Lera, Part 1

(by Nikita, 29 July 2005)


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Foreword

This story is based on a true-life story of my schoolmate. Mainly I changed
names and some details in order to adapt East European realities to a reader.
Excuse me my mistakes, I am not from an English speaking country. I hope
however, you may found this story interesting.

Note: I'm posting this story anonymously

LERA

Lera Maewsky, eighteen, lived in a small provincial town, one of hundreds,
where all the dwellers are either relatives, friends or at least neighbors.
She was a good girl. I mean, she was a girl any parents would be proud of. She
was an "A" student at the high school, always polite, tidy and punctual. All
the teachers were sure that this girl had a great future.  Definitely she was
prepared to continue her education at some prestigious, top level university.
But was Lera happy?  The answer to that was not so clear. 

Lera was a bookworm and knew much more than most of her schoolmates. Lera was
clever enough not to advertise her studiousness, but people knew anyway. She
always was an outsider among her peers. 

She was shorter than average and maybe needed to loose a little bit of weight,
but her body (I mean bust, hips, shoulders) were very well proportioned. Her
young, girly face was not a model's, but she was definitely pretty. She had
long black hair and clean skin. She looked like a typical "girl next door",
nice enough to find a boyfriend. But no boy paid attention to Lera, probably
due to how she dressed. Mrs.  Maewsky, her mother, was a very strict and
conservative person. She was convinced that modesty was the most important
virtue for a young girl. Therefore there was no partying and no dancing for
Lera, plus her clothes should not be short, bright or tight - only long, dull,
and loose.

Lera had no other option than to follow her Mom's instructions. 

Essentially, however, she was a normal girl. She had a crush on Peter Selchuk.
He was a good athlete, played guitar, and - never paid any attention to
poor Lera. He respected this girl for her mind, but she seemed dull and a bit
boring. Lera was secretly jealous of Peter's other girls and particularly the
longhaired blond Nina, the first beauty of their high school. Lera dreamed
she'd once be at least half as attractive and sexy, but she knew that it was
impossible under her Mom's supervision.

At the age of eighteen Lera finished high school and her parents decided that
she should continue her education at the St. Paulsburg school of economics and
finance. The reason why was simple - Mr. Maewsky mother (Lera's grandmother)
lived in St. Paulsburg and this college was one of the best in the country. So
Lera stayed at her grandmother's house.  She had visited the city many times
and had fallen in love with this great city, she dreamed she'd move here and
stay forever, but the first thing she had to do to make this dream come true
was to do well on her college entrance exams and get into the school.  Lera
worked very hard all year and therefore she and her family had no doubt that
she would do well on the college entrance exams.  Indeed, Lera passed all the
exams and written tests and got quite high marks.  But - competition was very
tough and there were six candidates for each vacancy.  Lera was very close to
success, but she didn't make the cut. She was told to try again next year.

It was a catastrophe! Lera was completely destroyed. For three days she stayed
in her bedroom, telling herself "Yes, I'm a loser, a stupid loser" again and
again. But finally she realized that it was not the end of her life, so there
was a need to decide what to do next.  Her family came to the conclusion that
Lera would stay in St. Paulsburg, find a job, and prepare for another attempt
next year.

In the first days of August Lera started to work at a payment center of a well
known retail company in St. Paulsburg. It didn't seem like a bad option at all
because the job paid pretty well and the company provided educational credits
for those employees who became part time students. 

When Lera went to work for the first time she was met by a personnel manager
greeted her and said: "Let's go, I'll introduce you to your co-workers".
They took an elevator down and entered one of the basement rooms. There were
three girls attentively working at computers. The personnel manager greeted
them and said to the older of the three: "Hi, Helena, Let me introduce you to
Lera, who is starting work today in your group". Helena, a tall young woman
about 23, shook Lera's hand and introduced the two other women - Tanya, a
chunky, giggly blond about 20, and Irena - slim, red haired, intelligent, also
about 20 years old. 

Helena explained her future responsibilities to Lera.  "We always have a lot
of work. The girls stay late almost every day. We hope that you will help us.
We start at 8 am. and finish at 6 pm.  Lunch is from 1 to 2 pm. In addition to
that we are allowed to have 10 minutes break every hour. You can't ignore
that, or you may completely spoil your eyes, looking at a monitor constantly
for eight hours every day."  Helena paused, and smiled.  "So, see you tomorrow
at 8 am."

The next day was the first full day of work for Lera. She was very familiar
with computers and caught on to how things worked pretty quickly. All four
girls concentrated on their work in silence. After 50 minutes Helena stood up
and said to the other girls: "Let's go".

"Oh, yeah, finally!" said Irena, another co-worker.  "Do you smoke?" she asked
Lera.

Lera shook her head and answered shyly: "No-"

"Why are you asking?" giggled Tanya, "Isn't it clear without asking that she's
a 'non'?" 

