You get a whiff of a good place. You get excited as you look down upon the sleeping figures strewn across the floor of the communal dimly lit and smoky hut. Sleep has flown away from you as you imagine your maiden sojourn to the land of no night. The land of honey and ambrosia. Canaan with no crocodiles in its rivers.
You tell your friends about it and begin distributing your few items. Kolibei gets your snuff box, Cheseme gets your sleeping hide and Psoroi your maalsenji blanket. You don’t wake up the rest because there’s nothing to give them. And the sleeping corner… The cosy sleeping corner you bequeath it to Psoroi.
Then you begin your journey to the land of plenty, ploughing the morning grass to submission and filling your marina shoes with dew. It is Monday.
Friday. Shriveled, hungry and weak. The evening wind is blowing your tattered raincoat away and you clutch it tightly…. You trudge towards the hut in the horizon… Towards the crimson eye of the setting sun. There’s the trademark smoke out of its grass thatch….
You push the creaking door and everyone looks at you.. Shocked. Pity, silence, understanding.
You go to your former corner. Psoroi moves. He gives you the blanket. Kolibei gives you back the snuff box. Cheseme hands over the sleeping hide. You spread the hide to rest your wearied self. Someone coughs incessantly. Cheseme puffs at the kerosene lamp and the hut goes dark. The kibwareree bird sings takiyoee takiruruuchi… And the sleeping figures sleep, dreaming about life.
‘Korgei, tell us a story,’ emerged a muffled up voice from beneath a blanket. Someone from the long line of the sleeping figures, I think Kipkemei, got up naked and headed for the door. It normally took one about ten minutes to unfasten Grandma’s wooden door.
‘Do not urinate on my doorstep!’ Warned the old lady in a wheezy voice, amidst grunts and complaints from those that Kipkemei stepped on accidentally.
Kilaara sat on the spread cow hide near the fireplace, leaning her back on the mud wall of the smoke filled hut. A blanket covered her feet up to her waist and the rest of the blanket lay dangerously near the fire. The dying flickering embers on the fireplace complimented the paraffin lamp in lighting the room dimly. Grotesque shadows of Grandma and the middle toloita kingpost swayed on the walls. Above the fireplace was a small round hole that acted as a window, which was now plugged with a tattered blanket.
After taking supper, every boy in the village would get his blanket, wrap himself in it and head to Kilaara’s homestead. Kilaara’s place was the exhibition point of a plethora of blankets. New, tattered, plain, coloured, big and small blankets headed to her round hut as the crimson rays of the waning sun faded to the horizon. In the morning you took home your blanket. It was at Grandma’s that we shared stories, riddles, songs and lice.
Lice were nothing to be ashamed of.
The 9 o’clock bell would ring and we would rush outside our classes in sheer happiness. Kipkimba Basic School was built on a hill and it was cold in the morning. We dedicated the first break to basking in the sun, while the second break at 11 o’clock would be for playing the polythene ball. We headed for the field and lay down sprawled for maximum enjoyment. Nothing would happen for the first three minutes of basking. Then, from the hair and clothes of many a boy lying down, lines of lice would appear. They too enjoyed the warmth.
Kipkemei urinated on the door while trying to open it. He was lucky the sound of the creaking door drowned that of the cascading urine otherwise Grandma would have reached for the palm frond stick above the fireplace and beat him up. When the door finally opened, the boy scratched himself everywhere and disappeared into the darkness.
Grandma’s stories carried powerful and scary animals. Chemosit the ogre, Keerit the bear, the leopard, the lion and Magalalut. Keerit was fond of lurking near the door at night and snatching one’s head as they went outside. To cheat Keerit, you wore a palm frond woven basket over your head. He would take it deep into Chelabul forest and discover that it was not a human head it took.
Magalalut was a beast that defied description. It was the strongest, the fastest and the scariest of all the animals in the world. You could not exactly describe its physical appearance. Some said it looked like a leopard while others said it could assume the appearance of any animal at will. When magalalut story was narrated, I pictured it living on top of the huge lamaiwet tree near the river on my way to my Grandma. So, in the evening I would dash like one possessed, blanket trailing in the wind, past the tree, jump over the two boulders jutting above Chemwonebei river and once safely on the other side, sit down and pant away heavily. After that I would go hide near Grandma’s place, watch the other boys streaming in with their blankets and sticks and then emerge there the last, to their awe and admiration. The bravest arrives when it is darkest and with no stick.
‘Magalaluuuuut!’ Shouted a boy near the door. From wherever he had gone, Kipkemei shot into the hut like a mandago bird. The hut exploded into a thunderous laughter. Grandma laughed too, exposing her remaining tobacco stained teeth. In the dim light, they looked like fangs. She laughed till she rolled on the cow hide. The boys never tired playing the same game once someone had gone outside. It always resulted in the scared boy dashing inside in extreme fright.
‘I will tell you a story tomorrow,’ she said as she blew out the paraffin lamp. ‘Tell us one now,’ I beseeched.
‘How many of you are still awake?’ When no one except me responded, the old woman promised to tell us the story the following day.
‘You will tell us about the old men and women who went to commit suicide at Sheu Morobi cliff Grandma, right?’
From outside, the foxes at Kaplelwoi caves across the road howled. Drunkards along the road yelled and occasionally sung songs praising their bulls. Soon the hut would be full of snores, the smoke and the foul air. And the boys, pursued by various beasts in their dreams would scream and bathe in their own sweat.
It was a cold Monday, July of 1985. A misty haze hung around the school and from the classes one could hardly see the beyond the gate. The bell had been rung and we all walked out of our classes and lined up in the school assembly. In Kipkimba Primary those days, there was the bell and there was the huge ear shattering gong. The gong was a discarded tractor plough disc that hung from the huge tendwet tree. Below it rested a metal rod which Simeon Kapkulio the timekeeper would strike with ferocity every morning at 6.00 a.m, reverberating in the adjacent villages of Kapchiley, Kaptuma, Cheboin, Kibogi and competing with the din of tea processing machines in Nandi Tea factory, four kilometres away. The small bell was used for assemblies and lessons. We called the small bell a period.
Prefects carried canes and would beat whoever came in their way. They helped line up the pupils as scouts prepared to hoist the flag. Teachers too stood in various informal poses in front of the pupils but behind the flag post. The headmaster, Mr. Mitei, with his ever strong yu for men perfume, glowered at us, ready to pounce. I remember the first time he reported………. His first address in the assembly..
“Good morning school”
“Good morning sir” Went up the chorused reply from about 500 pupils.
“No, say Good morning Mister Mitei”
“Good morning Mister Mitei”
That was about 3 years back. Today, as he stepped forward to address the assembly, he took out a ruffled piece of paper and menacingly read three names from it.
“Can Elphas Kipkemei, Joel Kimaiyo and Wilson Kipchumba, all from class 4 come forward!”
The world shattered. Before we even had made it beyond the flower bed, someone had handed Mr. Mitei a generous heap of straight canes from the sturdy, time tested kosisitiet and kabungut scrub.
