G. POST: Me, My School, and My Grades (E. Khisa)

It is still fresh in my head when I greeted a white man who had visited our school as “thank you madam.”  He didn’t answer, and the way he looked at me I doubted if that was an appropriate greeting.  It’s not that Mr. Chelungusi didn’t do his work. He did it. In fact he covered the English syllabus in term one. He exhausted all types of compositions. He touched all areas in grammar. That was what he told us.

I failed in Mathematics too. Not that Mr. Wasio never came to class for Mathematics lessons. In fact I wondered why his subject was timetabled every day. Some teachers could miss school for various reasons – mostly, sickness – but Mr. Wasio never fell sick. The only time I thought he was unwell was the time I entered the staffroom and found him coughing. He was taking tea with a piece of roast maize. I think a mannerless maize grain mistook the windpipe for the oesophagus. And he didn’t go to hospital.

maths
maths

Now Maths and its mysteries. One day my mum asked me to help my younger sister solving some problem. The first sum was zero plus zero. I told her the answer was eight. My younger sister, Nanjala, and I never agreed on that until we called our mother in. She just laughed. “Is that how your teachers cheat you?”

Anyway, how can you conclude that zero plus zero is zero? How is that possible? When you add a zero on another zero, one thing will carry another on its head, and hence my correct answer eight. That is how I argued and made my answer relevant.

I also liked Mr. Namunguba’s teaching methodology and mannerism. He was our Kiswahili teacher. He could abuse you if you wrote a poor insha or dozed off during his Kiswahili lectures. Are lectures the same as lessons? I don’t know. He taught. But I still failed in Kiswahili.

Now this is the story. It wasn’t my fault to register low marks in KCPE exams. A witch and the madman were the reasons behind my dismal performance. Our home was 5km away from school. If you could wait until the sun opened its eyes, Mr. Masaba would beat you up till you farted. He was ever on duty. I never understood why. Perhaps it was because he was the youngest staff member. His colleagues were aging on an hourly basis.  He had completed his high school course just the other year, which meant he was still energetic. He was a good caner I must say. Therefore to avoid injuries on your behinds, you just had to rise as early as 4.30am.

But then, the morning dew was always cold, and we never wore shoes. Mostly because we did not have. And, even if you had, your schoolmates would laugh at you. I remember the day Kalulu came to school in shoes. I think he wanted to overcome the cold grass on the ground. Opicho could not help himself laughing. Mr. Chelungusi would say he laughed hysterically.

“Kalulu you are wearing shoes?” Opicho asked as his shoulders moved synchronically with the laughter. “So what do you want us to say? That you come from town?”

However, the morning dew wasn’t a big threat. The real threat was beyond that – a witch and the madman. There was this witch on fashion. He used to hang on thickly leafed trees which neighboured Sifumbukho’s farm with his head down like a bat. That is why we changed his name from Wabunulu to Wambuto – the bat. Any woman who coming from the milling shop as late as 6.30pm would have her family sleeping on empty stomachs. Wabunulu would take her maize flour and disappear behind the bush.

One Thursday, Mr. Masaba and Mr. Namunguba sent a warning to everybody about late-coming. They were both on duty. Everybody knew what it meant by those two saying, “Just come late if you want.” I asked mother to wake me up at 4 a.m. the following day. She pleasurably did that. I washed my feet as usual (bathing day was strictly on Saturdays – the day we went to church). Now the task before me was a breath taking one. There was only one route that could take me to school. And this route hosted the two terrifying human beings.

I started for school at exactly 4.20am. I came close to Wabunulu’s work-place, the tree, and became wise. I tiptoed stealthily, and after successfully passing, anybody with a good bicycle could not catch up with my speed. In fact Mr. Wasio, my Maths teacher, would never calculate the speed I had moved at.

Now, after two kilometres, I came close to where Mayende the madman slept. It was by the fence near the slaughter house at Chebukaka market.

This man used to walk with snakes in his pocket. That was one of the most threatening things about him. I wondered why those snakes never bit him. The wisdom I used at Wabunulu’s place flashed in my mind. I smiled and decided to tiptoe quietly. I did not make two steps.

I stood stopped after the first step. The urine from my bladder forgot that I had already washed my feet back at home. I shook.

Mayende was standing right before me. He was holding a snake in his right hand. Though the snake looked dead, I was not convinced. And a snake is always a snake, dead or alive.

