“You know that smoking is a bad habit.” James smiled at Samatha showing his tobacco stained teeth. He walked over to her in the parking lot of the apartment building and stood next to her.
“I know. I know. But, it is a hard habit to break. I’ve been smoking on and off since I was 15. Want a puff?” Samatha asked, winking at James.
James took the lit cigarette from Samatha and took a long drag. He passed it back to her and she did the same.
“So, what are you doing out here on a cold winter’s night besides smoking?” James asked, pulling his collar on his jacket closer to his neck.
“Just thinking. It’s funny that when I need to think about something I come outside, smoke and think. What about you?” Samatha asked.
“The same. I guess. My wife is leaving me.” James said.
Samatha looked at the ground and then took another drag from her cigarette and passed it back to James. She really didn’t know what to say. She was in almost the same situation about a year ago but it was not her husband. She decided just to listen.
“At least I think she is going to leave me.” James continued. “She told me that she had enough. She needs to find herself. Whatever that means.” James said.
“Oh, I’m sorry. “ Samatha managed to say in between smoking.
“Not that I didn’t know something was wrong. I kept asking, Hernia, what was wrong but she would always look at me with those sad brown eyes and say nothing. I kept trying to find out but she would never say. Then she made a comment that now that the kids were either in college or married, that it was time for her to do what she wanted to do in life. She had been a wife and a mother for over 30 years and now it was her turn. I told her that I was going to retire in a few years and then we could spend more time together. You know, take a trip or something. I know she has always wanted to go on a cruise and I figured that we could do that. But, she said that is now what she means.” James explained.
“Maybe she wants to do something just for herself. I went through that a while back. I took a long hard look at my life and decided that I was not living the life I wanted. I gave up my dreams a long time ago and I wanted to do at least one thing I dreamed about when I was younger. Maybe she is going through something similar.” Samatha said as she passed James a fresh cigarette.
“You are probably right. But, I think she is going to leave me to do it.” James said, lighting up the fresh cigarette.
“What happened to you?” James asked Samatha.
“Well, that is a long story.” She said,
“I got time. I got nothing but time. “ James laughed.
Samatha sat down on the hood of her car which they were standing in front of. James leaned next to her. Samatha took a long deep breath, passed James the cigarette and she looked up at the stars.
“Well, remember that I told you that I had a younger sister but we have a complicated relationship?” Samatha asked James.
“I do remember that. You told me that about a year after you moved next door. I always wanted to know how it was so complicated but I figured that was none of my business. Families are complicated for sure.” James said, passing the cigarette back to Samatha.
“Yeah, they don’t get any more complicated than me and my sister. I guess it all started when we were growing up. See, she was the youngest. There was our oldest brother, Shawn, then I was next and then our other brother, Nick, and then my sister, Sundra. Sundra was the baby of the family and you know how the babies are treated. Everyone wants to cater to the baby. Well, in my family they did. That didn’t bother me much until we were both college age. I was 19 and she was 17. I always wanted to do hair. I knew I had a knack for doing hair and make up. So, my mom encouraged me to go to beauty school, that is what they called it back then. I enrolled and was well on my way to getting my license. But, when Saundra graduated from high school my parents used the money they were giving to me to help me with school and gave it to her. Apparently they had decided that her art degree was more important than anything I could ever do. So, there I was in class having to borrow the littlest things that I needed like combs and brushes from other students. After a while I got embarrassed and dropped out. I did not want to tell the instructor I couldn’t afford a comb. So, I dropped out, got married a few years later and she continued on in school and got her art degree. Her degree was pretty pointless to her because she met her husband in her senior year, got married and became pregnant two minutes after she got married and was 9 months pregnant on her graduation day. She never worked in any field regarding art. She became a teacher. Of course my parents helped finance that too.”
“Looks like you got left out a lot. I feel you.” James said, dropping the cigarette on the ground and stomping it out with his foot. He offered Samatha another one but she declined. He lit up his now third cigarette and leaned back a little more on the car so his back was touching it now. He took a slow long drag and blew out the smoke and waited for Samatha to continue.
Samatha adjusted her body on the car and pulled her coat tighter on her body.
“Well, after we were married and on our own things, believe it or not, things got better between us. Our kids were born three years apart from each other and had the boys and I had the girls. We both had three kids. I had the two girls and a boy and she had all three boys. A few years into her marriage her husband started cheating and he cheated all through the marriage. She would call me up sometimes at midnight to tell me that Aronold had not come home and she saw his car on some street and believed he had a girlfriend on that block. She wanted me to go on a stake out with her and that one stake out led to many more over the years. I really didn’t want to spy on her cheating husband but after all she was my sister so I went along with it. What I didn’t know is that although he was cheating he had a bigger influence on her than anyone thought.” Samatha said.
“You sure you don’t want a drag from this cigarette?” James asked.
“No, not right now. I will pass.” Samatha said.