All manner of misdemeanors likely to have warranted the summon came flashing by my mind as we made a dive on the dew laden grass near his feet, hardening our buttocks in trepidation. Was it about Arap Chepkwony’s oranges which we had stollen? Fighting Chemogotion the bully? But that was two weeks past. The three of us including Simeon the timekeeper, had chanced on the class 6 bully as he crossed Chemwonebei river and had beaten him badly.
In those days, you were beaten first and told the reason later.
Whack…. Descended the cane on Kipkemei. The school, in a crescendo, started counting…… one, two, three, four, five, six….
Six of the best. We had all been lying facing north and down, but the sixth cane found Kipkemei facing southwards, wriggling in extreme pain.
Kipkemei did not cry….
Crying. It makes or breaks a boy. You lost your hard earned coveted perch in the perking order roost. You lost your ability to lead the pack in adventures. You couldn’t face girls. Even the boys who you had beaten doubted your victory and looked for a way to a rematch, often beating you. Then all the boys the other boy beats want to confirm their place in the new order and begin looking for a fight. A fight was spontaneous. You quarrelled and suddenly all the other boys engulfed you, cheering, cajoling and urging for a fight.
Joel was next.
By the third cane he let out a startling, piercing yell. Birds fluttered away from the trees ringing the school compound. The assembly exploded in a sadistic laughter.
It was my turn.
I remembered Chepkoech. The brown girl in our class. The girl from Kaptuma village. The girl who once told me that saying akya Mungu was bad and I stopped. The girl I would marry in future when I became a pilot. The girl for whom I took roasted maize, kimolonik, momonik, nderiek and kapchobinek fruits whenever they were on season. We called her Brown.
The first cane descended and I hardened up, biting my lips in a contorted grimace.
The second…. To touch the hot landing zone or not.. …. .
The third… Fourth……
The fifth…. To yell and lose Chepkoech or not.
The sixth one was a mark of honour. Mister Mitei was defeated. Even as he swung it down,the cane whistling as it cut the cold morning air in an accelerated descend, ATOMIC was not flinching.
So David Kap BotKimuge had reported that we had picked up the sticks protecting the just planted bluegum seedlings and used them as goal posts the previous Friday. He was bigger and older and we couldn’t beat him. Many years later his fingers were cut in a factory accident.
Amburoos rose earlier that day and walked towards the the forest. He clung to his long coat, preventing it from being wrestled away by the wind. From the east, dawn was breaking. Birds chirped incessantly from numerous trees in the forest. He wore nothing beneath the long coat. His bare feet collected the chilly dew and his breath formed mist that rose and disappeared beneath the thick canopy.
As he walked he kept feeling the bulk protruding from his left pocket. The tail end of the sisal rope hung from it and he would caress it like it were a pet. He was looking for a low sturdy and leafy tree and he soon spotted it.
As he trudged towards the sycamore tree, his life came flashing by him. He saw himself drifting through the myriad failures that piled on his life’s sojourn. He tried to turn them over for even the smallest pebble of success but found none. In all the episodes he was the vanquished, the pummeled egg eating-dog the villagers called chemayai. In all the instances, when his age mates walked tall with tales of their communal exploits preceding their names, when his bakules basked in the sunshine of enviable accomplishment, all what Chelabul could remember him for were the events of that fateful day, when he messed his trousers in his in laws home, drunk.
He sat astride the two branches and prepared to jump. He held the noose around the neck and felt his jugular vein beating. Time stood still. The birds stopped chirping. The howling wind ceased and he looked down to check the dropping height. The young emaciated puppy looked up and their eyes met. He had found it shivering near his door the previous day and had taken it inside and fed it. The puppy had followed him to the forest. So the puppy did not know he was a failure?
He untied the noose and climbed down, knelt down and lifted the puppy to his bosom and cried.
Amalinze is staring at an epic battle, one which he dreads. One that rattles his wily frame and supple arms. Tomorrow he faces his destiny in the village communal wrestling arena.
Even the usual bravado exuded by his handlers is gone, to be replaced by a dour and sad mien fit for a mourning. His mound of foofoo is untouched, steaming in a diminuendo of resignation and now growing cold.
The rumoured oil, which his opponent will apply on the body to make himself slippery is eating him up, devouring his spirit and engulfing his past conquests.
He blames the oil. Not his lack of throwing skills.
He carries the same sullenness to his bamboo bed. Today, the sharpness of her breasts prick him to pain, not ecstasy and his desire is dead.
It will be a long long night.
The boys take turn in supporting the wooden pillars outside Arap Korom’s shop. From sunrise to sunset, this sentry for gratis is a sort of giving back to the Old Man, who has snuffed their academic achievement candles lit by the local schools.
The dreams of the parents for their children to leave this laid back village to prosperity have died in their infancy. He is the Super Parent. Whatever ideals the biological parents wanted to instill on their innocent boys, the Old Man plucked them in mid air, crushed them and scattered them to the four winds in glee, to the chagrin of the parents. Surrender is written in many a people’s face.
Schools cannot keep up filling what he is emptying in the boys’ minds. It’s a hopeless race against time. Hundreds of drop outs mill around him as a testimony to his successful Inquisition against education.
But he is growing old. He couldn’t cheat Time. All he has is a shrinking shop which his hundreds of disciples keep propping to keep it from being blown away by the wind. And when he will be finally gathered to his fathers, he will take with him the unfulfilled aspirations and dreams of the doomed generation and the cursed disdains of frustrated parents and teachers.
Lelgina Makes a Splash
Today I woke up and realized it was the day to dip the cow.
So off I untethered Lelgina from the pole and there we
were, the cow and man braving the chilly dawn to fight off
the deadly tick. You see, this tick whose botanical name
eludes me has wreaked havock in the cattle keeping
communities. I hear long ago before the coming of dips
there was communal de-ticking by hand. A fire was lit and
the fat ticks called talusik were roasted and eaten. Nothing
was wasted. But I digress.
So we went, Lelgina and me. Upon arrival at the dip I was
among the first. Actually my cow was the first to enter the
waiting bay yet when they lined up to enter the jumping
ramp, Lelgina was the last. This set me in a somber soul
searching mood. How come I am never first in anything? I
have never led a newspaper buying queue. Whenever a list
is drawn, no matter how small the number, I can’t lead
even when it’s not competitive. I can’t remember when my
pay slip was handed to me first. That’s okay but how could
such trait run in my cow?
So I am in this mood when the big bull ahead of Lelgina
positions itself to jump. I edge closer to watch. As it hits
the mixture, there is a small ripple where it enters and
moments later another another small ripple where it
emerges ahead. I turn to face Lelgina. It looks at me
sneeringly as if to say “Loser!” I look away but as it
prepares to jump I look back. It raises its tail and curves
the hind legs till you could feel the tautness. Then it jumps.
The bovine cyclone goes completely berserk as a huge
splash is heard miles away. Water parts way and you could
see the rugged floor of the dip. The splash reaches the
roof and do I hear the dip attendant calling for life jackets
for fear of a Noahic deluge should the walls give in?
