True life lessons of the worthwhile variety cannot be obtained from the grime gilt paperboard of a packet of cigarettes; be they of the worldly, insipid with a weeks’ worth of rainfall variety or otherwise. This much I appreciate, and for this reason I find the dire warnings they display utterly perplexing. Why they pretend to offer advice contrary to their intent escapes my understanding entirely. That is, assuming of course that it is each lecherous sticks’ ambition to be lit up, only to lie languorously between the lips of any one of this cities’ many disparagers. It had never occurred to me, or perhaps to anyone before me, that it was not the act of smoking that kills a person, but in thinking about dying.
Smoking kills. Of that there can be little doubt. However, it is a piece of advice that seems to have slipped past the collective consciousness of a nation, for all of the ingenious wit of its conception and its emboldened typeface. Evidence of our imprudence exists in almost every corner of this vast metropolis. They lie as paupers in shallow graves, littering the roadside, or as vestiges of a curious and discordant commercial crusade. Such aimless and morbid mental excursions, though far from uncharacteristic of me, never fail to age me.
Lo, between the live rails a host of them lie, gravely, in varying states of decay. Their stark warnings have become nothing more than the echo of death a long time coming. A death we all find far too easy to ignore. I turn a blind eye and reach within my pocket, liberating one such pallid stick that was there sequestered. For several minutes, I felt curiously serene. They say after all, that anxiety is an incendiary; consequently we ignite the tangible in order to stifle the peel of the warning bells. They are quick to evanesce, dancing away into obscurity and ash. We go much the same way. There isn’t a hint of supposition that it might not be the cocktail of murderous chemicals that ultimately kills us. Our denial goes beyond that, and is all the more insidious for it.
As I walk now, in the penumbra of the railway embankment, making for the 5th street intersection, it seems to me as though they might just as well be Chrysanthemums for all their clamouring. Such a garish injection of detestable colour would do much more to promote a fervour and desire for life, however. Though, thinking about it, they too would likely be suppressed; become extraordinary and then quite routine, their cheerful connotations falling on blinkered eyes.
In the meantime the ice-infused rain, capable at the best of times of ruining my mood, did more than simply soak me through. For the longest while, approaching the clinic, I felt I knew what it meant to despair. It probably strikes you as odd that I would sooner consider the trivialities and perversity of smoking, than address the ramification of each cigarette upon my rapidly failing health. Unlike me, you can probably see the tar black humour.
I dance an awkward, evasive two-step with a man as I pass into the clinics’ dismally furnished foyer, feeling he would soon be dancing with the devil, himself. His sunken eyes agreed silently with me, shrouded as he was from head to foot in a veil of stale smoke. It occurred to me then, that every smoker might have a predetermined numerical allocation of sorts, like an inescapably morbid celestial quota, and that once they had made their number, so would they die.
Recognizing this for unbridled fantasy, I quickly dismiss the idea and raise my eyes, only to catch sight of my reflection in the tarnished mirror before me. Something close to understanding threatened to make itself known to me, clouded by a sudden sense of disquiet. Seeing before me a man two years older than I was yesterday, I brushed my reservations aside. The light was ruinous after all, and I was cold to the bone. When faced with an issue as delicate as that of our own mortality, we are inclined to avoid unpleasant truths. We deceive ourselves on a regular basis, and need only a little persuasion in our delusions.