You must take care, he says, to make sure the bowl does not overheat. It will burn your fingers.
She takes a drag and coughs.
Who smokes the pipe these days anyway?
Wear your long coat, she says.
With the pipe, you look like an aristocrat.
And use a matchstick to light the tobacco - he begins again, as if he didn't hear her - always use a matchstick.
She kisses him, his saliva flows into her mouth. There is salt, like there is salt in every intimate fluid of the human body. She takes it in and savours it. But the tobacco makes it bitter.
A unique mixture of Virginia Burley, Maryland, and Black Cavendish, topped with a Cream Caramel Flavour and blended with hand-rubbed Virginia Flake.
Yes, caramel, that's how you smell now. She finds him through the cloud of smoke. It covers his dark face sufficiently enough that she finds in it mystery, but not enough, that she can be winsomely lost.
Her fingers recoil - the pain in her finger like the sting of scorpions. He kisses it.
I told you to make sure the bowl doesn't overheat, he says. This is the same bowl that held scars because a friend - in his drunkenness - burnt it with a Zippo while he was asleep; its rim - now black - as though the kohl rimmed eyes of a woman of the subcontinent. She wasn't of the subcontinent, she could not understand this simile.
Because he was always lost in the eyes of someone else, he did not notice the eyes of the women who loved him, or the eyes that wanted to love him, or the eyes that just wanted a fuck. Along Kensington Road, the cold liked to seem more dignified than the other streets of London. From Knightsbridge he would walk to the Royal Albert Hall. He was wearing his long black coat. Another woman who wasn't of the subcontinent, but beautiful - were they green eyes? blond or brunette? - stopped him. The clear twang of the British was in her tongue - did he not want to taste it?
Do you have a lighter? The woman asked. He noticed her smile beneath a tree and lamppost. But he was preoccupied. All he wanted to do was sit with her when Handel's Messiah was performed by five hundred beautiful voices.
No, he said. But she stood still; perhaps, if she saw him checking his coat pockets again, she would leave. It was getting late. He unbuttoned to pat his coat. The London cold, like a whetted knife, sliced through him and froze his heart.
Unfortunately, I haven't one. (A lover would say, nobody talks like you anymore. Ruthlessly polite; even in his reproach. But the polite do not acquire politeness, so there was blood with broken glasses. The amber liquid coating the marble floor in one part, the blood of two brothers, on another.)
Really? she seemed annoyed. Really?
This beautiful green eyed blond, or brunette, did not understand that he only smoked his pipe by the Thames - or in St. James' Park - with unkempt strangers. He did not need to carry matchboxes elsewhere. She did not understand that he did not want a fuck, he wanted love. Maybe she wanted love too but there were two tickets meant for old lovers in his pocket, not a lighter to kindle a new lover. Years later, he would wonder, if he should have taken her number.
When she finally came, she came in red. Her eyes coated with kohl. Her dress revealing her beauty. The five hundred voices that night did not matter. And when they sung Hallelujah everyone stood up because everyone did in Europe like the patriotic in the subcontinent when they sung Jana Gana Mana. He looked at her - only her. The eyes of the subcontinent drew him. They parted at Green Park station - the Station of Separation.
Years later, he lit his pipe in the room with whiskey in his hand. She was there with him, yet she was not. She noticed him; her subcontinent eyes - full and beautiful and alive with all the intricacies that made the people of that land the subject of awe - flashed at him. She had forgotten how she adored the things he did that no one else she knew did - who smoked the pipe these days anyway? But he did not heed those kohl rimmed eyes anymore, for the love was dead in his heart.
What? He asked.
No, nothing. I felt like looking at you. Sing? So he sang a thumri that was not meant for her. Yaad piya ki aaye - the memory of my beloved returns.
If I ever fall in love with you again, she said, I'd fall for your voice this time. His voice, rather than his prose. He smiled and gulped the last of the whiskey.
Ernest would say much later to Scott as he lit his dear friend's cigarette - later than the subcontinent women, later than the non-subcontinent women - that the lilt of a man's pen changes after too many a drink. After too many a woman.