Lelgina emerges at the other end amidst another another
major upwelling. It shakes itself as it strides to the drying
bay. I feel like hugging it but I refrain. As we leave the dip I
am lost for thought but the lesson written in my visage is
unencrypted and ready to be deciphered by all and sundry.
Welcome to Chelabul Community Dip where everybody is a
The final vanquish to complete the litany of gaffes and goofs by hunter hangs above his head like the sword of Damocles. Filled with hubris and raw machismo, he has puffed his cheeks like an armature contortionist out to scare little children, but ploughing ahead unto his perdition and extinction.
He has forgotten that he is the hunter and what quarry he kills, he kills for the family.
Cheered by the drumming celebrants and inebriated faceless masses, his black skin glistening in the light of the roaring arena fire and his frail frame throwing eerie shadows on the trees, he lurches forward to fight.
It is brief. You cannot even call it a fight. It was akin to a puppy trying to put out a fire by its fart. He lies there, mangled to infinitesimal smithereens, the drums stop. The crowd melts. His children huddle together by the embers of the hitherto roaring flame, now reduced to flickering impotence on a heap of grey ash.
A drunkard passes by and says aloud, “If it was food he wanted why leave the antelope that had been trapped to fight the python?”
It takes a drunk man to ask the right questions. The sane and sober are blinded by pride, like truth were a piece of loin skin that would fall off, exposing their nakedness.
Mwalimu looked right, left and right again but didn’t cross
the road. There was no road but instead he was swallowed
into the bowels of Starehe Bar.A single brown incandescent
lamp swayed from the roof, throwing eerie shadows of
revelers in various states of inebriation. He found an empty
table and deposited his bag on it. A wobbly chair received
his weary frame and he sighed in relief.
The man on the television screen above the counter caught
Mwalimu had no money on him and evaded the waiter’s eye.
He had worked for 35 years as a P1 teacher, where fate had
locked his future prospects and thrown the keys to a
He looked shaggy with a scruffy beard and sunken eyes.
Even though he had taught the top cream of Chelabul
location who were now prominent in both private and
government sectors, they in turn were ashamed to call him
their Mathematics teacher. He thought about it and warm
tears blurred his vision of Ouru on TV but he heard him say
that his salary was 23000.
He thanked God for the news. He had been earning 16000 .
The now raised 7000 would at least help him foot the
medical expenses of two of his diabetic children and if
anything was left, to patch his torn trousers.
He rose up and suddenly felt extremely thirsty. He looked at
the drinkers and recognized almost all of them. But like a
lepper with festering wounds, nobody even greeted him. He
must have stood there for minutes when the truth dawned
Like our people say, he felt useless such that he pitied his
old parents…. The energy to conceive him should have been
used to cultivate crops.
Young, of ebony black complexion, medium built and sporting a well trimmed he-goat beard, Hazard was the epitome of youthful vivacity, an aspect we male teachers in Total Saints School lacked.
Fresh from university, he was the vital ingredient in our staff room . Everything revolved around his charismatic personality and as one teacher aptly put it, Hazard was the centre of the universe and all the celestial bodies and all corpus of knowledge made obeisance at his altar.
This young man invaded our enclave and became the darling of the female teachers. Suddenly nobody paid attention to our wise words spiced with real life experiences. Nobody consulted Ngelo, the walking Bible anymore, and the three or four female teachers who used to huddle around Maiyo, smothering him with strong feminine perfume and watching Muungano SDA videos on his smart phone melted away. My tales of my sojourn as a student in Kabalagala’s environs in Uganda became boring and I soon shut up for lack of audience. In short, we male teachers were staring at a bleak future.
Maiyo was the first to open up, lifting the lid off the bottled-up stress painfully borne “It is like this”, he began, uprooting a star grass as we dejectedly lay sprawled on the lush green field during break time. We looked up. That is, the trinity of Ngelo, Sam and I. “We are finished.” He then began chewing the grass as we let his words sink. This statement, alarming as it might have sounded to those who were not privy our sinking fortunes, was deeply comforting, because we felt less miserable in numbers. A problem shared indeed. Hazard had gathered his animated worshipers a couple of metres away from us, drowning and confusing our thoughts by their vivacious laughter. We wanted to explode but who would have missed us if we perished anyway? We kept hope alive by exchanging our retrospective exploits ‘when we were men’ , eons gone by when many a damsel would die to date us. Let Hazard enjoy his time, “for there is time for everything”, summed Ngelo. The day dragged on but finally came to an end in the evening when the azure sky turned crimson.
At seven in the evening, Maiyo called me. He said that Hazard had received a thorough beating and his right ear chewed off by a villager. Apparently, the villager had accosted Hazard escorting the former’s nubile lady. The ugly and belligerent confrontation had been witnessed by all and it soon spread like a wild bush fire in the dry harmattan wind.
The following day Hazard did not report to work and was rumoured to have been heavily bandaged. A plethora of versions abounded, the scariest of which narrated how Hazard had both his ears chewed off. We pretended to listen with glee and occasionally exchanged knowing winks.
He never came to teach again.
His erstwhile flock melted like butter in the tropical sun. For the next few days, the ladies appeared dazed and in diverse stages of shock mingled with chronic disbelief.
Ngelo, Maiyo, Sam and I have resumed our perch on the roost, overseeing this and that and dispensing the time-tested wisdom effused in snippets of proverbs. And for the ladies, we told them the story of Tabutany, the lady who had refused all suitors and finally married a leopard in a well pressed suit.
“You never see the protruding tail until it is too late!” Said Maiyo amidst thunderous laughter.
We could not wait for Monday to come. The good news weighed heavily on our shoulders. Maiyo and I were the first to arrive in school yet the roster indicated that Ngelo was the one on duty that week. Vasco arrived next. When we told Vasco that Agnes had accepted his offer of marriage, he was overwhelmed with happiness.
“She accepted the proposal?” He asked, beaming broadly and fumbling on his breast pockets. We nodded. He gave us two thousand shillings each.
By Wednesday everyone had known it. I did not leak it and Maiyo swore he never uttered a word. But it was in the public domain that Vasco and Agnes were the trending Romeo and Juliet. That afternoon the two sat under the kimolwet tree outside the staff room, talking in low but excited tones. In the evening Vasco told the male teachers the good news and since Agnes would not be coming the following two days, we had enough time in our hands to plan.
Vasco had asked Agnes to go and inform her parents that she would be having ‘visitors’ from the highland, seeking her hand in marriage. On Thursday she called through my phone to say that her parents were happy and would start planning for the big day. During lunch break, Vasco met all the teachers. Schools were closing for the August vacation the following week. He broached the topic after building it with enough proverbs. In short, he was inviting us to accompany him to Baghdad, to the household of Araap Siepanget to seek the hand of our colleague Madam Agnes in marriage. The madams faked surprises, we nodded in appreciation.
But Vasco said one thing worried him. His father, the retired Bishop of the Most Holy Tabernacle would neither hear nor entertain the notion that his son was plunging into polygamy. His wife too might not approve of it, he said.
