Chapter 1:

The Start of Something New

The Angel Who Smells of Cigarettes


Never knew my arm could bend that way until that night. My shoulder popped right out of its socket, hanging on for dear life on the railing.

Didn’t feel a thing.

At the other end of my dislocated limb was a girl about my age. My neighbour, in fact. She just tried to kill herself. Not sure if she was happy or pissed that I stuffed a cork in her plan. It was hard to gauge her expression when she was dangling by a noodle fifty feet in the air. With a harrumph, I yanked her back up the rooftop.

Designer makeup complete with eyebags and dried-up tears—she was a mess, alright. Her face was deadpan, a splitting image of the employee tag photo she had for a necklace. Poor thing…she worked at a black company like me.

“You okay?”

Her words were stolen straight from my lips.

“I’ve seen better.”

“But your shoulder…”

Hmm…should I snap it back in? It didn’t hurt though. Plus, there were only a few more hours till I had to clock in. This certainly qualified for a sick day.

Sigh. Had to look good in front of a lady after all. Grabbing my forearm, I slid the joint back where it belonged.

“You should still get yourself checked,” she insisted.

“Hi, Pot. I’m Kettle. You’re black.”

Her stony facade crumbled with a smirk. But just as quickly, she recomposed herself, “No, I’m being serious.”

“Nah, it feels great,” I boasted as I stretched. “Think it got rid of my carpal tunnel, too. Relax. If it hurts later, nothing a good smoke can’t fi—”

Crap. My pack must’ve dropped when I tried to save her.

“I’ll buy one for you. As thanks.”

Her expression was unreadable. Not sure if she was being sarcastic.

She walked to the lift. I quickly followed suit.

“Do you even know what pack I get?”

“Yup. You smell like my dad.”

As the lift door opened wide, so too did my eyes. That was definitely an insult, but my face went red at the thought of her sniffing me. My eyes averted to the floor number screen above, where the number “4” was missing.

Waiting inside, we stood there in awkward silence. That was when the whiff of her perfume really hit me. Such a sweet aroma, so full of life. To think that she just tried ending it all…

The god of death had a twisted sense of humour, it seemed.

The thought of asking her, “What’s wrong?” melted away. Didn’t want her mind to wander back there or open a wound. Time would be a much better healer than me, a fellow crewmate on the boat named “Depression”.

Thankfully, there was a 24/7 convenience store right outside our apartment building, the best friend of any corporate slave. No words needed to be exchanged; I knew where she was going to buy me cigarettes.

Stepping outside into the night alleviated my nerves a little. She was guarded as ever. I wasn’t sure how to initiate small talk with someone who could’ve been a corpse just a few minutes ago. At the very least, since we were going there, maybe I should buy a few cans of beer, too, as a celebration of her survival.

We bought what we wanted from the store. She waited for me outside, sitting on a concrete wheel stop in the empty parking lot. I sat next to her, the bright lights from the store contrasted with the dark of the night, illuminating one half of her face and casting a shadow over the other.

She held the pack that I wanted in her hand. I was about to receive her kind gesture and offer drinks in return, only to be met with:

“Could you lend me your light?”

She wasn’t a smoker. Far from it. Judging from what she told me about her dad, I knew that she hated smoking and the stench that it carried.

It felt like a mistake—handing her my lighter. I shouldn’t have done that. But at that moment, it seemed she needed comfort more than anything. She lit it up, taking her first puff. As expected, her lungs vehemently denied the tar-stained waft, coughing it out.

“I thought you hated smoking, so why?”

“Since I couldn’t kill myself quickly, figured the slow way would do the trick.”

“Sorry.”

“For what?”

“For saving you, I guess.”

“Don’t be. Tonight’s just not the night for me.”

“So you’re gonna try again?”

“And you’ll save me again?”

I froze. Who was I to control her life, or death, for that matter? I didn’t know if this was a cry for help, or someone who had made up their mind.

She took another puff, but this time, she accepted the smoke. She stared into the distance, almost as if she was looking at someone who wasn’t there.

“You know,” she broke the silence. “If I die, it’ll make your life easier, right?”

“Huh?”

“I mean, if I die, the rental price will go down, so—”

“The hell are you on about?”

She started laughing. That was when I realised that she was telling a joke—then laughing at it. What a dork. Never expected gallows humour from her, but at least she was smiling.

Through her laughter, I saw who she really was for once. Broken. At wit’s end. It was like her soul had left her, and the body was lost, not knowing what to do.

And in some ways, I saw myself in that, too.

“Sorry,” she apologised. “You must think I’m insane or something.”

“Nah. Don’t be sorry for that. Be sorry for smoking my cigs without asking.”

“Oh, I’m really—”

“Relax, I was just messing with you. Here.” I handed her a can of beer. We even toasted our drinks.

“Aren’t you worried?” I asked, “I mean, here you are, drinking with a stranger in the middle of the night.”

“You’re not a stranger. You already know where I live, anyway. Plus, you’re a cool guy.”

“Cool enough to make you reconsider suicide?”

“Hah! Maybe.”

Perhaps she said that in jest, but that made me happy. I didn’t know how lonely I was until I talked to her. Maybe that was how she felt, too. Deep down, we just wanted someone to be by our side. Whether it be at the height of life or the end of it.

Underneath the social masks we put on, we both wanted to end it all. But I still had hope. This feeling, this moment—I didn’t want it to go away.

Her perfume, now mixed with death’s stench of cigarettes, had a sickly sweet scent. Both alive and dead at the same time. For some reason, it felt just right. It smelled like home.

“Hey…” I looked right at her. “Will I be seeing you again?”

“Of course you will. I mean, you are my neighbour.”

“I meant, will I get the chance to talk to you again?”

She looked at me. Sadness and happiness laced both her eyes.

“I want to talk to you again, too.”

“Then, if you ever feel like ending it all again, can you tell me?”

Once again, she was staring at something. Something only she could see.

“Yeah. You’d be there for me, right?”

“Promise.”

Our pinkies crossed. It was a promise made by two sad, sad people. But we weren’t lonely anymore. And that was reassuring.

Even though it was a brief encounter, I felt warmth in her cold, empty shell. I didn’t want to see her die. Maybe, just maybe, I could save her. Was it my selfishness? Or was there something more?

But at the very least, we became friends. And no matter what happens, I’d be there for her.

Memora
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