OPPRESSIVE Cebu. In the whole archipelago, Cebu must be the least hospitable for having only one decent hangout for smokers.
My Manila-based friend harangued about this while I coughed and served the seafood pizza that was to be my early lunch and his late breakfast.
We agreed to meet at this place I thought only sold cigars. I was leafing through my mother’s recent gift, a 1958 Giangiacomo Feltrinelli edition of “Doctor Zhivago,” when he breezed in, wearing the usual shorts and sandals but with his hair bristling like a rasta lion whose tail had been plugged into a socket.
Before I could ask where the aeons-old braids had gone, he snapped that we were going to the smokers’ den. You’ll be smoking the whole time? I squeaked, stuttering that I still had to work. Apparently though, too much tar has also been bad for my friend’s eardrums.
But defective eardrums and quirks on both sides nothwithstanding, my friend and I have stayed in touch since college days. We even manage to break bread every other year or half-decade, during which he harangues against his ex-wives and Maoists, and I eat and spare no leftovers.
Before my bottom had even touched the leathers of a seat designed for a long-legged male with a stick dangling between his—aha, got you—lips, my friend had dispensed with his usual compliment (my dear, you look older than all my ex-wives combined) and launched into his tirade about Cebu’s inhospitality to smokers.
Here is a shortened version of his monologue (my part is more minimal because I believe in playing a silent, submissive role, specially in the presence of a very interesting plate):
V: How can Cebu claim to have progressed when there is only one place here where one can smoke in peace?
M: (Sending telephatic messages of friendship to a plump shrimp pining for companionship) What about cemeteries? My father would appreciate the company (once a three-packer in his heydays, Papang still puffed away at an imaginary cigarette even while sedated in his final days).
V: (looking at me as if I’ve gone crazy) It’s too warm to go outdoors.
M: Then smoke inside your room (sort of a monk, my friend sees the insides of a mall only once or twice a year, probably when the driver goes home and no one can get his cigarettes for him).
V: My sister’s place is air-conditioned; I have to go out to smoke. Believe me, this (referring to the wood-and-leathers place we were in) is the only perfect place.
M: (smacking lips after the shrimps accidentally slid down the throat) Except?
V: Except they require a dress code after six.
M: Men need to put up their long hair?
V: We have to change into long pants and use underwear.
M: (silent, the downed shrimps mightily attempting to rise back)
My friend has since gone back to more civilized Manila, very much disappointed that his order of marijuana goodies did not make it in time for his flight.
After our talk though, my views about smokers’ rights have changed, making me see how child-friendly, smoking-free light and airy premises cruelly marginalize the puffing and hacking oppressed.
Recently, when I was at the cemetery visiting my father, I left him a stick of cigarette, the only time I’ve ever done so in the more than six decades he has been an aficionado.
Only when I was riding the jeepney did it strike me that, had he still lived, Papang would have complained. So like me, he would have muttered, to leave only one stick and also take the matches away.
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