It was Easter, which is a perfect time to smoke Cubans, so I bought some, but I didn’t expect that in the near future the thought would cross my mind that actually one of them would be the last cigar I’d ever smoke.
A friend of mine moved to London, for work, for his girl. During Easter he came back to town, Rotterdam. We decided to meetup. Reconnect. I could smoke aforementioned cigars. This guy is always on a tight schedule. Very amiable, and knows a lot of people. The most chill brother I know. Therefore, time with him is always precious.
But also shared. I met up with G, but it wasn’t a one-on-one, which was fine, cos one of them was another brother I’ve known for twenty plus years. Me, G, and M. Three guys from high school. Fine. But the fourth wasn’t. He was a friend of G, from uni days. E had a strange vibe about him. He seemed aloof, which was okay, since people accuse me of that.
Arrogant, or cocky even, which was okay again, cos don’t judge a book by its cover, and again, people accuse me of all kinds of similar shit. Do unto others as you would like they’d do to you.
I wasn’t making any huge assumptions, but my gut warned me.
We went for ice cream first, and I bonded with M again, and G. Sometimes it’s months that we don’t speak. I talked a bit with E. Worked an office job, had his own place, squared away. But still something off. It was his face maybe. Not a lot of emotions going on there. Then again he was Asian, like me, and they say I have a Yakuza mask. Stone.
It was weekend and I had wanted to go out, but I was with G and M and E. So we all went for drinks together. There’s this famous street in Rotterdam. The White Street. Just a long street with bars on both sides. Lots of tables to sit down. We found a joint and had whiskey. Ball out. G took care of the tab like a G. I pulled out a stick, a Partagas maduro no.1, and lit up. Not a lot of people in Rotterdam smoke sticks, so it was something special. Oh look at him. Oh he’s actually smoking cigars. Oh wow. All that, but I don’t care.
After the drink we move back to E’s place. Wasn’t that far away. We’d have some pre-drinks, before we’d hit some bar. They didn’t know which bar to go, so we’d go to the watering hole I frequent. Bar3. I like the joint, and sometimes the bartenders are dicks, and refuse to offer me my triple vodka shots, but you can meet girls and the music is good and sometimes it’s popping.
At E’s place we sit down, play some video games. We play some guitar, and have a general good time. I finish the last part of the Partagas, on the balcony. I’d saved it, which was a mistake, since the draw was really bad, and the butt was wet now. A bad smoke. We waited for G, who had gone back home, to get a bottle of baijiu. Chinese rice clear liquor.
He came with the bottle and we lined up four shots on the table. The stuff was sixty per cent ABV, or higher. G said be careful that shit hits hard. I said whatever I’m Vodka Man. We hit the shots, and M made a face, and coughed. Light drinker. E took it like a champ, but the way he handled his liquor says a lot about him. Says a lot about a man. You could tell he was posing, for a lack of a better word. Like trying to be brave while he’s not. Like look at me I can handle my liquor. There’s a fine line between competence and arrogance. Confidence and cockiness. Something in the back of my mind tingled again, as I saw him pound the shot. G took the drink, very chill. G is very laid back and it oozes through everything he does. He could be the exact opposite of E. Not a poser. This shot was utterly disgusting by the way. It tasted like, for lack of imagination, rat poison.
We played some Smash Bros on the Switch and had some more shots. I could tell this wasn’t the crowd to go out with, but the shots were hitting, and it was weekend, and I hadn’t gone out in a while. Let’s go, I said.
We went to my bar, and went inside, and walked through the long joint, all the way to the back. Sat down at this table. The energy was low, and G went to get drinks. I ordered vodka Red Bull. M was taking it easy, low on the drinking, and had some tea. The conversation wasn’t there, and the chemistry of the four was off, not like musketeers, swashbuckling.
I had one last cigar with me, an Arturo Fuente Queen bee, with a tapered end, like a torpedo. I walked to this wooden bench, and climbed on top. I pulled out the stick, and lit up. I asked a guy to my right, if he could take a picture.
Memorialize the moment. The smoke was one the best smokes I’ve had ever. Period. Punto banco. Fuente is Dominican. So it tasted less woody than Cubans. But the pull was almost perfect. Which is important, as sticks with bad draws don’t enable you to draw in the smoke optimally. Then the hit doesn’t take. The flavors don’t come out. Effectively, you’re not smoking. The flavor was sweet and mellow and the smoke was thick and smooth. I wonder if I smoke it again if it will taste the same, as sticks are almost never the same. Transcendental.
I was enjoying the best cigar of my life, and was Zen with myself the night and the moment when G joins. I get it. He wants to bro up. We hadn’t seen each other a long time, so me sitting alone is maybe a dick move. But I smoke, and the others don’t. So I had gone outside alone, and also the conversation had been dead.
But when G joined, E joined. That’s when my smoking stick ritual started to get sour, and here’s why. We were sitting on the wooden bench, the three of us. And from the right a Moroccan darted by. He looked at us.
He said, ‘Chino.’
He darted off to the left.
Fifty million things happened at that instant. Time seemed to slow down, as in moments of action. First, I was too busy with the stogie to notice any sign of malice from the guy. It could’ve been derogatory, or maybe not, but I just didn’t care. Too busy with smoking. Cigars are like a good woman. They keep you enveloped. Then I started to do some thinking. The way he said it. It wasn’t, Chino! I’ve been insulted before, and with way worse words. Look at also the word selection.
