"Cigarette," Tukku asked the shopkeeper. It was one habit that Tukku couldn't shrug off. Just like porn, girls, booze, oversleeping, overeating and oversimplifying. The shopkeeper had difficulty handing cigarettes to a minor. But he does it anyway. Tukku thought that this was an act of conscience clearance. He wondered how the government felt when they raised tax on cigarettes. Since the birth of life, increase in tax hasn't controlled two things: sales of liquor and cigarettes, and number of bad roads.
Of course, when you are disappointed -- like Tukku was today -- you need a cigarette. But as he lit his cigarette, what Tukku conveniently forgot was that he had lit another cigarette before he checked the result. 'That one was for anxiety,' Tukku told himself. And the one in the morning? Digestion. Late night? Peaceful sleep. And the ones before. Let's not go there. Cigarette is one thing that carries more baggage than a bad past.
His affair with the cigarette lasted much shorter than even his shortest affair till date (2 days, before the girl saw porn in his phone). And the reason for this sudden turn of events was Daisy.
'Ah, Daisy.' The girl of dreams for all the 34 guys in his class. Daisy, who got dropped every day to school by her Mercedes-driving Dad who was well-aware of his daughter's 'babe' reputation. Funny, how he barely looks like the kind that could bring something of such extraordinary beauty to this world. 'His wife must be super hot!' thought Tukku wondering how he'd never seen Daisy's Mom ever visiting the school. Maybe it will be easier to get into her good books. Easier still would be to get under the wheels of her Dad's Mercedes -- who, by the way had started giving evil eyes to us boys who was always somewhere around. 'He seems to give me an extra-special glare. Have I been staring at anything inappropriate?' Tukku wondered.
Tukku quickly stubbed out his cigarette and popped the chewing gum into his mouth. These chewing gums seem to be getting worse day-by-day. 'Two seconds and I might as well chew some plastic flower.' Daisy was walking ahead of him. Which was strange. Where did her Dad go? Doesn't she have after-school dance classes?
"Daisy!" he called her from behind. She kept walking. Tukku called again. She still didn't stop. 'Geez! Talk about hard-to-get. She must be hard-of-hearing,' thought Tukku. As Tukku slowed down to a crawl, his morale up in smoke, his cigarette not up in smoke, but down and stubbed out, he saw Daisy's take a quick glance behind. Tukku flashed the brightest smile he could muster from the sick loser feeling inside him. Tukku waved at her. 'She'll be the biggest bitch in the planet if she pretends she doesn't know me now. And I am gonna spread all kinds of news about her. About how she kissed Rahul and then...' All his thoughts melted away into bliss as Daisy flashed a radiant smile back at him.
"Hey Duggu!" shouted Daisy.
Tukku fastened his bag and sprinted towards her. He didn't bother correcting the name.
"How are you, Daisy?" he asked.
"You smoked?" she asked back.
'Alarm bells inside heads' is a phrase that has been coined by someone who got caught in such a situation. He wished he could burn down the factory that produced that lousy excuse of a gum.
"Err.... no, Daisy! I... err.. I was having tea in that shop and there were smokers around me..."
"You have another cigarette?"
Now that was unexpected. It will be quite a shock for most people to know that a 16 year old boy smoked -- but a girl! Dear heavens, what is this generation coming to!
"You! You, smoke?!" asked Tukku, completely bewildered but still struggling to keep a straight face.
"Hmm... I didn't know that girls smoked."
"Why? Girls can't smoke?"
"No no! Please... nothing like that. But it's just rare."
"I really need a smoke. Where do you guys go to smoke?"
'Is this some sort of a ploy?' thought Tukku. 'She will pretend that she wants to smoke, then get the location of our secret hideout and then snitch it to the Class Teacher and then she will be in her good books and we will be kneeling down outside the classroom.'
"Hmmm?" Daisy was still waiting for a reply.
"Is it in that shed behind the coconut grove?"
"How do you know!"
"Rahul had told me once."
'Oh. Rahul had told her.' Tukku was seething with rage on hearing his name. Rahul was an ass. He vaguely resembled a star from some land and some age and people thought he was good looking. Balls! In fact, it was Tukku who took Rahul to their smoking zone and got him his first cigarette. Thankless bastard!
"So do you have a cigarette?" asked Daisy.
"I can get one. If you know the place, you can wait there. Which cigarette do you smoke?"
"See if they get Marlboro lights. If not, Classic Milds Lights will do. Actually, see if you get the menthol one."
