Thursday, January 23, 2014

Seven Stars

I removed the last Seven Stars stick from its package and shoved it between my lips. "Never enough," I mumbled to no one in particular as I took out a faded baby blue lighter from my green and white flannel shirt pocket and lit the cigarette. Although the Seven Starts container was empty, I bundled it with the lighter and put both back in my shirt pocket.

I sat on a splintering bench next to a lime green vending machine emblazoned with Tommy Lee Jones' stern, wrinkled face over the word BOSS. The marketing always worked on me, and I scrounged 180 yen among ten small coins and fed them one-by-one into a slot just below the face. The slot clicked receipt of each coin until they were all deposited and I pushed the button for a Rainbow Mountain Blend, whereupon the machine hummed to life and spat out my drink with an appreciative thunk.

The can warmed my hand and my face as I took turns sipping the coffee and inhaling small drags of my cigarette. Each action brought pain to my cracked lips, but I didn't care about that or the spots of blood on the Seven Stars filter.

"Man got a quick spot for me?" A voice said in perfect English. I looked up into an ancient face full of so many bends and divots it seemed more a series of used up riverbeds running through steep, pock-marked canyons. Was this the man talking? Had Tommy Lee Jones peeled himself off the machine to ask me for some change?

"I'm all out," I replied, shaking my rainbow can at him.

"Then how about a smoke." His eyes were big and black; in them I saw my reflection in miniature, from balding head with wisps of hair to the pinprick of light on the tip of my cigarette. "One little pick-me-up?"

I laughed and tapped ash. "Just lit my last one."

He grunted with each movement as he sat down next to me on the bench. "Never enough," he said.

I took a big drag on the cigarette, tapped the ash one more time, and stuck it out to him as I exhaled a thick cloud. There was no wind, so the smoke hung in the air before us.

"Thanks son," the old man said, taking the cigarette and shoving it roughly between his lips. He leaned back and blew smoke above us. "Seven Stars?" I nodded and sipped my coffee. "Always my favorite."

"Glad to hear it."

"Why do you think they call it Seven Stars, anyway?" he asked with a smile that stretched the lines on his face to the point where he looked less like hardened stone and more the man he might have once been.

"It's just a name."

"So's Kaito," he said tapping his chest. "My name. My father gave it to me. But it's meaning also varies depending on how you write it out." He inhaled more smoke until the cigarette was reduced to just a filter, which he dropped at his feet while pushing out a rush of smoke from his lungs. "I always sort of thought it meant soaring over the ocean."

"Soaring over the ocean?" I finished the coffee and continued to cradle the rainbow can in my hands. The colors were reflective like abalone, shooting pearly metallic patches of reds, greens, and blues on my hands where any light connected.

"It makes me feel free."

No comments:

Post a Comment