“This, is life,” said Ronald, pointing to the cigarette in his hand.
“You shouldn’t be smoking, papa,” replied Eli.
It was a rhetorical statement. The fact that this conversation was taking place on the hospital rooftop said it all.
Ronald took a long drag at a cigarette which had its filter peeled off before scratching his hand. The catheter was really beginning to annoy him.
“I don’t get why people smoke with filters.”
“I suppose it’s healthier?”
Ronald broke out in laughter.
“Doctor Ong is going to go mental when he finds out you’ve been smoking.”
“Oh come on. What harm can one cigarette do? Even if I survive this goddamn cancer I’m still going to die someday, no?”
As cryptic as that sounded, Eli simply nodded his head and smiled.
And then began the tirade.
“You see, son, like the fire within that never loses its single-minded focus to incinerate everything in its path, time doesn’t take a break and wait for you to finish whatever other business you have going on. It just keeps going, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Stub it out and relight the fag at your discretion, sure, whatever – it’s still going to end someday. So therein lies the question – what are you going to do? Are you going to put your lips to the filter and savour each puff before there’s nothing left? Or will you simply do nothing and watch as time devours everything?”
Eli said nothing, his eyes transfixed on the graceful ascent of the smoke into the night sky. He wondered if that was how a soul dissipated when one died.
“People like to say that smoking kills as if they’re immortals. They squeal when smoke comes their way. ‘Oh my god, you are going to fucking kill me with your second-hand smoke,’ say these fools, as if they were never going to die in the first place. They’re all deluded. Fucking deluded. This shit doesn’t kill, goddamnit. Being alive, kills. Let’s not kid ourselves, we’re dying every single minute we’re alive. The countdown started that very moment we entered this world. Life itself is a death sentence. Oh, the fucking irony of it all. So make no mistake, my son, for the end is nigh. We were all born to die.”
“Is that the medication talking? I think we should head back down before the nurses find out you escaped the ward again,” said Eli.
“I’m sorry you’re here. I’m sorry this is what you have to hear. I shouldn’t have ejaculated in your mother’s vagina 28 years ago. Blame me.”
“Oh god, Papa. Stop it.”
Ronald stubbed his cigarette out and threw his arm over Eli.
“Fine, let’s go. I’m getting a little woozy.”
“I’m gonna miss you when you’re not around,” said Eli.
“And that’s why you should never have kids,” laughed Ronald.
“You should never have to put anyone through such misery. If I could, I would strangle your mother to death first so that she doesn’t have to see me go. Come think of it, I should’ve murdered that bitch a long time ago!”
Eli turned to his father’s gaunt face and the smell of tobacco suddenly rushed through his nostrils. He was no stranger to his father’s eccentric rants. But today it felt as if Ronald was trying to overcompensate for something. For a fear of his imminent demise.
He placed a reassuring arm around his father’s waist and the two made their way to the exit.
The pair managed to get back to the ward without rousing suspicion from the night shift nurses. Ronald fluffed his pillow before lying down and reached over the hand rails for his discman.
“I can’t believe you’re still using that antique,” said Eli.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” smiled Ronald.
“Alright son, I’m going to drift off now. You text me when you arrive in China. Don’t call, it’s expensive.”
“I’ll come back often to see you. Whenever I can. I promise.”
“Don’t be silly. I’m not going anywhere. Just be back for Christmas. I’ll see you then.”
Eli forced a smile and nodded. He reluctantly picked up his bag and waved Ronald goodbye.
As Eli’s shadow disappeared from the corridor, Ronald placed his favourite Teresa Teng CD into the player and hit the play button. But the only sound that came through was a constant wheezing from within.
He smacked the player twice and shook it gently for a few seconds before the sounds of Goodbye My Love streamed through the earphones.
The disc stopped spinning a minute later, but Ronald did not bother to rectify the problem.
He figured that some things were just not worth the effort anymore.