It was resolved that the ten of us would form the entourage. Sam would be the paternal uncle, Ngelo the maternal uncle, Maiyo would be Vasco’s brother, Jezebel the aunt, Maureen would be Vasco’s younger sister and the rest of us the good neighbours. Vasco beamed at the idea.
A week after schools closed found us in the school compound boarding a matatu destined for Baghdad. Madam Maureen held a box full of presents to be taken to Agnes and her relatives. Vasco was in a brown, well pressed suit, a white shirt and a black tie. I carried his shoe brush in a polythene paper and he kept taking it from me, polishing his shoes and returning it. He was nervous. He had not told his wife about the journey.
After traveling for an hour, we came to the end of the dusty road. A wobbly wooden plank lay across River Kimwogi. On the other side, smoke rose from a homestead. A river to cross and we would be in Agnes’s home. The water looked calm, the birds chirped from the thick canopy above.
Ngelo was the first to cross. The plank danced. Ngelo spread his arms sideways and danced. He moved. It danced. He crossed and watched from the other side.
The nine of us having crossed, we watched the last man cross to join us. The man took a bold step on the plank, looked up, looked down, took a second step, danced with the plank, looked up and stepped on air and into the deep water, head first. The river upwelled, splashing both banks and wetting our feet. Only ripples remained to indicate the exact spot Sammy the deputy had disappeared to. We looked on helplessly. A woman wailed. Maiyo dived. He disappeared. They appeared downriver, gasping for air and dripping wet. We breathed a sigh of relief.
We could not proceed. Sammy was the spokesman. The ladies were asked to move farther as we asked the two to undress, wring their clothes and sun-dry them on the big boulders by the river.
We arrived at the compound and it was as if nobody had noticed us. We were avoided like the ten lepers. Old men moved from under a tree to the big house, children competed in fetching firewood, women nearly collided with one another in cooking by the open fires outside.
After what seemed an eternity, a young man approached and motioned us into the house. We moved almost in a single file. Once inside, we sat on the benches on the left of the entrance, while our hosts sat on the opposite side.
An old man from their side clears the throat. Everyone looks at him. He plunges his right hand in his old coat pocket and fetches a small bottle. He slowly unscrews it, overturns it over the left palm and taps it with the index finger. The smell of tobacco fills the room. He sniffs it and sneezes. With each sneeze his thin frame shakes violently, rocking the bench on which two or three of his kinsmen are seated.
“What are you people doing here?” Began the old man, throwing a sweeping glance at our side.
“We are following a calf’s hoof prints.” Said Sam.
“Where did the hoof prints lead to?” Interrogated the gruffly old man.
“They came this way.”
“Who was the herd’s boy?”
“He is here.” Vasco stood up. The old man looked keenly at him.
The old man continued, “Here we have several calves. Is your herd’s boy able to identify the particular calf?”
“Do you know the calf?” Asked Sam. Vasco nodded gracefully.
“Obot Agines, go bring all the calves for these people to identify.”
A group of girls emerged from another room and formed a half moon before us. Vasco inspected them and shook his head. They disappeared. Another group came, Agnes was not in it. The group following it came and Vasco’s eyes brightened when he spotted Agnes. He went forward and identified her.
After this, the old man continued. “And who are you people?”
“We are from Kap-siir-maat clan.” Answered Sam.
“Tell us your totem. What is your clan animal?”
“The crested crane is our totem.” Answered Sam. The old men from the other side huddled together around their spokesman and deliberated in low voices. When they moved back, the old man said that their clan and ours were compatible in marriage.
“Take down your quiver so that we see the arrows.” Said the old man. The dowry negotiation had begun.
Sam named the cattle, their colour and type. In total we were to give them four. The other side would hear none of it, saying their daughter was worth more.
“Not yet enough.” Said the old man.
“The herd’s boy has a bow, he will go raid for more.” Said Sam, pleading for the closing of negotiation.
“I see that you have come to waste our time. You had better go out and deliberate more on this.” Ordered the old man with an air of finality.
We trooped out. We looked at Vasco and Vasco looked at us.
“Just mention some fictitious cows, when time comes we will look for them. You are a cattle auctioneer remember?” Interjected Maiyo. We all agreed. We wanted to avoid the shame of being sent out the second time.
We went in and Sam mentioned two more heads. They agreed. Cups were brought and each person present was given mursik (fermented milk) as a sign that we had then been bonded. The wedding was to be in December. We then ate sumptuously.
After this the madams tied a lesso around Agnes’s waist to signify that she was then a betrothed woman. They went out singing and ululating and made as if to take Agnes home. After going some distance, the women from her side went and blocked them and brought Agnes back.
Then somebody, I think a boy yelled, “Mwalimu ameangukia sufuria ya supu!” We rushed to where people had crowded and found Ngelo seated inside a giant sufuria full of warm soup. A bottle of changaa floated on the soup around his chest. His folded feet hang limply around the rim of the sufuria,hardly touching the ground.
We pulled him out. It was growing late as we crossed the foot bridge. Inside the car we were surprised to find Agnes. Her two bags were loaded and she would be travelling with us to Vasco’s residence. The car smelled of soup. As we approached school, Vasco seemed to be immersed in deep worry. When we alighted, everyone else except Vasco, Agnes and I went their way home. Vasco first took Agnes aside and talked to her for a while. Then he came to me.
“I thought Agnes would be waiting till December when I would have prepared her mansion and informed Obot Jeniba my wife about her….but now…..how will she just appear there tonight?” He ruminated. I looked at Agnes, shivering and clutching at her jacket.
Since school was closed, she would stay in my place for a week as Vasco was to finalize the preparation for her permanent residence at the mansion beyond the hill. After this, Vasco disappeared into the darkness and I helped Agnes carry one of the bags to my house at the school compound.
“Some people are beasts M.V,” she said, shedding tears, “how can he do this to me if he loves me?”
“Aggy, don’t cry dear,” I comforted her, “Kuna watu na viatu.”
Professor Jay was singing…….kila mbuzi ale kwa urefu wa kamba yake…….
08-Operation Occupy Vasco Mansion
A seguel to 07-The Last Day in Vasco Villa.
“The house cannot stay just like that,” began Maiyo, “such a mansion must be occupied.” Vasco nodded in agreement.
Vasco had called the two of us aside during the lunch break. The big black boulder in the middle of the field felt hot in the sun but we sat on it nonetheless. Vasco was impatient and kept sitting down, standing up and pacing round us while squirting the brown tobacco between his teeth. After a fruitful deliberation, Vasco asked us to convince her. He admitted that he had lost the art of laying traps eons ago.
Would Agnes agree?
Operation Occupy Mansion kicked off in earnest. The hunting pack left to prepare enchanting snares to trap the elusive quarry. He gave us a thousand shillings each. We were to do it without drawing any suspicion of other madams, who it was feared, would have scuttled the boat in mid waters.
When Vasco’s wife said she would not be living in the big house, I knew she was driving Vasco to the threshold of polygamy, either inadvertently or by design.
There would be no gain without pain, we told Vasco.
The following Friday was class eight candidates’ prayer day. Vasco had come to school in a smart black suit, complete with a white shirt and a checked tie. The three of us met earlier in the day to deliberate on the execution of a plan to win the first round of the war.
