I wiped away the condensation on the window next to his hospital bed. Ahmed had wanted to look outside, but had trouble getting out of bed nowadays and couldn’t do it himself. There was little to see. It had poured with rain over the last few days. Commuters bustled past in long black coats, white plumes of air escaping between their lips. A thick fog had enveloped the street, and people vanished into outlines. Naked trees trembled against the bite of winter. I turned away from the window, but Ahmed continued to look outside. The television was broken, and he could not read the English in the hospital magazines.
His chest rattled as he breathed in and out. Ahmed’s pyjamas were four sizes too big for his frail frame. Different puffers in all shapes and sizes were lined up neatly like soldiers on the bedside table. Next to them were photos of his family. A beautiful woman standing next to a younger Ahmed, children playing at the beach, a family smiling at the photographer. There were many photos. Ahmed must have been in hospital for a long time.
“Three weeks.” He informed me. It had been one thing after another. Ahmed was diagnosed with emphysema over a decade ago. He had been a construction worker, and everybody on the site smoked. He helped build skyscrapers that were sixty levels tall. He and the boys would light up a cigarette as they dared each other to look down, while standing on makeshift balconies that shuddered with the wind. He felt as though he were close enough to touch the clouds, back then. Everybody smoked, and nobody talked about the side effects. Nowadays he ran out of breath just walking to the bathroom.
“But really, it did not bother me until last month.” He said dryly. “My grandchildren visited, and one of them had a cold. A few days later, the Devil was knocking on my door, telling me to let him in. Barely had the energy to call an ambulance.”
Ahmed was diagnosed with pneumonia, which had worsened his emphysema symptoms. The emergency doctor had taken chest x-rays to confirm his pneumonia, and discovered something else. Squamous cell lung cancer, a cancer that was common among smokers. It had already spread to his liver.
But Ahmed preferred to discuss his family. His son Uncaught Error: Call to undefined method Magento\Framework\App\ResourceConnection\Interceptor::insertMultiple() in /var/www/html/apacmagento/app/code/Infopro/CheckoutManager/mp_blog_posts.php:922
was a mechanic, and had been taking apart and fixing cars all his life. In primary school, his son had dismantled the radio out of curiosity, and successfully put it back together when Ahmed threatened to ground him. His grandchildren were also talented, Ahmed declared proudly. His grandson was a top soccer player, and his granddaughter had all straight As.
“What were your parents like?”
A dark cloud passed over his face. “They always worked hard.”
“Sounds like you take after them.” I replied tentatively.
Ahmed shook his head. “My father worked in a textiles factory. I never saw him except on the weekends. My mother took care of the family; cleaned up after him all the time.”
He took a gasp of air. Failing to find his words, Ahmed felt along the bedside table until he found his puffer. “It was the asbestos. She did all his laundry, and they didn’t know about the asbestos in the factory until it was too late. Did you know you can die from asbestos just by handling clothes exposed to it?” He laughed bitterly, and his laughter turned into a hacking cough. “My father couldn’t handle the guilt. He followed her six months later.”
Ahmed fondled his puffer absent-mindedly. “Smoking isn’t that different. The first cigarette my son started smoking was mine. Cheeky bugger stole them out of my dresser. He smokes around my grandkids. I can smell it in their hair and on their clothes. And he learnt it all from me. “
He stared through the window, which had fogged up again. His eyes misted over. “He’s visiting this afternoon, and I’m going to tell him what I told you. We’re both quitting today.”