The other night I was eating with some friends at a decent Vietnamese restaurant in East London, though the décor and service were decidedly North Korean.
Anyway, at some point between our Chá Gío and our Bó lúc lác one of my friends caught the attention of another, she tapped her middle and forefinger to her lips in a V shape, the other friend nodded.
‘Oh no, smokers code’ I thought.
You know what I’m talking about. You are out with friends, one of the smokers looks at another and makes a v-shaped tap against their lips as if it is some discreet morse code. They get up and go outside. Leaving you and all the other non-smokers without anything to talk about.
Then they will make a point of standing in front of the restaurant’s window, looking like they are having an amazing conversation. As if the nicotine magically unlocks a deeper more rarefied and witty level conversation that was unable to be had inside.
‘Excuse us, we’re just going to pop out for a cigarette’ one of my friends said, getting up from her seat.
‘Ha, oh well, no. No you are not allowed’, I said wagging a finger in an awkward attempt to express my disapproval of this plan in a lighthearted manner.
She just smiled at me and pushed past my chair.
I persisted, ‘Oh, well, you know, if the food comes, you might miss out, because you’ll be out there smoking and we will be in here eating… the food’.
‘I’m sure it won’t come, just leave us some if it does. Rupert can you let go of me.’
‘Oh look at that, my hand got caught on your jacket’, reluctantly I let her go.
They left us.
Just as I predicted they took the conversation with them. There had been five of us seated around the already too large circular table. When they left, the smokers had opened up gaps between the remaining three of us. The restaurant was noisy. One of my companions moved his lips, saying something across the table. He might as well have been whispering from a ship, I had no idea what he was saying. But I smiled and nodded in agreement.
Silence resumed. I watched the smokers through the fish tank in the window. One of them threw her head back in laughter, callous, ugly laughter.
‘Screw this’, I said to myself, ‘smokers code is bullshit’
‘What?’ my fellow non-smoker called across the table.
I pushed out my chair and made my way towards the door.
The smokers stopped talking as I approached them.
‘Hey guys’, I said, ‘mind if I join you?’
‘Didn’t know you smoked Rupert’
‘Really?’, I lied, ‘gosh I love smoking, I will smoke just about anything. But you know, I keep it down low,’ I leaned in, lowering my voice, ‘”the smoking-Nazis” right?’ and pointed at the two inside, they were watching us through the fish tank.
I patted my pockets, ‘oh no, I must have smoked all my cigarettes today, could I have one of yours?’
My friend held out her packet, I slid out a smoke. She held out her lighter. I placed the cigarette’s tip in the flame but it wouldn’t light.
‘It goes in your mouth Rupert’ she said with a raised eyebrow
‘Yeh, I know’, I lied again, ‘this makes it… stronger’.
I inhaled it and began hacking, little puffs of smoke came out with each cough.
My eyes watering, I wheezed, “ah how good is smoking? So what are we talking about? The meaning of life?” Holding the cigarette with both hands I inhaled again, resulting in a particularly violent coughing fit.
As I regained my composure, I noticed one of my friends hold up her hand to her mouth and make an eating gesture to our other friend. The other friend nodded.
“Hey! What are you doing?” I demanded, “what was that gesture?”
“Excuse us, we are just going to head in and have dinner”
“Wait,” I protested, “what about smokers code?”
“Rupert can you let go of me”, my friend yanked her jacket from my grip.
I stood alone drawing back on my cigarette hard, attempting to finish it quickly. I gagged and tried to suppress my coughs, ‘god, it’s revolting’ I said, before taking another puff. I watched my friends through the fish tank, engaged in great conversation. Someone said something and pointed at me, they all threw their heads back in laughter, callous, ugly, laughter.