I’d like a cigarette, please. Would you like a conversation?
I was flying across the good old continent on a cozy A320 from British Airways, studying some Classical Arabic, when the girl sitting to my right, across the aisle, spoke up. Actually, it could have been an A321, or an A319 – I’m not sure what they use between London and Bucharest. What’s for sure is it was an Airbus from the A320 series. Anyway, so the girl said:
“Is it your first time somethingsomethingsomething?”
While I would have preferred a question starting in “Have you ever…,” and you would have, no doubt, preferred it if I actually remembered what she said, please bear with me. The gist of it was that she was travelling to the US (Virginia was it? Maybe DC?) for some university stuff, or an internship, or to live in a foster family for a while. The details are a bit fuzzy, unfortunately – the girl was cute and quite pleasant, if nervous, and also comely in a shy kind of way. But then again, I was flying to London! With all that excitement, I’m not surprised the fine print of that conversation got erased over time.
In any case, the girl was looking for some advice on navigating Heathrow in order to catch her connecting flight across the Atlantic. Since it was my first time at Heathrow as well, I wasn’t able to offer all that much assistance except to assure her that it can’t be as bad as Charles-de-Gaulle, where in some years you had to take a shuttle just to find a place to wee. I also explained some of the formalities and guided her through the procedures that accompanied our descent to London – I believe it was her first time, or one of her first times, flying. And I designed to make her more comfortable with what was happening around her: the sights, the sounds – the whirring of the flaps being extended, the *bonk* of the landing gear falling into place – quite ironic, considering that merely a year later I would become paranoid and afraid of those same sounds.
We said our goodbyes after landing. She had a boring seven-hour flight to look forward to, and I had the lovely city of London to explore! I went through immigration, mighty pleased that the lady at the counter told me to put away my Romanian passport (since I was a citizen of the European Union and didn’t need a passport), and decided to hang around a bit. I was still early for my meeting.
I went out into a beautiful, sunlit courtyard to have a fag; a cigarette, that is. I would like to add that this was the ideal smoking area: outside, big, and not making you feel like a dick for smoking. Other European airports take note! So I lit one up, and was soon joined by a really pretty English girl who asked me if I didn’t have an extra ciggy. I said “sure,” and handed her one. Lit her up, and she moved on. She seemed pretty disappointed for someone who just scored a cigarette.
Fast forward a day or two. Chilling on the corner of Cromwell Road and Gloucester Road, smoking another ciggy, I was greeted by another really pretty English girl. While the one at the airport was kinda blonde, this one looked like Hermione from Harry Potter (one of my guilty old fantasies). She also asked me for a cigarette. I happily obliged, but added nothing more to the conversation. She thanked me and walked away with a strange expression, like I had done something stupid.
Later on in my life, I figured that the cigarette thing was a conversation opener. Back then, I didn’t even get it when people started conversations with me (unless I was in a plane and had no choice). But now, I really like it.