All three girls took their cigarettes and lighters, then left.  Lera stayed in
a room alone. "Again an outsider," she thought. Of course, she didn't smoke.
Her mother was an extreme anti who always told Lera that smoking was a
disgusting habit and that all smoking girls were bad and vulgar.  However,
even though Lera's Dad and Granny (a mother of Mr. Maewsky) were smokers, they
were very nice people. So, Lera didn't smoke, but she had nothing special
against smoking. 

Moreover, she had tried it once. It was two years ago at school. Lera came to a
toilet and saw her schoolmate, blond-haired beauty Nina, smoking.

"Are you smoking?" Wondered Lera, "I did not know."

"Yes, why not, it is fun, take a puff," offered Nina.

Lera was always jealous of this girl and secretly dreamed to be as sexy as
Nina was.  So, she tried a puff.

"You didn't inhale," said Nina, "Try again." Lera tried again but the result
was the same.

"OK, that's not yours, you are only wasting it," Nina was a bit
contemptuous. Maybe it was stupid but Lera really regretted that she
had failed to inhale and since that time she dreamed of learning how to take
drags properly.

Anyway, ten minutes passed and the three girls came back to the room,
chatting, giggling and smelling slightly of tobacco. Lera felt jealous - these
three girls were using every scheduled break for a smoke and definitely
enjoyed it.

One week passed, but Lera still felt like a newcomer at this company - there
were almost no chances to talk to her co-workers because nobody spoke during
work. The girls chatted only at breaks, but Lera stayed in the room alone
during breaks. That's why Lera didn't know anything about her co-workers and
they also didn't know anything about Lera. Her senior colleague, Helena,
noticed that Lera was a bit upset about this and decided to help the new girl.
One week or so after Lera started working, Helena suggested driving Lera home.
On the way, Helena explained to Lera about their company, relations,
existing issues between employees, etc. 

During the trip, they stopped at a traffic light. Waiting for a green light,
Helena lit up and out of habit offered her pack of Parliaments to Lera.

"Oh, sorry, I forgot, you do not smoke," said Helena and after a moment added
with a friendly smile, "But I think you will start. Our job is very intense
and smoking helps us to relax and to concentrate as well."  When Helen dropped
Lera off, Lera was grateful to Helena and got a feeling that they could become
friends.

Slowly, step by step, Lera established good relations with her co-workers.
The other girls began to respect Lera for her hard work, accuracy and
punctuality.  Lera began her preparation for the entrance exams the following
year.

That September day would be one she'd always remember.  Old Mrs. Maevsky was
still quite an active lady and still enjoyed a social life.  That early
September Saturday she was going to attend some meeting and was supposed to
come back late in the evening and Lera stayed at home alone. She was going to
use that time to study intensively. For three or four hours she tried to solve
one very hard math problem and finally got tired. Going to take a break she
went to the kitchen. She looked at the table and saw a pack of West-100 -
"great German cigs", as her grandmother used to say. The old Mrs Maewsky
smoked only those strong full flavor cigarettes and was a dedicated smoker. So
one could easily find open packs and lighters anywhere in her house. This red
pack Lera saw on the table was already opened. Lera took this pack and saw
that it was almost full. Still considering the math problem, she fidgeted with
the pack by opening and closing it.  Finally she took out one of these long
cork-tip cigarettes.

"Should be funny to see me with a cigarette," came to her mind. Continuing
this game, Lera put a cig into her mouth, lit up, and sent smoke to her lungs.
She took a real drag! Lera got excited. She always was convinced that inhaling
was so difficult that she would never manage to do it. But it appeared to be
so easy!  The taste of a cigarette was a bit similar to a coffee.  She exhaled
a small cloud of smoke from her lungs and felt something very special - a
tingly warmth in her chest and something like a sense of lightness.  Lera
could see herself smoking in the mirror and she liked what she saw - a young
self-confident woman instead of an awkward schoolgirl. In three minutes she
smoked more than a half of the cigarette and was going to finish it, but
suddenly she felt dizzy. She stood up but could not walk straight. Like a
drunk she went to the toilet and vomited.

Much later Lera understood what had happened. The full flavor cigarette was too
strong for her. But on that September day she knew almost nothing about
cigarettes - full flavors, lights, ultra lights - all was the same for her.
Surprisingly she recovered from this sickness very quickly, after fifteen
minutes. However, Lera decided, she would never smoke again. 

"It was stupid to poison myself", she thought, "I was a dork."

She went back to her studies, but late in the evening when she went to bed,
Lera was reminded of the unusual pleasure she had felt when she pulled
cigarette smoke into her lungs, her mature reflection in the mirror. The next
day was Sunday.  After lunch Lera sneaked two cigarettes and a lighter and
told her grandmother that she wanted to have a walk after the studying she had
done in the morning. Lera went to a park two bus stops from home.  She found a
quite place, made sure that nobody was near her, and tried smoking again.  She
felt the same as yesterday - a pleasant warmth and tingling at first and
sickness after. She stopped smoking and took a few deep breaths of fresh air.
It helped - in five minutes she was fine.

