Just One More Cigarette

Fifty-two-year-old Bo Qi somberly paced along a 50-meter-long hospital corridor where its cold tile and cement walls were barely penetrated by the warmth of the spring’s sun.

On purpose, Bo plodded as slowly as the others, closely scrutinizing the various expression on fellow patients’ faces.

While many other patients in blue-striped patient gown had to rely on their families or hospital workers to escort them for even a brief stroll, Bo walked steadfast in solitary thought and had refused to trade in his own clothes for the uniform.

Some patients frowned or squinted their eyes while taking laborious steps forward, while others were humpbacked, holding onto the balustrade attached to wall for support as they shuffled forward.

A half-meter-long digital clock hung pendulously from the ceiling of the hallway, a constant and cruel reminder of passing time and for Bo, tomorrow’s impending medical procedure. It cooly blinked from 16:49 to 16:50, declaring another moment of life expended.

Now, in twenty hours and ten minutes, Bo noted to himself, he could end up being in the same pain as these people, or maybe worse, because the doctor warned him the surgery had a 20 percent failure rate.

This scary, grim thought marched through his consciousness like the unending procession of strolling patients. Once again, it made him impulsively eager to escape from the unit packed with 63 other patients, seven nurses, two doctors and Ling, his wife.

“Ling, can I have a cigarette?” Bo asked her with a poker face. Following the question, two pale-looking male patients, lying on beds in the same room, turned their heads and listened attentively to such human drama unfolding.

“You should be getting dressed in your hospital gown,” Ling’s cold, dark eyes stared through Bo from austere reading glasses poised above her stark-lined cheeks.

In her hand, she held a hospital pamphlet entitled, “How to keep a good diet during the operation period.”Her pen hovered over a page where she been underlining key points specific to pancreatic cancer.

“Just one. A final one,” Bo pleaded with strong determination. He however noticed the rising blush of barely controlled anger flushing the wife’s tanned skin even darker. Heedlessly, Ling crumpled the pamphlet and pressed her lips together tersely as she prepared to chastise him.

Wisdom bred of years of familiarity allowed Bo a moment of prescient foresight to avert the coming storm.

“Never mind,” Bo interjected. As he swiftly turned away, he saw the two patients sharing a wry grin at his personal plight.

The digital clock in the corridor showed 16:55. Only five minutes had passed, Bo thought. It was rather confusing to him that he both wished the time could go faster, and yet he wanted it to cease its endless march so he could delay the pain he would soon face.

But even more, he looked back in time and wished he had never even got the cancer.

“What is on your chest?” A patient in his twenties, leaning against a window and outlined by the warm rays of magic-hour sunlight, studied Bo who was staring at the clock mesmerized.

“Sorry? What?”

“The yellow pattern on your chest. Is that a dragon?” The young patient squinted at the tattoo on Bo’s chest that appeared to be poking its tail out of the loosely-buttoned shirt.

“Oh, it’s just a monster from some legendary tale,” Bo took a chance to look closely at the young man. His neck was attached via an IV tube to a 500ml bag of sodium chloride. Two blood-filled discharge tubes protruded from each side of his belly.

“Two days…three days after?” Bo could feel his nerves strained when asking the question.

“It’s the fourth day already.” The youth attempted to grin, though even the act of smiling remained guarded.

Surgical sutures could be split with normal activities like laughing or coughing, Bo recalled. Such information was shared among patients like folk wisdom and offered him a glimpse at what he would face if he survived the surgery.

“I’m thinking, afterwards, to have a tattoo…to cover my surgical scars,” The young patient said in a victorious tone. “I heard that it hurt a lot. But if I live through the pain of surgery, I can take anything, right? ”

Under the waning amber light, the youth’s bright eyes and white teeth appeared brighter and whiter to Bo. Annoyed, he looked away and leaned against the window.

What an arrogant young punk, Bo thought. In his short twenty-something lifetime, he might have only experienced pains in physical forms. Spiritual wounds hurt the most.

Bo remembered losing his best friend in a car accident after an unresolved quarrel. It was something he could never let go of. Following this awareness, he wondered how his wife would get by without him. The thought stunned him.

“Life is way too short,” the youth disrupted Bo’s deep
reflection, holding out a packet of cigarettes he had hidden under his hospital gown. “so we gonna’ do what we want, right?”

Bo stared at the thin white stick. For decades, he had turned to it for relief from the things he did not want to face. Seeking to escape from this new awareness, he turned to gaze out the window.

The unending urban noise was as upsetting as the foolish tattoo ideas that the youth had shared. He was about to turn away again from the clamor and chaos, when he caught sight of an inviting burst of colors from a courtyard between the tall buildings. The flora burst forth with the new life promised by the warmth of the spring breeze.

Bo chided himself that he had spent the whole day wasted in smoking, fretting over the upcoming operation and annoying his wife. He reflected that the tobacco had probably caused the cancer. He knew he needed to quit smoking if not for himself, then for her.

Grim thoughts once again marched through his consciousness. Bo couldn’t help but look back in time to the many opportunities missed, things he had left undone and those he regretted doing during his life span.

“Got a light?” Bo grimaced in defeat as he stuck the cigarette between his lips. The young punk flourished his lighter and the flame sprung to life.  

The clock quietly blinked from 16:59 to 17:00, reminding Bo of being one minute closer to his surgery.

“Hey, I will see you tomorrow,” the punk again carefully smiled an impish grin before he wandered back down the corridor, leaving Bo alone with his thoughts. 

Bo savored the smoke of his last drag in solemn reflection under the sun’s setting glow.

“It’s time for me to change,” He said as he reached for the rolled up uniform set on top of the gym bag of hospital necessities. Still hunched over the pamphlet marking another important note, Ling’s jaw went slack with surprise.

“Can we chat before the surgery?” Bo asked. Ling put aside the pamphlet and gently patted the empty seat beside her.

The two other patients were startled from their silent contemplation by the creaking sound as Bo lowered his bulk into the chair. While Bo and Ling were talking in tender subdued tones, the eavesdroppers shared a knowing glance and returned to their own inner thoughts.

Creativity Team:

Photo & Fictional Storytelling by: Jude Jiang,

Editing by: Richard Trombly,

By Jude Jiang

Jude Jiang is a bilingual writer based in China. She has a strong interest in bridging the understanding between western and eastern worlds through storytelling.

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