I usually take the stairs from our sixth floor apartment to go to the first floor. I like the walk down in the morning, and up back to the apartment in the evening. It’s healthy. But what is not is the smell of the cigarette smoke in the stairwell.
Cigarette smoke smells different outside, as air slices its thickness off, splintering them in various directions. Smoke is injurious, thick or thin, so most public parks are now no-smoking zones. But when you smoke in a corridor of a closed structure, the thick white stays, and can travel up and down through a stairwell.
We’ve seen No Smoking written in faint red on the grainy walls of the stairwells, on each floor, of the high rise building. The illegibility may have been the invalid excuse for the smokers who have long taken their drags there. Then a time came when the building management issued a warning, a print out, which said: It is not permitted to smoke in the stairwells. A print out pasted on each floor. 36 floors. 4 stairwells.
Permission? Reveler tenants continued to smoke, though the warning was much legible.
Nobody has probably been able to catch these smokers red-handed. How, is a question. None knows their smoking schedule, and the odor lingers after the smoker has long left for his abode. Why don’t they smoke in their abode? They love their family to death.
Last month, the management issued another warning, a print out, which said: It is ILLEGAL to smoke in the building.
ILLEGAL. Yes, in caps. Severe warning it is – so two print outs for each floor.
The word illegal worked. Yay!!! Smokers after all were law abiding tenants otherwise. Soon the smoking zone outside the front lobby swelled. There was no smell in the vertical shaft, for a fortnight.
This morning the odor was pungent in the stairwell. I slowed my steps down, each foot soft and investigative in its motion. I reached the first floor. I saw him.
He was in the corridor, his back facing me. A cigarette was burning between his fingers, and the strong wind outside hurried the smoke in.
He had opened an emergency door — wonder why no alarm sounded, would have alerted the doorman — and had his right foot in as a door blocker. Fahrenheit was negative, and he was wearing a t-shirt. He’d come prepared to smoke in the corridor.
“Sir, the stairwell is filled with your smoke,” I said.
He turned around, his raised brows made his eyes bigger, his foot unmoved. “Really? But I’m smoking outside.”
“Are you? The wind’s moving in.”
“But my puff is going out.”
“Sir, I live on the sixth. I could smell your puffs there.”
He took two steps out, still holding the door. The corridor – chillier than before – continued to suck the smoke in. “Look, I’m outside now.”
“Are you? Thanks a lot.”
The last I glimpsed him, he had an awkward posture: right hand on the door, left fingers and the fag in shivering rhythm, both feet tap dancing as he fought the chill, his t-shirt ballooning behind him.
The weather was punishing, and for all his hard work, he was still breaking the law.