He started toward me without uttering a word. That’s when I rediscovered my athletic skills. I made that 180° turn and took off. A bit of exaggeration perhaps but I think my knees hit the chin while the heels knocked the back of my head.

That was the first week of term two, and I stayed home till exam day.

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Our Whiteman of Musenda

A bicycle is something I still respect. Go on and grab iPhones, iTunes, iPads and everything else i-, my respect for bicycles remains unwavering.

The other day I was in town running errands for myself when an absurd thing happened. It was at this point where Voi Road pours into Kirinyaga Road. So as I crossed to go take the left side of Kirinyaga Road, this man in a Passat almost made a corpse out of me. I stopped my machine, turned to look at him, and hoped that he’d feel his shame and run away before I fixed him. Or at least, come fall at my feet and apologise profusely before I got the trouble of pacifying angry passers-by who would be on his neck. But the bastard got out of the vehicle and came to confront me. His key words were that I was wrong to use the road instead of the pavement (which isn’t on Kirinyaga Road). When I looked in his face and saw that he meant his words, I so much sympathised with him that I almost called the ambulance to the mental hospital. How could someone in his right senses rate an ‘86 Raleigh bicycle with a plastic car like a Passat! Not even Neelam or the postmodern Hero Jet could beat a 40 year old Raleigh. But foolishness, I realise, has no herb. So I cycled off without a word to him.

bicycle
Men on bicycles

When I was growing up, bicycles were symbols of everything good. They were symbols of affluence, symbols of education, symbols of libido, symbols of national unity, symbols of immortality – anything that the schools said was good. Indika earned you respect. Indika earned you a wife. Indika earned you adoration. That is why they were majorly used by the most respected members of our community – teachers.

Teachers were the only people who outdid the local chiefs in being respected. I went to Mukambi Primary School, commonly known to the villagers as Musenda because it was next to the chief’s centre. They should have preferred Mukambi because it was also a chief’s camp for Chief Akaki Kodia, but that was just their choice. So at Muks (which is how we made the name look an equal to Booker Academy) we had these teachers whom we respected to death. If a doctor said you had malaria and a teacher said it was typhoid, the teacher’s word ruled and it would take time before the doctor received any clients. A teacher would tell you to bring to school a piece of firewood on Monday and by Sunday evening a heap would already be deposited outside the school kitchen. If a teacher told you to kneel by the school gate from morning to evening, you knelt. Then before going home you would look for him to say thank you and help carry his bag. And if you saw your teacher on the road, you’d immediately go into hiding. If perhaps you were convinced that he had seen you, you’d run to him, greet him in English and help push his bicycle.

They were Nazis. Pharaohs. Beat us so hard you would come home with zero if you set out to count the number of learners who never farted during punishment. Our fathers would wait by the road and when they saw the strictest teacher, they’d give him a token and plead with the teacher to beat the child even more. Whenever a child complained that Mwalimu So-and-So had caned him, that father would wait for the teacher with a hen tucked under his armpit. The man who took home most hens was one Mwalimu Jairo, whom we all loathed, loved, feared and admired in the same breath.

He donned a neat afro hairstyle, which just took him to another league. Every Sunday he went to the school and sat alone marking our books under a mvule tree. Then he would sample books of those who had done their homework poorly and go with them home to prepare punishment. Word had it that he had employed a Maasai boy whose JD was to go to the forest, cut young guava sticks for canes, rub on them red pepper and salt, warm them by the evening hearth, then package them in a small sisal sack for the school journey the following day. Parents therefore adored this man’s manner and proudly referred to him as Our Whiteman of Musenda.

But he had one weakness.

Ever since he had been transferred to our school sixteen years before, it had always been rumoured that Mwalimu Jairo didn’t know how to ride a bicycle. Now that was enough reason to cause stigma among men. An omusumba – bachelor, an omusinde – uncircumcised man, a man who got whipped by his wife, and a man who didn’t know how to ride a bicycle all passed as one and the same. It was taboo for big men and small children to mingle with women in gossip, but where these four were being discussed, everyone was greatly welcome and one could bash as much as they wished if only they kept their voices hushed. And despite the respect they gave Mwalimu, they sat behind closed doors and laughed how a well-educated man with two wives and an afro could not ride an indika yet even girls like Apedneko’s daughter were cycling well.

indika
Indika

So when Mwalimu Jairo was seen that Sunday evening on top of a newly bought Black Mamba, it became everyone’s business. Those who saw him mount it said he had been shaking, sweating, and had needed someone to hold the bicycle and push him forward to start the ride. Those of us who played downslope were denied that rare opportunity of seeing a whole deputy head teacher panic on a Black Mamba in fear. But another opportunity awaited us.

