Three and half weeks ago, a dark blue police Land Cruiser cruised into our estate. In it were the boss – himself an OCS, his assistant, two other policemen with Kalashnikovs and an ununiformed guy. From the dragging speed the metal moved at, you needed no witchcraft to know they were up to some big state mischief.
It was the ununiformed guy who talked to the housekeeper. Then the housekeeper came to the veranda where I was arguing with Ken over which country has the most foolish men. The housekeeper pointed his finger at me. It looked like the replay of Iscariot and his Jew kinsman. So when I affirmed I was The Teacher, I knew it was over.
I began thinking of the crimes I’ve done. I’ve rubbished government policies. I’ve criticized the governor for stealing money from Mumias Sugar Company. I’ve cursed all university professors with the curse of death. Or could it be that Anna girl? How was I to know she was a minor? Or have they tracked me since we hurled stones at the referee last weekend?
They took me through Manyanja Road, turned left onto Outer Ring Road, past Kariobangi, through Huruma, and when we reached Thika Road right in the face of the GSU camp, my prayer syllabus was over. It was over.
They were giving me work. The fellow said he had got my address from an old client of mine. I was to home-school the boss’ child: one thousand shillings an hour, four hours a week, with the freedom of choosing the hour and day.
I was stinking broke. I began work that day. The girl is an only child who has spent her entire infancy in Europe with her mother. And only-children being what only-children are, the first thing was that I was to deal with her tenderly, calling her endearing names as they do in Hollywood and Mexico. I was to call her Dear when asking her to do an assignment. I was to call her Sweetie if she refused to learn. I was to call her Honey when she eats poo. I agreed.
So last week something happens. Not shit this time. (Chocolate?) We are sitting in the study room and the language lesson is almost over. I want to motivate her learning so I ask her what she wants to be in future. Knowing what she will answer, I go ahead to quickly suggest Doctor, to which she surprisingly says no. I ask Driver. She thinks, then she says no. I suggest Police Officer, with good guns like daddy; she shakes her head and says no. I ask Engineer and a few other cousins to Engineer. A big no to each. She shakes the head furiously. Hey.
Then I change tact. I pose the question again.
“Iqra, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
She looks into the whiteboard ahead. God, when did they start thinking! Her left hand supports the chin while the other rests on the open book on the table. She takes time till I start thinking she is offended. I start cursing my ass. I should have minded my own business. One thousand shillings an hour with four flexible hours a week is not something you want to lose easily in this city. I feel foolish.
Then with the coolest voice, she looks me in the eye and calls.
“Teacher?” she is smiling a bit.
“When I grow big….”
“I wanna be a teacher when I grow big.”
“A teacher? You want to be a teacher?”
“Yes. Like you,” pointing at me.
That finished me. Completely.
I have heard people say their hearts melted at some point. A desk mate back then used to include that in every love letter he sent to girls and I’d wonder how flesh with blood and arteries could melt. But this day, in the house of the OCS, my heart melted like butter.
And her black eyes were now looking into mine. There was something glittering in there. It was hope. It was admiration. It was utmost sincerity, innocence. She looked into me for reassurance – reassurance that nature would not take away her dear dream; that fate would not deny her the chance to be teacher; that she had not made the wrong decision. Her eyes sparkled in the light and left me searching for my tongue.
Iqra is about eight years old. Hers is not the face of a future socialite or model. Neither is it a bad face. It is the face of a woman who knows what life is and who understands what she wants in life. She is that genuine professor at the department of Literature or Linguistics at some coveted college. Iqra is a beater of her own paths.
Look at her. Nothing extraordinary from a glance. Her upper front teeth are a bit bigger than the rest with a gap in the lower correspondents. Light complexion as anyone else from the horn of Africa and her face is veiled in hijab. Four feet, young, hopeful and happy.
So she’d just said she wanted to be a teacher. A teacher like me. Wouldn’t you have felt high?
Sometimes we do things and take them for granted. We work, get paid and walk home happy. Then come back, work, get paid, and walk home happy again. Never in our endeavours do we ever think of our work from attitude’s point of view. We have made our worlds so materialist that we never consider the abstract way we shape others and ourselves. Drivers see passengers as kilograms of flesh from where to extract coins. Managers see employees as hands to propel the institution into profiting. Teachers see children as empty heads and deal with them as merely that – spheres with eyes, ears and a nose over which the daily bread comes home. We never regard ourselves as being looked at as socialising agents to shape attitudes: perceptions, hopes, fears, dreams etc. Well, Iqra just changed my attitude.
She has given me a reason to worry. Now I work, get paid, and walk home worried. I am worried because she will never be allowed to reach her dream. That spark in her eye will be clipped in the heart before it lights the path. Somewhere along, the superego will come in with their demands. One day, sitting at this very spot, the OCS will declare in a gruffly voice that she be a doctor or engineer. That will be final.
She will enroll at the national university for Medicine. Because of the lack of passion, she will keep hitting the D’s and Supplementaries and then drop out in the third year. Her uncle will suggest she takes Nursing, which the mother will support, and which she will take Nursing and drop out in the second year because of the Latin. Then she will enroll at three more colleges before the father decides to go downtown to buy her a degree in Economics and get her a sad job at the Central Bank because the neighbour to Aunt Samira is a big gun there. And she will become the wife of a sad doctor and raise a sad family.
The dream that I saw in her eyes will die. It will be buried by the cruel world that worships prescriptivism. And no matter how much I worry, I know there is nothing I can do to make Iqra, my lovely Iqra, become a teacher like myself.
“Yes Sweetheart. You will be a great teacher like Mwalimu.”