This is a real life event that I’ve been meaning to share for some time now.
It was late afternoon, on a balmy March Sunday, early in Quarantine I, in the year 2020.
We’re out for a stroll in our neighbourhood – the only activity permitted at the dawn of those uncertain, turbulent times – and we see woman with a young child of 6 or 7 years of age exit the doorway of an apartment building on our right and step directly in front of us on the sidewalk.
It was close enough that we slowed our pace, to maintain the requisite 2 meters distance, lest we be immediately coated in coviddy virulence and filth.
The young boy joyously brings a lollipop to his mouth, as young children do when gifted such treats.
But it’s not a lollipop.
It’s a fucking cigarette.
He takes a drag and pulls it away from his mouth in his little hands.
We see smoke escaping as he exhales slowly, languidly. Perhaps imagining he’s a dragon. Puff. The magic dragon.
Without pausing, without skipping a beat, he casually flicks it away, his thumb and index finger doing that smoker’s dance, the broken OK.
It lands behind him, in our path, discarded like the rubbish it is.
The glowing end explodes as it hits the ground, fiery orange embers disengage and then fade to nothing, to darkness.
At that moment, after a dozen meters of walking, they turn into a local laundromat. The woman rubs out the tip of her cigarette on the brick surrounding the entrance, pockets the remainder, and the pair disappear inside.
As we step over the discarded item, we confirm it is indeed a cigarette.
A real fucking cigarette.
We look at each other. Mouths agape. Incredulous. Words, like the smoke from that little boy’s mouth, escape us.
What have we just seen?
Did that really just happen?
We both doubt what we saw, but we saw it, did we not?
What is perception? What was the reality?
We look at each other again, our paired strides broken.
She’s the first to break our silence.
“Is that for real?” her voice is a hoarse whisper, raspy. As if she was the one who was smoking.
“I thought it was a lollipop at first…” is all I can muster. My voice is feeble, stilted.
“Can you believe it?”
“I know, it’s crazy “
She meets my gaze, my head shaking side to side to match hers.
“He just littered – the world his ashtray.”