As someone began descending the hill, something went amiss. We were playing marbles by the roadside in the far downhill, but we could still see a staggering bicycle even from far. It went from left to right and right to left. At some point, the man gained stability and we thought all was fine. Then we realised the speed was increasing and the left-right thing was now getting out of control. Then we heard the shouting as he approached. And we knew whom it was.

“Help me! Help me! I am the deputy at Musenda Primary! Help me stop! I am the deputy at Musenda! Museendaaaaa! Help! I am the dep…!”

I had never heard a man cry in such distress. Especially when the bicycle flashed past us and I saw how harassed he was; when I saw the furrows of despair on his forehead; when I saw the terror. His head had been thrown forward in concentration, and the arms tightly held onto the handlebars.

I ran in trail, bringing the best out of my feet. My playmates followed. A teacher was not supposed to fall with a bicycle – not a deputy! If a teacher never went to the toilet and never farted, how now? A teacher bathed every day in milk and warm mango juice, not fell. It would be a sin for his skin to touch down disgracefully. So I surged faster, outrunning my friends and hoping to get hold of the carrier first and slow him down to stop. Who knows, he might decide to remember me when caning those who used vernacular, and perhaps subsidise my punishment.

But I was slightly slower to the metal, which led in rage and contempt.

He lost control and hit a rock by the roadside. Then the shouting stopped for some seconds. For three seconds he was in the air, summersaulting and preparing for a landing. We all saw his whole body soar up into the air, fight gravity and rotate above the Black Mamba. We saw the buttocks turn up and head sweep down. We watched with caged breaths and unwilling eyes. Then he landed. A big thud. He gave two painful groans and went silent that for some time we feared him dead.

Then when we overcame our fear and got the courage to move near the injured teacher, our Whiteman of Musenda coughed and unsuccessfully tried to stand up. The dust that had gone in air was enough to blur one’s vision, though that which settled in his afro was more.

We had been so engrossed in the drama of his moving downslope that we had not noticed what had been tied on the bicycle’s carrier. Now tomatoes, sugar, several class-six exercise books and a hen were all strewn on the roadside beside their master. As villagers helped him to his feet and cursed the mad bicycle, I collected the items on the road and tied them in a heap beside the Black Mamba. I unwillingly put my exercise book back in the others for fear that he would realise if it went missing. But I hoped that come the following day, he’d still subsidise my punishment.

(I have exceeded my word-count. End.)

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Rokan Asman Ngosia

On the ribs of Mwichina village lies an equally hidden village. It is called Ebuyofu. It is gay and reserved. If you are not careful, you may not notice it because of its quiet demeanour. Many are occasions Sunday travellers to Elureko have passed through and not seen anything of it. It must be the second most innocent place after heaven and the folks aren’t boasting even.

Ebuyofu is a remote village unperturbed by the false smiles of the world. People here are true and honest. If they tell you you are ugly, they mean that you are ugly and you might never be called ‘in-law’, not even in jokes. If they tell you your daughter will be married to a rich man with a large farm, start preparing a shed for the cattle because indeed dowry is on the way. And if with a smile they tell you they’ll beat you up, go buy the medicine for a swollen nose.

But Ebuyofu is not just known for its truth and sincerity. In those trees, in that forest of humanity and openness of the human heart, amidst the huts that house a lovable breed of humans in the Wanga kingdom, lies a home approximately one hundred metres from the Inyiriri river. There rests a serene compound fenced in openness and the eyes of passing travellers. It is there that when you enter you will find our man. Rokan Asman Ngosia.

Now how does one present Rokan to a complete stranger and still hope to be understood? Where should the narrative even start?

In a certain August, I think I was in class two, we followed the chanting circumcisers through Lubinu towards Ibokolo. August is this season of putting the boys to the knife and into manhood. We would have gone up to Sabatia had the envious sun not set so unceremoniously earlier and reminded us of the wrath of waiting mothers. Those were days we still had legs to hop us into Butere, Shiatsala and back. That is, if along the way there were groundnut and sugarcane farms.

