“Hey Bob, do you have an extra cigarette?” Tom asked. He smiled, looking hopeful.
Bob snorted. “You’re kidding, right? I had to pass a three page calculus test for these, and then I found out they raised the price again. No, these are gold. Get your own.”
Tom scowled and leaned against the dirty alley wall. “I tried. I got a test in ancient Greek. I failed of course. Now I have to wait two days to try buying another pack.”
Bob exhaled and Tom leaned in closer. “It may be time to quit,” Bob said.
Tom sighed. “I looked into getting some like black market, from out of the country, but those are really chancy. And terribly expensive.”
“Yeah, I heard a guy died the other day from some poison in the paper or something,” Bob said. He exhaled again, eyes closed.
“This is so stupid. Why did I even start?” Tom looked towards the entrance to the alley. “I’m going to go back to work smelling like garbage again.”
“Well, you know how it is. They made it look so cool in the movies,” Bob finished his cigarette with a sigh. “Now people act like you’re an ax murderer if they hear you’re a smoker.”
“It’s just not worth it. Maybe I’ll start eating oreos instead or something.” Tom straightened up and ran shaking hands down his face.
“They tax those too,” Bob said.
“But there aren’t any math tests. Or ancient Greek,” Tom said. He laughed, but didn’t sound amused. “At least not yet.”
“Just think of the money we’ll save,” Bob said.
“So, if you’re quitting now, you wouldn’t mind giving me a cigarette, for old time’s sake, right?” Tom said. “Since you won’t need them anymore. In fact, I’d take the whole pack off your hands.”
Bob sighed. “Hey, listen. Pay me double what I paid for this pack and they’re yours.”
“Really?” Tom looked delighted. He fumbled his wallet out of his back pocket in a rush. “That’s really decent of you.”
“Yeah, well good luck with them. I’m not really doing you a favor, you know?” Bob said. He took the money and handed over the pack. He waved and left the alley.
Tom ripped open the pack in his haste for a smoke. It was full of pixie stix. He stumbled back into the wall. “Bob?” he said. He looked up and then ran to the mouth of the alley and looked both ways. Bob was gone.
Tom didn’t know where he worked or what his last name was. He’d just been delighted a week ago when someone was here, smoking too. It was so rare to meet other smokers anymore.
But he’d really been smoking. He had! So where were the cigarettes? How could he do this to a fellow smoker? They stuck together, united against the people trying to keep them down, didn’t they? Tom felt like his last illusions were shattered. Smokers weren’t all really cool after all. Mostly, he just felt stupid. He dropped the pack in the trash and shuffled out of the alley.
He’d make an appointment to talk with his doctor. He was finally done with cigarettes. Oreos were still cool, though. He could even eat them at his desk. He’d pick some up on his way home. And some milk. That was cool too and they went well together. His hands shook, just a little.