My mother noticed my pack of cigarettes, marking the third time she discovered that her daughter was hiding a pack in her bag. Since the third time marks a pattern, my mother decided to forbid me from going to the theater, cinema, and any other place associated with them. She said, "Forget being a critic; we haven't seen anything worthwhile in your work as a critic."
My mother, (M), never imagined that her daughter would ever smoke cigarettes, the same daughter who used to convince her father to quit smoking, and couldn't stand the smell of his cigarettes. Despite my own smoking habit and my complicated relationship with it, a mix of love and hate, I still detest the smell of my father's cigarettes, as well as Cleopatra cigarettes in general. I even dislike the smell of his body and breath because of it.
Of course, I remember my first cigarette and how I used to inquire about the effects of smoking and the reasons why people get hooked on it, and why they'd find it difficult to quit. My research didn't lead me to any answers, so I decided to try it myself. At that time, I didn't feel anything because I turned to someone I thought was a friend to try it together, only to find out that he decided to declare his love for me.
The surprise of his declaration distracted me from focusing on the cigarette in my hand as he uttered the words, "I still love you despite suppressing this love." After that, I didn't consider trying again. Then a year passed, and then a second passed since that experience, along with other experiences in my life, that made me decide that, after I finish my shift in the downtown area, I would stop by the kiosk and buy a pack of cigarettes to take to my friend at her workplace, also located downtown. We smoked the cigarettes and even danced since the office was empty, not only of people but also of cameras.
Why does the entire household want my father (the man) to quit smoking due to concerns about his health and the health of everyone in the house, but when it comes to me (the daughter/woman), the reason is my image in front of people?
Since then, my decision to continue with cigarettes for an indefinite period of time has been clear, requiring no discussion with myself. However, it required – and still does – many discussions and quarrels with my family, since my mother's upbringing in Upper Egypt made her believe that any woman holding a cigarette is "a no-good woman."
It is not her fault that her upbringing and the environment she grew up in shaped her thinking this way. It is not my fault that I rebel and struggle between what my mother wants to raise me on and what I desire, believe in, and see myself as free to choose. But, at heart, I didn't understand why I had to hide my cigarettes and fear my mother finding them, or why she even searched my bag. Where is the privacy? And why do my mother's reasons for rejecting the matter revolve around my image in society and in front of men? Why wasn't concern for my health the natural reaction of a mother?
Why does the entire household want my father (the man) to quit smoking, citing concerns about his health and the health of everyone in the house, but when it comes to me (the daughter/woman), the reason is my image in front of people?
Many questions I cannot find any answers to, as is usual.
What saddens me the most is not my lack of understanding of my complete transformation, going from one position to its complete opposite. It is that I have become like everyone else who smokes, especially those I had asked about the reason for their attachment to cigarettes, but who were unable to give me a comprehensible answer. I find myself in front of my mother like this, unable to find an answer that provides a clear reason. But here, between the lines and the letters, in my private space that she cannot invade, I can answer.
My cigarettes were with me in my moments of tranquility when I was alone at home and decided to write. They have been a good companion. They were with me during one of the times I was experiencing a panic attack, and I decided to find a way around it and try smoking a cigarette, and it turned out to be helpful in that situation. They were with me when I felt trapped in any job that didn't resemble me, and which I had resorted to solely for the purpose of making money. They were with me when there was no one else around, and according to my mother's thoughts, this was a daring and wrongful way of thinking. I believe that if I were to smoke in complete secrecy, out of the public's sight, she wouldn't object.
I believe that I don't write about my cigarettes for a romantic reason, which is missing and craving them, but rather because of my distress and as an expression of their absence, or as a means to vent until I meet them again. Here, I'm not only talking about reuniting with my cigarettes, but also with my freedom.
My decision to continue smoking required no discussion with myself. But it did require many discussions and quarrels with my family, since my mother's upbringing in Upper Egypt made her believe that any woman holding a cigarette is "no good"
Meeting with my cigarettes, even if in secrecy away from the eyes and innocent mind of my mother, is easier than meeting with my freedom that God has created me with. He creates us with an invisible card that says, "You are free." But as humans, we have burdened ourselves with this freedom, seeing it as something we shouldn't have. We have continued to pretend, wear masks, hide our true nature, and draw boundaries under the guise of customs, traditions, or even heritage. Just like Nawal's mother used to tell Nawal throughout the novel "The Open Door", which was later turned into a film starring Faten Hamama, in one of the most important films that gave women the freedom of opinion, thought, and choice.
My writing about cigarettes is done with full awareness of their harm and impact. I am not ignorant or oblivious, but I am free to choose their presence or absence in my life. I choose whether to end my relationship with them now or later, or even to not end it before the end of my own life. And since I am free and have not chosen to miss cigarettes during this period of my life, and since I have written this text in two stages, today I will conclude it while holding a pack of cigarettes.