COUGH, COUGH! I choked from the cigarette. It was my first time smoking. COUGH, COUGH! There I go again.
I can’t breathe! I said, feeling my lungs blowing like a balloon in my rib cage.
WA HA HA HA! They laughed at me as I was trying to save my being from perishing.
“So much for a genius, neh?” one boy said looking at the others.
Yes, I was really smart in the classroom. But I wasn’t regarded as ‘cool’. I didn’t have friends. Maybe my intelligence threatened them, I felt like a dork in my big-eyed-glasses. I couldn’t fit-in anywhere.
I felt bored from practicing my Math and Physics. That’s all I ever did while others laugh, make noise and run around the campus. It was a second period in a row and there was still no teacher in the class. So I decided to go to a spot where a lot of boys hung out. The toilets.
Smoke was all over the place. I could barely see who was there. The door swung open. Everyone in there was my classmate. Now I could see clearly since my eyes have adapted to the smoke. I wanted to stay and join in the conversation, but I on second thought.
“Rook, mate!” One guy shouted as I was heading out. I turned my head, hopeful he was talking to me. Yes he was.
“That’s Mr Goody Two Shoes, don’t waste your breath on him,” the other guys said, breaking the silence.
I went to them and I could hear BOOM BOOM! beating through my chest.
“Bring it.” I said with my nerve level reading high, but I had to prove myself to them that I am cool.
I puffed and blew in the air.
“No man, you are wasting a cigarette,” the other guy said, while grabbing it from my hand. “This is how you do it,” he continued.
He pulled and inhaled deeply and puffed it out through his nose and mouth, simultaneously.
“See?” He asked while handing it over. “Try it like that ke,” they all said.
I did as he had shown me. It was true I wasn’t cool. I was able to crack any Math equation or Science question. But I couldn’t do the dumbest thing like holding a cigarette. Everyone in my class knew how to do it. No, not everyone. Everyone except me, I thought, feeling more like the dork that everybody thought I am.
My chest hurts and my head is feeling heavy. I am seeing double through my big round glasses, I missed a step trying to walk.
WE HA HA HA! a sudden giggle followed. I stopped for two minutes, trying to regroup. Suddenly, everything seemed to have gone back to normal.
“Nje ke uyindoda, now you are a man!” they told me.
“Welcome to manhood.” They said.
The four of them shook each other’s hands. “Now we will, undoubtedly, be the coolest class in this school!” declared the third guy, known as Spikes.
It had been 30 minutes since I’d been in the toilets.
“Alitshe, let it burn!” said the first guy, nicknamed Cat.
The second guy, Shakes, pulled one out and lit it with the gun lighter.
The smoke came out and he passed it on to Spikes. Spikes puffed twice, and then it was my turn.
BOOM DOOM BOOM! My heart went once again, as I was taking the cigarette from Spikes to my mouth.
I have to get it right this time around. I thought. I did the three steps: puff, inhale and blow it out, successfully, this time. Did it twice again and passed it to Cat. He puffed and passed it to the fourth and last member of my newly found crew, called Dice.
Now, mission complete, I have friends and I am cool, I thought.
“Let’s go boys,” ordered Dice, as the final bell went off.
Off to the classroom, we all went shouting and laughing. I constantly kept feeling chest pains and I was short of breath. It was worth it, though. I thought.
Just before we exited the campus on our way home, there were four girls waiting at the gate. It was Dice’s girl Thuli, light in complexion, Shake’s Doli, a dark chick, Cat’s Zodwa, a yellow-bone. And last but not least, Spike’s Conny. Conny was brownish in complexion. They were all hot and from our class.
We all walked together and they were surprised to see a ‘dork’ with the crew.
“You really proved us wrong about you boy,” said Shakes, walking next to me with Doli on the other side.
“What happened?” asked Thuli, in her angelic voice.
“He smokes, this guy here!” answered her boyfriend, Dice.
“What?” they were astonished and the boys laughed.