'She is quite a bitch,' thought Tukku. 'Marlboro Lights? Menthol? Why can't she smoke a Gold Flakes chotta or a Navy Cut?' But all these thoughts remained inside as he flashed a wry smile and headed back to the store where he has to go through the conscience pressures of the shopkeeper.
After he got the cigarette, he quietly made his way to the shed half expecting a group of teachers to apprehend him immediately and hand him to the Principal. No such bad luck. Only Daisy sat there, leaning against the wall with her bag as a cushion. She looked up at Tukku's arrival.
"What took you so long, Duggu?"
"That shopkeeper is a chut." He stopped, suddenly realising the crassness of his language. "I mean, he is reluctant to give cigarettes to us."
Daisy took her Menthol cigarette, placed it between her lips and set it alight with the smallest lighter Tukku had seen in his life. She offered the light to a very slack-jawed Tukku who had his cigarette barely hanging from his limp digits.
"How was your result?" Daisy asked out of the blue, both of them now settled with their cigarettes.
"It was ok. What percentage did you get?"
'Arrey! Why is she asking all this now? The two of us are in a rather enclosed space, smoking cigarettes, couldn't she ask something like if I was seeing someone? These girls I tell ya!'
"Barely passed," he lied.
"It was a tough one this time."
"Yeah." She had no idea how tough it was for Tukku.
"You didn't flunk for any exams, right?"
"Of course not! I mean, I didn't get great marks. But heck! I've read that most smart people in this world usually score poor marks in school."
Trouble! That's the thing with girls. They are forever inquisitive. And stupidly so. Surely, when apes contemplated using stone tools, there must have been some woman then who feared if it wouldn't be used to harm each other as well. Well, her fears certainly got justified over time.
"Like... you know, Einstein. The guy who invented Apple computers. Facebook guy."
"Hmm... I thought they were college drop outs."
Tukku didn't respond. He wasn't enjoying his cigarette either. He felt like he was in an interrogation room and the police guy was offering him a cup of tea. You must have balls of titanium to enjoy that cup.
"So, how's it going with Rahul?" Tukku tried to change the subject.
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, I thought you guys were seeing each other."
"Yeah, we kind of are. But it's nothing serious."
So much for changing that subject. Tukku now felt even worse. The cigarette, he felt, was like a metaphor for what his heart was going through right now.
"What... what are you doing this weekend?"
"Don't know. Haven't decided yet. Why?"
See, the girls' inquisitive nature?
"It's ok. You can ask me."
"Can we... can we meet? Somewhere near your place of course. I don't wanna trouble you or anything. If it's not ok for you. It's fine. I understand. But still... I haven't asked anyone like this before you know?"
"It's ok. Yeah we can meet. But not this weekend. I have to study. How about next weekend?"
"Sure... that's ok."
A few moments of awkward silence passed. Tukku had mustered up such courage to ask her out that he seemed to have no energy left to open his mouth.
With a casual flick Daisy threw away her cigarette. Tukku's Classic Milds -- which he brought reluctantly, so as not to be embarrassed in front of the Menthol smoking chica -- was still someway to go. Nevertheless, he stubbed it out.
They walked back to main road quietly.
"How come your Dad didn't come to pick you today?"
"He's coming in a while. I kinda had a fight with him. So I walked out from school."
"I guess I will walk to the end of the road. He doesn't like seeing me with guys."
"Oh, by the way." Daisy extended a badly crumpled 10 rupees note which she tried straightening out with her slender fingers.
The cigarette was only Rs. 5. But Tukku didn't have any more money to return the change. And he cannot take more money from her. He cannot take ANY money from her. All Tukku managed was to shake his head spasmodically. Then the magical happened. She forcefully grabbed his hand, opened his tightly clenched fist and kept the note in his palm. Tukku felt a rare emotion that was at the same time lilting and cheap.
"See ya then!" said Daisy.
"Bye..." Tukku managed to reply as he eyed her walking gracefully down the road.
'Damn! I wish I could've met her this weekend itself,' thought Tukku. But in a way it was a good thing as Tukku had his retests on Monday. He better prepare for that one. Can't afford to flunk again. And then it struck him. The bitch's been lying all this while. She had flunked her tests too. Of course! And that's why she fought with her Dad. And that's why she cannot meet him this weekend.
'Girls, I tell ya! Hardly ever says anything honest.'
At the school corridor, Tukku stood erect gasping for breath. But he wasn't upside down. In fact, he was almost on his toes. Because at the top of the results sheet for Class 11-C was Daisy Cherian Kalavathungal.
'Well, girls do lie,' thought Tukku. 'When I asked her how her exam was, she said it was ok. Not great. No mention of she being the topper. She said just ok. What a bitch!'