After many speakers had stood up to encourage the candidates, it was the turn of the preacher to speak. The sea of humanity comprising parents, friends, teachers and candidates looked at him expectantly as he mounted the boulder in the middle of the school field. From the ground on which we sat, the azure sky formed a sombre background behind him as he kept punching the scattered fluffy clouds with his fist. He had the gift of the garb. He held the audience on his hands, turned them from this side to the other, dusted them and sprayed them with a fine shower of saliva. He gyrated on the four winds, condemning evil. The tall blue gum trees reverberated his spine-chilling rendition of hell fire.
He then invited any sinners who wanted to change their nefarious undertakings. The audience moved further from the boulder to accommodate the sinners.
Vasco was the first to rise up. He moved three of four steps and reached the clearing. The crowd stood up and cheered wildly. Then the crowd parted ways and Maiyo ploughed through it and joined Vasco. The crowd exploded in uncontrolled exultation. It was then my time to stride forward like a colossus, sweating profusely in the sweltering heat. My mouth felt dry, my heartbeat could be heard above the din of the crowd. I tripped on some feet and somersaulted to the arena, laying sprawled between the boulder and Vasco. On the boulder, the preacher was a tall electric pole. Vasco, the preacher and Maiyo whirled round like a fan. A hand heaved me up.
Vasco fumbled through his coat pockets, produced three packets of cigarettes, a brown snuffbox, and a bottle of soda ash and threw them on the ground. Maiyo threw a bundle of pornographic magazines on the growing heap. I threw down the square packet, neatly wrapped in a newspaper and bound by a cello tape. Somebody found a matchbox and lit the heap. The crowd inched closer and watched as three loud explosions brought the roaring fire to a heap of grey ashes. Then the preacher descended from the boulder to minister to us. Then the embraces from the hundreds of bosoms, suffocation from cheap and expensive perfumes and unwashed bodies. The sneezes. Handshakes from soft to calloused hands.
The rest of the teachers watched from a distance, unmoved. They stood like an assembly of cold stone statues amalgamated into one, with a sneering madam Jezebel forming the head. Then the crowd melted and it became cold. The three converts sat on the boulder.
“Things must appear worse before they appear better.” Said Maiyo, when he found his voice.
“You better be right on these moves boys,” boomed Vasco, “or else I will have you two transferred to Baghdad.”
Baghdad was the farthest school in our zone, situated on a hardship area but without hardship allowance. We reminded Vasco that we were supposed to be Christians henceforth so no talk of revenge or punishment. Flames of fire danced in his eyes.
That evening we met Agnes.
Maiyo played the proverbs; I blew the idioms.
Maiyo strummed the strings of prose; I plucked the harp of verse.
He likened her to a flower blossoming in the fields; I said she was a graceful princess.
From her kitchen, the smell of burnt vegetable chocked us. She rushed there to add more water into the pot.
When she came back we told her the story of the man who worshipped the ground she trod on. The man whose life was the jigsaw she would help fit together. The man whose lonely heart beat solely for her. The man whose nights were filled with the thoughts of sweet Agnes. The man who lived beyond the hills. The man in the lonely mansion. The prince called Vasco
That night I sent her a text message. “Better make up your mind quick Aggy. He said if you will break his heart he will opt for Jane, whose advances he has resisted for long.”
She called back almost immediately.
“Ati Jane? Aishi nyumba ya nani? Hiyo sura unaona ni ya kuishi ghorofa? M.V be serious!” She shouted, almost shattering my left ear.
I called Maiyo to tell him the good news.
The radio from my neighbour played, When a Man Loves a Woman. When I slept, I dreamt of Susana.
An original story. All characters portrayed here are fictional and bear no resemblance to real persons.
The Last Day in Vasco Villa
The older one and the younger one were inseparable. They washed dishes together, went to the stream to fetch water together and when they sat on the ground to pick the tiny leaves of mitiat vegetable, they talked like women who had grown up together. Agnes and Obot Jeniba had come to like each other.
Agnes had been posted to our school the previous year. She was fresh from college. The day she reported, she lit our gloomy school with her beautiful radiance and elegance. She had a natural gap in her upper teeth and when she smiled coyly, and you had a reason to believe that you were the object of her smile, you melted and flowed like a viscous fluid in midday sun. Your heart stopped beating and your entire stressful load felt as light as a feather. You died and resurrected a hundred times, all within the brief span of her enthralling smile. When she walked, it was graceful, and her hips gyrated in a well-synchronized motion, finishing what was left of you. She bathed the staffroom in her exotic sweet smelling perfume. Her soft soprano voice was music to the ears. If she had called you dog, it sounded a thousand times more melodious than when called an angel by any other madam.
The rich neighbour moved the following day. Lorries full of household items left the compound from dawn to noon. Vasco had asked us to spend another day at his place, being a weekend. We felt proud to be in the inner sanctum of his close confidants. At noon, the woman drove to Vasco’s place and met us under the mango tree. She greeted us and sat down on grass beside Obot Jeniba. She looked sad as she told us her story.
Her husband, a former TTC college principal had resigned from TSC, borrowed money from the bank using the land title as collateral and campaigned for Governorship. He got seven votes.
Someone, I think Maiyo, asked her where they were moving to.
She said they had land in their rural Chelabul home. Her husband had inherited a large tract of land from his father, who had bought it from a white settler. Her last-born daughter was in her final year in university and had a young daughter who stayed with grandmother in the village.
When the time for leaving came, the woman embraced the new owners and amidst tears, handed over the heavy bunch of keys to Vasco.
“Mama Susana don’t cry,” consoled Obot Jeniba, “God will be with you. We will always remember you and will come visiting after some time.”
Did she just call her ‘Mama Susana’?
In the afternoon, we went to the mansion to admire it. While a permanent smile adorned Vasco’s face, Obot Jeniba’s showed excited surprise mingled with shock and a generous touch of unbelief. Starting from the ground floor, we went through all the rooms. They were a masterpiece. The doors were made of thick, well-engraved mahogany. Sunlight glinted from the beautiful glass windows overlooking the road. The upper rooms were equally exquisite. From the eastern balcony, the eye wandered uninhibited to an expanse of panoramic lush green tea plantation, ringed by tall cypress trees swaying in the afternoon wind.
We left Vasco and his wife in the balcony and inspected other rooms. We opened a room in the corner and went in. It must have been a bedroom belonging to one of the daughters because cream pasted walls had pictures of beautiful women in different hairstyles, dresses, shoes and perfume.
“M.V come here! Come see this!” Said Maiyo as I rushed to where he was.
He stood there transfixed, gazing at something on the wall. Agnes had also run to join us and Maiyo stretched his right hand and touched something with his index finger. We followed his finger.
“Who is this…..and who is this? He asked, as shock struck me.
The thick foliage formed a serene, natural background. Susana wore a resplendent, brightly coloured dress. Her braided hair flowed and almost blocked half her beautiful face. Earrings dangled from her ear lobes. She was stunning. Around her waist, an arm clutched and drew her intimately close to a man. In his right hand, the man held a rose close to the lady’s nose. The man had planted a kiss on the woman’s right cheek.
