It’s the last year of the century, 1999, to the uninitiated. As the sun sets that fine day, you drive the sheep to their shed, satisfied that you weren’t tempted to drive them early so that you could afford uninterrupted play. You remember the time you risked your mother’s ire by forcing the sheep into their shed in the afternoon and marveled that they've ‘entered by themselves.’ But that was you, being the kid that you were, you never saw the bigger picture. Somehow instant gratification was what drove your decisions.
On this day, a Thursday, it’s special in some way. It’s a market day and mother doesn’t usually go the market often. You think maybe she’s gone to buy fruits for the family or maybe vegetables, being January, the driest month in the region. It’s all you can think. At sunset she arrives with a baggage. Your siblings were the first to spot her and ran to her, helping her with the baggage even though they couldn’t manage to lift it off the ground. They try and try and finally give up.
Mother places the yellow paper, sits down and asks for a cup of water. In the mean time you and your siblings forage through the bag, claiming the goodies that came from the market. You fight over one thing until mother decides whom it belongs. If it wasn’t meant for you, you either sulk or go through the bag one more time; maybe you can find something meant for you. On this day you don’t find anything special for you. Instead mother rises from her chair, and dips her hand into the bag and fishes out a maroon sweater and then asks you unceremoniously to try it. It fits you perfectly, of course with plenty room for improvement. You look at yourself quite amazed for speech.
And that’s when it hits you. It dawns on you that you are finally beginning a chapter whose ending you don’t know. No one knows. You contemplate asking your mother why she’s punishing you, for the tales you’ve heard of school weren’t appealing. Teachers were bad, they beat people for no reason. There was no joy in school, except a ceaseless routine, day in day out. Go to school early enough, sit in class, break time at certain intervals and then lunch time.
The following day you accompany your mother to the trading centre. There you meet a tailor with a ‘bad leg,’ he has a walking pole, one that was fashioned out of a blamelessly straight tree. He takes your measurements. He engages your mother but you are too busy smelling the aroma of mandazi that rule the entire place. Back then a mandazi was everything. I think it was easy luring a kid those days. All you needed was a mandazi. How they packaged it in empty flour bags!! Shit you loved it more than anything else. Put it in your dairy, grown ass man, mandazi was your first love.
A week later the uniform arrives mysteriously. Mother didn’t leave home that day. She accosts you before you go to bed and orders you to try the uniform. A pair of dark blue shorts, a light blue shirt and a maroon pullover, there were no shoes. The shorts are tiny as hell, but you are tiny as well, just six years old. The next day the journey of schooling began. You and your brand new uniform, accompany your mother to the nearest school. Mother enters an office with you in tow, your name is scribbled down on an old tattered book by an old bespectacled man.
That’s your name. No fancy English name. Back then you hated that name that it was almost abusive, it was actually an expletive term to call someone by their English name. You guarded it like nuclear launch codes. Any moment someone discovered it you were doomed, just like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As far as you were concerned you didn’t want destruction. But then richer kids used their first names, the sons and daughters of athletes that lived within the precincts of the school. Of course this was a temporary arrangement before being shipped to better schools.
After a few exchange of pleasantries, mother is instructed to take you to a classroom near the gate. There she talks with the teacher, and the leaves. You are scared shit of being alone. It dawns on you that the only place you were assured of security was being your mother. Now you are all alone in a sea of unfamiliarity. You want to cry but she assures that it will okay. At that moment your pour all your hatred on your mother and douse her with unspoken juvenile expletives.
The teacher turns out to be motherly as well and ushers you to a class full of kids. That’s when you realize you are the tallest among them all. You don’t remember but for once in your life you had to ‘borrow’ permission to shit. And there was a designated place to shit too. Back at home the bush came in handy, for the hole in the pit latrine looked huge. It looked like you could slip through it and die a slow painful death, corroded by feaces. The ‘borrowing of permission’ was the hardest part. Unfortunately there was no manual for that. Now, you wish you could tell people that you didn’t shit on your brand new uniform on the first day of school.
The saddest thing about school then was that you didn’t know the reason why you went to school. It felt like you went there to wait for holidays. Or get promoted to the next class after a year. Nevertheless you gave your best shot. You learnt how to hold a pen and scribble things down, though incomprehensible. It was deemed a good step towards progress.
Then came the singing. Endless singing. When you thought you were done, then came more singing. About alphabets, numbers, days of the week and months. The only singing you truly enoyed was the one before you went for lunch.
Naskia sauti, sauti ya mama
Sasa ni saa sita, sasa ni saa sita
Bye bye teacher
Mungu akipenda tutaonana kesho na tusome
A few years later you make friends who you played with, went home with for lunch. And as you grew, it became apparent that you didn’t deserve the kind of education offered in that school. Your parents begin head hunting for a new school, where you’d get quality education. But that wasn’t what was on your mind. It was a matter of affluence. Relatively rich homes didn’t keep their kids in day schools where they scored 200 marks. No, they aimed big. They take you to interviews in schools so far away from home, schools hidden in the bush that to reach you must board matatus, alight and board another before you get there. It seemed god was reading your mind for the interview was as hard as Wabukala’s next job.
When everything had been exhausted you went back to your school.
“Are you sure you are not transferring?” asked the teacher, a slightly bulky woman. She doesn’t want to enter you into the class register. She knows somehow, that your parents have already handed in a transfer request.
“I am not transferring,” you reply back. As far as you were concerned passing interviews were a mirage. Even if there was one in the offing, you were sure as hell that you would not be offered a place.
