You kept the cigarettes in a cup under your bed and a can of an almost empty air-freshener. Beside the cup were a packet of mint sweet and a bottle of groundnut. The space under the bed was your secret chamber; no one bothered to help you clean your room anyway, so how could they know? You always retired to your room after the compulsory family dinner every night, you preferred to read alone in your room or that was the excuse you gave your family. You refused to share the study with your siblings; you needed all the privacy you can get to prepare for your coming SSCE. You were the first son of the family and you had to set good examples for your siblings. It was also an unspoken rule, no one entered your room once you retired there for the night, and you would beat your siblings senseless if they entered your room in your absence.
You lit a cigarette as you entered your room and locked the dead bolt behind it. The first smoke cleared from your head and went straight to your heart. You remembered you started smoking three years earlier when you were fifteen and you found a stick of St. Moritz in the jeans your father gave you to wash for him. Your mother had caught you smoking it beside the garage and screamed; she had reported you to your father. Now, no child entered your father’s room unless the child had erred and needed to be beaten. You were beaten senseless that day and you couldn’t sit on your raw bottoms for days. You were angry your father beat you for smoking, how could he do that, didn’t he smoke as well, did you not get the cigarette from his pocket? But your father would always be your father. He returned home drunk most night, and forced you to endure his drunken speeches at the dining table. Then he turned around and gave you the sermons on the health risk of liquor and nicotine. It didn’t make sense but then nothing about your father made sense. He was the dictator who wanted his son to be like him; he was an engineer and you were going to school to study engineering as well. It didn’t matter what you wanted. He was a man who liked family dinner and you had to partake in the family rituals. It didn’t matter whether you wished it. He was also a chain smoker and a drunk, but he would kill you if he found you doing the same. He was the God who lived in the same house with you, he put ideas into your head by his actions, then crucified you for acting them.
Years later as you graduated as an engineer, you watched your father coughed his last breath. His body had been raped by years of cigarettes and litres of liquor. It was a painful loss, a wasteful end of a brilliant man, and you promised yourself never to be like him. But it’s not easy to stay dry without liquor and your lips were always itching for sticks of your favourite cigarette. So, you accepted fate. You couldn’t leave the forbidden fruit, but you vowed your son would never be like you.
Fifteen years later, when you walked into your son’s room and found him smoking, you screamed and removed your leather belt to whip him. ‘No child of mine will smoke or drink’. You kept repeating as you flogged him. But your son looked at you as you left his room, and wondered why you should be playing God over his life.
He was not going to stop smoking, like you, he would keep the cigarettes under his bed and would ban his siblings from entering his room.