One cigarette

I wake up in hell. My back hurts. My back always hurts since I came here. Something happened in Kuwait when I was dragging equipment through the sand in a windstorm. A ripping in the muscles I think. Now the endless hurt. Groaning, I rise from the bed, pull on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. I grab the pack off the night stand. Cheap Iraqi cigarettes. I find it ironic that I am pulling little streams of smoky death into my lungs daily that are marked with the brand name Miami.

This trailer park I live in is a very different world from Miami. Nothing I’ve seen in Iraq resembles Miami. Here I sit, pulling on my cigarette named Miami. All I can think about is the nature of death. In the months I’ve been here, I’ve seen it fall from the sky at random. The realization that there is no god becomes stronger with every moment I spend in this place.

I take a drag and ponder it. The idea of a just and loving god is ridiculous to me. The idea of any intercessory supernatural force is asinine. Here I am, in the middle of a war, trying to make sense of the universe. Fatalistically pondering the blue sky above and the waves of heat radiating off the paving blocks under my feet. The world around me is peaceful for the moment. I am keenly aware of how deceptive the moment is.

We are fragile. I am surrounded by chaos and a city in which slow, murderous retribution is playing out on a daily basis. Murder squads roam the streets at night. Men in trucks position themselves as close as they can to where I live and lob mortars into the neighborhood, hoping to kill. They don’t know I exist, but they hate me nonetheless. If they could take a drill to my head and make me suffer, they would. Every day I am exposed to the savage effects of the worst behavior that humanity can dream up. Rape. Torture. Outright murder. Most of it is being done in the name of god. The cigarette’s vapors fill my lungs. I relish the calm, this sanctuary of reflection under a sun we all share, and upon whose light we depend for continued survival. I think about how humans used to worship that sun and call it a god. There have been many gods in the history of this species. As far as I can tell, every one was invented to fulfill a desire to be more important than the inventor actually is or was.

This planet is a backwater in the universe. The universe is a cold, uncaring place.

All the good and bad things that happen on Sol are either cause by natural phenomena or humans. There is no supernatural force manipulating anything. Miami is only a fleeting state of mind, and I am not important.

They taught me about Jesus, who came to die for my sins, and in whom I have no faith. Legends say Jesus was hung on a cross at 33. My cross is this place, a cigarette named Miami, and the uncertainty I feel about this war that surrounds me. I can never come back from here. I will never be the same. It is already harder to laugh. Harder to talk. Harder to care about what happens next. I am numb, but the cigarette that is my cross reminds me I am still human. It is making the fingers I hold it with warm. The cigarette is almost done serving the purpose it was made for while I am still pondering whether I was made for any purpose at all.

I stub it out on the paving blocks, blow out the last cloud of smoke, and suck in another breath of Baghdad. I wonder if there is any growth I can find in existing today. Surely, there must be. My back hurts. It always hurts now. One cigarette is never enough. Life is a series of addictions.

I think about how, at some point, somewhere nearby, someone else must have been caught up in a narrative opposite mine. One that felt like heaven. I hope to myself they can hold on.


A memory for Raya.


Also published on Medium.

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The author

Pen has been writing in a professional capacity for two decades. He started his career as a combat correspondent in the U.S. Marines.

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