As he stepped into the meeting hall, Ayomah realized how difficult it was for the majority of parents attending the PTA meeting to reconcile the color of his skin with the sharpness of his mind. In his own young mind, it seemed like there was an unwritten universal law stating that – the lighter your skin, the smarter you are. It was a rare occurrence for such a poor boy like him, who was being taunted due to the thickness of his skin, to be honored in front of such an audience. Majority of whom were either white or Asian.
As Mrs. Ryder, the school’s headmistress, tried to give a speech about the virtues of being responsible parents, her speech was interrupted twice by one Ms. Jemima – an ex-con – who had been jailed for seven years for drug-dealing. She was such a nuisance at the meeting that, she was asked by Mrs. Ryder on two occasions to keep silent. She was nearly ordered out of the meeting hall at a point but for the sake of Ayomah’s mother’s intervention. Every parent was given a chance to make a point or two before the meeting came to a close.
She admitted that she’d been a drug addict, and had already paid a heavy price for it by serving her time in jail. She also gave a poignant account of her life as a single mother who had to always work near the limits of what was always possible in order to give her only daughter a decent education. She advised parents to work hard to keep their children away from drugs. She lamented the fact that, in time, the whole West Africa region will become awash with drugs. She had no any evidence to support her claim-just only inferring from her long experience with buying and distributing “the hot stuff”. She mentioned her secret encounters with some influential men who were also in that trade.
As she spoke, she spotted two aged men sitting at the back of the meeting hall smoking away their troubles. They looked battered by decades of labor. Pointing at them, she said to her audience:
“Just look at those two aged men smoking carelessly at the back of this hall.”
Some jeered at her-telling her to mind her own business, while others prodded her into admonishing those two aged men who had been smoking. She was a fairly good speaker. She’d been there and done it before. Becoming more energetic due to the encouragement she’d received she continued:
“Look at your children-for the sake of who we are all here today. Ask yourselves objectively how we can be sure we will live long enough to take care of them till they become independent?”
“Non-smokers might view smokers who pollute the atmosphere with cigarette smoke as extremely selfish. On the other hand, smokers like to believe that when they fill their lungs with smoke, nothing happens-no sick symptoms or signs that they will soon be bed-ridden-hence non-smokers who are forced to inhale the diluted smoke should not be affected. They are dead wrong.”
Sounding a bit pessimistic, she continued:
“The solution is not asking these two aged men to quit smoking. It’s unlikely they will-after listening to my speech. My pleading will do no good. I have heard a myriad of excuses and reasons such as ‘we all die if we smoke or not’, ‘you live long if you smoke’, ‘our time is in the hands of God’, ‘by the time I get cancer, medical technology will be advanced enough to find a cure for me’. What if you will be unable to afford that treatment?” She asked rhetorically.
“Now if you can’t quit smoking just consider the lung problems, emphysema and heart disease. Let’s just say that there are a lot more examples, but I’d rather stop here.”
The two aged men, still holding their cigarettes, stood up and walked with a swagger toward the front of the hall. No-one could guess what they were going to do. To every body’s surprise, they came up to Ms. Jemima and hugged her in turns. They acknowledged they were a bit uncomfortable with her speech, but later on felt they had to accept her comments with grace and style.
They both put off their cigarettes in front of the audience, thanked her, and promised her that they will henceforth take a good care of themselves and pay more attention to their children. They recounted how they’ve been drained economically due to their bad smoking habits. The joints of these two old men creaked as they walked away