We were maybe 12 or 13 and we were walking home from school on a Friday afternoon. I particularly loved Fridays because it meant we left school early. Normally we’d throng around a local arcade and play a few rounds of NFS, a little bit of tekken and a whole lot of winning eleven. Back then winning eleven was the equivalent of fifa. The only thing that came close was pro evolution soccer or PES. This time we didn’t. We made a stop by the local ice cream vendor that was purported to get his water from a sewer supply. Given, his ice tasted off and sometimes acidic but we figured it must be the juice or flavoring he uses.
At 12 and 13 adolescence has just about hit and peer pressure begins to hit its peak. You begin to notice the girls chests aren’t as flat anymore and their skirts are a bit more fuller. Some of the guys are breaking their voices and facial hair is starting to sprout while others are trying to talk in a deeper tone to mask the fact that their voices are smoother than 18 year old whiskey. It’s confusion galore as girls write letters to boys and boys write letters to girls and no one writes letters to you and you’re left wondering what went wrong. You hear so and so has a girlfriend and during break time they hang behind the classes doing god knows what. What you have is your imagination so you figure they go behind the classes to compare handwriting and share notes. Sometimes they go in pairs, them and their coupled friends. So you figure it’s study sessions. Until later on you realize it was studying, but, of the human anatomy.
You get tired of being left out and decide it’s time you did something too. A girlfriend is out of the question. You don’t know how to talk to girls. What do you tell them? Do they have names? What do you do when you finally get one? Sit and smile at each other the whole day, or share a ruler over a mathematics class? When do you kiss her? Forget when how do you even kiss her? What do you tell your friends? When do you start comparing handwriting and sharing notes? It’s too much work so, no, a girlfriend is out of the question. You decide on something cooler than a girlfriend you figure cigarettes is the way to go. That’s it, you and your clique will smoke cigarettes.
Over weeks you plan where you’ll buy the cigarettes and who’s in charge of the matchsticks. You save up the money because you don’t really know how much they are. It would be embarrassing waking up to a shopkeeper and asking for a pack of cigs only for your money to fall short. The guy would give you a stern look and snatch them away from you seeing through your lie of “my dad sent me”. It hits him he’s never even seen your dad smoke and he gets the nerve to tell on you. Soon enough the whole neighborhood knows you tried to buy cigarettes because he is telling everyone who cares to lend him an ear that the son of so and so is spoilt and kids should stay away from him because he is chasing cancer. Overnight you become a sensation and classmates look at you with reverence. You’re a rebel, loyal to the cause. You get a girlfriend with your new bad boy status and you go behind the class to smoke, compare handwriting and share notes.
But that’s not how events unfold. You’re walking back from school on a Friday evening after unsuccessfully trying to buy cigarettes from three shops. You had walked up to each of them and ended up with a fistful of ball gum and patcos which you willingly shared with the gang. You said it was for the bad breath and they thought you were smart to think about that. No one calls you out because they know you’ll shove the money in their hands and ask them to buy their own cigs. So you’re walking home unsuccessful and in front of you is this freakishly tall man. He has a white shirt, checked that’s a couple of sizes larger and his slender arms are sticking out like coat hangers. He is slouching as he walks and is dragging his red worn out pata pata on the gravel. You see smoke billow from his nostrils right before he drops the cigarette and keeps walking. You walk up to the cigarette and realize it’s still glowing. The bastard didn’t finish it all. A chance has presented itself, a menthol cigarette lit and waiting for you to smoke it. This is your ticket to be cool. So you pick it up and you all run to some abandoned building pregnant with excitement. You look at the glowing embers and decide it’s time to take that first puff.
The thing with firsts is that they are either underwhelming, overwhelming, perfect, awkward or just too brief to count. It doesn’t matter whether it’s your first love, first kiss, first drink, first smoke, first time doing that thing – you know – thinging. It’s almost always the same. I remember my first kiss. It was a Tuesday and I was maybe 6 or 7 and a girl had chased me around the nursery play ground calling me her husband and I was crying, mucus dripping down my nostrils. I ran until I couldn’t run anymore and I was tired so I went to sit under the slides. This girl comes up to me and says she’s sorry that she doesn’t want to see her husband cry. She gives me my hanky which I must have dropped because it was usually pinned on my shirt. I wipe my tears and clean my nose and I come out from under the slide. She stretches her hands holds my head and quickly kisses me on the lips before giggling and running away. From then on she was my girlfriend but after pre unit I never saw her again and now I think she might have been my first love too.
Years later, many years later when I was to first touch a lady on purpose, with their consent, all I had was this lump of soft flesh in my hands. You don’t know what to do with it. You try what you’ve seen in movies but it just feels like a pound of flesh in your hands – warm flesh. At some point you imagine a guy shouting at you ‘kata apo kilo moja unifungie’. To make matters worse they just stand there too. You don’t know if it’s something they like or if you’re doing it wrong. You don’t see the whole point in it and it’s over as soon as it starts. You swear never to be in such an awkward situation again but years later…
Where was I? Ah, the cigarette. The cigarette was nothing like my first kiss. Unless you consider putting something that has been in some on else’s mouth kind of like a kiss then I did kiss my first freakishly tall man in an abandoned building with three other teenage boys watching. I put the butt – cigarette butt – on my lips and drew a long breath. What did I expect? To let out a cool billow of smoke from my mouth and nostrils. What did I get? A choking sensation that ripped through my whole body. I coughed so hard that I teared. My friends didn’t know any better so they quickly extinguished the cigarette and they a ran away. I coughed so hard I thought I had tuberculosis and lung cancer. I swore never to touch those damn things again. I went home red eyed and blamed it on the dust and my allergies. The next day I was an instant hit with my clique. They all wanted to know how it felt and if I was going to die from lung cancer or if I’d started T.B treatment. A little mystery never hurt nobody so I lied and was as vague as possible. We all swore to do it again. Only I knew I wouldn’t go first. I wanted to see some on else’s eyes tear up and run away living them to die from their tuberculosis and lung cancer.