I mustered enough courage to take up the gauntlet in anticipation of yet another test of strength. It was one of those hectic days that Martin was having. He was lighting up frequently, his entrances invariably preceded by a miasma of smoke as if he were a walking chimney. This time, though, I contemplated finding the middle ground. He would usually have a packet of cigarette in the pocket of his shirt or in his hand. He was making himself a cup of coffee when I approached him with a proffer.
‘Why don’t you leave this packet with me, and every time you come over I will give you one cigarette’, I said in a placid, persuasive manner. His leaving the packet with me, I believed, would reduce the number of cigarettes he smoked during the whole working day down to just the number of visits he made to my office.
Busy making his coffee, he met my suggestion with little, if any, interest, and he acted as if he didn’t hear me. His nonchalance incited my tenacity, ‘Martin? You heard what I said?’
‘The answer is no’, he replied in a discouragingly firm tone, still too occupied with his coffee to look at me.
‘No buts’, he interrupted unwaveringly, ‘already started quitting’.
‘Oh, yea? Since when?’ I asked sarcastically.
‘I’m smoking less now’, and he turned round and left me for Tom’s office.
Realizing that my suggestion had encountered an impasse, I returned dispirited to my desk. A short while later I left the office to go to Workshop Three for my usual daily exchange of charts. Such trips would usually use up a half hour. On returning, I first went into Fury’s office; from there I realized that Martin had already gone. When I came to my office some few moments later, I noticed that the upper drawer of my desk was pulled open slightly. I always ensured that this drawer, containing various items of feminine paraphernalia, was always pushed shut. When I pulled open the drawer, I saw a familiar packet of Philadelphia cigarettes lying in full view. Hands shaking, I seized it. On opening it, I saw that there was only one cigarette left inside…
With my whole body shivering and tears welling in my eyes, I tenderly hugged the packet to my chest with both my hands as if it were a priceless treasure. I sat for a few moments, semiconscious to the world, assaying to catch my breath and quell the spouting emotions that stormed me overwhelmingly. Slowly, I unclasped my hands with apprehension, as if I were protectively exposing to the world a small, fragile bird, and stared at the packet with extraordinary love and affection. Martin’s manly resolution appealed to me as much as his capacity for lavish acts of tenderness. This marvellously thoughtful gesture, I interpreted as reparation that was designed to wipe out any possible misconstruction of his unresponsiveness to my suggestion. And it just thrilled me to pieces.
I sat stupefied for a few moments, striving to tame the unrestrained torrent of emotions that engulfed me. Tears spurted down my cheeks, and I found myself unprecedentedly grabbing the receiver with the intention of calling him. But my seemingly impregnable rationality triumphed sufficiently over my exuberance to inhibit my impetuousness.
I turned my eyes towards Fury’s office across the glass panel, and I gestured to her to come quickly to my office. Then, overcome by a sense of ecstatic elation, I suddenly left my place at my desk, and unwittingly started gyrating like a whirling Dervish as I showered my invaluable jewel with passionate kisses. Tom noted this unwonted act of impulsiveness, which must have seemed altogether discrepant with my bashful nature. ‘Hey, have you won the lottery or something?’ He questioned with an intrigued smile. Drowned with abashment for such foolery, I rushed silently back to my desk. Fury burst into my office at this point, her eyes bulging with surprise and inquisitiveness. I sat gripped high by emotions, barely able to talk. Incited by a strong sense of curiosity, Fury reached out for my hands, which, with their precious cargo, were clutched tightly to my chest, seeking to unclasp them. I spontaneously leaned away, and shoving with my elbow, I forestalled her attempt. I sat speechless for a few moments attempting to restrain my shivering body. It took a while before I was able to recount the intriguing saga. Fury just loved the guy. She listened delightedly with tearful eyes.
I cannot recall the number of times that I kissed that packet—ten, or twenty, or perhaps thirty, or even forty times. Every time I gazed at that orphan cigarette purposely left inside, my love and affection for him would upsurge and my tears would pour forth.
I waited with more than the usual pleasurable anticipation for his next visit, which seemed to be excruciatingly delayed. Towards the end of the day, he showed up, with no cigarette this time. A radiant meaning smile permeated his face as he stood at the doorway, his eyes ostensibly scrutinizing for signs that I had discovered what he had left me. The telling smile with which I responded to him, I reckon, said it all. I beckoned him to come closer. Bubbling over with ethereal joy, I got up as he approached my desk. ‘Thanks, Martin’, I said in an unreservedly affectionate manner. Too choked with emotion to talk, and with the same silencing inhibitions as of old, I could afford only those two words. Only God knew how direly desperate I was for words to give voice to my emotions and to show him how much I adored him. But I just couldn’t utter more. It was not just the bashfulness of the unfledged female that curbed my tongue, but also my outrageous lack of experience. The eyes, the crackling voice, and the trembling hands, were the only conduits for my turbulent feelings. And I reckon he recognised only too well my barely expressed passion. He stood aside patiently waiting as I reached out for my purse and rummaged inside for my wallet. I opened the wallet and pulled out the packet that I had hidden earlier inside one of the pockets. ‘This’, I said, gesturing with the packet, ‘I’ll keep till the day you smoke the last cigarette. And then I won’t throw it away, but will frame it and put it in a place of honour as an ‘ugly token’ of a most wonderful memory that we’ll cherish together for as long as we live’.
My voice and hands trembled with ecstasy as I said those words. His eyes, while no less astonished, mirrored his loving reception of this uncharacteristically liberal expression of feelings. His smile broadened perceptibly, and his response was no less heartfelt. He sent me one of his warm air-kisses.
How little I had known then of destiny’s inclemency! Less than five months later, that packet, with its single occupant, was to leave Iraq in an envelop with a short letter that brought the curtain down on the last scene of a doomed love, and initiated what would be the first step into the excruciating Passion of a whole life.
To Be Continued.......