The rain just wouldn’t stop.
It was cold and the downpour had turned from a pleasant shift from humidity to a nuisance. Steve had spent 45 minutes under the shed and the rain just wouldn’t stop. The old rickety shed was not proving to be much of help either. The clouds were shooting at him from all directions. It was crazy.
To make matters worse, he could not even light a cigarette. He took out his pack of ‘Oscars’ from his Jacket. Inside there were 5 sticks staring back at him. Mocking him. Teasing him. He looked at them helplessly and cursed the rain once more.
The night was getting darker. It was raining. He was out of matchsticks.
There is nothing worse than not being able to smoke when you need to. Only a smoker can understand that plight.
He put the pack back in his pocket and glanced at this watch. It was half past midnight. No wait; It was half past midnight when he angrily threw his matchbox after struggling with the last matchstick. His watch was broken.
Time had stagnated. It was the worst night of his week.
Maybe this is how fire was invented in the first place, he thought. Maybe some lone wanderer got stuck in the rain under a shed with 5 cigarettes and no matchsticks. Maybe that inspired him to rub some rocks together. Maybe the rain is driving me crazy, he thought.
There was nobody in sight. No one. Where were all the people? What time was it? Maybe everyone in town is sleeping or stranded under some shed like me. Maybe under some shed, there is someone with a matchbox and out of cigarettes. Maybe he is looking for me, he thought. Maybe he will battle the rain and find me.
He rubbed his eyes to ward off sleep get a sense of reality. It was probably 2AM. The drowsiness was getting to him.
He wanted to smoke. He wanted the rain to stop making a fool of itself so that he can go out in search of a matchbox, or a lighter.
The rain however, had no issues with being labeled a fool.
His cellphone battery was dead. No problem. As such there was no one he could have called at this hour. Not even his ex-wife.
The rain stopped all of a sudden. This must be a joke, he thought. It just stopped as if it never rained. He grabbed his coat and ran out. Thank you God. It was exactly what he needed.
No wait. He also needed a matchbox.
All shops were closed. No one in sight. God-damn it. What is wrong with this town?
He searched and searched. Nothing.
And suddenly there was another shed. Another man. He was waving at him. He felt unsure whether to wave back or not. But what the heck, he thought. Nothing could be worse than not being able to smoke. Not even getting mugged or killed.
He waved back.
The man ran towards him. Was this an attack? Should he turn back and run? No, he thought. He stood his ground. The man was panting when he approached him.
“Hey… d… do (huff) (huff). Do you have a cigarette?”
The matchbox man!
He couldn’t believe it. Was this a stupid dream?
He hurriedly searched for his pack of ‘Oscars’. And suddenly a question came to his mind..
“uh.. ya but I don’t have a light. Do you?”
“Oh yes” replied the man excitedly.
He hurriedly took out a matchbox from his pocket and handed it over to Steve.
Steve grinned widely. His eyes lit up. He took out his pack of ‘Oscars’ and offered the man one.
The man looked a bit disappointed.
Yeah, why? What happened?”
The man looked up at the sky and after a long sigh looked back at Steve with unexplained fury in his eyes.
“What do you like about this cigarette?”
Steve started to feel uncomfortable. The man’s gaze was tearing him to pieces.
“Umm. They .. they are very smooth … and and they taste like …. like… I don’t know they smell …. like…. feel like ….”
“Eucalyptus?” The man fired back.
Bingo! Steve thought. That was it. He had been a fan of ‘Oscars’ ever since he started smoking and he had forgotten how long it had been. He had found himself unable to switch to another brand because there was something about ‘Oscars’ that he had never been able to define.
And here it was.
A pathetic rainy night. One stranger and the big mystery finally solved. The cigarettes did smell of eucalyptus. That wonderful wonderful aroma. Yes that was it! Now he knew the answer. Big mystery finally solved.
However, the stranger was getting more and more uneasy. He was staring at Steve as if he would clobber him to death any second.
Steve mustered up his breath.
“Yes, yes it’s eucalyptus. But I don’t understand why you…” He didn’t knew how to finish that sentence. He started struggling with words till the stranger interrupted his chain of thoughts.
” Do you know why they are named ‘Oscars’?”
Steve was now trembling with the confusion of the moment.
“They are named after Williard Oscar. He was a friend of my father. They both grew up together in Freetown. Both men of great intellect and passion. Both wanted to make it big in that small town. My dad thought of this idea of mixing eucalyptus leaves with tobacco and rolling them into a new kind of cigarette. Williard stole it from him. Made it. Threw my dad out of his venture and his life. My father killed himself on one such rainy night. Alone and penniless.”
The man stopped speaking but Steve was still listening. He was tuned in to the silence of the hour. Not knowing what to say. He felt like a criminal for no reason. Maybe it was the lack of sleep messing with his thoughts.
“I… I am sorry”
He felt ashamed of himself the moment he said those words. He could not understand what was going on or why was all this going on. He waited for the man to reply as if he was waiting for the judgment.
The man smiled.
“You don’t need to be. I am sorry. I just don’t smoke these. Not my brand you see. But you can keep the matchbox.”
Steve was wordless. The man turned and walked away.
Steve watched him go and as the man vanished into the night, he took out an ‘Oscar’ and lit it.
The aroma of eucalyptus leaves filled the air around him.