The next day you fail to show up for school. There’s an interview to attend. You don’t give so much thought about success. The last three amounted to nothing but failure. In your mind you’d be back to continue with the same people you’ve known all along, get your 200 marks and live an adulterated village life, a life without too many complications and ambitions. But on that day the gods were on your side. You passed the interview. All of a sudden, you were going to a new school, an academy, and most importantly a boarding school.
A new chapter began in 2005, six years after you began school. With new friends, new mode of teaching, and getting used to badly cooked food and doing your own laundry. In class a few were curious about how you used to perform in your former school.
“I was number two,” you blurt with a sense of triumph. You saw the disappointment in her face. It meant she has to be pushed further down the performance index the next time an exam was done. But then something nags her and she asks the marks you got.
“296,” you say with a sense of pride. Truth is that was the best performance ever in your entire upper primary education. A new comer had beaten you. She settles to her book assured that you are not an academic threat.
A short, slim man pops into the class room and hands you a 200 pages exercise book. There’s fear and reverence that abound the man. You later learnt that he was dressed in a pullover, a hand knit brown turtleneck one, that spoke of his foul mood. When you spotted him in it you watched how you breathed lest your violate one of his many unwritten rules. You would curse the day you were born, the one who bore you and the canal you passed. He was a Kisii by the way. You promise yourself to look for him one of these days, get to know him on a level you aren’t afraid of him.
Three days later, the slim man pops into the classroom with anger. Everybody in class stiffens up as he grabs you by the collar. A sigh of relief ripples through the classroom when you are picked and man handled like someone who just murdered a brother over a plate of ugali. The previous day, the class had been given a composition to write and apparently you had written nonsense.
“What is this?” he fumes, pointing at a single page of the nonsense you had managed to craft.
He flogs you with vengeance. Eight strokes fall on your buttocks. You don’t flinch or budge. The strokes fall one after the other, you don’t even bother to count, you classmates do it for you. You don’t shout, you don’t cry. When he’s done he tears the page and orders you to rewrite the essay. You rise, dust yourself and you are greeted by something more than awe. They had never witnessed someone who would withstand the man’s wrath, without flinching. You stare at the page he just tore and slowly put it back into your locker desk. He never asks for it later on.
A year down the line, you score 400 marks. You can’t tell the joy that rippled through your being that day. Lagging behind for the better part of your infancy at the school, made you realize that everything is possible, of course with a few floggings here and there. Two more years and you manage decent marks that enabled you to join a secondary school, a provincial one, where you began seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Good grades and your life was all but a guaranteed bliss. You had to surmount the challenge of chemistry and physics. There was no way you could defy the laws of physics because there was no chemistry between the two of you.
Thank god you emerged victorious at the end of the gruesome battle, drained but at least breathing. For the first time you breathe a sigh a relief, you dad’s money didn’t go to waste. Many times before you entertained the thoughts of how best he could have used the money he spent on your school fees. He could have visited every holiday destination around the world, or probably have bought a mansion at Beverly Hills Los Angeles, singing to Jay Z’s Forever Young. Attaining grades that ensured direct entry into university wiped all those thoughts away. For once he asked you what you wanted to do with your life (he never did before).
The devil is always out there to rob people of their happiness. He just can’t stand the sight of people being happy, even for no reason or just for reaping what they sowed over the years. Right now he’s waiting to rob you a chance for a job, a prospective lover, a dream you’ve held since you grew conscious of your surroundings. The devil is always there waiting for a chance to strike. And strangely the devil is sometimes hidden in us, within us, probing us to make decisions that are conducive for his growth and manifestation.
Before you have digested the results, your parents, having not gotten so used to your presence at for longer periods, decide that you need to do computer studies. Your father sends you to scout for a college within town and off you go, one fine morning. While in town, still prospecting, not actually prospecting but finding a way of writing a receipt to reflect the amount you've told him, and of course pocket the rest, he calls you and triumphantly announces change of plans.
“I have changed my mind. You will study a diploma course. I want you to help your sister out, “he says when you get into the car.
Just like that you find yourself doing a course in purchasing and supplies management. But this time round you are commuting from home to town, an hour work and another hour in a matatu. For a seven am class, you had to be up by 5 am lest you be late. That’s the earliest legal time you’ve had to wake, not forgetting the chilly mornings, plus morning dew.
Amid all the angst, the hating, the skiving of school and the eventual spanking, you decide to man up and complete the course. There you found love that you still doubt if it is, after that really bad let down from her part. After a year you had your diploma, something you couldn’t even celebrate. In it you lost the meaning of learning of education. But you had, it belonged to you and nobody else.
Enter university, the last phase of life. Here you take journalism, a roller coaster and the struggle to beat deadlines. The hardest part of university is deadlines. Nothing else. And worrying about exams and cats. It’s here that you finally taste the night life, the fable that had been narrated in high school and for once it hits you that it’s for those whose wallets are faint hearted. The night is prone to brawls from mean who, after taking three or four bottles decide that every man wants to snatch their woman, or because he sees himself as the undisputed heavy weight champion of the world.
Officially you can sing Kanye West’s song Can’t Tell Me Nothing.
Class started two hours ago
O am I late?
Nooo, I already graduated
Suddenly you learn that there are no jobs. Nobody tells you this in university, you learnt to write a business plan though but for the purposes of examination. Right now you have no clue of what you wrote about.
And that’s your ABCD of life; A Boys Carat Dream