She never asked him anything. He never told her when he would come. But she always knew. It was not as if he came frequently. he sometimes never came. And when he did, it was always sudden—without notice. And yet, she knew. There would be no one visiting her then. She always made sure no one else came.
He knew nothing about her. He never asked.
It was not like she took care to welcome him. She never did anything special. She was the same. Always… to everyone. But he was different still. In ways she couldn’t explain. And so the only real effort she put in was to stack four packets of cigarettes. She knew he liked smoking. But she also knew he never smoked unless it was with her. It was something she had gathered from the way he always choked and coughed on the first cigarette he smoked with her.
There was a dim orange light in the room. She sat on the windowsill. Smoking. The red eye of the cigarette blended with the orange in the room. The smoke curled up over her head. Her hair soaked it up. The smokey curls hidden in her black curls. She played with a loose strand of hair which came up to her chin. He would be here any moment. She sensed it.
The freshly lit cigarette joined a pile of butts in the ashtray.
He came in. she acknowledged him by shifting her position from the window sill to the cane chair near the bed. He kept his small suitcase behind the door and joined her. He never looked at her. She always studied him.
She knew he had a family somewhere. She knew it by stitches that had mended a tear in his vest. She knew it in the way his eyes always watered after everything. She sensed it in the way he kept running his fingers over his fingers searching for an invisible ring. She knew he was in love with his wife. And this made her proud, if a woman like her could ever be, that he still came.
She lit another cigarette. She blew the smoke on to his face. He merely shrugged. She never waited for him to make the first move. It was always her—never him. She smiled inside. It was always this way. It was never different. She stood up and slipped off her cotton dress and wore her nakedness with arrogance. He looked up and took in her nudity. He was always careful not to look into her eyes. He always stared beyond her. Never inside. He never searched her. He just looked. She arranged herself on the bed. He joined her.
It was well into the night when he slipped out of the bed and sat on the chair. He coughed over the first cigarette. She joined him. She rested her bare legs on his thighs. He never pushed them away. Did not make any sign of like or dislike. He sat smoking. The packets emptied steadily. One after the other. She waited for the last cigarette he always left for her.
He lighted it and kept it on the table. She picked it up and balanced it between her fingers.
He dressed up. And pushed a wad of notes under the pillow. Picked up his suitcase and went to the door.
His hands rested on the knob a little more than usual. He turned back. She started.
“She died last week.”
The door closed. She stood staring at the door.
The cigarette had fallen down and was steadily scorching the old wooden floor.