Arriving at Kelenföld Pályaudvar (Kelenfold Station) only moments after my bus left I knew I’d be waiting more than half an hour for another departure to Diósd, our village just outside of Budapest. The time and hour were of no concern to me, save my wife would be waiting and I hadn’t a thing with me to read.
Kelenfold marks the beginning, or end, of the line for a number of transport services but also marks home to number of other services as well. This combination makes for quite a spectrum of folks. Degenerates alongside business men, alongside working girls, alongside students, alongside mothers, alongside sons, alongside young lovers and in their midst I took my seat.
Watching passer’s by transition to work, to home, to play, to nowhere in particular, I saw one of the supposed degenerates rifling, through the ashtrays engineered atop the trashcans. He scavenged for the longer cigarettes in order to salvage what un-smoked tobacco might be present. Through the station’s glass sliding doors I watched him maneuver back and forth between the two cans posted there. The doors worked wonderfully, each time he passed the doors opened, letting the heat out and the cold in to us. Whenever anyone extinguished a cigarette with which they were through, he would quickly move in on the smoldering stub. He’d snatch it, examine the leftover offering, and do one of three things.
On the occasion of some still lit but not entirely spent cigarette he’d snare the stub and frantically puff in order to keep it lit. He’d smoke it right down until the even more toxic butt began to melt and smoke and burn and bubble. Then at the seeming favor of its predecessor he’d fully extinguish the now smoldering stub.
In the case it was fully extinguished but not entirely spent he’d simply place it in his coat pocket. It was a simple motion but I’d soon learn that it was not without purpose.
On the rarest of occasions he’d find only a butt with no usable, to him, tobacco. These disappointing times, to those of us watching as well, seemed an obvious let down, and visible upon the already downtrodden man’s face.
Curious about the unspent and savored stubs securely deposited in his pocket, I continued to watch this unshaven, unwashed, and unsatisfied man. From another pocket he pulled out a collection of rolling papers. Next he began to reexamine the unspent stubs in the first pocket and finding one usable he’d remove its previous paper container and filter, if they were present. I watched him sort through 6 or 7, useless to most, cigarettes. He’d rip and tear the filter and then intently remove the tobacco from its machine rolled, man smoked state. The dark pile grew in his bone white rolling paper and eventually he quit searching the pocket of stubs and began to lick and twist and roll this unused paper filled with used tobacco.
He caught me watching once, our eyes locked and I unintentionally saw deeply into this man. He was like an owl with those dark hollow eyes, especially with a beard so long it appeared he had no neck. He looked away quickly, and I felt ashamed.
Once the geometrically correct cylinder had been made he began moving from one person to another searching out a light. Once that was found and used he sat down, like the rest of us. He smoked and apparently enjoyed himself, content with the fruit of his labor and for one fleeting moment he looked almost dignified.
I can’t possibly imagine what that menthol, 100’s, light, Camel, Marlboro, long, filtered, sometimes not, lipstick stained, alcohol tainted, tuberculosis ridden, germ infected tobacco must have tasted like. But there he sat enjoying this ‘handpicked, hand rolled’ cigarette. Once he finished the small piece of paradise he immediately returned to the cans with the trays and their constantly flowing traffic.
Now time for my departure; I headed out into the cold through the still exquisitely working glass sliding doors and took my place in line just as the light began to flash signaling the bus’s arrival. As my bus pulled up I saw a youngish man step out from the line. He removed a package of Marlboro Reds from his shirt pocket and carelessly unhinged one from the package with his lips. I was in line as he lit the world famous cowboy fag and wondered what he was doing lighting up with the bus leaving so soon. I quickly gathered that he must not be riding and was merely waiting with a companion and saying goodbye.
Frequently folks wait together, one boards while the other blows kisses or taps the window and waves. But in this case I saw no counterpart. I took my seat on the passenger side of the bus and watched this same man throw a thoroughly unspent cigarette to the curb just before we pulled out. To my shock he then boarded the bus. He threw that high priced, machine rolled, imported cylindrical package of escape that could not have been more than 1/3 spent right onto the ground.
I rode home with Sun Volt buzzing through my headphones helping to dull the light and sound of a busy bus route. As I rode I thought about these two tobacco users. I wondered what drove them, what compelled either one of them to pursue the same intoxicant. One so intent and the other so careless. I hoped the degenerate found the Marlboro, and I hope he was happy. But more than anything I wonder which of these two men truly had the greater despair, was it the degenerate owl or the pretending cowboy.