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cremations and the blue-footed booby that arose thereof – Poems, Pictures & Prose by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee

cremations and the blue-footed booby that arose thereof

Despite having done the following for most of my life; drinking things warmed in the microwave, eating kool-aid straight out of the packet, using a roll-on anti-perspirant daily, a couple of weeks ago, I managed to hit a quarter century.

However, it was a birthday spent mostly in bed (I wish I could do a giggley-wink-wink here, but I was merely whiney, miserable and sickly with flu et al.), followed by two weeks of corporeal rebellion.

How predictable that epiphanies would come bouncing along wearing their “Stick with the winners” badges as I approached the eve of ageing.

It’s been a while since my last cigarette. Note ‘last’. I can say this with an almost arrogant certainty, “I will never smoke again.”

I did not find some aspect of God. A fractured personality did not suddenly develop moral fortitude and stage its coup while I slept. I just didn’t want to any more.

There was something about my habit that lingered with each dissipating exhalation.
The blues and greys were the rising detritus of past demolitions. Ugly things that diminished me and built me up so long ago, they might as well have not existed. And yet I still held this thing to my lips.

I smoked because I wanted to see. I smoked because I wanted to feel. I smoked because people didn’t expect me to.
I smoked because I liked it.

I have fond memories of burning tobacco.
There were conversations with good friends that stretched over sunsets, ashtrays and hours.
There were the liftclub cigarettes, the packs that belonged to everyone and no one, the ones we prayed over, hoping we didn’t stink of the guilt when we got home to our families.
A solitary indulgence sometimes, I’d take to quiet heights with views of the city and myself; the roof of the archi building at Wits, Great Hall stairs, the balcony of my boss’ house when we still had offices there.
I can still taste the menthol of a slow Craven A, the best after a meal at Muchacho’s while driving down the Brixton Hill towards Auckland Park that one day in 2003.
There was the cigarette in my cousin’s garden on the morning of my wedding; everything was damp from the rain, and so sharp, I could cut with the leaves.

My last cigarette was dispatched without any ritual; the end stubbed out among a billion other crutches in the communal ashtray of our office smoking room. I walked back to the office, without a word to anyone.

And that was it really.

I don’t wish to glorify something that has the potential to harm you. I lived through my grandfather’s struggle to breathe. A chain smoker, who had to stop because of a bullet that grazed his lung during a robbery he stumbled upon. After decades of reaching into his pocket for the next one, he quit just like that. The damage was already done. It was a few years after that, when he needed two oxygen machines, because he just couldn’t do it on his own. Something so basic, done without active thought, and yet there he was, aware every second that those humming machines were the gatekeepers of his mortality.

I should’ve known better. And I did, but I smoked anyway. There’s this quote from Gregory David Robert’s Shantaram that I often pull out, something along the lines of, “I smoked in those days, because like all people who smoked, I wanted to die as much as I wanted to live.”
And maybe I was caught up in something I didn’t quite understand. But you get on in years, and if you’re lucky, you learn from what you’ve lost and your world becomes that much easier to navigate.

This is not a ‘come walk with me, I have seen the light’ post.
People smoke for different reasons. People quit for different reasons. Some people never smoke at all. But one thing I do know, we all have our crutches. I know I’m still leaning on a few.

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I am a writer and photographer (look up my work on based in Johannesburg, South Africa. I have an MA in Creative Writing from the university currently known as Rhodes. My writing accolades include winning the 2014 Writivism Short Story Prize and the 2020 Ingrid Jonker Poetry Prize for my debut collection, Zikr.

15 thoughts on “cremations and the blue-footed booby that arose thereof”

  1. the post title said “booby”. but none were to be found. a disappointing read 🙂

  2. Congratulations and salutations, on kicking the habit, and hitting the big 25!

    I guess when I figure out why I smoke, I’ll stop, for now I will keep this specific crutch until, well who knows

  3. Hey babe, Happy Belated birthday.
    Congrats on quitting.
    That was an awesome post…
    makes me wanna start smoking 😉

  4. My own story – It will be a year in August.

    My giving up and reason for smoking was similar, I just decided that enough was enough.

    Well done on exorcising your smoking demons 🙂

  5. Belated happy birthday and well done on quitting. Been trying to quit for many years now with very little success…


  6. Happy Birthday (belated)..
    Gosh, u getting old..
    Just kidding..

    Never knew u smoked.. Or did I..

    Damn my memory is depreciating.. Damn did i just use a sucky accounting phrase..

  7. hey lady

    this is your realness in writing at its best! awesome! oh and happy belated, ms gemini 🙂 heres to forever worded inspirations. and heres to burning crutches with the tenacity of one addicted to snapping toothpicks 😛

  8. The way you just quit sounds normal. I dont quite understand how people have to cut down to eventually quit, wear nicotine patches or go for hypnosis etc. Sounds so extreme. Good for you.

  9. There is almost a sneaky jealousy in me when I see people taking time out at the office to smoke. It seems like calmness descends on them, a pleasure non-smokers have no comtrol over. Of course it’s not a calmness, it’s relief after having craving for the rest of the time. And the cravings seem uncontrollable. The last sentence resonates.

  10. a late happy birthday to you, Saaleha! 25 is a very interesting age, may many more birthdays greet you.

    the content of your post was very well written, but what amazes me is the insight – you definitely have a real genius for exposing deep and truthful feelings – you have already gathered the an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of the life around you – i just turned 60 years old in march, and i enjoy reading your posts, but the depth of your writing also belongs in the worlds top literary magazines, where the pulse of your creativity can be felt by the masses.

    i imagine visualizing your work in the ancient ‘Atlantic Monthly Magazine’ that began its publication in 1857.

    thank you very much for sharing.

  11. Hey Sals, Well Done!
    Glad you decided to quit

    PS for some reason I cannot post when I signed in? Not Sure whats the matter

  12. awesome 🙂
    you make me proud
    (and thats all i will say 🙂 no long lectures from me mwah)

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