My Mum told me I was a good kid, but my older brother told me I was a little devil. I believe my brother more, I think, mainly because I remember when I was six – as far back as I can remember, I once stole a cigarette off the kitchen countertop and hid it away in my room. In the night, I took it out of hiding; a small brown box, the cardboard kind, with a shoe box type lid I neatly placed under my bed was where I stored it away. I figured, if I was a good child, I wouldn’t have stolen that cigarette from my Mum.
I was propped up on the floor with my back resting against the cold metal framework of my bunk bed, a pink, Groovy Chick duvet and matching pillows were strewn across my bed and dragging along the floor – My younger brother had kicked up a fuss over being sent to the bathroom to wash so I took the chance to inspect the offending object.
I rolled it between my fingers. It was softer than I imagined, I remember thinking: ‘It’s softer than paper but not as soft as my cardigan,’ I think. I remember poking at the spongy brown tip of it. How fascinating must it have been to a little girl, a cigarette, unburned and not teetering off her Mum’s mouth, or her father’s and brother’s; wisps of cough-inducing greyness filling the air around her, wondering why the smell of burning was appealing?
I touched the sponginess to my lips, felt the rubber cave as I pressed down. Dry. Tasteless. Dull. Something to that effect must have gone on in my little girl mind. Maybe boring might have been the word I might’ve used. The anticipation of finally understanding the ritual of adulthood dissolved to an anti-climax.
Until I turned the cigarette over and saw the small flaked pieces of brown wrapped in the white paper. The smell was strongest there. It curled around my nose and with my interest piqued, I touched the bottom end to my tongue. Burnt. Dry. Gritty. A different taste. I wonder if I realised back then that this was the part that adults burned and not put to their lips and inhaled. I must have, surely.
My brother, my older brother, he came in, saw the white and brown object and thought the worst. I didn’t bother to tell him that I wasn’t going to smoke it – for starters, I didn’t know how to, but the telling off had already started. He did it quietly, though, so Mum didn’t find out. He didn’t take the cigarette away from, which I was surprised at. He put it on the window ledge of my room and left, probably to go watch TV, I don’t know.
I promised him I wasn’t going to put it in my mouth in the way that every child must have done at least once in their lifetime: the pinkie-swear. An unchangeable, forever binding, promise to a little girl. A promise he knew I’d keep, but that didn’t mean my curiosity was wiped.
I held the cigarette at both ends and slowly turned my wrists so that cigarette arched before finally snapping with a dull pop. I watched as the brown filling fell like confetti over the floor and on my dress. It reminded me of chocolate sprinkles on a vanilla ice cream. I dusted off my pale yellow dress, grabbing each individual brown flake I could, knowing me I probably made some kind of strange game out of it.
I picked up what I could and threw the remnants of the cigarette out my bedroom window, and that was the end of it.
Twenty years and however many months on, and my room is no longer pink, but a muddy purple colour, my bedsheets violet. There are only a handful of teddies insight – ones that hold precious memories. My wardrobe consists mainly of black but I’m working on adding splashes of colour to it. I’ve been eyeing up a yellow dress in a charity store nearby my house. For now, I guess colourful socks, and weird trips down memory lane with my older brother will have to do.
I could very well be making this up as I go along; you know how children exaggerate…