Evening Drag

The crows, of course, took flight when they heard her approach.

If there had been anyone to watch her, they would have assumed that she was in a hurry, but that was simply how she walked – briskly and noisily, making her presence difficult to get away from. She marched onto the terrace, past the scattered grain the crows had been getting to, past the clothesline and an unfortunate girl’s underwear that had fallen into a muddy puddle, until she reached that corner of the roof where the parapet hid her from all the other hostels. She scanned the other roofs once, and, satisfied that they were empty, she crouched and pulled out a lighter and her Menthols.

The first puff instantly had her feeling calmer. She closed her eyes lazily, letting the ash drop.

She both loved and hated the silence of the roof; its emptiness and stillness. It was both a welcome relief from, and a poor substitute for, the everyday noise of a hostel. She took another puff, exhaling even more slowly this time, wishing she could expel her insecurities as easily as she could the smoke from her lungs.

Her insecurities. Among other things, they seemed to revolve around one woman these days. Someone with a strangely unidentifiable accent and hair dip-dyed golden to match.

Why had she even tried?

Tears stung her eyes as she remembered how she had given up the briefing mid-stutter – an old habit that showed up whenever she was in a remotely uncomfortable situation. She brushed them away, and tried to take a drag, but nearly choked.

She was twenty years old and insecure about speaking to a person from her batch who couldn’t care less about her existence.

It was hard to understand why the golden-haired girl had that kind of effect on her anyway. Some say it was a Resting Bitch Face that was, for once, an accurate indicator of a cold interior. Most, if they had known what was going on in her head, would have blamed the girl – a woman technically, but she had never felt more like a girl than in the past three years.

I’m a child that never grew up.

She yelped as hot ash dropped on her bare thigh. A child who now has the freedom to play with fire.

The door to the roof shifted, and she started, thinking it was one of the other residents – her smoking was her secret habit. But it was only Yelp. Good old Yelp, sniffing around in search of warmth and shelter. Other women hated him for pulling down their freshly laundered clothes and rolling in them. Not her; she loved him unconditionally, the one person she had in college.

Come here, she called to him, holding her hand out. He came eagerly, sniffing it, but he backed away after a bit. It was possibly the scent of smoke that annoyed him.

Fuck off, then, she laughed as he bounded back down the stairs. She hoped the freak from 202 wouldn’t yell at him like she usually did when she saw him. Both she and Yelp knew that the freak’s anger was usually a mask for her fear of anything with paws and a wet nose.

She grew a little sadder without Yelp; there was nothing to distract her from thinking of the incidents of the day, of the completely shameful way she had failed to communicate a single idea to the golden-haired girl. An arch of a finely threaded eyebrow, and speech had fled her.

Another drag, a long overdue one. She was letting a perfectly good smoke go to waste.

It wasn’t really about the golden-haired girl, she exhaled.

There were three smokes left in the pack, and she was dying to start another immediately after, but she had to make it last until the weekend, when her father would send money home. She put the lit cigarette to her lips again, this time puffing and exhaling rapidly, hoping the damage would come quickly.

It wasn’t really about the golden-haired girl.

No, it went much deeper than that.

Puff. Puff. Puff.

All those times the stammer of hers had held her back, undoing the effect of a warm smile and a sharp mind. All those almost-friendships she had forsaken because mid-sentence she began to believe her voice sounded whiny and her thoughts worthless. Exhale.

She had worn her cigarette down to a butt by this time. She stubbed it against the wall and let it drop. She felt deeply dissatisfied; the thought of her bank balance was the only thing that kept her from reaching for another.

But she had never truly formed a human connection, now, had she?

It all appeared so transient, so superficial when she looked back on it. The thought made her want to drive something hot and sharp into her arm; anything, anything to distract her from the immense shame she felt for being herself. Some days she was tempted to perch herself on the parapet and accidentally lean forward a little too much. She had eventually settled for smoking instead.

Slowly – for she had pins and needles along her left leg – she made her way back to the top of the staircase leading to the rooms. She heard her name and a snatch of laughter from the common room, and though she was unsurprised, her heart sank. She bit down, hard, on her lip to keep words from coming to her lips unbidden.

She was not mad.

It didn’t matter that she talked to herself when she was alone or laughed at an old memory out of context or had those urges to walk around briskly in circles. It didn’t matter that, in her search for what was wrong with her, she regularly Googled the symptoms of Asperger’s and tried to fit herself against them. It didn’t matter that her mouth dried up and her heart thudded against her chest even when she needed to speak to a friend.

All that mattered was that her roommate was asleep when she reached the room, and she could cover up the smell of smoke with the mintiness of toothpaste, and no one would be the wiser, ever.

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