It is hot outside as I sit on the curb, sweaty and red from an hour of working out. For the past fifteen minutes all I have been able to think about is a cigarette. I reach into my bag, rummage around for a lighter. A guard spots the cigarette in my hand and comes up to me, a look of concern in his eyes. He tells me if I smoke my blood will turn black. I laugh and tell him it’s okay and then proceed to light it anyway.
He hovers but I try to ignore him, taking long drags and staring at the road.
‘An apple’ he says, I should eat an apple instead. I assure him I eat plenty of apples.
‘Baaqi aapki marzi hai Baji, hum aap ko siraf bataa saktay hain’ I am now irked, he has begun to sound like my father or even an overly imposing cousin.
Would he ever tell a man not to smoke? I am certain he wouldn’t. Men never tell each other what to do. But somehow this complete stranger feels he has a claim on me and my bad habits. A right to tell me what not to do.
Sharing public space is tricky sometimes because public space is not perfect neither can it ever be. But that doesn’t mean we shrink back into private spaces where people cannot tell us what to do. It means we need to stay exactly where we are, on the curbs and roadsides doing things men do everyday and challenging those who say we cannot!
Have shorts. Will smoke.