She stared at the box for a long time, lost in thought and memories. Her attention only returned to the real word minutes (or was it hours) later when the phone rang and she noticed it was her boyfriend. She closed the box with a decade of memories and returned it to its spot in the almirah.
He remembered the first bud that he had stored. The last bit of only the 4th of 10 cigars his uncle had gifted to him on his 18th birthday. It had taken him nearly 2 years to accept the fact that the cigar was too strong for his taste.
He could see the judgmental stand his friends and the men in his family took when he said he did not like the cigar smoking. He was often taunted, jokingly of course, about him having the tastes like the women of the family, rather than the plucky tastes they themselves had.
He kept the last bud to remind himself of his first, however small, victory of taking a stand. For be it his choice of company, his dressing, his career, it had all been decided for him till this point. He was informed of who to be seen with in public and who to interact with in private as “your company defines who you are”.
However, as brave as he was, he did not give up smoking entirely. It was a part of his conditioning growing up as man, to smoke and drink when meeting friends or family.
A few years later, at 23, he had fallen off even more by the standards of his father and friends. He had decided to be friends with a man who worked for his father till that point.
His own idea of being an author had been crushed and killed as whims of petty youth. As a man of his family, he had a lineage to carry, not waste his time in these hobbies, looking to make a career of them. How naïve could he be to even ask that of his father.
The sexual orientation of his friend was not the issue, given how this was an open, modern, understanding set of people. Oh no, the problem stemmed from the man being from humble backgrounds. Oh the shame that their son was not only friends with a petty orphan junior operations manager at one of the factories, but also was seen with him in all public events.
The family had often tried and failed to remove this friend from the guest list of all important events. Their son refused to allow it. And to think they had been understanding enough that he loved this friend, but keeping in under wraps was too much for ask for, was it?
It was after one such social event, when the guests had left and just these two friends sat and talked, that a sharp involuntary yelp altered him that something was wrong with his friend.
On coaxing, he learned that his friend had recently been having a constant full arm ache on the left side. A visit to the doctor had shown it was the first signs of the possible effects of one of their more frequent habits: Smoking.
It was at this point that he chose, for both of them, to give up smoking. They kept the buds of their last smoke along with the cigar bud, to add to the memory of his journey.
As he lay in bed contemplating life and his journey that day, he also came to terms with the fact that he could no longer hide from the real person hidden deep inside. Thus began a journey that took him 3 years and multiple psychological sessions to cover.
Finally at 26 he went into the surgery that would change his life and also rip him apart from everyone he knew except the one constant support he had all this time.
Now as she waited for her best friend turn boyfriend to pick her up for their 2nd anniversary, she couldn’t help but be grateful to everyone who had shoved their ideas of masculinity on her. For in the absence of that, she would never have come to terms with the woman she had always been but just recently become.