Guilty Feelings

Copyright © 1988 Patrick Khoo
PFS Creative Prose Prize 1988

Puff! Puff!
Beware The Devil’s Breath,
Puff! Puff!
Be Wary Of An Early Death.

"This is the moment we have all been waiting for folks - the greatest and the best has arrived!"

That’s right, the greatest and the best is me! I’m the most enjoyable companion you can find. I’m compact, simple yet exotic. I’m the smallest but I last the longest. More taste than any other. The greatest aroma, the most luxurious yet affordable. I’m the best there is at what I do best, which is giving you all complete satisfaction. So light up, my friends! Light me up!

Ah! It feels so good to be on top. Sales are going up and I’m getting extremely popular. Everybody wants me - from the man in the street to the executives in their posh offices high up in the sky. Who says it’s lonely at the top? That commercial two months ago did its job. Of course the main explanation for being so popular is that I am what I said I am. I even heard that one of my rivals cannot stand the competition and is down and out.

Although I am very popular, there is a sector of the public who dislikes me. They yell out slogans and put up posters that tarnish my good name. Because of their merciless attacks on me, some of my fans are taking their so called "good" advice. They have stopped buying me. However my staunch supporters still like me and call me their favourite.

"Cough! Cough!"
"Ralph, you’re still coughing?"
"Unfortunately, yes. Cough!"
"Ralph, you had better stop. It’s ruining your life!"
"My dear, you’re right as - Cough! - always. I’ll try . . . ."

"I can’t stand it. It’s killing me. Just one puff. Just one . . . ." Well, his one puff led to another and another and another! He’s still hooked!

"I’m sorry, but the test is positive."
"Are you sure doctor?"
"Yes, I’m sorry."
"How long?"
"A month . . . . Maybe two . . . . I’m very sorry."
"Doctor . . . . Are you sure that it’s what caused this?"
"Yes . . . . Quite sure. I know how you must feel right now."
"No! You don’t doctor, you may never know. I’m going and it’s all your fault! It’s all your - "
"Mr. Hendricks! Get a hold of yourself!"
"I’m sorry doctor, it’s just that I’m very upset . . . . Thanks doc. I guess I’d better be leaving." Mr. Ralph Hendricks leaves with tears in his eyes, while the doctor sits at his desk saddened by the news he had to give.

I feel sad. To think that it may have been I who caused this. Hey! But it could be a million other reasons. I wonder . . . .

It’s been one and a half months since that conversation but I am still in doubt. I fear the truth. There standing by the grave is Mrs. Hendricks and her three children, Jennifer, Alex, and four year old, Molly.

"Mommy, where’s Daddy? I want to hear a story."
"Okay Molly, I’ll tell you one."
"No Mommy, I want Daddy to. He tells very good stories! Where’s Daddy?" And with that, Mrs. Hendricks starts to weep.
"Don’t cry Mommy, Daddy will be home soon. He always does."
"If only he had stopped, he could have lived," whispers the neighbour to a friend.

Since the death of Mr. Ralph Hendricks and others who had suffered the same fate have been publicised, sales have dropped. I suppose that my fans have realised their error, in time. But for me, it is too late. I have taken a life. Someone has died because of me. I’m afraid that’s it’s too late to regret now. My conscience does not let me rest. I have guilty feelings.

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