Samatha’s brown eyes looked downward. She counted the cigarette butts on the ground and reached down to pick them up. She hated litter and was raised to clean up after herself so she did. She walked to the trash can a few feet away and tossed them. She walked back to her little green car and leaned back on the hood next to James.
“So, that is how complicated it is?” James asked.
“Somewhat. As I said Sundra’s husband had more influence than we thought. One day she found out that he was fooling around with this woman who was a nurse at the doctor’s office he would go to. Apparently, he told her, Saundra, that he had back issues and he was seeing this doctor across town. One day she followed him and found out he was also seeing the nurse. What she didn’t know was the nurse was causing him problems. See Arnold, was on the city council and he was running for mayor. The nurse told him that if he didn’t give her money, like a pay off, I guess, she was going to tell everyone who would listen about their affair.”
“No, dam. That’s some Real Housewives mess.” James laughed.
“Tell me about it. This was way before reality shows were even a thought. So, Arnold decided that the nurse had to go. He was not going to pay her off. Thing is that he didn’t want to get his hands dirty so he had to convince someone else to do it.” Samatha said.
“Don’t tell me. He convinced your sister?” James asked.
“Yes, and not only her.” Samatha said.
“No, not you too?” James asked.
“No, not me. I would never hurt anyone. But, they knew someone who would.” Samatha said.
James puffed on the cigarette and looked at Samatha with wide eyes.
“Their youngest son, Pete. Pete was a young criminal with all kinds of problems. He was full of rage and had committed some crimes like burglary. He broke into the school and stole some computers and other stuff and he would break into houses and steal TV’s and computers, phones, and anything else he could steal. But, instead of getting him help they did the worst thing that they could. They enlisted his help in a crime that there was no coming back from. A crime that would haunt him for the rest of his life.” Samatha said.
“Oh damn.” James said as he turned his body to face Samatha. They were face to face now.
“I won’t go into all the gory details but the nurse was beaten almost beyond recognition and left for dead. She didn’t die though. She lived and the cops figured out who did it and why about a year later. Arnold, and Pete went to jail. Arnold got 20 years and Pete got life. But somehow Aronold got out in ten years. I don’t know exactly why. I guess good behavior or something. By the time he got out my sister was in bad health. I used to come and see her and make sure that she was okay. That her caregiver was taking good care of her. But, when he got out all that stopped. Arnold took control of things and fired the caregiver. He would not open the door for me after that and never let her talk on the phone. I even called the cops but there was little that they could do.” Samatha said. “You know I do need that cigarette now.” She continued. “They left my sister out of it and she didn’t go to jail. I am not sure what part she played in this, if any. That’s probably the only halfway right thing he has ever done concerning my sister. I am not condoning anything that my sister may or may have contributed to this horrible crime. Don’t get me wrong.” Samatha said. “And it might be wrong of me to be glad that she didn’t go to jail but that’s how I feel right or wrong.” Samatha said as she looked at the ground again.
James passed her a fresh cigarette and lit it for her. Samatha took a puff and a deep breath after that. She didn’t exactly know why she was sharing all this with James but she also felt like this was weighing on her and she needed to tell someone. James just happened to be the one. He happened to be outside at the same time and he happened to be the only friend she had in the building. When she moved in a couple of years ago, James was the only person who made her feel welcomed. He would always say hello and he would always ask her how she was doing. And apparently he was the only one who smoked like her. He was about a foot taller than her and she always imagined that he was a basketball player in a former life. In this life he worked as an insurance agent. She called him the gentle giant.
“After numerous times of calling her and trying to go see her one day she called me. I was shocked. She called from a private number that was not her own. She sounded like herself and was telling me that she was okay but she just forgets things more and she never wanted to forget me. After a few minutes I heard Aronold in the background yelling. He was yelling at her to hang up the phone and I think he grabbed the phone out of her hand because she never even said good-bye. That was the last time I talked to her. Five years later she was dead.” Samatha wiped a tear from her eye and James handed her a handkerchief had in his pocket. James was old school and always kept a clean handkerchief in his pocket like his grandmother told him to when he was a young boy.
Samatha took the handkerchief and wiped her eyes. She took another deep breath and thanked James for the handkerchief.
“I never even went to the funeral. I didn’t even know about it.” Samatha said.
“I’m so sorry that you never got to say good-bye. That hurts.” James said.
“James, can you do me a favor?” Samatha asked.
“Yes, sure.” James said.
“I want you to make up with your wife. Let her do whatever she needs to do for herself and take care of her and her dreams. Would you do that for me?” Samatha asked.
“Most definitely. Well, Miss Samatha, I better get back inside before it starts to rain. It looks like rain.” James said, looking up at the sky.
“See you.” Samatha said.
Samatha didn’t go back inside her apartment. She got inside her car and drove to the one place she needed to be. She found the headstone of her sister at the cemetery. “Beloved mother, wife and friend.” She took out a sharpie and a piece of paper and wrote, “And beloved sister.” She blew her sister a kiss to heaven and left. As she drove home the dark clouds disappeared.