Although we exchanged “hellos” before class a few times, I hadn’t had a legitimate conversation with Zeke until last week. While the professor explained a vocabulary exercise, Zeke turned around and asked to share a textbook, and I nonchalantly complied. It was then that I noticed some type of unrest within him. Zeke was a walking contradiction: open minded but aggressive, friendly but hostile, and intelligent but foolish. When it was his turn to read or if he wished to check something, he would, without asking, lift the book and do as he pleased, regardless of my obvious effort to try to keep up with the professor. Although I considered this seriously disrespectful at first, I later noticed that he only meant well and just didn’t know better. Either that or he was a jerk, but I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt.
I had seen Zeke inject potions and suspicious powders within tubes and wires, but mentally excused him as a chemist. It wasn’t until I watched him tear slips of paper and embed tobacco within rolls that I thought to ask him what the spongebob he was doing. I tapped his shoulder and he raised his eyebrows in response. “Are you rolling cigarettes in the middle of class?” I asked with an expression that was supposed to look like a cross between disappointment and concern, but in reality, probably looked like a duckface. “Maybe” he replied, grinning. “That’s not really appropriate for a classroom environment” I responded, awaiting my death by shank as his facial expression hardened. “Well, it’s my hobby.” “My hobby is painting. Do you see me with a canvas and palette?” He nodded in acknowledgement, and five minutes later, turned to lift a cigarette to his nose and dramatically sniff, stifling laughter. I playfully rolled my eyes as another classmate, Noor interjected. “Is that just regular tobacco?” she asked. “Kind of. It gives like a nice nicotine buzz though..it’s really calming.” “Oh.” was all she said before continuing to pack her bags. “Want calming? try meditation.” I mentioned (passively aggressively) before slamming the door behind me.
I can’t exactly pinpoint what about Zeke intrigued me, or why the fact that he (very obviously) pursued drugs upset me so much. A cup of tea and thirty minutes after sundown, it hit me. It was because, although it wasn’t much of my business, Zeke was killing himself before me and I couldn’t do anything about it. In this event, I had two options: either entertain the fact that he was digging his own grave, or simply ignore it, and I had never wanted a third option more.
I’m not Zeke’s friend, or even his acquaintance. But I have noticed the way he is first to answer questions in class, and the way he always has something to say about the Arab world’s political situation. I’ve noticed his cheeky jokes in class, and the way his eyes twinkle when he gets a question right. I’ve noticed that cigarette smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans each year, and I’ve noticed that he, like many others, is just too smart to become another statistic.