karma

In this town, you can trace the discourteous smell of cheap cigarettes to the reservation bargain brands like Cheyenne sold at the Paiute’s tribal mini mart and smoke shop downtown, where you could buy looseys or get them by the pack or carton.

My emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend loyally purchased the cheapo brands — polishing off nearly a pack a day. Same goes for a close relative of mine when he was doing drug rehab in a secluded spot upstate. All or most of the residents there did the same, in fact, and I’d see them outside, in groups of two and threes, pulling on them and inhaling the course smoke during brief breaks from their rigid schedule of duties.

But the putrid smell on this particular morning came from where two men spoke animatedly near a dumpster. The men looked like they were in their thirties and were wedged near a car and a concrete wall in a sunlit parking lot on a Saturday near a small sangha building, which I passed several times a week during my solitary morning stroll. The lot was normally still and quiet.

Initially suspecting the voices were coming from the dumpster itself, I walked by to investigate, and one of the men looked at me sidelong as if I had seen something I shouldn’t have or heard something I shouldn’t have. I quickly continued on my way without so much as a good morning.

“Hey,” I then heard one of them say loudly after I had made it halfway through the parking lot. “You got a light?”

“No,” I said, shaking my head apologetically. “Sorry.”

“Hey,” he said. “Can I talk to you?”

I looked at him as if I didn’t understand the question.

“You got a minute?” he asked.

He started walking toward me, and I discreetly pulled my cellphone from a small pocket on the front of my purse.

“Hi,” I said, smiling apprehensively when he approached me.

“My friend and I would like to have a word with you,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I have to go.”

“Where are you off to?” he asked.

“I have to go to work,” I lied.

“Well, we got a proposition for you,” he said, smiling.

I turned to look at his friend, who was leaning against a pretty decent-looking car. It was a Monte Carlo — an older model — with a thick red stripe across the bottom and a matching vinyl roof. He opened the driver’s side front door, reached inside and pulled a cigarette from his pack. He placed it between his lips, staring at his friend and I.

The other guy was standing just outside my personal space, his eyelids slit against the sun as he awaited my response. My arms were crossed, and I shifted them and placed my right hand on my hip, tilting my head toward my right shoulder and looking at him dead-on, then looking at his friend.

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