The smoke burned as it was sucked through a cheap filter and into my already corrosive lungs, but I was used to the burn by now, what with having been buying and rolling the small white tubes since I was fourteen. Yet each time I pull a drag, I notice death coming closer. Perhaps this is what cigarette opposers want us to believe since they use their lives to force commercials with lung cancer patients or small children without parents down our throats; talk about burning.
The guys gathered around me, each holding either a cigarette or a cell phone, or both, in their dirty hands as we clung to the dark indent of the building we were employed. Dressed solely in black, as per usual for wait staff and bus boys at a restaurant, we appeared to the outsiders as bats, afraid of the light that passed solemnly through the gray clouds, hoping to shine but missing its chance altogether. The indent in the wall, a minor architectural problem, had been our break spot for as long as I had been working here. Next too the back door, away from the main street, down a small broken road with garages and few pedestrians. People glanced in when walking their dogs or children back home and quickly sprang up their marble stairs, but they never said anything or even acknowledged us; it is a very British thing to do.
Jimmy was reciting a story to the other guys at this point, something about a girl in the East End that he met this past weekend, a woman in dark red. I never believe his stories, but I know of the East End Red-Light District, and I know Jimmy, so both are feasible. However, I was busy looking out at the street ahead of us. And then she passed.
Winter in London is a synonym for the colour gray, but when she walked passed, the sun pushed through that dense cloud barrier and heated up the street. She wore a bright pink shirt, a pop of delightfulness amongst our black and the gloomy city. Immediately I could tell she was not from here. She seemed dazzled by this street, staring up at the house’s façades, the sky, the small trees, the shut windows, everything. Then she peered in at us. I heard Jimmy intake his breath, all thoughts of the scarlet woman and others faded from his mind, replaced now with this blonde girl. He would notice the suppleness of her body, a perfect hourglass shape, and her jeans that fit just right. I certainly noticed that too, but when she looked our way, blonde hair swinging, I saw her smile. She was almost joyful to see other people, bright white teeth poking through as she said clearly: “good morning!” and then kept walking.
She had come in and walked out of our lives in seven short steps and the sight of her vanished as quickly as it had come. My cigarette had burned down to its filter, leaving nothing but a long stack of ash at the end; I had completely forgotten about it and felt that I no longer needed its addictive toxic chemicals. I needed something brighter.
“Did you see that girl?” Jimmy asked, the other guys nodding in unison as he stood up and poked his head out of our cave, getting the last glimpse of her. “Definitely American,” he concluded, “What I wouldn’t give to see that waiting for me in the East End. Do you guys think she’s ever done anal?” He snickered, completely lost in sexual fantasies and I could tell the blonde girl and her beauty was lost in his perviness. I dropped the remains of my fag and stepped on it out of habit, even though the spark had left. She had taken the spark, drew it out as she drew me in. I could still taste the smoke in my mouth and I yearned to remove it, to never smoke again. To breathe only clean air that came radiating from her. I wanted to run down the street, shed my dark exterior and walk beside her. I would never think the things Jimmy constantly dreamt of, she was better than that. Maybe because she is American, and the grayness of the English sky that seeps into its inhabitants, hadn’t penetrated her yet. She was still shining, like the star on Orion’s belt, the one that no one ever knows about. I could tell that she knows which one I think about when walking home in the dark. The stars hardly ever shine, but when they do, my eye scan immediately for the constellation. My constellation. Where she will always be for me.