At one corner of Jeevanjee Gardens, where Muindi Mbingu meets Moktar Daddah street, under three of the largest trees in this part of town, is a smoking zone. There are less than a dozen spread across the CBD since the Tobacco Control Act outlawed smoking in public. This is your best. Three cigarette sellers sit on a stout wall off of what seems the remains of a structure torn down or a construction project abandoned before getting off the ground. All three sell the same brands at the same prices but you and your friends almost always buy from N, at the far left, and join the tens of smokers sitting or standing in a rough square around the smoking zone. You’ve been trying to quit. Again. You are making progress, again. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances. You didn’t need the graphic warnings even as you started rolling tobacco with the weed. Your gums and the insides of your lips began to darken by the time you were at a pack in thirty-six hours and breathing heavily up the stairs. But still you light up, relishing the sighs burning through your insides. Your friend says it should be easy to quit because most of N’s Dunhills, like many cigarettes sold across the city, are counterfeit. Kitu Sewer alisema unajaribu kula gas ushibe. ‘It’s the most pointless vice there is,’ a friend bursts out more than once during your cigarette breaks. ‘As in, you don’t even get high saa unajiuliza ni ya nini?’
Of all the vices you‘ve stacked over the years, cigarettes remain intriguing. Like that time, years ago, watching a small troupe of acrobats perform, with each doing a solo at intervals of the synchronized performance. One of them, shirtless, lit a cigarette while balancing an empty liquor bottle on his head swaying his hips and jerking his shoulders to the increasing pace of the drumbeats. Suddenly, he opened his mouth wide and in a sharp flick of his tongue drew the half-lit cigarette clenched between his teeth into the darkness of his mouth and clasped it shut. He flicked it out, letting it dangle at the tip of his tongue and repeated this twice or thrice before taking a long puff, a cloud of thick white smoke drowning out his wide eyes.
The full story appears on the drr issue of Place. Order your copy here.