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‘What’s the matter,’ asked Vinay lazily, bringing his slender fingers holding the thin cigarette closer to his lips to take one deep puff before exhaling with a loud sigh, as his face momentarily hid behind a cover of white cigarette smoke.
A sense of contentment took over as he stared at the smoke for a moment before moving his eyes back to Sanil, whose face still appeared gloomy.
‘Take a puff,’ he offered, stretching his hands towards him, his middle finger almost touching his grey sweater, as he nodded his head to deny the offer.
‘If you don’t tell me, how will I know,’ asked Vinay, his hands stretching back towards his mouth for another inhale, the eyes too moved to stare at the tip of the stick, where enough ash has gathered and needed a slight tap to break off.
He tapped it quickly before looking at Sanil again, who now stared at the cigarette in his hand, the smoke wafting above slowly as he followed it to stare at the darkening sky.
The place had become colder, and with Sun about to leave, Sanil knew he doesn’t have enough time and need to speak up. The top of the large rock where they sat, with a panoramic view of the hills and forest around, was itching to turn scary soon.
‘I saw Prashant talking with her,’ he stuttered as he spoke, while Vinay inhaled another waft of smoke, pushing it down his lungs, nodding his head to show he was listening.
‘They were also smiling, not slowly but very loudly, as if they don’t care,’ said Sanil, adding ‘loudly’ as an afterthought while trying to retrieve his memory to verbalize the event exactly as it occurred.
Suddenly, Vinay, who stretched slothfully while enjoying the company of his cigarette, stood up, an inch taller than Sanil. He gazed at him in the eyes and clasped his hand; the other hand was still holding the almost burned-up stick.
‘From tomorrow, he won’t be able to talk with any girl,’ he announced firmly, his gaze now directed at the blinking eyes of Sanil, whose face suddenly broke into a subtle smile.
‘Now, since you have told me everything, you forget about it now.’
‘Take it, take a puff and be a man,’ exhorted Vinay, stretching his hands holding the cigarette with 2 or 3 puffs left towards Sanil again.
Sanil stared at the burning stick, a smell he always hated but somehow didn’t complain about it as he suddenly began considering himself a ‘man’ now.
The young teenager too extended his hand, quickly snapping the cigarette from Vinay’s light grip to inhale 2-3 large puffs, without a pause.
Vinay, who was staring at the roseate sky, turned around quickly, visibly shocked at seeing what Sanil was doing.
Vinay quickly took the stick away from him, while his other hand now hung around Sanil’s shoulders.
Continuous coughing followed as Sanil had to sit on the rock to regain his normal breathing.
Vinay, however, didn’t help, letting Sanil recover on his own.
‘You are a ‘Man’ now,’ declared Vinay.
As the two teenaged boys got up to leave, there was a smile on Sanil’s face.
He knew he had become a ‘man’ and Vinay too has confirmed it.
Vinay looked at Sanil intermittently, with pride as they walked back.
There is another one in the gang now, he thought, while patting Sanil on the back.