It was a pathetic sight. Anthony was seated at the edge of the bed with eyes fixed on the window, yet one could easily tell he wasn’t paying attention to the free-floating curtains. He seemed lost in thoughts. He could feel the cold breeze blow at his bare chest and belly. His unbuttoned shirt allowed the cold air to have direct contact with his torso. In his right hand he held a box of cigarette. Tempted to pick a stick, light it and smoke away his frustrations like he usually did. But this time he didn’t.
Asabea, who had been staring at her husband through the half-open door decided to step into the dark room. She didn’t like what she saw. Her husband was sitting on the bed with a pack of cigarettes in his hand and his belly majestically resting on his thighs.’ Something must be wrong’, she thought.
‘You know I don’t like seeing you like this, Tony. What is the matter now?’
‘Nothing? Then why are you sitting here on your son’s bed? I keep telling you this, don’t bottle things up! When there is a problem just tell me about it.’
Turning and looking in his wife’s direction now. ‘Trust me; it is nothing I can’t handle’, Anthony said. ‘Tony, just tell me what the problem is.’ ‘I wasn’t going to, but…’. He stares at the pack of cigarettes in his hand again: seemingly to send a message to Asabea. But she, on the other hand, had seen him hold hundreds of cigarette boxes with the same level of protectiveness so she couldn’t really get the message. A lone tear found its way down Anthony Gasu’s left cheek. It gave away the gravity of the situation at hand. Asabea couldn’t recall ever seeing her husband in such a bad state – the entire 20 years that they had been married. Then Anthony finally mustered the courage to open up.
‘It is Selorm’
‘Yes? What has he done this time?’
‘I think he smokes.’
Lifting up the pack of cigarettes in his hand, Anthony said:
‘I found this in his drawer when I came in looking for my phone charger there.’
Asabea heaved a heavy sigh: loud enough to be heard outside the room. Suddenly she understood her husband’s frustration. But it was obvious that Selorm was no longer that sweet bright boy they knew. Selorm, the first of the Gasu children was always warm and friendly. He was excessively inquisitive and would gleefully interrupt his parents’ conversation to ask the meaning of a word he had just heard them say. He always wanted to know. For him, his parents had always figured his future career; they said he would become a lawyer because of the interrogative demeanor he assumes when asking questions. They noticed a change in his behavior some time back when he came back home from boarding school. The vacation was all planned out by Mr. Gasu. He had planned to take the entire family to visit the Shai Hills and lodge at a hotel close by. He particularly planned this because of Selorm’s sudden interest in land forms and mountains which was birthed in him because of his introduction to Geography in class. When Mr.Gasu first announced the trip, it seemed that Homse and Edinam, Selorm’s younger siblings, looked more excited than he did. Homse especially was elated at the news because her friends, who were members of the Wild Life club at school, had visited the Shai Hills and told her a lot about it. She told her older brother Edinam about her friends’ experience. He too had missed a few of such trips because he wasn’t a member of the Wild Life club at school. The two of them were so excited. Selorm was clearly not enthused. He was indifferent. His parents observed him closely that vacation and noticed a huge change. He didn’t interact with his brother and sister like he used to. His parents remembered how he recounted his ordeal as a form one boy to his siblings. He even taught them some of the jargons he had learnt from his seniors. But he hadn’t done anything like that since his third term vacation in form1. Something had changed about him. This was the dawn of a new Selorm.
Edinam raised his head from time to time to look at his parents who were both eating their dinner absentmindedly. ‘They seem troubled. Maybe they had a big fight’, he thought. He wanted to break the awful silence at the dining table so badly. But he remembered his parents teaching them to be quiet at table during meals. ‘Homse, pass me the salt’, Edinam finally said. Mr. Gasu looked up at him and then at his wife then back at his plate. Obviously, Edinam had no use for the salt; he only intended to use the gesture to measure the depth of the seeming feud between his parents. Judging from his father’s reaction, and the fact that his mother was unconcerned about what had just happened, he concluded that it must have been a really big fight. He looked at Homse who was busily throwing morsels of the meal into her mouth at such short intervals. ‘Well, she said she was hungry’ Edinam thought. He turned to look at Efo Selorm, who was almost done with his supper, as usual; hastily so he could get away from the rest of the family and lock himself in his room. Edinam felt alone because it seemed he was the only one at the table who noticed what was going on.