Lera continued her walk and one hour later decided to smoke again.  It was the
same as before, except one thing - this time she succeeded in smoking almost a
whole cigarette. Lera was a bit proud of herself. She decided to continue this
smoking experiment until she was able to smoke without all these nasty side
effects. Lera wasn't going to become a regular smoker at all. She just was a
perfectionist who was brought up with the principle: "whatever you do, do it
right".

During next two weeks every day Lera smoked two, three and (on the following
week) even four cigarettes snuck from her Grandmother, mostly in the morning
before work and on the way home. Finally she learned to smoke without any
complications. She was satisfied, she proved herself, that she could do
something that she was unable to do before. On Saturday, exactly two weeks
after the first attempt Lera told herself "enough" and decided to stop her
experiment. She was not addicted yet and easily stayed without cigarettes
whole weekend and for sure could stat as long as it was possible, but...

On Monday Helena came up to her desk and asked:

"We wanna have a little drink today. I invited Irena and Tanya to my flat
Will you join us?"

Of course, Lera wanted! She had worked with these girls for almost two months
but still wasn't a fully fledged member of the group. This little party was
going to help her make friendly contacts in a non-formal atmosphere. So,
she agreed. 

The party was really nice. They chatted, giggled, discussed different things
all the girls are interested in - books, movies, fashions, boyfriends, sex,
bosses, colleagues, etc. Lera found out that these three girls were very nice
people. It was interesting to speak with them, much more interesting than it
was with her schoolmates. Particularly she liked Irena, who appeared to be a
bit similar to her - Irena also read a lot and was kind off of an
intellectual. 

They drunk wine and beer, not a lot, but Lera became a bit intoxicated. Of
course, all three girls except Lera were smoking and since it was party time,
they smoked more than usual,, chaining one cigarette after another.

"We are all like three chimneys," said Helena and opened a window to air the
room, "Poor Lera, you must be sick." 

"Not at all. I smoke myself," answered Lera. A glass of wine had done it's
job and she became a little naughty.

"Oh, really?"

"Yes, give me a cig!"

"That's al right, you're a little drunk, don't try it, you'll be sick," said
Helena.

But Lera stubbornly repeated: "I want to smoke!"

"OK, well, try it, if you want."  Helena brought a pack of "R1 minima". She
never smoked these ultra lights, but had it available for guests.

Lera took a cigarette from this pack, lit it up and took a puff. She was used
to a full strength "West-100" and smoking these ultra lights was very easy for
her. Instinctively trying to feel more taste Lera smoked this cigarette with
deep, long drags. In three minutes she finished a cig up to the butt, crushed
it in an ashtray, and said: "This cig has no taste. Next time I'l take the
other one".

That thrilled all three girls.

"Cool!  When did you start?" asked Tanya.

"Doesn't matter. It was not a big deal," grinned Lera.

She smoked three or four more cigarettes that night. That Monday evening was,
probably, the best in her life. She had friends, she became at last a group
member.

Lera came home late in the night. Her Grandmother was worried, but when she
saw how happy her granddaughter was, she decided not to reprimand Lera and
only asked: "Did you enjoy the party?"

Lera grinned and answered: "That was the best party I ever went to.  The girls
from our group are so nice and friendly".

Old lady smiled: "I'm glad you got friends finally." 

Lera tried to sleep, but could not.  When Lera remembered her smoking earlier
that night, she suddenly felt an urge to smoke. She didn't know why, but she
realized for sure that it would be impossible for her to sleep without
cigarette.

Cautiously, trying not to awake her Granny, Lera went to the kitchen and found
a place where Mrs. Maewsky kept her cigarettes. Lera took one cig and a
lighter and slowly went back to her bedroom. She locked the door, opened a
window, lit up and took a first drag.

Warm, tasty smoke filled her lungs. Lera slowly exhaled, watching how the
thick cloud of smoke dissolved. So she took more and more drags until the  red
glow of the butt came so close to her fingers that she could feel the heatk.
The enjoyment she experienced that time could not be compared with anything.
Nicotine brought relaxation and tranquility and cleared her mind.  Lera threw
her butt out of the window and went to bed. Before she fell asleep, Lera
decided that starting tomorrow she would always join the other girls on their
cigarette breaks. She was hooked.

The next day on her way to the office, Lera bought a lighter and a pack of
regular "West-100" at a traffic kiosk near the subway station.  While buying
her first cigarettes she was a bit nervous but the old woman at the kiosk paid
no attention to Lera.

She looked around and saw a young woman smoking not far from the underground
entrance. Lera wavered a second, then went over near this woman, unwrapped a
cellophane cover and took out one of her long cork cigarettes.  Then she put
in the mouth and lit up. As it was last night, Lera again felt this new
nicotine enjoyment. 
Her lungs, already accustomed to smoke, had the same pleasant light tingling
with each drag.  Lera finished the cigarette and went towards the trains.

"Smoking is a great thing after all. Now I know for sure," she was thinking on
the way to her office.

END OF PART 1 


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