IT WAS RED. Deep red in particular.
The kind of red most people would associate with what runs through our veins in an endless marathon across our bodies. Bloody red. The deep, dark, disastrous kind of red that would mean imminent danger to whoever was in possession of it. That color itself was enough to warn anyone of the dire consequences one would face: not today, not tomorrow, but eventually in the near future. It’s quite funny how despite all this “RED” warning all over it, no one seems to care about what would eventually face them: A slow, painful, agonizing end.
I looked at it from top to bottom. No, I literally stared at it cluelessly wondering why on earth I was about to make a rather crazy decision. The sun, as usual, shone with all its brutality upon us innocent souls of the coastal region, making the temperatures abnormally higher than ever. As it was a norm, siestas were a thing we all loved. That nice, long nap in the afternoon after eating a very heavy lunch, in addition to the hot blazing afternoon sun. There you are, dead asleep on the bed, or seated outside next to the cool breeze of the ocean. Next to you is a cold; by cold I mean extremely cold glass of whatever you enjoy drinking, complete with a neatly peeled lemon slice and a colorful straw to complete the puzzle of enjoyment. Nothing in the world beats that feeling of utmost serenity amidst the cruel blazing sun.
The small rectangular piece of paper was covered in red, except for a black stripe going all around it near the top end of the paper. This black stripe divided the paper into two sides: the upper side which was white and the lower side which was RED. On the lower, red side, there stood and inescapable icon of a horse in a white circular enclosure staring straight ahead. A brave, noble horse it seemed. Below it was the words “King Size” written in golden capital letters. On the white upper side, there was a name written in red. It was visible from miles away. The name seemed energetic and lively. A kind of name that would grip your interest and curiosity in an instant.
The name was SPORTSMAN.
“Hey Wilson, what are you looking at down there!”
Those words knocked me hard. I immediately looked up and realized that all eyes were on me. All attention swayed from the teacher and unceremoniously landed on me. My eyes were looking at the teacher while my hands were on my desk. That feeling of sudden attention made my nerves go haywire. In my hands was a Sportsman cigarette paper with two sticks of cigarettes in it. I looked around the class one more time and then straight ahead at the teacher, whose large, red, spectacled eyes were staring right into my soul. As slow as I possibly could, I folded the contents in my hand while staring at the teacher. Since our desks were covered all the way down (To God be the Glory), I slowly moved my hands into my left sock, pulled it outwards and placed the cigarette pack into the sock near the heel. All this time I was just staring blankly at the teacher.
“I thought I asked you a question. Or did I stutter?”
The class erupted into laughter as I heavily blinked, having completely forgotten about the question.
“Nothing…” I finally answered making the class burst into more laughter. The teacher, “Mr. Death” as we were all used to call him, gave me one of the fakest smiles ever and then looked down.
He looked down. If during any class he talked to you then looked down, things were about to get real serious.
“Hebu njoo hapa,” He spoke with a pure Swahili accent. The kind of accent that only those chosen few individuals who have mastered the most complex structures of the Kiswahili language. Everyone who was laughing suddenly kept dead silence. Those simple three words meant nothing to smile about. I stood up, pulled my chair outwards and slowly walked towards him. Being the backbencher since the beginning of time, it was customary for me to make that long walk of shame from the back of the class towards the front. And on this day, the walk was longer than usual. This was courtesy of the endless strings of thoughts in mind which were in a dilemma on whether he had noticed me staring at the cigarettes under my desk or he was just going to set an example for the rest of the class through me. None of the suggestions in my mind was anything positive. But the thought of him unleashing my hidden artifacts for the whole class to see was my worst nightmare.
“Show me your hands,” He commanded while reaching for them. I opened them wide and he began frisking me as though I was some kind of terrorist. From my upper shirt pocket, he then proceeded and emptied my trousers’ pockets. In there was a black pen and a fifty shilling note which was for my lunch. He keenly observed them and returned them to my pocket. I breathed in and out. I had just escaped “death”. I looked back and saw my classmates smiling at me, a clear indication that I was safe and sound.
“Remove your shoes.”
My smile turned into a painful frown. Wait… What!
I was doomed. I lifted up my right leg and swiftly removed my shoe. I lifted the left leg and removed the shoe as well. At that point, I knew I was in a deep mess. He looked at me sternly as he grabbed the shoe from the floor. The right shoe was the first in line. He gave it a keen, up-close look inside, turned it upside down hoping for something sinister to fall off the shoe. He returned it to me and held the left one. He followed the same protocol and nothing fell. He looked down for some time. I closed my eyes, waiting for the words to come out of his mouth. The words that would unleash doom into my young life. If he were to tell me to remove my socks, all would be over for me.
Then he spoke.
“…Go back and sit down. If I see you doing that again, you will know you don’t know.”
How will I know I don’t know? I wondered as I went back and sat at my desk. Before he even proceeded with his teaching, the bell rang. It was 4:00 pm. When you are in primary school, nothing gives you joy in this world like the sound of the final bell of the day. He stopped, took his books and departed out of the class to towards the unknown.
Then chaos erupted.
People started yelling and screaming after holding their silence for the whole day. I quickly took the cigarettes out of my socks and placed them into my pockets.
“What were you thinking bro? You could have been caught.”
I looked back and saw Jimmy. My partner in crime. He looked at me in a surprised manner, probably thinking how stupid I was to carry cigarettes to school. We lived next door to each other and we used to do all mischievous things together. We were even suspected for bringing drugs to school and being negative influencers of the class.
