I was at Wits on Saturday evening. The sky was clouded over and there was something biting at me in the wind. My friends, Mark and Joaquim, and I brave the freshly chilled world for a smoke. I have forgotten my jacket, a massive grey trench coat but it’s too late to go back inside. My friends already have cigarettes in their mouths. It’s only then that we realise that we don’t have a lighter.
I rub my hands together and I can feel my skin numbing into stone. We ask a few people if they have a lighter. They’re about the same age as us and they walk quickly and calmly like they must not let anyone know that they are as cold as us. No one has a lighter and they say, “no,” in a way that is small, mute and rude. My friends and I walk away from the interaction like the guilty smokers we are. By the time we work up the courage to ask someone else, the sky has gotten significantly darker and it drowns us in deep purple hues. Despite that, the air seems milky bright.
We approach two people, a man and a woman. Joaquim speaks to them. The man nods and digs in his pockets only to realise that he doesn’t have the lighter he thought he did. He turns to the woman and her hands scramble in her handbag and she pulls out a cheap, plastic blue lighter. She hands it to me and it’s the first time I really look at her face. She’s about middle aged with dark, dyed hair to her shoulders and warm eyes but there’s something off. It takes me a while to realise what.
And then, oh, she’s not a woman.
Her hands are incredibly fine and frail but there’s something delicately masculine about the lines on her knuckles. Her nails are manicured and clear. clean. She wears a slimming trench coat. It’s a bit like mine except the colour is wine red.
I don’t remember her face that well, but I remember her hands. They were so delicate, like vines of glass skin wrapped around brittle bone. Her life is in her hands, I thought.
I light my cigarette and my friends do the same. It’s all very brief but it awkwardly takes too long and when its done, we say our thanks and go our separate ways.
I look back at them and watch their receding backs. They walk like intellectuals and hold hands like lovers.