Spots of a Leopard
Nicolás is seated in his study. The last rays of the sun seep through the
window, illuminating half his body and tracing the spirals of tobacco smoke
that envelop him with brushstrokes of light. He puffs frugally on his cigarette
and looks through the smoke at his mother’s photo in front of him. The ashtray
on his desk is overflowing with cigarette butts — not from yesterday or the day
before, but from today. Since he came back from lunch, he has lit one cigarette
after another. Nicolás was desperate because smoking is no longer allowed in
restaurants. So when he left, he smoked in the street, in his car, and his
house’s bathroom while eagerly waiting for his coffee to be ready, taking
Almost six years ago he underwent aortofemoral bypass because he was no
longer able to walk well, his feet felt burned, pins and needles, and couldn’t
take even one more step. His angiologist said blood didn’t circulate well in
the lower legs. If he didn’t have bypass surgery, the legs would have to be
amputated. He wasn’t crazy about surgeries, but accepted the doctor’s advice.
He preferred to die rather than live without legs, without freedom and
independence, without walks to the Parnaso bookstore in search of books. And
drinking a cup of coffee, right there in downtown Coyoacán. And going back down
the Calle de Tres Cruces, where he bought two packs of cigarettes in a candy
store. No, having no legs, no! Not even his children, who also smoked, would
ever understand how desperate he felt when he didn’t keep a cigarette pack
close by. No one would bring him cigarettes quickly enough. So he agreed, then,
to have surgery.
After the surgery, the doctor said his artery looked like a blood sausage,
it was almost completely blocked, and blamed it on smoking. And the surgery
actually improved his life and physical mobility. But he was prohibited from
smoking and prescribed nicotine gum and patches to stick on his stomach. God
knows how hard he tried, but the only thing the treatment did to him was to
increase his craving. He chewed nicotine gum as he smoked one pack after
another, with a nicotine patch on his belly.
A month ago he began to feel ill — weak and sick. His son-in-law, who is a
doctor, ordered all kinds of studies, blood tests, tomography, and MRI scans.
Again he was put through strange machines, white tunnels with strange noises.
He was injected contrast liquids to have X‑rays taken that cut him in pieces — situations
so modern and advanced that they turn out to be unpleasant. But what is worse,
he wasn’t allowed to light a cigarette for hours. Hospitals should be
understanding and make a smoking room available, because there people feel nervous
and stressed about sick people or their own ailment. But those who make these
new laws just don’t understand it. They were not yet born at the time or too
young to remember Bogart smoking in Casablanca or literary giants like Rulfo
and Cortázar, always with cigarettes between their lips, dangling to the rhythm
of their words. Neither did they have a mother like his, who gave off the sweet
aroma of tobacco, seated at the dining table, talking, sipping her coffee,
chain-smoking Raleigh cigarettes, without worrying about her children who
shared the table, worrying about nothing but smoking, contently smoking,
enjoying puffs of smoke around her. Tobacco reminds him of moments, so
familiar, so intimate, and smells like home, like his mother. It can’t be harmful.
Nicolás gets up from his executive chair to serve himself another cup. This
combination of tobacco and caffeine is beyond his control. From the remnants of
the one he has smoked, he lights a new cigarette. He sips his coffee and looks
at his mother’s portrait. She was more farsighted than others. If smoking were
harmful, she would never have allowed him to smoke. And to think that he tried
his first cigarette when he was eight.
Anyway, smoking is not the cause of his ailment, he knows it, even though his
doctor says the opposite, seconded by his son-in-law, his daughter, and his
medical exams. As his body deteriorates, it no longer stands a real man’s life.
A body that is getting old, just like his mother’s.
Nicolás looks at the yellow Médica Sur envelope that contains the results of
his medical exam. His doctor checked them a couple of days ago and says his
aorta got infected where the bypass was done. He has to undergo yet another
surgery; like horse surgery, his entire abdomen has to be cut open. He shook
his head, giving a categorical no. At eighty, this kind of surgery must be too
heavy a cross to bear. Even if he lived five more years, living like that is
not really living. Besides he would have to give up smoking for good and stay
in the hospital, without lighting up, for at least two weeks and six months to
recover. Bedridden, dependent on his daughter and nurses. Without secret puffs
in the bathroom or on some balcony. No one to help him out, no puff to get rid
of his anxiety. The more he thinks about it, the more determined he is: he
prefers to wait for death with a cigarette in his mouth. No, he’s not going
back to the hospital. Only he knows what’s happening to his body; it’s old age
that’s killing him, not smoking, no way, he thinks while watching the fading
smoke between him and his mother’s photo.
Care to Share?
Consider posting a note of comment on this item: