Paid a visit to my local coffee shop to have an outdoor lunch,  do some reading, and play around with some photography. While sipping an Irish latte and snapping some photos, the world in my head had completely consumed me. Under the assumption that my presence was unaccompanied in the tiny gated outdoor patio, my body jolted to attention at the sound of a man’s voice.

“I could take a few of those pictures for you if you’d like. That way you could actually be in them.”

“No thank you.” I laughed shakily with nervousness and humor in my tone. “I actually prefer my pictures without people in them. Thank you again for offering though.”

My embarrassment prompted the putting down of my cell phone and the reopening of Sister Sable. As my reading commenced the aroma of cigarette smoke and the distant sound of female voices filled the air. The woman working behind the counter of the shop had stepped out for a cigarette break and was having a discussion with another woman. A woman whom I believe works at the shop next door.

The gated patio, attached to the little shop of my choosing, is in between two other gated patios. The patio to the north belongs to a local brewery and to the left is another caffè. The two women were conversing in the patio adjoining the caffè. My eyes were drawn away from my book and towards the scent of the cigarette. Vaping may hold off the cravings for a twelve-year smoker. When that smell creeps into the air though, nothing will keep them at bay.

As my sight wandered the man who had spoken before also appeared. He had been seated to the left and slightly behind me before. Now he was seated more towards the end of the patio in front of me. It is warm out today with the sun, but much cooler as its rays slowly begin to drift behind the coffee shop. I assume the man had changed his position to an area of the patio still illuminated. To regain the warmth of the sun not yet hidden as that was my intention soon as well.

The two women have ended their conversation. The woman who works at the coffee shop is throwing down the remaining half of her cigarette and walking back inside. Within moments of her resuming her shift I notice the man get up from his chair. He walks over to where the women had been standing. He bends down and picks something up off of the ground. He then returns to his seat and begins fiddling with something.

To avoid the risk of being caught staring, my reading is resumed. All the while thoughts are stirring and focus is increasingly difficult. Again the air fills with the sweet smell of cigarettes. This time the scent is similar but slightly sweeter. Inadvertently my eyes again seek out the aroma.

The man is looking down now, so staring is an option. My eyes take him in, and he becomes a part of the world in my head. As the details clarify questions emerge. He is an older man. In his late fifties, maybe early sixties. He was on the patio upon my arrival and has since been in once for another cup of coffee. He is not necessarily dressed as a homeless man. Worn khaki cargo pants and a tie dye shirt are not completely uncommon functioning member attire here. In all honesty my faded sweats and T-shirt may be less becoming than the clothes this man has chosen.

The act of picking up, dissembling, and then resembling a discarded cigarette are the actions of a homeless man. Aren’t they? He has paid for coffee though, with money. He has also not asked any of the passersby for money. Upon closer observation, he too is reading. He is reading on an iPad. Is this a homeless man who just happens to own an iPad, have money to waste on coffee, and has clean clothes.

If this man isn’t homeless, why isn’t he just buying cigarettes? Maybe he is extremely thrifty. Although an iPad isn’t exactly thrifty. Maybe he is just an extremely thrifty smoker. Cigarettes are expensive, and the barista did discard at least half of that cigarette. Cigarettes are a nasty vice. Perhaps admiration is due to the person who refuses to spend money on such a thing. However, wouldn’t the admiration be due to the person who just didn’t partake in such vices at all.

Perhaps it is revulsion. Disgust at the person desperate enough to take into their bodies the discarded garbage of another person. Similar to the rat finding its dinner in the dumpster. The rat is hungry though and he needs the food to survive. This man is not hungry, he is an addict.

All the while my nostrils are tingling at the familiar burning fragrance of the cigarette. As my lungs fill with the steam from my vape, my eyes drift back to the pages of my book. It seems as though I am the addict in this situation.-Megan Groff


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