The Yellow Ones

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 16.32.47So I get on my bike and head for the bar, wondering why, as this story forms in my mind, this sentence starts with “so”. As I’m cycling, I think about a Facebook discussion in the use of the word “so” at the beginning of sentences. I haven’t even bothered to read the discussion because it’s obvious – a narrative device designed to throw the reader into the middle of the action as if we – the reader and I – are having this ongoing intimate chat. The reader is supposed to prick up her ears in cased she’s missed something.

 

In my case, this is just the way the story starts to form in my head. I have only reached the end of the road on my bike, and I’ve already thought this much.

 

So I get on my bike and cycle towards the bar. I text “I’m running late,” and I get “No worries” in return.

 

I stop for cigarettes. The Turkish shop assistant, a man in his late fifties, hands me a packet that says RAUCHEN VERURSACHT HERZANFÄLLE. I hesitate. The friend I’m going to meet has been preoccupied with death lately, especially his own, He thinks he might die young of a heart attack, like his father. I don’t want to turn up with this large black-and-white warning – on a night where I’m preparing to tell him he’ll be fine, despite the tightening of his chest, he won’t die young. It’s all a state of mind: smoke like no one’s watching, smoke like it’s 1999. Don’t worry, 4 cigarettes a day never killed anyone. It’s the worry that’ll kill you.

 

I hesitate – as all this goes through my mind in the blink of an eye – and I say to the Turkish shop assistant: “Do you have a different packet? Not a different brand, the same brand – just a different warning?”

He looks at me. “The blue ones?”

“No, the yellow ones.”

But these are the yellow ones.”

“Yes, but I don’t like what it says. Give me one about not smoking during pregnancy or something, just no heart attack warning, OK?”

He gets it.

His face lights up with understanding and he turns round and grabs another pack from the back of the row. Before I can read the warning, he slides it face down – warning down – towards me saying: “Don’t read it. Just put it in your bag and smoke it, but don’t read it.”

I notice his gold wedding band and imagine the faces of his family laughing with him as he smiles and says: “I can’t give up. Tried many, many times.”

I take in the shelves upon shelves of tobacco surrounding him.
“Food tastes of nothing, I eat, I have to smoke after eating, and I taste nothing.”

Just when I’m starting to feel the weight of a long conversation between us that I am warming to, but also a tug as I realise the “Now worries,” has faded on my display, in swans a pink-shirted man sporting a beard and holding a glass of Sekt.

He wants cigarettes too.

The Turkish man is torn, I can imagine, wanting to carry on the first real conversation he’s had in years with a customer in his life as a tobacconist, someone who understands the dilemma of his life. But what do I know? Perhaps he has four devoted children and a wife who clears the plates with leftover thefood he doesn’t taste. I take the opportunity and duck out of the shop.

I arrive at the bar and see my friend at the bar. Drinking a glass of beer. And smoking. A different brand from mine. But still. I reach inside my bag and take out the pack, like a fortune cookie. It reads RAUCHEN VERURSACHT HERZANFÄLLE. I put it on the table in front of him. He looks at me. I raise an eyebrow.

A few days later, I go back into the shop to buy cigarettes, I have not slept well and am a little muddled.

“Good morning, er, good evening,” I say as I go in.

The Turkish man nods and smiles. I point out my brand and he hands them over, clearly having forgotten our conversation of a week previously. Just when I am about to go, he says:

“You know when you said good morning when you came in?”

“Yes?” I say.

“Was it because you thought I was asleep? Were you making a point?”

“No, I was muddled,” I say.

“OK,” he says, nodding, as if I’ve cracked some great problem. “Good that’s good.”

 

 

 

 

 

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