They were scattered in batches around the high school compound. Hardened sons of the soil they were branded; for they had dared question the system and its ways. They had mounted a noticeable insurrection, a statement of defiance.
They were hung in the open like grains still reeking mold unfit for stowing away in the silos. Only that the baking in the sun was done deliberately, as they waited for their fate to be decided by the many chatters crammed with the up and down rumbles of solicits and lobbying from the summoned parents to the infuriated teachers.
It was already a bad thing to be in the bad discipline index with African teachers; but what was worse, which the system perhaps never tipped you about, was to be both in the indiscipline index and a non – performer all at once.
The white man did well to teach us his ways, but the gravest irrecoverable harm he glued in our heads was the belief that success is only through the books.
And so, as a deemed academic failure, you were almost by default a cursed child who narrowly missed killing his mother at birth by a whisker but must just cause her torments in the later years.
You could visibly see it in the eyes of their parents, some forever lost in thoughts how their young ones whom they labored so hard to teach tender noble ways and loved to bits in their primary school days, turned out being sons of anarchy in high school. From whence did the rain start beating us? What caused the fire?
Had they, scorned seasoned colleagues of war unfurled in the sun, bothered to inquire from yours truly here or partly engage my services in the onset of their plans, I would have, at no fee, nakedly warned them to walk away from their infant subterfuge.
But who was I in the midst of an entitled race incessantly wary of falling into traps of egalitarianism in a complex high school? Who would bother listen to a form two indolent who just the other day was a confused rubble clueless to the obvious knowledge that mbwenya and blazer meant the same thing!
We should learn from history they say. Only a year ago a near similar rebellion was mounted, albeit it failed miserably by historical standards and in the words of the analysts of war and defiance, “it was an unnecessary juvenile excitement”. But this crew, hardened buddies, seemed determined to correct the mistakes of the yesteryear.
They were determined to succeed. Bravery is cool and admirable amongst African clans, but imbecilic bravery, one without a solid cause, the old men have often warned against. It is sometimes worthy to walk away and be deemed a weakling; a coward of the county of sorts.
For we have often stood in the compounds of cowards to point at the homes of the brave lying in ruins. It’s a mastery of survival, a strategy to live to fight another day. A stubborn fly stuck on a corpse will soon, in the grave, come to terms with the folly of his highhandedness.
I had well learned my lessons on such aimless, adolescent quests before I made my first stop at the gates of the mighty high school. And so it never surprised me that the whole matter of the strike only came to my realization once the purge on the rebels began after the failed school coup.
I have tried to keep vivid collections of the things that I have witnessed and gone through in my life, but I will be lying in the name of the flooding Kano Plains if I confess here what really caused the ruckus in the mould of a strike.
It must have been some little matter of a very much hated teacher who had to be sent away, or the very obvious root cause that everyone is always ashamed to admit but nevertheless fuels to fruition, commotions and strikes among adolescents – the fear of examinations.
It surely wasn’t a matter of the stomach. My high school duly took care of this, and going by the confessions of other souls who saw their high school days in other abodes, ours was glam and commendable.
We loved the Sunday eggs, the daily bread and the ‘termly’ chicken served in tremendously crazy portions. Some loved crusts, yes the bread crusts. Assembled diversity is good; it showed us the clueless, the weird, the bully, the eaters, the obsessed, the meek and the readers.
Were it not for the chilly events of that final year in primary school, I would have ended up boldly basking in the sun surrounded by the high school fiefdom giants; conquerors indeed in a defeated land. Perhaps I would have been the general of the ill – fated strike; the only difference is, it would have succeeded. I would have used the fine – print needle – precise acumen I had back in the day for executing to success such wiles.
But Mr. Juma Wuod Boa of my primary school days, killed that spirit. With that bare knuckled siege of my cunning ways, he managed to turn my thoughts from a studded field marshal to a home boy; a line – toeing keeper of gates of peace.
For some reason our clan was rich in leadership at least in the primary school lens, for how else can you explain that while I was in class 8, aside from I being adorned the crown of a school office prefect, my other cousin in class 7 was a colonel in the frame of a class prefect and yet another in class 6, a prefect.
And we didn’t bribe our way up the leadership ranks, I know this is hard to believe in a continent where incompetence is rewarded while raw skills is chastised at the altar of bribery and nepotism. No we didn’t buy, maybe some did, but at what cost would such petty vision be attained?
They say that fine things come in triplets, but more often than not the fine things in life are what end up stealing the glory of them to whom they are beholden. For within these adored positions lay our ruins. Mr Juma and his crew had arrived three years earlier after the then head teacher Mr. Wadagi Okwedi burned down the primary school, literally.
Mr. Okwedi had decided that charcoal merchandize business paid more than the peanuts he had to argue from the embattled Teachers Service Commission every month. Endless teachers’ strikes that drilled deeper holes into the pockets of the already struggling teachers meant that if they were to keep the soul and body together, some extracurricular activities had to be pursued.
He found his consolation, fattening of his wallet, in charcoal business. He had invented a perfect use of the office room; nicely converted into a store for baked and cooled charcoal kept overnight awaiting shipping the next day.
As with the things of the devil, one night there was heard a cry, a high pitched squeak of a man in unbelievable agony; office wang! (the office was in flames).
And so the arrival of Mr. Juma and company brought a fresh ray of hope to a school that had been successfully turned into a charcoal trade center; where examination records were consumed in the raging flames of that dark windy night. They had succeeded to freshen the minds of the villagers that a school was no spot for business but a complex for pumping useful skills of life into the minds of alacritous babies.
But with everything that is good, goodness soon, upon dust settlement, unleashes realities that remind one that change however premium must tag along some pain.
Of all the teachers that had been dispatched to restore order, Mr Juma stood out as fine gem in the well – toned, neatly assembled, no – nonsense orchestra. He was well known for his disciplinary sternness.
Perhaps they briefed him, before arrival, that he was headed to the school of the damned. And so he swung his hammer, and poor boy, with a thud it did land on us. He had this particular appetite for caning late comers, small petty nuisances who failed to tuck in their attires and vagabonds who seem too torn between obeying the cries of their parents to be in school and being adopted as child soldiers of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.
I had succeeded, for a better part since his arrival, to stay off the dreaded radar. But there are some things that can only be postponed – never avoided. A man set by the gods on a collision path with lightning may dodge the rains and open fields all he can, but on the day the gods’ decree is ripe, lightning will strike him sitting in the confines of his own hut.
My date with Mr. Juma soon dawned. It was a warm sunny morning at 11 am after the tea break. With some of my classmates, we had in our usual clumsiness sought to extend the break time engaging in useless idiotic talks at the behest of the next class that would soon be underway.
We had, sleeping unbothered under the tree, staged this careless show without abandon on many days without being caught. Mr. Juma, as was his custom, would be busy chasing after lazily dragging pupils from middle classes and whipping those whom he laid his hands on. Today was our day.
First was heard rumbles from afar, followed by hushed whispers of an impending trouble – Mr Juma was coming our direction charged like an induced rhino. We hid behind the short shrubs that dotted the tree shade. While still clutching on the fading ray of hope, we heard him roaring from a stone throw away, “silly nincompoops, didn’t you hear the bell sound?”
Mayday! Mayday! Everyone knew the peril of the looming slaughter. Like a swarm of cornered rats, we all sped for the nearby shady fence. With little effort, landing like bags of cassava one after the other, we made it to the other side of the fence. We were officially fugitives, and a hopeful fugitive must always be on the run. And running we did.
The cool thing with village schools is villagers have never been keen on school matters. One man vividly saw the furor; us going over the fence in a reckless stampede, nodded his head in disapproval and proceeded with his trek home from the farm. A yam that must rot will rot no matter what; he must have consoled himself as he faded in the winding path.
With Mr. Juma firmly off our backs, we dispersed into different directions each heading their homes. Ogwal must have been the happiest, you’d think he had just successfully robbed a bank or escaped a marauding carnivore on his leash. His face glowed as he coolly whispered, picking a few scattered firewood on his sojourn home. His new found happiness was not entirely strange.
It should be on record that Ogwal stayed with his maternal grandmother who heavily invested in the illicit liquor brew in the village; so much that she lost the idea, if ever she had one, on the need of keeping her grandson in school.
It was rumored that on days Ogwal found nothing for lunch, and it was no less days, she would gladly supply him busaa to quench his thirst and fill his belly. And for some reasons he had lived to love it. That’s the grandmother she would soon face.
I could picture her asking him nothing related to his sudden arrival from school, she’d be having errands for him already. Where school failed she came in. Education is education, under a tree or in neatly arranged classrooms. Sometimes, however myopic and sheepishly corrugated it may look, it is all fun to have a carefree almost ignoramus simpleton in the name of a guardian, they save you from the wrath of your own evil deeds.
On the extreme opposite was the poor me, who would soon face a retired teacher; authoritarian and total in matters education. Why does life always offer imbalanced treatment to equal offenders? I was, like a senior government officer caught red – handed stained fingers fully locked in the public cookie jar embezzling funds, cooking stories in my little head what best lie would suffice to explain my early unexpected arrival home.
Should I tell him that I had missed to carry along a story book and that the irksome teacher of English demanded of it as proof before the class began? But that would be silly, why waste precious time of a candidate when the book could easily be picked over lunch hour that was less than two hours away?
Maybe I should say that I am unwell, having malaria, headaches do not count as worthy irritation that warrant a medical attention – it’s a common malaise everyone must figure out on their own.
But then if I admitted to be in the firm grip of malaria, he’d force down my throat those nasty bitter nauseous chloroquine tablets – those naked tablets that seemed to cause more sickness than heal. These lie –cooking antics were still having a hold of me when my thoughts, now intensified thanks to my very much slowed down pace, were interrupted by heavy footsteps behind my trail. I froze, pronged hives shuddered my body.
The first thing that gonged my mind was Mr. Juma had sent a swam of retrievers to come after me, to arrest the mutineers. When I saw them, my other cousin prefects in class seven and six, catching up with me and struggling amid puffs of air, they tried to explain how they too jumped over the fence to avoid Mr. Juma Wuod Boa.
With such a confession so silly, I knew that my goose was not just cooked; my head, our heads would soon be dancing neatly arrayed for barbeque like those bare – packed chicken rotating in a Fast food’s clear glass oven. (To continue to part 2 of the story please click link below)