I remember the first time I smoked a cigarette.
And wondering if it was obvious I hadn’t done it before.
This wasn’t like my first drink.
I embraced my first drink like a rite of passage. It felt like a momentous occasion to order a beer at a restaurant. Like the time I graduated from Bournvita to Chai. My first drink, a cold Kingfisher beer felt light and breezy down my throat.
But my first cigarette was harsh. The hot smoke fighting to make its way back up in a bout of coughs. I swallowed nervously – fighting it from exposing the fraud I was.
I managed to win that battle. The smoke finally made its way out of my lips slowly and compliantly.
“Each cigarette takes away 5 minutes of your life” my mother would harp every time we saw someone smoking.
Growing up, I was convinced I’d never smoke. I was never drawn to it. I disliked the smell, wasn’t confident with a lighter, and certainly didn’t think it was worth 5 minutes of my life.
But here I was, smoking my first cigarette on the balcony of a house party, with people I barely knew.
It happened before I knew it. I stepped out to the balcony to get some air and got talking to a group of people there. We hit it off instantly.
They said they were new to the city, and had all just met. We had oddly intimate conversations for a group that had met entirely by chance. At some point, one of them said he needed a smoke. He pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and offered it to the rest of the men.
I looked around, waiting for him to hold the pack open for one of the women. But he snapped it shut and fumbled in his pocket for a lighter.
It was evident he wasn’t doing it to exclude us. It just never occurred to him that women smoke.
“Can I get one too?” I quipped. The words leaving my mouth without warning, I only heard it after I said it.
“Oh yes, of course, I’m sorry” He said. His tone carrying a combination of surprise and embarrassment. I took one out of his pack and let him light it for me.
The conversation picked up from where it left off.
There I was, on a breezy balcony – smoking my first cigarette. The heavy smoke entering my lungs and making its way back into a slightly different world.
A world with one less man assuming women didn’t smoke.
It isn’t much.
But 5 minutes was a small price to pay for it.