Not chink eyes. Or Jackie Chan, or Bruce Lee. Which are champions by the way, but people always have this very distinct tone, to annoy the living hell out of you, to make you feel like an outsider. Like a piece of shit. That’s what they aim to do. So again. I didn’t hear that bad intent from the guy. I heard just a guy passing by in the night, and saluting another stranger in the dark, with a term which is familiar to him, me and the streets. Chino. Nod. I remember him nodding.
Then to my left there was G. His face winced a little bit. But he was very chill, and let it go, and didn’t make much of it. I wonder if he had heard the tone, and word selection. Perhaps not. People don’t insult him half as much as they do me.
But there was E. And he started to unravel. Like a chump. His smug arrogant bastard mask slipped on again. He was being brave again.
He said, ‘Nigga.’
Not softly. But exactly loud enough to stop the darting Moroccan in his tracks. His swaggering stride stopped dead on. Like a statue. He turned around and dashed back to us, and he was full on in E’s face. Not G, not me. We looked. I smoked. It was around that time M came back from the toilet, joined us, and just looked at what was happening.
In hindsight, I made some bad calls in the whole ordeal.
Here’s what happened.
Moroccan actually wants some kind of explanation. And he’s not really dark, but uses the insult as an excuse to escalate. And at each attempt of the Moroccan, to extract an apology, E says exactly the wrong thing. He was escalating too. He was like, Oh come on then bro. I don’t care. You shouldn’t call me chino. It’s your fault. You’re a nigga then. And it wasn’t even the things he was saying. But it was the tone. The tough guy tone.
The Moroccan caught on, and said E was being all tough in front of us. This struck me odd, as I just met the guy. But I remember how he took the rat poison shot, and admired my stories of drinking and debauchery and outsider status. There was this thing about him. Wanting to be one of the big boys. That’s the best way to explain it. He needed some kind of validation. He had no internal pride or maybe his life was shit or he had pent up anger or was bad with women or hated his life. I don’t know. But he was being a dick.
Then the Moroccan called his cousin over. Then shit started flaring up more. He started saying he’d beat us up. And that’s when I saw how this was going bad real soon. Real sour. M is always pretty situationally aware and tensed up. Fight, or flight. And G was remaining his cool, but didn’t say anything. And that’s what I didn’t like. He didn’t say anything to E. It was his friend. The whole time he could’ve said something to E. Like E pipe down. It’s fine. Let it go, man. Something along those lines.
Now, I didn’t say anything either. And here’s why I take full ownership of that part and why I blame myself for the situation a bit. My main argument was, He wasn’t my friend and it’s not my business. But the cousin of the Moroccan started involving all of us. As with such chaotic disagreements. He asked his cousin, Who said nigga? But the cousin didn’t respond, so we were all in it now ‘together’. Which was utter bullshit and G or I should’ve said something. But, like M, I just didn’t feel it was my business.
Then the guard of the bar came to intervene. I kept smoking, but the stick wasn’t good anymore. Not cos of the flavor or draw or anything. No. Cos of the annoying little shit E was and how he ruined the best cigar of my life. Looking back, I don’t know what I find worse. The fact that he dragged me into the situation. Or that he ruined my stick. My Arturo Fuente. Queen Bee. Especially bought for Easter. With the intent of relaxing. With the intent of finally having a good time, time off work. Fuck. Me.
I looked at M as I smoked the Dominican. M his hands were by his side, clamped tight to his torso. His feet were pointed away, towards the right, to the street. Escape. G was chill but not his natural chill but a brave chill. He was feeling it too. And E was still making the situation worse, and kept yelling things at the two Moroccans, with the guard standing in between. This ominous huge black man dressed in black.
My cigar petered to its end and I didn’t notice the final flavors and was too focused on a potential fight. The whole time my left hand was smoking, my right was clenched. I thought, If this is gonna be my last cigar, let me make it last. I pulled hard on the stick like it was my last. I threw away the butt, and it cindered off, and the disagreement was over. The cousin had promised it wasn’t over, and that he’d be back. With more.
I wanted to bounce locations, and go somewhere else. But the energy was now officially dead, and the guys weren’t festive anymore. Far from it. So we decided to go home, and I went to grab my bike. G followed me. M went to grab his bike, and E would jump on back. M had seen the boys in the distance, at the end of the street. Waiting for us. With more. Not just the two, but at least two more guys.
I walk to my bike. Locked. I turn my back to the guys, but they’re in the distance. Some feet away. But I feel the tension. I see the worried look in the chill mask of G. He looks at me. My bike falls down. It takes time. Time is slow. It always is. In action. In tension. In fights. Potentially then. My brain races but my internal dialogue is calm. I steady my hands, unlock my bike. G jumps on and we bike away. M and E follow suit.
I hadn’t looked back to see if the guys followed us, but M had said that they did. Not running, but casually walking. Like marking their terrain. Fine by me. But the last thing about the whole situation is that E also kinda ruined one of my favorite joints. Maybe the guy would remember me. I stood out. Wore a floral red and black shirt with a blazer. Almost all buttons loose. And if he wouldn’t recognize me, I’d still remember this night, when I’d come back. Like a bitter aftertaste. That fucker E.
This thing taught me two things. First, going out alone is sometimes better than with a group. Especially with people you don’t know. Next time I’ll follow my gut, and vet better. Finally, don’t smoke sticks with people who give you the wrong vibes. Their attitude might ruin the best cigar of your life.