Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Life vs Cigarettes

"I have a bad heart," Yassir tells me, as I leave for work this morning.

Yassir is part of the 24 hour/7 day a week security brigade inside my condo. I see him twice a day, everyday. Sometimes I bring him coffee from Tim Hortons, or heat up his dinner in my microwave. Sometimes, I bum a smoke off him.

Yassir is half Arab and half Kenyan. He sends money home to his mother every month.

He wants to complete his engineering degree in Canada.

Yassir is under 30, speaks English with an accent and has a half head of grey hair.

He smokes 1-2 packs of cigarettes a day, and has since he was 16.

On Friday, Yassir spent the night in the hospital. While at work, he felt the air leaving his lungs. He began gasping like an asthmatic in the throes of a serious attack. No puffer to the rescue though. Because he's not an asthmatic. He's a smoker. An ambulance was called. Oxygen administered. The verdict? Bronchitis lodged deep in his lungs, pneumonia quickly on its way.

Monday night. Another trip to the hospital. A 2 night stay this time. More tests. The verdict this time? A bad heart. Weak and strangled from years of inhaling acid, tar, nicotine into lungs, bloodstream, capillaries, ventricles. Cigarette breaks outside, bleak cold, wet air, pollution. Hands shaking. White puff of breath.

I'm sure Yassir doesn't have benefits.

Back at work this morning.

"I have a bad heart. Will you come to my funeral?" Black humour. Pale and laughing.

"You didn't have to go the hospital for me to know you have a bad heart," I tease, making light, "why don't you quit smoking?"

"It's hard." he says, his normally brown skin, ashen.

"It's not hard," I disagree, "just choose your life over cigarettes. It shouldn't be a tough choice."

"Yeah, I know. It's hard." he repeats wistfully, and looks sad.

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