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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Why smoking feels good...

By Olatunji OLOLADE

Big girls don’t cry. Guess when they look like Abimbola Cole, they rise above little vanities, like tears. The 26-year old’s mien is so cool, so controlled, even in the grip of a terrible ailment.
In the dimness of the private ward, the Assistant Regional Manager of a South-east courier firm snuggled under her blanket. Fat has thinned on her bones and her favourite Dalmatian dog-spotted T-shirt is too big for her now.
Sweat beads glisten her arms and forehead and she wheezes for breath, like some child caught beneath its comfortable wooly blankets, drowning there. Her lungs probably wouldn’t take some air although she wills it to, eventually.
"Pele (Sorry) Abimbola," she whispered to herself in the third person. Her whisper, more like a gasp, pervaded the room like an interior dialogue of guilt and extenuation.
Drawn silence, sparse breathing, crushing symbolism; she simply displaces the banality of anything happening. And then she said, "I would give anything for a puff now but I dare not, do I? I started smoking at the age of 15…my first cousin; Bodunde who was 17 at the period was a chain smoker. She probably picked up the habit from one of her boyfriends. But I couldn’t care then. All I felt was a sense of freedom. I was getting to rebel in my own little way and fit into some peer culture…hmm…I sucked on Rothmans Pallmall like my life depended on it. The fact that I had a boyfriend named Rotimi imbued my habit some poetry or sort. He smoked the same brand too and between us; we consumed at least a pack and a half everyday. Even when we had little to eat, it paid us to suck on cancer sticks…yeah, that was the name we coined for it…cancer sticks."
There is much pain in her recollection. Bitter-sweet memories steal from her lips with a nostalgic peal. The effect is awesome.
"Now they said I got lung cancer (Non-small cell Stage three lung cancer) but it’s funny that I feel no regret. Whatever will be will be; a human has to die in some way," she says with the perception of someone who understands that peace might be attained by the suppression of certain feelings, like regret.
That affect is somewhat elegiac which made talking to the sick undergraduate not just exploratory but oftentimes, charming. It’s a mood that says: "This pretty young lady’s been there."
Shakiru Agarawu too has been there but he summoned the courage to get off early enough from what he recollects as "a first class journey to hell." The 44-year old proprietor of a Laundromat disclosed that he started smoking at age 12. He said: "It was a given in my neighborhood that you either smoke marijuana or cigarettes. I opted for cigarettes because I was scared of the bad stereotype given smokers of marijuana. So I started smoking cigarette. At first, I used to hide the habit from my folks but no sooner than I secured university admission, I summoned courage to light a stick in front of my siblings and then my mother. She was totally against the habit but the more she condemned it, the more I stuck to the habit. Hence her joy know no bounds when after 20 years of chain-smoking, I decided to quit."
Agarawu had his epiphany at a chance encounter with the father of a childhood friend. The latter was battled advanced stage 4 cancer until his death. "He suffered a terrible stroke that led to his death 13 days before his 81st
birthday. The man was a chain-smoker," disclosed Agarawu.