The best photo I ever took with Susana.
As the reality sank on me, we were interrupted by the entry of Obot Jeniba and Vasco.
“This house is too big for me Petero. I will not live here. I will not know what to do with all this fancy equipment, the electricity and what will I be cooking in that big kitchen?”
“Where will you live then?” Asked Vasco.
“You will build me a smaller house, one I can manage. One like the one we are living in except it must be of brick and iron sheets. The kitchen must be a hut I can still plaster with mud and keep my firewood above the fire place.” With a resigned shrug, Vasco grunted and led his wife out again.
I looked at Agnes. Maiyo looked at Agnes. She methodically plucked the picture on the wall and handed it to me.
“I foresee a very busy schedule this vacation!” Maiyo said, as we left Vasco’s place. We both looked at Agnes mischievously.
To break the journey boredom, we resorted to vitendawili .
“Nyumba yangu haina milango” Posed Agnes.
“Ina milango elfu!” Answered Maiyo. The forest rang with our mirthful laughter.
Looking for Vasco
Vasco usually arrived in school on foot from beyond the hills east of our school. Every morning a hazy mist hung low and covered those hills and when the iridescent rays of the sun finally warmed our school, we would make out his silhouetted figure approaching.
He wore a long black coat that reached below his knees. On his feet, he had gumboots that ploughed through the dew-laden grass. A polythene bag containing a pair of shoes, a shoe brush and a tin of black Kiwi shoe polish hung from a bamboo cane strung over his shoulder. Drops of water from his faded cowboy hat fell around him as a tendril of smoke rose from the cheap rolled up cigarette that never left his mouth. A dense smell of tobacco hung about him. Once in school, he would remove the gumboots, wear the shoes and kill the cigarette.
It was not business as usual. Vasco had not come to school for a week. Nobody knew his whereabouts. He did not have a phone and nobody among the teachers seemed to have met him over the weekend. He had not attended the usual goat auction held every Thursdays in the nearby trading centre where he was the chief auctioneer. Sam the deputy was holed up in Chepwirki’s drinking den and the school ran adrift like a loose ship on high seas.
We spoke in low tones that morning. The pupils were silent. Even the magpie, which had a nest on the office roof, had stopped its exasperating twittering.
We had taken Vasco’s presence for granted and shockingly, nobody had ever bothered asking him where he lived. He seemed to be as old as the history of education in our area. He was the school and the school was him.
Agnes said Vasco had once pointed to her where he lived.
“He showed me a palatial mansion across a bridge beyond the hills.” Agnes said.
Over lunchtime, a hurriedly convened meeting resolved to send Agnes, Maiyo and I to the east to seek and find the head teacher.
The following day after break, the three of us left school and headed east. We passed through the trading centre and bought sugar, tea leaves and cooking fat. We climbed the serpentine road on the foot of the hill. After an hour, our school became a dot on the expansive plains. Once on the summit, we descended to a valley and followed a road that led to a bridge. Coming to a bend on the road, we saw a magnificent one-storeyed house a few metres away. A well-manicured lawn surrounded the house.
“This is it!” Exclaimed Agnes excitedly. “This is the house Vasco showed me last year from the top of the hill.”
Vasco was a man of means. Beyond the hills towards school, nobody knew his true worth. We admired him. I was ashamed of the humble presents we had brought him and I passed the black polythene bag to Agnes, who passed it to Maiyo, who passed it to me again! I wanted to throw it away but we were then on the doorsteps.
Agnes knocked on the door.
From within, music played softly. The time was 12:20 p.m. and the chimney belched heavy grey smoke. A tantalizing aroma of food wafted lazily to our nostrils.
Agnes knocked on the metal door again. Pangs of hunger knocked on our empty stomachs.
The heavy metal door opened to reveal a middle-aged woman in resplendent attire. She smiled and showed a set of milk-white teeth. She came out and shook our hands. Her hand was as soft as a child’s.
“Is this Mwalimu’s home?” Asked Agnes.
“Which Mwalimu?” The woman asked, fixing her gaze on Agnes.
“Mwalimu Petero, the head master of Total Saints School.”
Maiyo’s mouth began forming letter ‘V’ and before he could say ‘Vasco’, I nudged him to stop.
“No, but he is our immediate neighbour. If you will follow that road, you will come to a huge sycamore tree. Take a path that branches to the right and you will see his house a few metres from the road. You will not miss it.”
We thanked her and apologised for her time. We turned back and walked away slowly, half hoping she would invite us for lunch. The door shut with a bang and hunger tormented us with a mighty ferocity. We trudged on lethargically. The valley was an oven as the midday sun grilled us.
We passed by the sycamore tree and followed a narrow path that led to a lone grass thatched hut.
The grass thatch had turned black and pieces of green succulent plants had grown on it. Patches of yellow polythene paper covered parts of the roof where the thatch had fallen off. A tiny round hole served as a window. The mud walls were green with moss and a plastic chair with the initials T.S.S lay sprawled outside.
Before we could establish whether there was a door to be knocked on, a plumb woman clad in a blue dress stepped out of the hut. After the greetings, we introduced ourselves and she confirmed that she was the teacher’s wife. I gave Agnes the present and she gave it to Obot Jeniba, who was happy to receive it. We went inside and even though smoke was choking, we were grateful to be offered lunch. Then from somewhere near the fireplace, she produced a brown gourd of milk. She methodically shook it and then tapped on the cow-skin lid and opened the gourd. It popped like champagne as she poured the contents to our proffered cups.
She told us about their children, two of whom were working abroad. The bank was going to sell their neighbour’s land including the palatial house due to a loan defaulting. Obot Jeniba hoped that the new neighbours who would buy the house would be good. We hoped so too.
Vasco had gone to town. We waited for him and at about 3 p.m. a saloon car belonging to The Peoples’ Bank stopped by the road. Vasco came out, followed by two smartly dressed bank officials and an armed policewoman. One of the officials held a huge envelope. The four headed where we were and Obot Jeniba shook in fright.
We witnessed as the bank handed Vasco the title deed to the twenty-acre plot. He was then officially the new owner of the palatial home. The officials then went back to their car and headed to the neighbour.
It was time to celebrate. By evening word had gone round and the all Vasco’s friends had thronged the compound. A record player belted Zilizopendwa hits. A pot of home brewed beer had been brought and people drank and danced. We decided to spend the night there.
Vasco turned to Agnes.
“Did you get lost on the way?” He asked, winking mischievously.
An Amorous Escapade
After we succeeded in bringing down the commotion, we opened the door to Vasco’s office to let out Ngelo’s wife. Cherono the head girl had been taken to the staffroom by female teachers to be grilled. Ngelo himself stood on the corridor with a stupefied expression on his scruffy face. When his wife came out, she threw a murderous glance at him and spat. He looked down.
