I would like to share with you the following short story which I wrote for the Jeddah Writing Club’s first topic- nicotine. We were told to approach the topic in anyway or form, we could write about the topic or simply mention it in passing; write poetry, or a story or what ever we chose.
Tara returned the spacious glittering ballroom, checking the time on her phone. Seven more minutes to go till the longest hour of her life was over. Her well-meaning best friend, Sophie, had signed her up for a speed –‘networking’ event (read speed dating), without telling her, of course. Tara had been furious when she found out. But as usual, Sophie, had rationalised, argued and pleaded with her until she had finally given in.
Here Tara was attending a ‘Seven minute search’ event.
All the attendees had filled up profiles about themselves, and what they were looking for in a future partner. The profiles were cross-referenced, and the guys attending the event were given a list of 7 girls who they had to approach in a consecutive order.
The ladies were seated at different separate tables with their profile name clearly displayed on a place-card, with two piles of envelopes on the table.
One pile contained empty envelopes but the other pile had envelopes containing the girl’s phone number.
When the bell chimed, the guys approached the first girl on their list and after 7 minutes, if the two hit it off the guy would ask for the girl’s contact details, and she could give him whichever sealed envelope she chose- delaying all the awkwardness surrounding rejection till after the event.
She’d first thought that 7 minutes was too short a span to make a decision. She had been wrong- so wrong. The last specimen had reeked of a nauseating combo of cigarettes and arrogance. Tara wasn’t sure which she found worse. She used the fake phone call app on her iPhone to provide herself with an excuse to take refuge in the bathroom for the remaining 5 minutes.
Tara sat down just as the bell chimed for the seventh and final gentleman. She took a deep breath to brace herself- but what or rather who see saw literally took her breath away. Tara found herself unconsciously adjusting her posture and her lips parted into a dazzling smile- the first real one all evening. She drank in the dark twinkling eyes, the chiselled features, and a smile that seemed to be suppressing a mischievous grin. As he sat down, she caught a whiff of perfume: musk with a light tobacco base. She smiled to herself, wasn’t it strange, she liked tobacco based perfumes but cigarette smoke fired off both her allergies and prejudices.
As he introduced himself, she noticed his deep voice married well with his posh accent and Tara’s insides did a Gangnam style
dance in appreciation. Focus Tara, focus for seven minutes, she told herself.
But she was beyond focusing, the conversation flowed naturally. They talked about their families, their current lives, and future aspirations.
Her phone rang breaking the trance; as she rejected Sophie’s call both of them looked around to discover they were the last attendees in the room.
Engrossed in their conversation they hadn’t heard the final bell. Tara busied herself with her jacket in order to hide her embarrassment. He chuckled and asked for her number in an easy manner. She picked an envelope from the untouched pile, and gave it to him, their fingers grazed and she could’ve sworn there was a spark-or maybe it was static.
They stepped out together, and he began rummaging his pockets for something. Suddenly, he said, ‘You never finished telling me, how your grandma passed away.’
‘Lung cancer’, she almost whispered.
He stopped, and asked, ‘Did she smoke?’
Tara looked down and shook her head and slowly mumbled, ‘No.’
She paused, her voice hardened, ‘But my granddad did… second hand smoke killed her.’
She looked up to find a cigarette dangling limply from his mouth, showing the nicotine stained teeth, a lighter poised in his right hand.
They both stood still and stared at each other, dumbfounded.
Recovering himself, he started to return her envelope, ‘I guess you’ll want this back.’
‘You could give it up’ her voice was pleading, earnest, feminine.
Their eyes locked and the cigarette fell from his mouth.
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