So when the sun was almost hitting ground, we entered a home in Mwichina. The candidate, realising that we were entering his aunt’s home, danced himself almost lame in an attempt to solicit a better gift from the aunt. Some aunts would give whole bulls while others would give only a cup of water; this young man seemed to need both. He jingled the hand gongs in the air, circled them above his feathered head and rotated his waist in an artistic mastery to and from the ground. Many men came to dance him into his aunt’s home and occasionally put a shiny coin on his sweaty forehead.

Among these welcoming men was this man more jovial than the rest. His face beamed in a big smile. He was dressed in a yellow shirt with a single button around the chest, a yellow pair of shorts, a gum boot in one leg and another leg painted in the grey of the riverbed soil. He had come right from the farm, which explained why he still had a hoe in the hands. Now he danced so expertly in the crowd, moving backwards as he faced the approaching initiate, and I wondered where Kanda Bongoman sought talents. His heels never touched the ground and the legs were bent at the heels for the dance. He moved the hoe from this palm to that and flung his hands in the air with the flexibility of a pro. That was the first day I saw Rokan.

About two years later, when I had forgotten about him, Rokan reappeared. I came home from school and found a visitor helping mother to winnow the maize harvest. From the way he had turned white, he had been at it for hours, probably since sunrise. Mother introduced me to the guest. When I stretched my hand to shake his, he jumped up alarmed and crossed his whitened palms above his chest in protest. He said he could not greet his cousin with “dirty” hands. That was to open a water hunting session. He dashed into the house and apparently remembered he was a guest so he could not open the bedroom door to access water. He rushed back to where I was still standing and apologised. Said he’d be done in a minute. He ran towards the house of Namwiru, my small-mother. There he met a bolted door. Then there was only one other option. He decided to run to the river a kilometre away and came back twenty minutes later, clean and panting from the run. Then as he neared me with outstretched hands and a smile, ready to greet his cousin, he slipped on the canvas from where the maize had been being winnowed. And he fell right into the chuff to stand up a white man with patches of black where the mouth and eyes were supposed to be. I grabbed his white hand and forced him to greet me, which he did with a deep frown, complaining something about dirtying his cousin.

One day, he visited us for the Eid. Those days, Eid was marked as a community thing across the kingdom and everyone participated regardless of where he went on Friday or Sunday. Though he had not been fasting, he kept singing to others the positives of fasting. That day it rained. And we all know what happens when it rains on a festive day, one where you crush rice until hell drops.

At first it was our neighbour’s wife who went to the bush and found the door locked from the inside. Then a respected guest from the mosque committee came complaining that the bush door was not opening. Eventually we had a caravan of Muslims with full stomachs and impatient eyes staging pilgrimage outside the bush. They danced mildly and shook their stomachs to shoo them into false relief. Yet even with their prayers, the door would not open and no sound came from within.

We hired a claw hammer from a local carpenter and began working on the iron-sheet door. It finally gave way. Immediately it opened, Rokan stepped outside the latrine with his shoes raised above the head. He waded in the mud and stagnant water as he went away mumbling something to himself. I later saw the shoes neatly wrapped in a polythene bag and tucked under his bedroll in the hut we shared. He later complained that bad people wanted him to soil his shoes. He was nowhere to be seen from the next day.

I was not his best friend.

Being the village celebrity, children will always find humour playing around you. So we used to pull pranks on him and he hated it. We came to learn that bursting a milk paper near him scared all the hell from my cousin. So we would wait for meal times and blow into the thing. Then one would step at the opening with the heel of one leg and drop the other leg on the inflated paper. Upon the burst, he would dash into hiding at the back of the house. He feared two things: the police and this burst. The burst was the only thing that would remove him from the latrine. Since I was always at the fore front, my cousin swore never to look me in the eye. But that was then.

ROKAN ASMAN NGOSIA
ROKAN, RESPECT.

I have been listing down all the cousins in my life. For every cousin, I was listing down all the sins they have committed against me. For some of these sinners, one page was enough. Others needed more space and I had to forgive and assume some crimes for them to fit and remain in the syllabus. Yet there was a page that remained blank. Apart from the name, nothing down there. So I’ve decided to bring that name here and fill the page with anything I can remember of this hero. God bless Rokan Asman Ngosia.

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Hell, Welcome

Welcome
Welcome

I don’t like Toyota. Even if I were to drown and the only way out was a Toyota boat, I’d still hate it. I’d board but dive immediately I smelt the shore. And I can’t help.