We all headed to the staff room to iron out the issue. Hardly had we settled on our seats when the woman went berserk and began stripping naked. Again, we male teachers scurried to the door as female teachers threw a cordon around the nude figure. We stood outside and tried to narrate what part of the anatomy we captured in the short moment. Ngelo had remained inside the room. After some time, a pink manila paper with the word ‘AMEVAA’ appeared from the window. We went back.
Cherono was sobbing in a corner. The three legged table lay upside down. The room smelt of cheap perfume mingled with unwashed bodies. The dust was chocking. It was hot. I coughed. Everybody coughed. Cherono sobbed and coughed.
“Cherono, why do you want to snatch my husband?” Rosaline began, shouting above the din of incessant coughs.
Vasco asked her if she had any proof. She dug into her breast pocket and produced a ruffled piece of paper. She threw it towards the general direction of Vasco, who ducked to intercept it. He missed and it landed on Ngelo’s lap. The whole motion was a blur. You could not exactly pinpoint the moment at which he grabbed it, folded it, took it to his awaiting mouth and when he chewed it. He swallowed the dry lump and contorted his face in pain as the lump travelled slowly down his dry throat. Sweat and tears rolled down his face. There was a resounding noise as the lump finally passed through his Adam’s apple.
We looked at the man anew. We would have done anything to be in his cadre. Nothing was prized in our school as the successful ability to obliterate, destroy or make any incriminating evidence disappear. He was in a class of his own because the dexterity with which he executed this intricate manoeuvre was unrivalled. Nobody had ever pulled a fast one the way Ngelo did. We henceforth sided with him, except the female teachers who empathized with the woman and shook their heads in despondent motions.
After a lengthy talk, Vasco ruled in favour of the husband, for lack of sufficient evidence to sustain the allegation. Rosaline said she had forgiven Ngelo for his amorous escapades. Cherono was allowed back to class after a serious reprimanding from the madams. Ngelo was permitted to kill the day officially. The two were seen holding hands as they left the compound.
“Men are beasts!” Shouted Agnes, as the rest of us went out to catch a whiff of fresh air after diligently building the nation. Lunch would follow, an opportunity to review the unending conflicts in our illustrious school and ponder the question; who would be next?
I ran and arrived home seven minutes to seven. It was almost dark and decided to take a cold bath. I reeked of raw sewage. I found a basin, filled it with water and took it outside. I peeled off the clammy clothes that intimately clung to my body. Crickets chirped everywhere and the aroma of food being cooked by my neighbour wafted to my nostrils. For the first time she had fried beef and her quarrelsome children were quiet, religiously waiting to partake of the rare delicacy.
Having dressed, I looked around the house and straightened the tablecloth, arranged some chairs and tucked away cloths strewn everywhere. The room gradually regained a semblance of civilized habitation fit for a Mwalimu. Lastly, I took my treasured perfume and generously sprayed myself. On the stereo, Fundi Konde’s ‘Kweli Ajali Haikingiki’ played.
Then I waited on the sofa.
At 7.12 p.m, I heard a knock. I rushed to open the door with the gusto and dexterity required in such expectant situation. I opened the door and came out, grinning sheepishly. There was nobody. Looking down, a mangled form of a giant beetle lay on the ground, its life having been ended through supersonic collision with the door. I went back to the house and waited.
She finally came at around eight.
As I had expected, she narrated to me the ordeal she had labouriously borne being Sam’s wife. I looked at her face, and even in my dimly lit room, her visage reflected an exquisite beauty.
“I regret having married him. I should not have left you.” She said, amidst whimpers.
Her bosom heaved in tandem with the pitiful sobbing. I hate seeing a beautiful woman cry so I bridged the distance between us by drawing near and offering her a shoulder to lean on. Warm tears cascading down her face landed on my chest in twin rivulets, Tigris and Euphrates and my heart in between. As I held her close, memories of her rejection of me and instead betrothing Sam came flooding to me and I was lost in a deep reverie.
2000. The year whose recollection sends pangs of pain in my heart. The year Sam played Iscariot to his closest friend, the year that I lost and Sam won. The year Saraphine dumped me for Sam. Then I remembered when we first met, three years before the fateful year. The passage of years had not dimmed an ounce of the vivid memory. She had come to visit her aunt in our village and we had met beside the path leading to the stream.
A heap of fresh broken leaves grew around her feet, almost reaching her knees. The short irokwet shrub, whose leaves Saraphine had plucked in her girlish timidity, stood between us. We said nothing in particular but the silence affirmed our love. Sam’s covert scheming brought my three years in Paradise down, and I cried forlornly in the rain, which washed down my tears. Sam had stolen her but as she left, a void the size of Longonot crater remained in my heart.
I was jolted from my reverie by her sudden silence. Her sobbing had hitherto lulled me almost to sleep. Then she turned and embraced me passionately. Paradise gained.
I took her back home later and remembered to give her Sam’s money. She gave me a thousand shillings for my considerate action of salvaging the fool. When we parted, the journey back to my house seemed astronomical. Talk of sweet revenge.
After the unfortunate public debacle pitying me against Susana my old love, I brooded in the corner, hardly raising my eyes. The sinner had fallen into an irredeemable status and I did not have the moral authority to rebuke other sinners in the staffroom. By 4 in the afternoon, the tea leaves in my blood had veered dangerously low, meaning it was time for tea to be brought.
Being a stranger to our staff needs a rather long orientation. However, let me dwell on the few do’s and don’ts. First, you do not use cup number 5. Not even when you are being resuscitated from whatever malady, terminal or benign. The Cup belongs to Maiyo, the undisputed drunkard number one in tea. Tea, I said. All sins committed to his person are injurious and must be avoided but drinking from his Cup is an anathema, a taboo. I come second but I am not obsessively glued to my cup number 9. After the two of us tea addiction slides towards soda and climbs up the jagged precipice to the real real maestros of mixed, distilled and adulterated drinks. Perched at the summit, enjoying the panoramic vista of conviviality is our deputy Sam, he whose alcohol is 4% blood. When he earns his simsim, he stays away drinking, comes on 18th when he is broke, teaches for two days and disappears to the village to be hosted by Chepwirki the village brewer. At Chepwirki’s, he does odd jobs like splitting firewood, fetching water from the stream and generally enlivening the drinking den with a touch of academia. His wife comes for him towards the end of the month and the cycle continuous ad infinitum. When my Susana and child came to roast me in school, Sam was absent.
Maiyo and I took our tea as female teachers chatted animatedly and occasionally threw mischievous glances towards my direction. I somehow felt proud that I had made a grand entry to the who-is-who among the staff. Kemboi had part of his salary slashed for wild oat upkeep and the rest had been through numerous interdictions. Ngelo had sent a fake degree certificate to TSC and had survived dismissal by a whisker. One of the female teachers used a KCSE certificate belonging to a relative. Indeed, we were all sinners and had fallen short of the glory of Upper Hill. We then left for town through the tea plantation and joined the main road intending to make it there before banks closed. Simsim was rumoured to have been ready.