Anthony finally mustered the courage to speak up.’Homse and Edinam clear the table and wash the plates’. Asabea gathered the last morsel of her meal and rested her fork in her plate at her husbands command. Selorm made a move to leave the table but was stopped in his tracks by his father’s voice, ‘not you Selorm, wait behind’. Homse got up and grabbed her parents’ plates. As she walked away Anthony remarked ‘good girl!’ in a sing-song manner. Edinam who was reluctant to leave the table was startled after realizing his father had been looking at him from the corner of his eye. He may have said ‘sorry’ while leaving hastily, but it just didn’t sound like it when it came out of his mouth. Or it just didn’t matter. Asabea looked extremely worried and was at the verge of shedding tears. She tightened the knot of her scarf as the pointed tip rested like a mini-cape down the back of her neck. Clearly, she wouldn’t be able to go through the second sentence without crying, if she were to address the situation. So she would let her husband do the talking. It was all planned before supper that evening.
Mr. Gasu, kept looking at the wall while rubbing his palms against each other – probably deciding what to say and how to put it. ‘Selorm, you’ve been smoking’. Mr. Gasu finally said… just like that. This came as a great shock to Asabea as much as to Selorm. She expected her husband to pose the question first. Selorm looked like he was looking for the right words to say on the dining table. He kept turning his head from side to side and finally said ‘Daddy…’ ‘Daddy, what?’ Anthony asked sternly. ‘Daddy I am sorry’. Asabea, folded her arms and looked down in an attempt to hide her tears. Anthony rubbed her back briefly. ‘Who taught you how to smoke?’. This was followed by a long silence – long enough to make Asabea look up at her shivering son. Her teary eyes demanded the answer. Selorm looked at them and remained quiet. Tears came racing down Selorms cheeks as well. ‘ I learnt how to smoke myself. I… I …. I sometimes picked up the broken sticks you left in the bin and lighted them and…’. He bit his lips and looked away. At this point Anthony was speechless himself. Asabea interpreted Anthony’s silence as her cue to take over. Before she could speak, Selorm burst out at such a speed:
‘But Daddy I can stop if I want to! I am not addicted!’
‘Don’t deceive yourself boy! If you could you would have already!’ – Anthony roared from across the table. Before Asabea could utter a word, Mr. Gasu had already sent Selorm to his room.
That night in bed with his wife, Mr. Gasu lay on his back, looking up at the ceiling. Obviously he was deep in thoughts. Asabea lay next to him. She kept turning on the bed to distract him but Mr. Gasu was too deep in his thoughts to notice her.
‘Asabea’, he finally said, ‘do you realize that I am Selorm’s “Milky Jay”? Or even worse, because I suspect he smokes wee too’.
‘Don’t do this to yourself Tony, you are no such thing to your son’. Asabea said.
Milky jay was Mr. Gasu’s ‘school father’ in Secondary school. He was called ‘Milky Jay’ because of the milky puffs he usually made with the cigarette smoke oozing from his mouth. He could do countless tricks with the smoke in a way that made smoking look like an innocuous activity. He made it look appealing. It was him who introduced Anthony to smoking. He literally forced Anthony’s first stick into his mouth and lighted it for him. Anthony hasn’t looked back since then – even when he wanted to. He is addicted to smoking cigarettes now. He has been battling this addiction for over 30 years and seems to be making little headway. This fact alone has weighed heavily on his heart. Well, he thought it was a heavy burden till that evening. Till he realized he had literally nurtured a ‘milky jay’ by his actions and under his own roof. Compared to the weight of his addiction, that of his son was a millstone and his a feathered pillow. The fact that in the near future his son could loath him as much as he loathed ‘Milky Jay’ really disturbed him. He was bitter. Because his dearest Selorm was going to be the ‘Milky Jay’ of his school: leading many to this destructive addiction. Mr. Gasu finally heaved a heavy sigh, turned to his wife and said, ‘Good night Asabea let’s talk about this in the morning’.