In the small hotel bed, the two of them lay next to each other.
He had opened his arm out on the pillow and her head rested in the crook of his elbow. Turning away from her, towards his side of the bed and he pushed his other hand into his backpack on the floor, riffling for a few moments, and fished out a cigarette pack. He flicked it open with one hand and pushed a cigarette into his puckered mouth.
She watched him with a mixed look on her face. Her forehead wrinkled with disgust but her mouth slightly upturned with fascination. Her plump cheeks were flushed pink, from his proximity or from the wear and tear of his prickly stubble. She looked away from the cigarette smoke and laced her fingers through his other hand. The one on which her head rested. That’s when she noticed them. Small, dark, round marks on the underside of his wrist. Several of them.
“Are those..” she gulped, turning her head back towards him.
“ Cigarette burns” he said between puffs.
She looked at his hard chiselled face. It was a weird face that he had. He had a soft school boy dreaminess around his eyes, but the rest of his face was all string and chiselled. High cheekbones, a strong square jawline and smooth, thick black hair. But his eyes were a light molten brown. Darkened amber, but light milk chocolate. She loved his eyes the most.
“Don’t worry so much,” he drawled lazily, “this is from way before.”
“How does it burn like that though?” she asked hesistantly.
“When the cigarette is at its butt end, I just quashed it on my wrist,” he said casually, like his wrist was just another spare ashtray he had lying around.
“Did it.. didn’t it burn?”
She looked at his thin, almost black lips. That too was from his smoking, she knew. He had been smoking from almost 12 years, since sixth grade. He had tried to quit a few times, all half-hearted attempts.
“See these marks?” he jerked his cigarette hand towards her, “these are lighter. They will go away with time.”
“The ones on the other hand won’t?”
“Nope. They are not meant to. I held the butt to my skin for longer.”
“Mmm,” she said, already back to her thoughts again.
He smoked out a couple more drags before she spoke up again.
“How does it hurt?” she wondered out aloud, “Does it sting, does the flesh smell?”
He thought for a second and replied, “It was a long time ago, Kari.”
“Can you..” she looked into his eyes, took a deep breath, and continued, “Can you quash that one out on me?”
She held out her wrist.
“No!” He almost screamed, his voice thick with horror.
“It’s not going to kill me!” she exclaimed
He shook his head firmly, “No. No way.”
“Niel,” she pleaded, “c’mon”
“Why do you want me to do that??” his voice was raw, hoarse, suddenly.
“I don’t know,” she shrugged, and the sheet slipped away from her shoulder to her breast, revealing her low cut tank top.
His cigarette was burning out now. He reached across her to his ashtray.
“Niel,” she implored him.
“Kari, I..” He was at a loss for words. “Why?” he asked her, again, heavily.
“I want to feel it,” she answered simply, “I want to feel a bit of the pain you did.”
“What will that get you?”
“I don’t know Niel,” her voice became quick now, urgent, “Maybe some understanding of your life.” She brought her hand closer to him.
He looked at his cigarette. It was starting to singe his skin.
“Kari, please” his voice still hoarse.
“Do it,” she said simply and led his hand to her wrist. She held out her hand, palms open, exposing her wrists underside.
He brought the cigarette really close to her skin. Her soft, white, fleshy skin, with a hint of pink. He was looking at the cigarette, intently. She was looking at her wrist.
A bit of ash rolled off the burning stick and touched her white skin. Her eyes, expecting a burn, opened slightly wider. When she realized it wasn’t the cigarette, she looked up at him. “Niel,” she smiled, “Do it.”
He brought the cigarette down on her wrist. Held it there, and looked up at her. She had shut her eyes.
“When I turn 18, I will start smoking” Kari promised herself.