“I am strict and disciplined!” Emerged a hoarse voice from ditch by the road. The voice sounded familiar. We inched closer to the source of the sound and beheld the figure of Sam, lying hopelessly sprawled at the mouth of the culvert, clothes drenched in the flowing sewage, while the upper torso barely made it above the sludge. We descended to pull him up. He barely recognized us. The acrid, pungent smell was overpowering and we had to grab his arms to stop him splashing us the filth with them as he drove points home, teaching and reprimanding imaginary students.
We checked his pockets and found Ksh 10,000 which I kept, intending to give him the following day. We each ‘borrowed’ Sam Ksh 500 and called a taxi which we paid another Ksh 500 to take him home. We smelled awful. I called Sam’s wife to tell her to wait for the taxi at home, after which she should come to my place to collect ‘something’ in the evening around 7 pm when I would be home.
It was late when we finally reached town. I knew I was not going to cook supper so we headd to The Link Hotel to eat sumptuously. How time flies when one is having a good time! Then I checked the time and it was 6.42 pm, I left Maiyo and ran home like one possessed, remembering 7.pm.
I arrived in school late that day by using a short cut through Arap Chebui’s fence. I tiptoed to the staffroom and hastily looked for the staff register, praying that Vasco had not arrived. You know him, our head teacher. The usual trick was to write the earliest time and leave some space for colleagues who punched in late to have something to write that is closer to but not later than 8.00 am.
That day I was unlucky, and Vasco himself had entered his time as 7.59 am, technically locking me out. I settled to writing 8.00 am yet the true time was 9.12 am. The next bigger challenge was how to execute the delicate and covert maneuver of sneaking to class. Nobody else was in the room, a strange departure from the norm when the place would be packed to the brim, class time notwithstanding.
I succeeded in entering class 4, who instantly became quiet and stood up. After greetings and pleasantries were exachanged, they sat down. Chebet, the class monitor brought me a list of noisemakers, Kipsang found an old rag and proceeded to rub the black board and Boaz, the custodian of cypress canes brought his bundle to my table. I worked on the twelve noisemakers, who were all boys, amidst wailing that reached the high heavens.
“Monitor, kwani hakuna wasichana walipiga kelele?” I asked.
“Haandiki wasichana!”Protested the boys.
“Quiet! Where were we?” I asked, riffling through the tattered, dog-eared pages of Primary Mathematics. It was then that I looked out and saw teachers huddled in a large group around the kimolwet tree,talking and gesticulating animatedly.
“Head master yuko?” I enquired of a boy seated next to my table. Vasco had come to school and collected money from the students and left, he said. That was then why teachers were on free range. I found the page, whose exercises were a continuation of the previous one, and told them to complete the remaining questions.
“Na msinifuate haraka na vitabu.”I roared, and rushed out to mingle.
As I approached the group, it suddenly went quiet except for one loud protestation coming from the centre. The circle parted and engulfed me and I came face to face with the source of the noise, which had disturbed the serenity of our beloved school.
She saw me and went berserk, her loud noise pitching a crescendo. By this time, the whole school had come to witness the spectacle. By her side was a young girl, busy playing and sucking a red lollipop, oblivious of the rumpus around her.
Einstein had theorized in the relativity of time –space continuum that time did not pass at a constant velocity. One second in a furnace, being roasted by a woman you wanted to relegate to the relics of the past seemed like an eternity. Here I was the public subject of a private affair, a promise of a mansion, a night of passion and now looking for compassion from the audience who are craving for more wikileaks. She seemed to have rehearsed for it because she appeared in tattered dress, unkempt hair, walked barefoot and appealed to mercy, what my philosophy lecturer called argumentum ad misericordiam.
I have no vivid account of what else transpired but everything usually has an end, except being a father.
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We had not anticipated the urgent staff meeting called that morning. Teachers arrived in their usual time and order and were surprised to find the staff room unusually clean, the three legged long table well propped by a chair. A quick head count revealed that only Ngelo had not yet arrived. The mood was sombre. None of the usual humming and rumbling noise was heard. Someone said a short prayer. Vasco rose up to speak. He turned to face me and his ancient eyes bore into mine. I stared back and fixed my eyes on his shiny perspiring nose. That was the problem of sitting next to Vasco in meetings; he usually started interrogating those seated next to him.
“M.V, how many E’s will you reduce in mathematics? He inquired of me.
I fidgeted in my wooden rickety chair. Everyone looked up; literally crawling from the burrows they had hidden. In our school, we do not work hard to increase the A’s but reduce the E’s.
This was a perennial drill, an obvious question that we had rehearsed, and whose answer was on everyone’s lips. You could forget your name but not how many E’s you strove to reduce.
I said I was working round the clock to ensuring that I had zero E’s. Vasco’s lips parted to reveal a set of tobacco stained teeth and a gap left by two lower missing teeth. He liked chewing tobacco and sending the brown liquid squirting from the gap, after which he would wipe the mouth with his palms in alternate motion. The walls of his office had been stained brown by the tobacco spray.
Vasco had been summoned the previous day to the DEO’s office, together with other illustrious sons and daughters whose schools had not attained more than 250 marks in the national examination. He was a regular guest in such yearly meetings from the time the noble idea of dressing down non-performers was hatched.
“M.V has begun by declaring zero tolerance on E’s in mathematics, the aspiration of which should be borne by all and sundry. Now the question before us all is how to achieve it. Sam, being the Deputy, how are we going to achieve it?”
Sam was startled by the unexpected question. He had planted his left elbow on the table and supported his chin with it. His eyes were bloodshot and the smell of alcohol quickly filled the room when he spoke. This was one of those rare days he came to school.
“By coming to school regularly.” He said, looking at the faces gazing at him around the room.
The room exploded in laughter. Laughter from the ten or so tickled bellies, thunderous laughter that shook the very foundation of the room. He should have said something else. He usually taught for two days in a month, the rest of which were spent in Chepwirki’s drinking den. He was lucky that he was a close relative of Vasco and no action would be taken against him for as long as the former reigned supreme.
When the laughter finally subsided, the rest of the teachers contributed as a matter of formality. Everybody knew that Vasco lacked the will to implement any of the recommendation we made and that he would be the first to flout them. Madam Jane was speaking when there was a sudden commotion outside. A female voice, clearly not from the girls, disturbed the tranquillity of the school by her high pitched shouting. Running feet along the corridor in random pitter-patters, three figures whizzed past the staffroom window in a blur. We all scrambled to the door and formed a stuck, compressed mass of solidarity, unable to let anyone out. A yell of pain from someone pressed against the door drowned the original noise. When we made it outside, the three figures had gone round the school building and were approaching us fast from the opposite direction.
The one leading the pack was a girl in school uniform then a stick wielding woman in hot pursuit. The girl desperately plunged in our midst to be rescued. Dust rose and chocked us. It was Cherono the head girl! Sam, Dan and I stepped forward and formed a human shield to catch the fast approaching woman, with an emphasis on disarming her. I quickly noticed her huge size and pushed Dan forward. It happened in a blur but the woman had ploughed through the three of us and into Vasco’s office, which was then quickly shut from outside. We lay sprawled in sorry states and had to be supported up as the third figure came hurtling towards us. He screeched to a halt without any intervention.
It was Mr Ngelo!
The woman now shouting from the office was his wife.