Back in the 20th century there was this big man called Nyams Kirondo who toured the local schools trying to urge the young kids to avoid taking up the evil habit of smoking. I think he was sponsored by some local NGO. The man was a legend. I remember the day he came to our classroom one morning in May.
He knocked on the door and our teacher went out to meet him. She came in and introduced him and asked us to take our seats. The teacher invited Kirondo to sit at her desk. As the teacher moved to one side, Kirondo made a loud farting sound and looked at the teacher in mock surprise. The class broke into hysterical laughter. He stood and asked us to settle down.
When order was restored our teacher calmly said that Mr Kirondo did not have one eye; or rather he only had one eye that could see. He was here to tell us how smoking had cost him an eye.
By now our guest speaker had the full attention of the class. Big Bertha the oldest girl in the class stood up and shouted, ” You’re a liar, everybody knows that smoking causes cancer, not eye disease! Liar…the class cheered her on.
Our teacher grabbed the blackboard-duster and aimed it at Bertha, who ducked just in time.
Once calm had returned Mr Kirondo cleared his throat and spoke slowly in a low serious tone.
“Kids, when I was younger, I thought I owned the world and I enjoyed every moment of it. When my mates at school started smoking, I quickly took up the habit in order to fit in with the cool crew. The boys who were popular with pretty girls all smoked or played sports. I had to be the best in everything so I was the meanest and baddest smoker, I smoked the most expensive brands and even the cheapest, hardest ones. I learnt to do tricks with the ciggies. I could blow a big ring and then send a smaller one through that one and finally a line of smoke through both rings yawa.
“When I overheard my older sister once say to her girl that she loved to kiss smokers because the mouth tasted nice, I vowed never to stop smoking. I had a bit of a reputation with the girls, you see.”
At this point the young girls in our class were looking at him in disgust.
Mr Nyamz Kirondo continued, “I left school, joined college and dropped out in less than six months. It was a joke. We spent most of our time smoking or thinking of the next smoke at break time. We ate, slept and dreamt mozo.
We were not really interested in school anyway. In any case I was going to be a famous musician so books were not really for me.
” All the folks in the city knew me by now. I was an excellent pool player at Cameo and I could play all the machines at playland with one hand holding a silk cut.”
He was silent for a moment as he remembered days gone by. He pulled a small dirty hankie from his coat pocket and dabbed at his good eye.
The class was now silent and totally attentive. Mrs Mutua, our teacher was impressed.
The one eyed speaker continued ” It was late evening on the last Saturday of July in 1982. We sat at the Thorn Tree having some drinks. Seated next to us was a bunch of journalists from the old VOK and one or two from the local papers. Kenya was still a police state and siasa was spoken in hushed voices. There was talk of something big about to happen in the air but nobody could say what.
A fine female newsreader called Natasha ( who was rumoured to be broadminded) pulled out a packet of Virginia Slims from her jeans pocket and offered them around. Everyone said no thanks, but I acted the gentleman and accepted quietly hoping that she too would accept my offer of a night cap back chez moi.”
Before I could light her fag, Ng’otho the mechanic, always attentive, pulled out his big made-in-China imitation pistol lighter and pulled the trigger.
There was a loud popping sound and my blood splashed all over everyone around the table. The air smelt of burning flesh. My eye was hanging loose; everyone was shouting; “Take him to hospital; catch his eye”, which at this time was losing sight very quickly.
Quick thinking Ng’otho rushed back in to say he had organised a taxi to take me to Kenyatta. I noticed with my good eye that he had taken care to “lose the weapon”
” Late monday evening I was sitting at Dr Shah’s waiting room, Accra Road with several victims of “the disturbances” of August 1. The secretary, an old man from our village told me that mine was the 5th glass eye that they had fitted that day.”
Kirondo now stopped for a moment and looked at the class. Then he said simply “That is how smoking cost me my eye”
Big Bertha stood up and started clapping. The rest of the class joined in and the applause lasted a whole three minutes. Mr Kirondo stood up there, gave a Nelson Mandela type wave and took his leave.
4.30pm on a cold afternoon in May. The small group of illicit smokers are huddled together at the back of the sports changing rooms. Kiprono and Yussuf pass round the fags and Kuria pulls out his green lighter. Mrs Mutua says” No thanks, I’ve got some matches there in my bag, ebu pass it here, Bertha………”