David Arioch – Jornalismo Cultural

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When I bought cigarettes for my parents

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I suspected that the inventor of the cigarette was confused when he was choosing the ingredients, and created something unpleasant


Me and my brother Douglas walked 100 meters to get one or two cigarette packs in a bar on Federal District Avenue

In my childhood, I bought cigarettes for my parents. Yes, I and all my friends and colleagues who were born in the 1980s and had smoking parents. My mother abandoned addiction in my teens, but my father, an inveterate smoker, died because of a lung cancer. He started smoking early, when Hollywood stars helped make the cigarette in an obtuse symbol of charm, sensuality and rebellion.

I never asked why he smoked. But one day, when I was a child, I said to my mother that “only the steam train had reason to smoke, because his move depended on burning coal.” Since childhood, I did not undestand the idea of putting something in the mouth just to smoke. I associated that image with the black smoke coming out of the tailpipes of old trucks we saw on the streets. Carbon oxide, sulfur oxide, nitrogen oxide and aromatic hydrocarbon, I learned later.

“Maybe people who smoke are like the exhaust of trucks, the difference is that they produce less smoke because they are smaller. And maybe it is less dirty because it comes straight from the mouth”, I wrote in a notebook when I was seven or eight years old. I never put a cigarette in my mouth. I do not boast about that. No! I am lying! I liked to pretend to smoke with a chocolate cigarette between my lips, like the black boy smiling on the package. After all, the idea of smoking, however bad it was, preserved his romanesque ruse in play.

At ten years old, I suspected that the inventor of the cigarette was confused when he was choosing the ingredients, and created something unpleasant. Perhaps, the original idea was to make something good come out of the mouth of the people, rather than a grizzly smelly smoke. The irony already subsisted in the fact that the smoke alone was suspected in its cloudiness, as a slacker veiling its true intentions.

At seven years old, I started buying cigarettes when we lived on Pernambuco Street. Me and my brother Douglas walked 100 meters to get one or two cigarette packs in a bar on Federal District Avenue. Because of the smoke in there, it was like a stage moments before a show. The difference was that the dry ice was not as dark as cigarette smoke. Nor stank like those bodies macerated by addiction to alcohol and tobacco.

Some men coughed as if they were about to throw or expel pieces of tissue from their bodies. That was the reality of the addicts, and I found myself in front of it in the early years of my life. I liked the place, witnessing the social salad composed of people from different age groups – where rich and poor people, vagrants and workers, mingled informally.

Actions, expressions and reactions of joy, sadness, dissatisfaction, anger, wisdom, ignorance, everything could be found in the Mistress Mary’s bar, mother of my friend Fabiano. However, no feeling seemed more deployable than a hybrid of illusion and disappointment. In that place, taciturn men arrived smiling and went away crying as soon as appearances uncovered their essences.

At the counter, Mistress Mary kept a baseball bat, nicknamed “judgment” to contain the rioters. She chided drunkards, gave advice and sometimes fed the miserables. It was visceral how her face changed from one second to another as if someone did something wrong. Stevedores, street vendors and street artists went there often. One day, I got a wooden frame with my image carved by Maneta, a sculptor who traveled throughout Brazil hitchhiking.

While some people sat on the side tables, others preferred the counter, feeling the smell of food preservation, listening to the sound of the freezer and from the TV with a wooden box. It  was unusual to find someone at the bar who did not smoke. I zigzagged through the spaces, trying to avoid inhaling the smoke that moved through the room like a snake trying to swallow me. Even worse was when my nose clogged because of allergic rhinitis.

At the counter, I sat on a stool, swung my legs, asked for two packs of cigarettes and watched the sweets in the showcase. Once, Mistress Mary gave me two packs. I paid, I kept the packs in the left pocket of my shorts and the change in the right pocket. I went out there away from the smoke and heard laughter and cries of three or four men entertained in a game of cards. “Thief! thief! That’s what you are, you rascal pig!”, yelled a bearded big man with such a deep voice that my eardrums throbbed. I felt like I was close to the devil himself.

He sat on two chairs instead of one, and his hand came to be bigger than the head of his opponents. Startled, I watched the little cards disappearing in his hands. It was as if they were miniatures on paper. Suddenly, the man looked at me and said: “What is it, boy? Did you lose something?” Without opening my mouth, I nodded no and walked away. Before stepping on the sidewalk, I saw him pulling out a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. He lit one and swallowed so greedily that in a few seconds the cigarette was reduced to ashes, leaving only a tiny filter slipping in a wooden ashtray.

His mouth was also enormous. When he aimed his nose to the ceiling, and exhaled the smoke, it was as if a cloud too heavy to support himself formed over his head, like a glutton riddled fog. That was the Turpentine, a smoker and drinker professional, they said. He worked for the largest companies of tobacco and distillates in Brazil. In the 1980s, it was not difficult to find young people and even older people who dreamed of this life. Drinking, smoking and nothing else, yes, it was the ideal of many people. At home, while my mother was preparing a dough in the kitchen, I told her what happened at the bar. She had fun with my story, although she did not know the evil-looking giant.

At that time, I came to believe that the world was of smokers. Wherever I walked, people talked about cigarettes. TV, radio and billboards were always contributing to the glamorization of smoking. In the downtown, after school, I always saw empty packages and cigarette butts near the curb. They offered up free samples. And of course, some smokers were more educated than others. My mother, for example, avoided smoking near me and my brother. When he noticed that I was watching him, my father copiously passed the cigarette from the right hand to the left, trying to hide the smoke behind a book, and declared: “Do what I say, not as I do.”

In the morning, one time or another, I watched my mother changing the sheets burned by cigarette embers. Perhaps, those holes with black borders meant more than we imagined. After all, they were misshapen and uncertain as small tumors. “Yesterday, I told myself it was the last. I did not imagine that would be the end, I would not smoke more until my death. I preferred to think that if I stopped now, I would be able to smoke from time to time”, wrote Henri-Pierre Jeudy in” The Last Cigarette”.

Written by David Arioch

October 21st, 2016 at 11:17 pm