A Short Story
By Kris Van der Bijl
“Do you think we can smoke in here?”
“You want a cigarette as well?”
My friend Michelle and I were taking the train to Cape Town. The coastal track offer sights of rocks. The sea breeze bellows to one’s nose and carries the grains of eroded sand to slice your train travelling skin. She was the one that wanted a cigarette.
“I’ve seen people smoke in the space between the carriages.” I replied, “Two guys I think it was.”
I looked at the littered floor and watched the chip packets hop as the train sped along. I made a conscious effort to close my legs.
“You think this journey is long enough?”
“Haven’t you taken it before?”
“I read about it.” She seeped her head back onto the mint green leather chair. We had one of the seat sections to ourselves and were sitting where four people could have been. The rest of the carriage was empty. She brought her hands up and brushed her hair out of her face and then scratched the back of her head.
“Hectic.” I said.
“Your mom doesn’t mind you not shaving?”
“I’m on holiday.” She said, “and, no.” Michelle glanced over her shoulder at the carriage door. “I think I’m gonna risk a smoke.”
“Can I bum one?”
Michelle stood up and put on her jacket for the cold outside.
“I really dig that trench coat.” I said. She shot me a smile and ran her hand along the lapel, Betty Davis style. The two of us began walking towards the door. “Don’t know if I regret not getting anything.” Her eyes met mine when I said this, and she gave me a half-parted-mouth smile. “I’m sure I’ll find it one day.”
We passed through the door and stood on the narrow connecting piece. She pulled out her pack of Lucky Strike from the trench coat jacket and brought one to her mouth. She handed me the pack and whilst I pulled one out for myself, she took out her box of matches. I saw her take one glance into the two carriages either side of us to confirm that we were truly alone. Then she lit the match Cagney-like, but the wind soon flushed it off. I brought my hand around to her cigarette to cup the wind away, experienced the splintering wind and watched the second match break. After the third, we gave up and went, nicotine free, back inside our now occupied carriage.
“Were you two smo-oking out there?” He said. He was holding a material satchel in his left hand, and with his right, he was stroking his moustache down towards his mouth.
“We tried.” Michelle said and moved over to where we had been sitting. I followed soon after. He came over to us.
“You two off to the city?”
“Yeah.” Michelle replied, and after a beat. “You?”
“Not all the way I only live near Cape Town. Ja I’m getting off at a station just before.” He reached down and placed his bag onto his lap. He opened it and pulled out two pieces of paper before handing us each one. They each had pencil sketches of trees – baobab trees. “They’re free.” He sat down next to me.
“Thanks. They’re, er, hearty.”
I chuckled at her use of the word only to feel his body shift next to mine. He smelt of cigarettes and brandy-spiked coffee. “I’m almost famous you know.”
He let us brew on his fame for a bit.
“Yes.” He continued. “I find trees – pugnacious, randy, sensuous! You-know-what-I-mean?”
He drooped his legs open at our agreeing, forcing me to turn my knees towards the sea.
“What brand of cigarettes do you smoke?”
Michelle pulled out the dart red box.
“Lucky strike!” he said and reached into his own breast pocket to take out a packet of Old Gold. “I’m told old gold lovers have to try a Lucky Strike.”
Meekly Michelle pointed the pack towards the man. He pulled one out and placed it in his mouth.
“Don’t think we can smoke in here.” I said.
“We can smoke out of the window.” He said and stood up. He moved towards the window and opened it.
“We’ve run out of matches though,” Michelle said.
He pulled a lighter from his pocket and lit his own. Then he moved the flame towards where Michelle was sitting. “Light the lady’s cigarette?”
Her eyes darted to me. With a sigh she stood up, one arm clamped to her stomach the other and the other reaching for the lighter. He kept the flame lit and, moving past her outreached arm, lit her cigarette. She moved her hand back to her mouth and choked the smoke out with a slight cough. I leaned myself back in the chair to sink into the green. Michelle saw this and pulled the pack out of her pocket. She took one out and handed it filter first to me, keeping her eyes fixed to mine. “Cigarette?”
I stood up almost in him and the three of us silently puffed smoke out of the window, avoiding the sea breeze still bellowing in. In the distance, the fishermen were coming in with the crimson sun setting all picture-painting like. I would have stared longer but it did burn my eyes as it reflected off the water. He pointed them out with a nod. “Are you two a couple?” Michelle and I gave a smirk. He drew a hoarse sound from the back of his throat and pointed at the timeous fisherman. With that, he gave his cigarette one last pull then chucked it out of the window. “I think I’ll stick to Old Gold.” He turned, picked up his satchel lefthanded and walked to the next carriage.
As soon as he closed the door, Michelle threw her unsmoked (still smouldering) cigarette out of the train window. “Jesus.” She said, sat down and brought her hands to her face. She looked up at me. “How are you still smoking.” I started to my cigarette, shrugged and threw it out of the window.
When we got to Cape Town we went straight to the art galleries as was our plan. First Thursday has free entrance. I cannot think for her, but I know as I strolled the contemporary floors with craft beer bars beneath and gap-year students strolling around, I was looking for drawings of trees. I still don’t really know what happened. Michelle said that we should take a taxi back home.