Rosa decided to think about a new beginning, a life without dependence on a three-inch long nemesis.
As Janine walked back to her car in the parking lot, her heart was full of conflicting emotions. A warm feeling of satisfaction about Rosa lit up her eyes even as hot tears streamed down her cheeks in the deafening silence of her empty four-wheel drive as she drove away into the warm, balmy night. He hadn’t come.
Note: The above is fictional, but is inspired by a real-life incident.