LIFE BY LOUIS: Smoking is not for the faint-hearted

Monday March 11 2019

I placed it between my two middle fingers like an expert, then took one long puff. ILLUSTRATION | IGAH

I placed it between my two middle fingers like an expert, then took one long puff. ILLUSTRATION | IGAH 

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When I was growing up, it was considered illegal to think about smoking or drinking adult beverages.

Being caught in possession of containers or packs associated with the two items was considered an act of crime whose disciplinary remedy was beyond our parents and teachers.

When I was sent by my uncle to buy him cigarettes from the nearby shop as he toiled away in the farm, I always moved at supersonic speed. The cigarettes were neatly wrapped in a newspaper and I held them in my right hand with the palm loosely folded so as not to squeeze them. I could not put them in the pocket lest I folded them by accident and broke them.


A lot may have changed nowadays and younger people are exposed to these adult substances of enjoyment at an earlier age.

School opening and closing days have become a nightmare for parents with students in faraway schools. In the short window between departing home and arriving in school, students are likely to get themselves into all kinds of mischief enough to send their parents to an early appointment with the grave.

In some instances, students have been spotted engaged in sessions with sticks of cigarettes and adult beverages in public.

In a few extreme cases, they have been spotted smoking another substance closely associated with Jamaica. They have also been seen with puffed cheeks and chewing another local substance that leaves their mouths looking like goats enjoying an early breakfast.

In my high school days where we wore shorts that exposed our thin hairless eggs for mosquitos to feast at will, things were different. Smoking was only whispered amongst the bigger boys in upper classes who wore blazers and shaved their stubble on Saturdays.

One day I decided I had become a big boy and it was now time to get cool with a puff. I had carefully studied all the Wild Westerns and had a comprehensive theoretical framework of how smoking should be done. I had stopped short of writing a standard operating procedure or manual on how to smoke and look cool.

I knew it was all about how methodically you went about the process of lighting up and taking a drag. The first chapter would involve lighting carefully and flicking the match away, then taking a deep hit and pulling in the smoke.

The second step would involve twisting the mouth and carefully but deliberately blowing the remainder of the smoke upwards, then allowing a reasonable pause in between the next puff.

Finally, we had almost completed our final form four exams and the prospect of becoming citizens was overpowering.


One early evening we skipped out of the compound and took a stroll in the neighbourhood whistling at the village girls and being all cheeky.

The girls, especially from the nearby day schools, were always proud to be associated with us who were from a big provincial school with three laboratories and eight dormitories. The girls had straight powerful postures and flat stomachs because of walking a lot to and from their schools every day.

We always claimed to have the latest sample exam papers from the big national schools, and these revision papers were exchanged in kind with promises of adolescent love from the girls from across the fence.

However, on this day of our escapade the girls had gone back home to do their school, so it was just us against the world. We strolled aimlessly just looking for trouble, wishing the world to welcome us with love after we had cleared the last exam paper.

At some point someone produced a stick and lit up. It was passed around and I aligned myself to be the last boy to puff, somehow hoping it would be finished by the time my turn came. I did not wish my first encounter with a cigarette to be this unceremonial.

I received it calmly and placed it between my two middle fingers like an expert, then took one long puff. I clicked the ash away, twisted my mouth sideways like a celebrated movie star and let the smoke out just like in the movies. This was super cool and I felt dizzy with excitement.

I went for another drag on the fag, and this is when all hell broke loose. Some acrid smoke must have passed through the wrong route into my lungs.

The irritation was unbearable and I was threatening to cough out my lungs in one fit of breathlessness. I bent down in desperation with tears rolling down my face.

The other boys were almost tripping on themselves with laughter.

Soon it was over, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the dormitory so as to brush my teeth and sanitise my throat with a lot of water. I quickly filed separation papers with cigarettes.