Hate is this emotion where you really have no control. Like you have this workmate whom you have hated from the first day regardless of the smiles he makes around you. You always feel that the lift should fail one evening, the day when he is the last guy to leave office, so that he stays caged and lonely for the night. Better still, you want it to be a Friday evening so he stays there till Monday 8.15 a.m when government cleaners open the doors. Sometimes you try very hard to like the felabut you always backtrack more than you advance.

The reason I don’t like Toyota dates back, back. Taktari was our rogue neighbour who kept disturbing our peace. For every day that had a morning, he played music from an old Sanyo radio that screamed those foolish songs. Each night, the music cut the air like it was war. Then his wives always fought and called each other obscenities, but even that was nothing compared to the green Sanyo thing.

But if you belong to those days you’d know that the issue was not just noise making. That the noise was from a Sanyo meant he was one mile ahead of us in affluence. It reminded us our page and chapter in Maslow’s books of truth. It told the number of meals he could afford. He just had to let it scream and you’d remember that his kids were the only ones who went to school in shoes, who spoke Swahili, who went home to lunch, and who sometimes owned a leather football. Then you’d understand how insignificant your family was. Let’s just say that a family that owned a Sanyo those days could only compare to a family that shops in Dubai today.

So one day, when the Hiace guys were repairing the road at our market centre, we heard loud screeching. Now our market place is so designed that any such drama will be received by almost everyone instantly. We rushed to the spot. Even in that immediacy, word had already travelled that it was a bad accident. Victim? None other than Taktari himself.

I ran. The prospect that we would have peaceful days propelled me to run even faster. I can’t tell what others were going to do. Mine was simple: I wanted to see how the idiot had died. I wanted to see if he had died facing the sky or he had planted his nose into the tarmac. But importantly, I wanted to prove that he was dead as wood.

I remember surging forward strongly and hoping that his trouser be torn and his privates be out just for nature’s poetic justice.

People were crowded. I think I saw some blood stains and the air of death gave me satisfaction. Having passed by Taktari’s second wife screaming, I inwardly nodded and promised myself to be happier once I saw the limb body. There was also this kid who came running and screaming for his departed father. Amazingly, that home had chosen a uniform brand of durable lungs – from the Sanyo, to the last wife, to the kids.

A few metres away from the swelling crowd sat the guilty Toyota Hilux which Sergeant Inengeya had recently bought from his retirement wealth. I was in no hurry and since I wanted to have sufficient foreplay, I first went to the metal to examine the extent of damage. It would be great guessing and confirming how many teeth the bastard had lost before parting with the soul.

The Toyota had smashed its front into a tree in whose shade sat a cobbler on other days. The bumper was completely gone. The tyres still smelled from the braking. Its blood stained bonnet had flung upwards and you could see the sad radiator eulogising the man who owned a Sanyo radio. Now let’s see who will buy the dry cells.

When I turned to go meet the epitome of my happiness, the first person I met was our neighbour’s senior wife who was driving home two big goats. Already…? In her trail walked a proud man in those Taliban gowns and who held his prestigious staff. The story later unfolded of how our bastard had bought four goats at the market and was taking them home when a stray Toyota tried to avoid a pothole and finally ran into them. It killed two goats and missed the owner by a hair.

I have hated Toyota since then. That was justice it failed to deliver. Why miss such a person by a hair? When the Japs (I don’t know who makes Toyota) were making it, did they agree that it should be missing enemies by a whisker? And I pitied the sergeant for using his goodbye wages to buy such a blunt, foolish, and lazy van that would keep missing people by a whisker.

So it is official that I hate Toyota; put it down. I also hate Maths teachers; I hate Maths itself. I hate men with bad manners. I hate job interviews. I hate my landlord.

And apart from hate, my life builds around other hidden blocks about which I can’t help myself either. Fear, love, scholarship, Shotokan, and beautiful women, are all mine.

I fear the female anopheles mosquito, snakes, bedbugs, a cold shower, and a beautiful woman who uses makeup. I read Achebe, Naipaul, Lehane, Chomsky and other liars. I support Leopards, Leopards, Leopards and Leopards. I do mawashigeri and love giyakuzuki. I dislike models who don’t fart. And I still hate our neighbour, his 27 children and the Sanyo – wherever it went.

Now welcome to this space where we rant and rant all day. This is where we say the shit we like and nobody asks a question. We will laugh together, peel onions together, love each other, lie to each other and request that we kindly believe the lies. Who doesn’t lie anyway?

Welcome and let’s celebrate our full site, papawere.com. To (dot)wordpress(dot)com, bye bye Vietnam.