“It’s true, tell them boy!” I kept quiet for a long time, feeling sorry for myself for being the only one without a girlfriend.
“Hey, guys. Are you ready for tomorrow night?” asked Conny.
“What’s happening tomorrow night?” I asked, curiously.
“It’s my girl’s birthday, boy,” Spikes boasted.
“You should come with,” he suggested. “That’s if it is okay with you,” he added shifting his attention to Conny.
“Of course, why not,” she agreed with him.
“Maybe you might just get yourself a girlfriend,” said Shakes.
“Hey guys, do you feel safe with this smart, single guy around? I certainly don’t,” he joked and everyone chuckled.
“Uyasha san’. You don’t believe in yourself,” I replied.
We took our different paths, heading home. It would be my first time partying out at night. I was 15 year’s old and in Grade 11. How? I skipped a grade.
I couldn’t wait for tomorrow. I was in the closet searching for clothes to wear. Now this is where my future really turned faint.
The next night I had R100 from my savings. Dice had twice as much, while Spikes had only R50 and a big, wrapped gift for his girlfriend. We all bought gifts for Conny.
The gun lighter went off in my hand and I smoked like an experienced smoker. I hit the 20 cigarette pack on my hand trying to get the next cigarette, like I had seen people do many times. I gave one to each of them. This was at the bridge where they hid to smoke.
“You look fresh dawg” complimented Shakes, while puffing out.
“Thanks man.” I appreciated. We had to move then but Cat was running late.
“Call him,” I suggested.
He walked in with a cooler-bag just before we could call him. It was very evident that it was heavy, he sighed heavily as he put it down.
He opened it.
“Wow, let’s party!” shouted Shakes, holding a can in his hand.
“Where did you get these, Cat?” I asked, grabbing one out of the crushed ice-bag. I never hesitated.
“Argh!” I enjoyed the refreshment. “Jah, this is what I call life.” I said with my eyes closed.
“This guy’s father owns a few taverns around the world.” answered Dice.
“That’s nice. Let’s get moving guys, Cat is here now.” I advised.
Off we went. I remembered I had a pack of cigarettes with me.
I lit the one and blew the smoke off my lungs. I got dizzy and missed a few steps. Dice caught me before I could fall.
“Hey, this guy! Just one can and he’s down,” said Dice after I got my balance. I stood for two minutes and everything was back to normal. I took another smoke but it didn’t get me dizzy this time around.
“Remember guys, I never did this before.” I defended myself.
I opened another can and gulped two big sips. Conny spotted us as we walked in, just past the gate. She approached us with a smile showing how happy she was to see us. She jumped on top of her boyfriend and kissed him.
“Woo ooh! Slow down birthday girl,” said Cat.
“Get a room guys!” Before he could finish Dice said.
I was drunk now. I couldn’t see clearly through my round glasses or even think straight.
“Come this way,” she said leading the way.
I Should go easy on the beer. I thought. I whipped my eyes behind my glasses for a clearer look, sitting on a sofa trying to rest. The boys and the girls were on the floor, dancing. Minnie was the short, hot girl from our class. They were all friends. She broke off from the girls and came straight to me on the sofa.
“You look bored.” She said over the loud music, sitting next to me.
“No, I am not. I just need to rest.” I replied to her ear.
I tried to light a cigarette but she quickly grabbed it out of my mouth.
“Don’t, since when do you smoke?” She asked with a curious face.
“You are my mother now?” I asked, losing my temper but she calmed me down with a kiss.
“What was that for?” I asked slowly.
“You are too slow for a genius, and you ask a lot!” she said in a cheeky voice. She stood up and walked away to the door.
I jumped off the sofa running after her as she disappeared into the dark.
“Hey, wait…” I called out.
She stopped in the middle of the street
A car appeared from nowhere. I heard a loud scream from Minnie as she attempted to save me. I did not know what to do. She hugged me and the car crashed into us.
Silence followed as I blacked out.
Tell us: Have you ever been a victim of peer pressure? How did you handle it?