Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Grim Reaper Catches My Eye

I smoke. This is something I'm not proud of, and I think about the consequences of it all the time.

A few days ago, as I was having a cigarette outside the building in which I currently work, a man walked by me and coughed.

This was no ordinary cough. Or even one of those self-righteous "I hate smoking" types of coughs that a certain type of busybody enjoys handing out as they pass a group of smokers on the street.

No. This was a full-on, dual-victim-of-tuberculosis-and-plague, with-a-bad-case-of-grippe kind of cough. It was deep-seated, resonant and rattling. And when he was finished, to top off what had already been a dramatic performance, he hawked like an Iowa farmer and spit a gob of God-knows-what into a nearby trash can. (It could have been worse -- he could have left it on the sidewalk.)

This by itself -- me smoking and another man coughing up a full four ounces of mucus in front of me -- would have been odd enough to note.

But at that exact same moment another man was walking toward us in the opposite direction. He was older, bald, tall and a bit gaunt. He noticed the man coughing first -- he would have had to be deaf and blind to miss him -- and then he saw me. And he gave me a look, one with a knowing and arched eyebrow that seemed to say, "See? How do you like that?"

There was little I could do and still maintain my dignity. So I simply shrugged and gave him a look back. A "what-are-you-going-to-do?" look. But inside, it felt like fate was wagging its finger at me.

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