“Remember who we are supposed to see after school,” Jimmy said as we headed home while narrating to him how I felt as I was being scrutinized by the teacher. I quickly recalled since my near-death experience made me completely forget about our ‘appointment’. Our homes were just a few meters away, and we took approximately five minutes to walk from home to school. But on this particular day, we had an ‘appointment’ which was about to make us arrive extremely late at home.
We diverted from our usual route to home and headed towards the town’s graveyard which was not far away from our school. The silence was haunting to our ears. In front of us was a large mango tree which was comfortably standing at the extreme corner of the graveyard. Bats hovered all over the tree and the sounds of their wing flaps were enough to give anyone chills. We passed the tree and as he told us, there would be an old building next to the tree. The building was really old as he had mentioned. It was as though it was built until halfway then the owner mysteriously went missing, and decades of lack of maintenance made its walls to crack and grass to grow to heights never seen before. We walked into the ruins and there he was. The person who gave us the appointment. He was seated at the corner of the ruined house on a brownstone. His head was facing the ground, showcasing his long, unkempt dreadlocks to our eyes. He gave out a loud, long, wheezing cough as he turned his head forward to see us. His eyes were blood red and in his left hand was a long piece of cigarette whose tip was blazing hot, filling the area with smoke.
“You made it. How is your experience so far,” He spoke, after which he let out a loud nasty cough three times. He folded his hands into a fist and placed it in front of his mouth in an attempt to reduce the impact of a cough. We watched in disgust, our faces clearly showing the disgust in our hearts and souls. “We have smoked all the packet and we are left with only two cigarettes. You have taught us to smoke and you were right, there is that ‘head rush’ you’ve been saying we will feel each time we smoked.” Jimmy said as he showed him the sportsman package which I was hiding in my socks earlier on. I had given it to him after he endlessly insisted to have them for better safekeeping. He got up and came towards us, with the stench of concentrating smoke tagging along with him. It filled our noses and made me almost choke. “You see, I told you so!” He said as he came closer to us. He let out a loud cough once again as his dreadlocks covered his face. He then placed the blazing cigarette in his mouth, puffed it in for a pretty long time. He closed his eyes and held the smoke in for a few seconds and then finally released it out. He breathed the smoke out and we could all see the sense of satisfaction and relaxation in him. “Here, you try it. That is how you smoke Sportsman my young ones.” He said as he stretched the hand with the cigarette towards Jimmy. He excitedly took it and placed it in his mouth. He did exactly what the dreadlocked man did.
“Man this is dope,” He said happily as he narrated how he felt his soul leave his body for some seconds and wander into another dimension. “Here, your turn,” Jimmy said as he handed the cigarette towards me, which was now halfway burnt. I grabbed it by the edge and placed it in my mouth. I puffed it in as deep as I could. I felt a burning sensation in my lungs which made me let out a vigorous cough. I = hurriedly gave the cigarette back to ‘Dreadlocks’ as I struggled to cough. They both laughed hysterically at me since it was now clear I had not mastered the ‘art’ of smoking. I looked down as I gasped for fresh air, holding my chest with both hands hoping the burning sensation would stop anytime soon. I suddenly noticed something dripping on the feet of Dreadlocks. I looked closely.
It was blood. Real blood.
I looked upright towards him and I was shocked. Dreadlocks placed his hands on his mouth and nose. Then he looked at them with eyes wide open.
They were red.
His pale brown hands were filled with blood. His eyes were a clear sign of shock. He then inhaled deeply and let out a loud cough. This time it was louder and more vigorous than the rest of a cough. He held his hands onto his mouth as he coughed continuously while we were there gazing at him. Some few seconds later, he stopped coughing. In his hands, there was a large lump of meat covered in blood.
A large lump of meat particle that he had just coughed out from his lungs!
He stood there, his eyes wide open, staring at his bloody hands, his mind in denial that he had just coughed out meat from his lungs. And not forgetting Jimmy and me, two innocent souls witnessing the gruesome details before our very eyes. He looked at us. Turned to his hands. Then finally he looked at the blazing cigarette which was still intact on his left hand.
The inevitable was happening. And he knew it.
And for us me, having seen what the cigarette could do to a grown man’s body, I began imagining what would happen to my fragile little body if I continued smoking. I consoled myself that smoking for one month could not affect my body since Jimmy was the one who introduced smoking to me a month ago. And for him, since he and Dreadlocks knew each other for a few years now, I couldn’t begin to imagine how messed up his insides were.
Jimmy moved closer to his friend, not me but Dreadlocks to get a closer look at what just came out of his mouth. He held his mouth coughed and ran a few meters away from him and vomited all that he had eaten that day. I quickly left the ruined house, leaving both of them looking at each other, walked past the graveyard and followed the road that led home. I stopped at one of the shops along the road, bought the blue PK chewing gum and gobbled all four of them into my mouth in an effort to conceal the smell of the cigarette smoke from my parents. The thoughts of smoking were completely erased from my mind. What I had just seen would definitely stick in my mind for a really long time and there was no way I would even think of smoking after seeing all those gory scenes in the ruined building.
“Hey! Wait up!” I heard Jimmy’s voice behind me. I looked back and saw him running towards me. I stopped walking and waited for him. He reached where I was and grabbed me by the shoulders.
“You wouldn’t believe what happened.”
“What happened,” I asked curiously.
“He just collapsed right in front of me. I’ve tried waking him up but he just laid there, not breathing not moving. I don’t know what happened. I… I…I think he’s…gone. I think he just died. He’s a dead man!”
I was speechless. My mouth didn’t move but my mind was overworking with thoughts and images of Dreadlocks, who a moment ago was alive and kicking, now was no more.