Matilda Okwimbikiti

Matilda Okwimbikiti
Matilda Okwimbikiti

Your wife is a serial sadist. Common chaps could have their version but this is the sad truth. The jovial woman who moves with long dresses and who laughs even at flies is a first-rate witch. A devil. 

When she meets people she smiles and shows them her white teeth. She hugs strangers and gives a lot to charity. She talks about God so much and says good words to everyone. Except you. Continue reading “Matilda Okwimbikiti”

Mwalimu Evans Mudanya

It was Wefwafwa who came to tell me that a new teacher had come. And indeed when I took my firewood to the staffroom that morning, I found a shortish man in what I think was a yellow sports apron. If I trust my memory well, I may also add that he was smoking a cigar and moving about the place like he ran it. Mwalimu Pamela was not someone who laughed easily. Neither was Mwalimu Panisi. So when I found all of them being cracked by this new man in yellow colours, I knew things would be rosy. That is how I first saw Mwalimu Evans Mudanya.

That first day alone he had moved around and made friends. He unexpectedly came to class three and I think he found me dancing to a school-made Sukuma bin Ongaro. I didn’t see him enter. All I remember is that the classroom soon went silent and when I turned around, there was the man in yellow:

“Yes Bwana Chief?” That would later become his signature greeting.

Then this weekend happens and we are roaming the streets of the kingly city of Khushianda. Then Yusuf, Allah have mercy on his soul, picks a torn envelope. Inside the envelope is a torn 10-shilling note. We form a thinking committee and think a lot about this note. It is beyond us how someone can drop five shillings (half of ten was five) just like this, eh. Eventually, someone suggests we are hungry. Indeed we are, but then what? A second suggestion comes that we use the half note to buy half a loaf of bread. And in no time, we have folded the thing so well you might think it a twenty.

The first shop we get is on your way to Elubinu. And whose is it other than E. Mudanya’s, Esquire? We find his son of about 8 and we give him the note. With the five bob balance we walk to that bush that used to neighbour Onyango’s hotel and we descend on the loot. That is Sunday.

Monday, new life.

It is assembly time. We have forgotten past and are busy dropping mirrors between the feet of unsuspecting girls. I’m only small, which means that I’m cushioned by the big ones like Angachi for whom I have to daily carry roast maize if this protection is to continue. We are least concerned with the assembly because even if we made it our business, the teachers are using much English and less Swahili and so we will still go without a thing. Then I hear Yusuf’s name. Then mine. Then Wanga. Then Benix. Then Wefwafwa. Now the funny thing with your name is that you always understand it even if the speaker is using Arabic. The mention of those simple syllables pulls your nerves for attention and you take your bar in the court of the universe.

So we are called and we enter the assembly grounds. The environment has changed abruptly. We are in Greece. The only real thing remaining is the short man standing with a cane and the laughing learners. The teacher points at us and asks questions in English. We cannot answer anything and the assembly bursts out in laughter. In the laughing nation is Angoli whom I helped to write his name yesterday. The parade is dismissed and we are directed to the Fort Jesus. (Need I write you a piece on how teachers named their mud-walled offices that also served as kitchen, store, dormitory for the big rats and changing room for the magician who performed to us every first week of the month?)

The moment we reach, we find a parade of discipline teachers. They are colonialists. When you entered this mad walled unit of about 10 by 10, there are conventions you had to adhere to. First, your shirt had to be in. Second, you had to be ready to accept all the accusations by nodding or if you knew some English, saying yes madam. Last, and most important, you had to leave the door wide open so that in case the heat went up, you would always find the path unobstructed. Though your parent would return your remorseful soul at the end, this escape soothed you that at least there was something you would do to stop the brutality of the Babylonians.

They usher us in. The place is filled with firewood and it is dimly lit because last week the magician forgot his sacks that have now blocked the windows. In the other corner are nursery school cups and a number of rat-eaten charts. The remaining space has a small rickety table with a bundle of guava canes tied in a leopard skin. Swear. Round the table are three chairs that serve as the office of Mwalimu Paul, Mwalimu Mudanya and Mwalimu Pongopongole (I don’t remember his real name. Someone out there?). Paul and Pongopongole have been waiting for us. Silence. As we enter, I hear the door bolted. Scanning the area, I see what looks like half a ten-bob note with the head of Kenyatta axed in the middle. Now the only rescue might be that God our teacher talks about.

I don’t have to continue with this story. But just for mention, I swore never to move close to half a note in a manner likely to suggest things.

Another moment I remember with Mudanya. It is in the afternoon. I’ve come home at the lunch break and as usual, I pass our house because there is not even bad food in the house. I head to the cane plantation and I take what Caesar can use today. Then as I use the route the passes near the stream, I see some mangoes and I tell myself miracles don’t happen twice. Soon I’m in the branches. Then I say no need to go back for the afternoon lessons. But fate being what it is, Mudanya will pass under this very tree on his way from lunch. He is never a person who looks up easily. Today he will look. He will see me fainting in the branches. Hey Bwana Chief, he will call me. Bwana Chief get down. And we shall walk to the Fort Jesus. A number of screams and I’ll be unable to use the desk for two weeks.

The stories about Mudanya were many. Whenever he was mentioned, even the villagers of our city panicked. It was a time when teachers were still teachers. They were among the big five of society: chief, police, msumbichi, hunger and teacher. Even Doctor Emirundu would not fit in this bracket of respect. And yet Mudanya was not just a teacher. It was rumoured he practised karate though no one knew where, how or when. And on it others added that he didn’t smoke just tobacco. Then he had a TV and his Bill and Annette spoke flawless Swahili. Now where could someone get all these genes in one body if not heaven? On reverence, not even Our White Man of Musenda who came a year after his departure could reach him.

Yet he lived a simple life. He always smiled when he met you on the way. One day I abruptly bump into him at the market and there being no room to hide, I run to greet him and help carry his luggage. You know what he does? He tells me to walk with him to his house. I find the kids watching Cartoon Network. I’m welcomed to sit in the chair. Yes, a sofa! Then Mwalimu Rose serves us tea (with milk). If Chief-Chief would have claimed prophet-hood at that hour, I’d have been his first disciple.

But he didn’t claim prophet-hood. He will never claim it because he has gone to be in the higher world. He won’t be given the airtime to come see the making of his hands.

The last time I saw him walking was somewhere in 1997. Nineteen years walking yet I had no time to go say thank you for teaching me G.H.C so well. Now I will join other hypocrites who wait till someone is gone and start to eulogise. We shall make a thousand verses of praise and add rhyme and alliteration and irony but all will not enter the six feet the village of Mbale has prepared. Chief-Chief is gone while we still owed him a thank-you and a smile.

**Someone be kind enough and insert Remmy Ongala’s Kifo song here.

Sometimes the logic of losing a teacher beats me. A teacher should not die. But if he must die, let his death be different. People drop their last sigh and stop to breath. They kick and gulp and lose the heat. They have a mouth they can no longer use. Then those around them begin to wail and roam the home in great loss. Then the children feel the fall of the central pole.

A teacher should not go that way. A teacher should be raised to glory in broad daylight. He should soar up as an eagle as we all watch and cheer him on. We should see the heavens split open and how he is shown his golden house with rivers of honey and milk and loosely hanging grapevines and apple trees gracing his new home.

Teachers are irreplaceable even in death. Nobody can give the names of their deities since childhood but we always start from Mwalimu Everline Mumbo, Mwalimu Pitris, Mwalimu Elleni, to the end of the endless list. When a teacher is gone it is not just them that are gone but also the small worlds they created in the lives of their learners. Gone is the wisdom and the knowledge. The love. The care. The parent. The hope. The model.

Gone is the warmth. The laughter. The joy. The friendship. The world.

Death (Image Source)


We should all have a day for celebrating teachers into glory.

That is the reason the rocky town of Mbale will not be as usual this weekend. He will be the first to rise up into those blues as we watch. And we shall all look up and shout upon The Owner of the Skies:

Look at him with mercy. He is Mwalimu Mudanya of Musenda, the school next to the Baptist Church of your appointed city of Khushianda. Give him milk and honey and laughter and a roof over him. For us that remain, comfort us and guide us to accept and find his good deeds our ship of voyage.


Where Is Benix?

Sometimes I imagine he could be in real shit. Perhaps he is somewhere in a maximum prison writing love messages and sending nude pictures of Asian women to unsuspecting youths who seek love. Or he could have dropped out of school due to illness and is up to date still bedridden. Or he stole someone’s shoes and the witch made him an herbivore. Or he could have married a boxer wife who punches him every eight o’clock in the morning and eleven thirty at night. Guesswork can make you roam the world!

(Were wa’Shitseswa)

Help me please. I want to know where Benix is.
I’ve looked for Benix for the last many years. I’ve searched on the web. I’ve asked on radio. I’ve checked my pockets and behind the house at home. I’ve done everything. Yet Benix hasn’t popped up and said I’m here nigger.
He came to our school when speaking Swahili and English was stigmatised. Nobody put on shoes. Being very clean was like being a leper. Such obscenities as having a school pullover were unheard of, leave alone having a wristwatch or carrying a lunch box. They were the days when raising your hand to answer a question, one that had not been first translated to vernacular first, was next to being a cruel deity. Benix was all these. Anyone to befriend him would not only have to be alienated from the main population but also suffer the constant language swings.
I singlehandedly took up the challenge.
Now in our school we had bullies. There was Angachi and there was Angatia. They were in the upper class, but there is no way you could walk with a Swahili speaking guy and fail to be known and made fun of by everyone. All the laughter was directed at me because naturally, I was the only of the two who could understand their ridicule. Ngongo would come next to me, hold his nose blocked and say “Ching chong chi”, which might have as well been all the English he knew. Rashidi wa’Ambetsa – Ambetsa of eye glasses, not the village elder – would pretend to be doing something next to us, and so when Benix spoke, and I answered, it was hell. He would laugh loudly, inviting others to the party. Then he would explain the joke to them, and they would all laugh and come to sit next to us to get more first-hand jokes.
It was tough. But Benix didn’t disappoint. For instance, I was the first of the boys to ever reach the Sports Complex in the heart of the Kingdom. It was a long walk from Khushianda, through Khumwitoti, Eshimuli, Nucleus, and eventually Managerial at Bookers. Then watching Nick Yakhama and Barnaba Lumbasi sweet-talk the ball on the ground of the Complex and score wild goals. The nerds “ching-chong-chi-ed” me but still I had stories to tell, especially on weekends when my kin boys were forced by family circumstances to be near me. The stories were so nice that in the subsequent weekends, Wanga, Yusuf, Abu and other dirty boys tagged along. Of course this time we got ‘arrested’ and tortured by the Securicor officers who manned the estates from street children, and on seeing Benix spared, these guys hated him and me the most.
I went through all this. And at last Benix gets lost in the abyss of the world. Nature swallows him like he never existed. His entrance and exeunt in the script is like that of lightning in a veiled night. Nature doesn’t care to even write a certificate of presence. Not even a rainbow in the sky to mourn a lost friend.
What can be the medicine for ridding ourselves of such memories? Where do we go so that we may forget our childhood friends? If friends can get lost, let their memories go with them. But if the memories don’t go, we remain in debt.


Where is Benix?
I’ve tried to ponder where the guy could be. The world is fuckin big. He could be somewhere in Vietnam ploughing in the rice fields. He could be in Bangladesh playing for a second tier football team. He could be a drug baron in Colombia or could have been taken by a rich momo to Johannesburg. He could be a taxi driver in Accra or a gay activist in Kampala. Hey, he could be anywhere on this third planet. Many are times I have looked at the global map and wondered where the African could be.
Sometimes I imagine he could be in real shit. Perhaps he is somewhere in a maximum prison writing love messages and sending nude pictures of Asian women to unsuspecting youths who seek love. Or he could have dropped out of school due to illness and is up to date still bedridden. Or he stole someone’s shoes and the witch made him an herbivore. Or he could have married a boxer wife who punches him every eight o’clock in the morning and eleven thirty at night. Guesswork can make you roam the world!
In life, there are two ways we lose touch with people. The first is death and the second is this. Death is better a loss because you are always sure you know where the lost one is. It is painful, but at least you sit in warmer evenings and know you don’t need to look for them beyond the mound of soil. But there is not a more troubling loss than the loss where your person walks into the unknown. You suffer the loss and so suffer the frustration that they are somewhere, that they need you to find them, that every day you are indebted to their search. Yet the world on its own does not shrink to lessen the space you have to cover looking for them.
Could he be in Kismayu holding the gun by day and transporting contraband charcoal at night? Could his bones be in rubble somewhere along the Indonesian coast? Was he swallowed by a hyena in the hills of Nyang’eti in Kisii (where I suppose he came from)? Was he on board the Malaysian plane and now is a dairy farmer on Pluto or Venus? Where is my friend, oh Lord?
He was the only friend whom my mother accepted. Not that Nyawando had issues with other boys; it’s just that she encouraged me every time to stick to good guys. He had passed the QA test of Nyawando. She would welcome the boy as her true son and ensure he was comfortable. If he didn’t find me, Nyawando would always be eager to report: that young man of Swahili was looking for you.
I still have a book where we used to write new words learnt in other books. It is a 32 page green ‘Flamingo’ and sometimes I take moments looking at the writings. People come from far, I tell you. I look at his neat letters and the diligence they insinuate. I sigh. Nature has this cruel way of disregarding human preference. It cuts ties every midnight and afternoon and you never question. It shuffles us like cards and looks on as we scuffle to holes we think are safe, before it shuffles us again. Shakespeare was right; we are the locusts to wanton boys.
With Benix we did many things. We went to swim together. We went to hunt squirrels together. I taught him how to hold a catapult and he showed me edible leaves from the forest. He taught me good handwriting at school, making his small F’s stand entirely above the line as opposed to how we used to drown them halfway. Through him I learnt that ‘answer’ for questions, ‘anther’ for flowers and the Swahili ‘anza’ are hell different. He was a guy who was literally my teacher, my mentor and, even at that age, my role model.
I don’t remember well how they left town. I think Mama Benix must have fallen sick or something. It is a blurred vision and I don’t have to be right. Or they were going to their rural home for the school holiday. Or they were going to see their father. I remember him telling me he’d write a letter (the LFMAO generation can’t understand what letters were). Then we said bye and he went.
I never saw him again and he never wrote.
Did he die? Did he drop out of school? Can I get him on Facebook? Where do people get their long lost friends? Tell me how your landlord finds you.
Sometimes I walk on the streets of Nairobi and bump into this guy that I saw long ago. Sometimes I meet a girl who takes me to a cafe and gives me her story since we broke up. Sometimes I meet mean people we last saw on campus. Sometimes I bump into the neighbour to the friend of a cousin. These things happen almost every time I go to town. Yet I have never met Benix or anyone who looks like he can write small F’s entirely above the line.
One of you could have seen Benix. He was last dark skinned, had a medium build of a boy, smiled a lot and his name appeared at the top of the class merit list. He spoke with a mild stammer. I remember too little of him: whether he had a scar on his left cheek or if his hairline advanced towards the brows. He had a brother called Oscar. If he grew older than eighteen, he must have been given a national ID. The name is Benix Ochieng Zinkoba.
There must be a favour you can do me without money.