I am walking down the road at a steady pace.
Busy road. London, late morning. Ahead of me is a woman in high heels, red jeans and matching red jacket. Her shoes are going clack –clack- clack, like a duck song. Beautiful woman. Her pace is similar to mine, if not faster and self confident. There is one problem, though. She is blowing smoke my way and adding to the menace of London’s polluted air, I can hardly breathe.
“Many women are smoking, nowadays!” I moan to the other lady strolling beside me. Steady and springy and also click -click clicking her shoes.
“So what?” She brushes my question as though an unwelcome fly hovering over a cup of honey.
We carry on.
Cigarette smoker ahead finally throws the little stub of her Marlboro on the pavement. The piece glows for a few seconds before ebbing. Lady in red jeans keeps on going. Relief. No more smoke whiffs. We are now at the bus stop.
Next bus shall take at least 10 minutes, the timetable says. These days bus stops across London have these computer generated schedules which make life a lot easier. Digital technology. Really cool. Time to think. Make brief quick phone calls and texts. Or glare at the grey passing clouds and listen to frequent police sirens zooming past. But again another lady two meters away has just lit a cigarette. The wind blows it right into us. Yuck!
“What?” Asks my lady companion.
I nod towards a short woman with a splendid hair style.
“You like her?”
Grunt. Scowl. Chuckle.
Green dress with black stripes. Matching green and black handbag. In her twenties. Executive look. Classy.
Like attacking bees the wind keeps on blowing her smoking fumes. A school kid beside me sneezes twice. Victim of passive smoking.
I look at my lady companion.
“Free world, free country,” she gasps.
Our bus arrives. Three minutes later we are seated comfortably.
“Tell me Marianne.”
Marianne is an assumed name of a working colleague. Terrific, intelligent, good looking, great to work with. And talk. Marianne makes a figure eight manoeuvre with her neck since her long hair keeps blocking her eyes.
I ask: “Why are so many beautiful women smoking in London?”
She tightens her lips. “Oh. I never noticed.”
She is quiet for a moment. Women tend to view things differently from men. I guess she is letting my generalised opinion sink in.
“I don’t think it is only beautiful women smoking. I think many, many people smoke in this city. It is like a culture.”
Marianne carries on: “Well. Yes. I don’t know. But you blokes don’t like seeing women smoking. Worse if it is an attractive lady. This is 2014 not 1950. Am I wrong?”
I say: “When I was growing up in Africa, only prostitutes and loose women smoked. It was considered low and filthy.”
She replies: “I think it was like that throughout the world. But...let me ask you. What about men? Was it OK for them to smoke?”
I say nothing.
Marianne: “That was a sexist and chauvinist world. It was alright for men to smoke but not women?”
I say: “Smoking should not be a measure of the politics of equality. Bad paradigm. Smoking breeds bad breath, smelly skin, stinking hair and clothes plus it is a free ticket to lung cancer.”
Bus arrives at destination.
As we exit we are joined by an older lady.
We chime: “Hello.”
Older lady says: “I heard your conversation in the bus. I used to smoke but stopped twenty years ago.”
She looks older than both of us; and if my quick superficial analysis may permit to say, still attractive. Loud voice. Fearless.
She booms: “I will tell you something. We women stress to keep up. I began smoking because of peer pressure. I was only fifteen, and most of my school mates smoked. Early 1960s. It was considered clever and grown up and Hollywood. Smoking is very addictive. Every time you have a strong emotion, you crave a puff. It can be an argument, a meal, a problem or something exciting. All prompts a fag. Sometimes you smoke because you are relaxed, or bored. Very hard to explain. And it is quite enjoyable.”
We join a queue for the next bus.
I say: “I still don’t know why so many beautiful women are smoking.”
Lady chuckles: “Let me tell you why. It is partly a reflection of how far women have come. We are no longer the sweet, meek housewives hiding in kitchens. We are living the man’s shit world now. We women can be fickle. When I was young I did not see that. You are too busy trying to keep up...you are burning inside. You want to survive. Ciggies also help losing weight.”
What about cancer, bad smells, destroyed skin?
Bus has come. No answer. Got to rush...
Author posing with London professional models who have nothing to do with this article.
-Also published in Citizen Tanzania...on May 16th, 2014.
All pics by F Macha