The First Time

Don’t get me wrong!” she said, cheerfully blowing the smoke at him, “There are a lot of positives to nomadism- variety, constant stimulation, you’re never tied down to one place- no clear cultural loyalties, new people, new things, new food…”

He nodded, wide-eyed, rapt.

But after a time,” she continued, gracefully tapping the joint so that the ash fell neatly into the broken coffee-cup she used for an ash tray, “It’s those very same attractions that grow old, if you know what I mean…”

Kala laughed at his earnest nod, and passed him the joint. “I suppose it all depends on your mood…” she said philosophically, and shrugged, “I love and hate the same things about my life!”

So… ummm… how did you get into this lifestyle?” Rashid mumbled inarticulately, fumbling with the joint.

She narrowed her eyes at him for a second, then sighed. “I’ve been asked that so many times, in so many ways… It gets tiring.” She tugged absently at one of her plaits, “Though it seems strange to you, it’s the most normal thing in the world for me… the permanence and geographical grounded-ness that you see as natural… it scares the shit out of me!”

He grinned nervously, “I didn’t mean to offend…”

She smiled at his obvious discomfort, “I know. I can tell, when people want to offend.”

Kala watched as he finally took the joint to his mouth and took a small drag. For a moment his eyes bulged. Then he coughed and spluttered violently.

She leaned forward and patted his back, till he subsided and looked mutely up at her through smoke-induced tears.

Why didn’t you tell me you’d never smoked before?” she asked, amusedly.

No no…” he protested wheezily, “It’s not my first time. I have smoked before… but it was some time ago…”

She hid a small smile, “Maybe this joint was a bit strong…?” she offered.

He nodded, earnestly. “Why do you keep calling it a joint?”

Because that’s what it is… what do you call it?” she asked indulgently.

Beedi… cigarette… sutta,” he suggested, tentatively.

Oh!” she sat up worriedly, “You do know this isn’t just tobacco, right? It’s weed as well…”

Rashid’s eyes widened in inadvertent shock. “Ganja?” he whispered.

Yes,” she said patiently, “I thought you knew… I’m so sorry. I should have checked specifically…”

That’s alright…”

Don’t worry, though. You’ve barely inhaled any.”

He nodded, looking down at the floor “It’s okay… I just didn’t realise. So, I was surprised. That’s all.”

He glanced up at her, “I have a cousin who smokes ganja. He doesn’t have a job…  keeps moving around… is that why you…?” he looked concerned. Scared to cause offence and worried for her.

Why I…?” she asked, eyebrows raised.

No… not like that…” he mumbled miserably, “I didn’t mean to cause offence…!”

She smiled, feeling faintly maternal. “Here,” she said, handing him the joint, “lean back, relax and smoke this slowly.”

He stared uncertainly at it for a moment, then glanced at her. The scene seemed benign enough. He did not know how to refuse. Besides, she was so beautiful. So beautiful and so strange, and if he refused an invisible barrier would come between them. She would still be polite of course, but… Rashid nodded and took the joint from her.

The smoke rose up lazily before his eyes, curling in on itself like a serpent. Rashid smiled, as it grinned at him.

He breathed slowly, and tried not to cough, though it was harsh on his throat and the smell grated on his olfactory senses. He liked the word ‘olfactory’. It sounded clumsy and awkward. Like a tortoise with wings. He giggled with the serpent and the cobwebbed beetle on the ceiling, and considered seriously the political posturing of pimples as a means of protest against unhealthy living. Or something.

He tried to tell her that he was fine. It wasn’t an effect of the substance. He was just seeing things very clearly, and everything was connected in beautiful ways. Like the colours on her loose spaghetti top… merging into each other in concentric rings of resonance, clashing slightly at times with the sober browns and greens of the dried-seed chains that hung around her neck in a strangely fitting harmony. He wasn’t sure he was too coherent, but he felt she understood.

Kala smiled down at his wide-eyed, amused form, lying prone on her mattress, discovering the wonders of his own head. His pale blue shirt was comfortably rumpled as he twisted to find a comfortable position. His eyes were far away as they stared at the ceiling through his neatly black-rimmed glasses. He finally settled lying on his back, with his head on his hands, elbows sticking out, so that they formed the shape of a large eye with his head as the pupil.

She rolled herself another joint. It was always fun to watch new initiates.

Rashid watched Kala as she deftly rolled another joint. She crushed the weed and picked out the seeds efficiently with her long dark fingers, glancing at him from time to time to see if he was alright. He tried to reassure her with a bright smile each time, but it may have been too bright a couple of times. And once he may have giggled rather foolishly.

After a few minutes, Kala asked Rashid and set some music to play on her laptop. The familiar strains of Beatles music tickled Rashid’s brain with images of a Blackbird on a Magical Mystery Tour, as Kala patiently and concentratedly rolled the mixture of weed and tobacco – from half a cigarette – into a thin long joint. She smiled at Rashid as she lit it, and leaned her head back inhaling the smoke in an almost reverential ritual manner. Her numerous little plaits moved like awkward baby snakes which hadn’t yet teethed, as she moved her head. Rashid wondered idly if snakes teethed or whether they were born with teeth.

Kala’s eyes opened slowly and she let that familiar far away feeling show. Her mouth smiled slightly of its own accord, and she leant back in the chair letting the waves of music crash around her, like the Fool on the hill, and buoy her up as she floated on peacock-blue oceans of thought.

Rashid watched Kala, lifting his head slightly and craning his neck to see her from his position on her mattress. She shook her crimson Patiala-clad legs in time to I am the walrus. The light from her dusty tube-light cast shadows on her face, under her eyebrows and nose. Rashid let his head fall back and watched the stories in the spider-webs play themselves out before his eyes. Everything seemed both infinitely beautiful and infinitely futile.

He glanced up at her once more, before losing himself in his own head. She was smiling slightly with her eyes closed. And for a second he felt terribly alone. The terrible loneliness of existence brushed his soul, ever so lightly, and he thought of how no one ever actually left their own heads… how reality itself was composed of infinite facets and no one could see through more than their own, no matter how hard they tried… how no one but he would see through his, no one else would experience life quite this way, think these thoughts in the way he’d thought them………. and the world spun madly on with it’s billions of inhabitants each trapped in their own heads.

Then, as his head fell back onto the mattress, and the laptop crooned Let it be, he laughed at the audacity and self-centredness of his thought.