Up in Smoke?
It was my first year teaching at Rothesay-Netherwood, a private boarding and day school located outside Saint John. I taught all the chemistry and physics courses, together with a section of grade 10 math. I also worked with the school’s army cadet corps and coached rugby.
It was a beautiful fall day and I was returning to our apartment following an after-school session on the rugby pitch. My route had me passing by the onion.
The onion was the designated smoking area which was used by those senior students who had written permission from their parents. Its nickname came from the fact that years earlier students would meet in the woods to smoke. Before returning, they would bite into onions, which they took from the dining hall, to mask the smell on their breath. The area could be identified by onions scattered about. At some point during the school’s history it was decided that, for those students who had permission, a designated smoking area should be established.
As I approached the onion I saw two of my grade 12 students entering the area. One was from Singapore and the other from Malaysia and, as students, I was impressed with how mannerly and cooperative they were. I was also impressed with the fact that their parents would fly them half way around the world to attend this school. As they sat down on the grass and fished out their cigarette packs I spoke.
“Hello fellows. I didn’t realize you smoked.”
“Yes, sir, but these will be our last cigarettes for the day.”
“Really?” I sat down near them. “How about this, guys, I’ll give you each fifty cents for your last cigarettes of the day?”
They looked at each other as they pulled cigarettes out of their packs, “No. Thank you.”
“OK, guys, how about this? I’ll give you each a dollar for your last cigarettes of the day.”
“Thank you. No.”
“Two dollars for your last cigarette of the day. How about that?”
As the they lit their cigarettes one of the students looked at me and said, “Mr. Caines, money really isn’t an issue for us.”
I suddenly felt really stupid. The cost to fly each of these fellows all the way from Asia and cover their tuition and boarding expenses was equivalent to half my annual salary. And here I was offering them 50 cents for a cigarette.
Off I went, “Enjoy your smokes fellows. I’ll see you in class tomorrow.”
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