Below is Fall 2020 Creative Writing work by Tana LaKale:
With a tone of nervousness, she opened the tobacco bag and rolled a cigarette with a strength that could be perceived as anger, but it was just part of the constant anxiety. Before she started rolling it, she was lighting it. With her rigid body supported on her crossed legs, she let the hand with the cigarette work over the table unraveling the ashes formed by the constant travel of the cigarette to her mouth and back to the ashtray.
Over and over again.
I have always seen that ashtray there. It was this kind of complex ashtray that you can flush like a toilet, so the stubs from the minutes before disappearing. I think they have this kind of ashtray so they can forget the amount smoked that day, but unfortunately, the bank statement doesn’t lie.
That house always smelled like smoke at that point of the year. Going there to work and study with them forced me to do maths rather than my usual tasks. How many cigarettes can you smoke within a page of Constitutional Law? Nearly five. How many cigarettes can you smoke within an intensive study day? About forty? A part of me was disgusted about that constant flavor of old-man bar; the other enjoyed the fact that I didn’t feel the need to smoke since I did it via absorption, and sometimes I even felt that without smoking a single drag, I was smoking too much.
Everything on her was like a little choreography. Meanwhile, the right was distracted with the table-to-mouth ride, the left was being served as an appetizer in the seconds that the other one was distracted by the ashtray. And all that happened meanwhile her eyes devoured whatever she was studying that day.
I never understood how someone that little could smoke that much, eat that bad and then work that much. She had been working in restaurants and bars for as long as she could remember. She loved it but it burned her. I guess that, as in everything she did, the need to burn was behind it, to consume, ration all the energy she had and put it somewhere useful, but all that excess went straight to the ashtray. I imagine she wasn’t eating more or better because all the excess energy eating would give her would make her explode. I could see it in her eyes when she studied, when she smoked, and when she was getting ready to go out.
I always want to see her calm when I was with her, and I knew a part of her also wants that too, even though she doesn’t know how to be calm, and neither do I. I know what people might think of who she is or what she does, but I know she is proud to be where she is, because when you have to work for everything you have, sometimes a cigarette feels like a right.
Jesus. What time is it? Is it night or are the windows closed? Where’s the phone? Madre mía. 2 lost calls. “Mom”, “Naima”. Great. 18:38. Good morning. Quick check: need to brush my teeth, Jesus Christ. How can three hours of sleep turn your mouth into a farm? Let’s stand up, let’s see if I remember how to walk. I need some air. Let’s go outside. I think I am late. My apartment is not enjoyable at this hour of the day. Too cold, too silent, too dark… At least outside it’s not as cold, the kebabs and the kitchen of the restaurants bring a weird sweaty flavor to the environment that makes you feel like you are in a bed full of warm blankets. It is weird how good you can feel in a place where horrible things happen all the time. Well, the world is a horrible place, let’s start there, and…
A: Hello? I am coming. Wait for me at the fountain. Yes, I told you I am coming. Santa Paciencia. Five minutes I said.
Well, that, the world is a place full of horrors, and… and they don’t have ‘pipas’ in the Bazar. Great.
N: What is wrong with you? I have been waiting for you since five o’clock. Why do you have a five-fucking-hundred euros phone if you don’t know how to check the hour?
A: Do you have ‘pipas’?
N: What are pipas? Are you listening to me?
A: What do you want me to say? Sorry, Habibi. I fell asleep, I had a weird dream. I think it was because I slept with the TV on and I was just hearing ‘Sálvame’ in my head. I don’t know how I can sleep hearing all those witches screaming.
How you don’t know what ‘pipas’ are? You don’t have them down there? It’s this snack of sunflower seeds you know?
N: No, I don’t know. What is Sálvame though?
A: Let’s have some, Jesus Christ, ‘Sálvame’, that gossip show they play on TV after lunch where there are all these people shouting to each other talking about other people’s business, you know?
N: Oh, I think I heard about it. What was the dream about?
A: Do you know that square in the Gothic? With the church and the fountain? The one where we were the other day.
N: Where the drunk guy was singing? Yeah, and what about it?
A: I told my grandmother we were there and she told me that that place used to be a pagan church of Mitra, and it used to be a well where the Christians were thrown into back then.
N: Do you have cash for the pipas?
A: I don’t know, I dreamt about it like it was the entrance of hell and I was just going around, like us now. And I think the sounds of the TV got into my mind and I was just hearing laughs, and shouts, and the crying of other people, but I was just worried about finding an open Kebab place because Joaquin Costa’s was closed, and I was annoyed about that.
N: I love that kind of dog Look at it. It’s huge…
A: And I was just walking when I passed in front of the square because I wanted some water and I just saw the well that was a black hole to hell where people were being thrown, and some kind of priest giving moral lessons about God knows what. I was seeing all the suffering and blood and desperation and I just turned the corner because I couldn’t go through the square, obviously, and I just continued walking when I saw the kebab shop behind Via Laietana and then I don’t remember more, but the thing is that maybe at that time people would get used to seeing people thrown into a well, and not everyone would be constantly overwhelmed about that, don’t you think? I think it’s weird how easily we get used to drama. I believe there’s a part of us that enjoys it. Doesn’t it happen to you?
N: Sorry, what? And why didn’t you turned off the TV to sleep?
Tana LaKale’s work is on display in the following sections of our Fall 2020 Show: