The mornings were continually too frosty for my predilection. With Mt Kenya just but a stone throw away, I didn’t expect to be greeted by gasps of warmth every morning but the life then was cold in every aspect of the expression. Waking up was characterized by cluttering teeth, hard, stone cold skin, 899 sweaters but hey still couldn’t keep the warmth inside. There seemed to be a bargain between the various weather actors that school going children had to be tortured every way possible through making them frisson and tremble as the extreme weather events had their way with them.
Putting on school uniform then was a process by its own. Getting out of bed was a struggle so you didn’t expect that the latter would be quicker. Many were the times I faked headaches in the morning to escape the ordeal and melee but my grandmother always saw through my bullshit. I would take my breakfast, which mostly consisted of very sweet porridge with nduma or ngwaci sulking but she in most times didn’t give any credence to my whining.
I would then bolt out of the timber constructed kitchen, matching khaki shorts and shirt crisp and creaseless, green sweater fresh and rosy, backpack steady and flawless and head out to meet my cousins who I always shared the miserable journey to school with. Silently we would sail across the muddy roads, with the only discernible voices being either from the early birds trying to catch the worms or from the raging waters of the enormous rivers that beautifully defined the village edges.
Along the road we would be joined by fellow slaves of the system with those in upper classes running fast past us trying to beat the 6:30 bell which was mostly supposed to ‘find’ them in class. Lateness meant several canes or some inhuman punishment to kneel on ice cold pavements with hands raised up, body facing Mt Kenya as if you were confessing your wrongdoings to the ancestors. Depending on the mood of the TOD you would be sent home to get a jembe with which you would spend the whole day tending to the school flowerbeds or the long forgotten school garden which was more of a thicket than it was a shamba.
An hour or so later my cousins and I would arrive at school and restart the past weeks’ activities all over. We would sing A for Apple, B for Boy and that shit 17,899 times all week long with drawing, and 1+1 happening once in a while to check on our ability to understand different concepts at once. Sometimes some of my classmates failed calculus terribly by giving the answer to 1+2 being 3. Who does that? My classmates did. My favorite subject then was art and craft since it meant playing with mud in almost all lessons. Did I tell you that we had to carry maize and beans for Mathematics classes? Yes. Failure to do so meant staying awake while others had their 2 O’clock nap. No wonder hunger and starvation were such big issues then.
Back then we used to carry lunch on Kasuku plastic containers. Those who were richer used Kimbo tins while the creme de la creme of the village ilk had shiny blue and red dishes. The latter were lucky because if they had cooked ugali and sukuma the previous night, the ugali would be easily separable from the kales because the dish had compartments. Acquiring a dish meant that you had done something really awesome which mostly meant being position one or doing something really good in Sunday school ~ mostly answering all Christmas quiz questions correctly.
‘Carrying’ chapati to school made you the darling to everyone. You walked with inflated airs all day. That day, everyone from prefects to the school headboy suddenly knew your name. If you were a scout you would be given the rare opportunity of hoisting up the flag with all others saluting. Then you were el presidente. Prezzo couldn’t tell you shit. Every once in a while, when passing near pupils sitting down or playing, they would stop or stand up respectively as a show of respect. If the class monitor was in a good mood they would give you the responsibility of writing class noisemakers. Never mind that by lunchtime you only had a 1/33th of the chapati having eaten most of it during the 9.30 and the 11 oclock breaks. Every once in a while the teacher would see you chewing in class but since they knew what was up, they didn’t ask, comment or even raise a finger. You were the guy.
Demotion always knocked the next day since your dish was colored by maize and beans mixed unproportionally with some salt sprayed on top. The maize was usually milk white, with the beans harder than the diamonds that have made Charles Taylor see the insides of an international criminal court. People have always said that the same water that softens the potato hardens the egg. I think they meant that the same water that softens the potato made beans of those days hard. Then my grandma called the mixture 1,2,3.. Don’t ask me why.
The village was beautiful. With endless green tea bushes embracing the hill’s contours, the sparkling clean streams quenching the earth with natural, pure, ice cold water, the ever green grass that was in most homes and the refreshing air from Mt Kenya forest capping it all, I didn’t wish to be anywhere else. Not that I knew anything apart from the village, but I was pretty content where I was. As the Saturday morning sun rose up, embracing the white ice caps of the mountain, as the sun rays streamed into my bedroom window, I felt at home.
Saturdays meant playing in mud, blocking the way of a stream to create a ‘swimming pool’ that we swam naked so as not to wet our clothes, to roll on top of endless tea bushes… It was maad fun. Never mind that we usually faced a thorough beating thereafter since we always showed up with ‘unexplainable’ injuries and wet muddy clothes.
Unlike these millennium babies,
during those days very flimsy reasons meant receiving a thorough beating. Crying after being beaten was the most outrageous of them all but if you also cried after a beating, you were forced to shut up if you didn’t want more strokes. Staying too long without being beaten also booked you a date with the cane…
One day when I was in class three a girl called Ann accused me of spreading rumours that I and her ‘speak’. By speaking she meant that I had spread stories that she was my girlfriend.
“Why did you tell people that you and I speak?” She quized.
“What do you mean speak? Of course you and I speak. I also speak with Terry, Milly, Wanja, Sarah, Susan, and all other girls in our class” I answered.
“I don’t mean speak like speak, I mean like speak” she answered back.
“Ooh, you mean speak in that way? Who did I tell?” I asked back.
“You told James, who told Kanyi who then told Susan and Lucy who then came and asked me laughing” Ann retorted.
Actually we were speaking but I was also speaking with a girl called Milly in 7B. I had a crush on Milly but my relationship with Ann was for convenience. She came from a rich family which meant that eating chapos was more often, her shush was a family friend and she was the hottest chic in our class. She had this black dot on her left cheek. She had beautiful dimples that always showed anytime I brushed my hand on hers as we headed home. She was light skinmed and unlike all other girls she wore shoes to school. She also was the only girl who didn’t carry her books in a green polythene back. She had a backpack. Her backpack had this drawing of a princess. Ann was a princess of sorts. To cap it all, she was always number one when I wasn’t. Number one and two would be switched between she and I and according to me that meant she was meant to be mine. When I wasn’t obsessing over Milly, Ann was predominantly on my mind.
One day I caught James looking at Ann suggestively. That was the first and the last time I ever fought for a girl. James gave me a thorough beating and in my naivety I had expected Ann would come and soothe me thereafter but she just rushed home crying. She stopped speaking with me the next day and started to speak with James. I was hurt. I was broken. I faced the mountains and asked the ancestors 967 questions. For two weeks I couldn’t eat or drink (in public). That was my first heartbreak, but thank God I had Milly who cried with me when she saw my left eye swollen. On.asking for an explanation, I said that I had run into a tree as I was coming to school that morning. That was my first lesson at love and life :~ Never carry your eggs in one basket. Better still, Ann taught me that one should always have a fallback plan, a contingency plan, a plan B and another plan.
Never mind that I later on came to learn that Milly was speaking with an uncle of mine from the neighboring day secondary school.