He stopped prematurely, or so I thought. Normally, this was the time. The time when his hands would be empty except for one of the two misters. There were also times when a mister wasn’t in his hands but tucked well under his armpit. His face was solemn, as always, when we got to this point. The room was a graveyard, not just in the silence but also in the fear and gravity of the situation.
‘Who hasn’t gotten his paper yet?’ His voice tore through the room.
What?! But he hadn’t called out my name. Had my fear distracted me to the point of missing my name being called out? No, that couldn’t be. No one ever missed…Ever!
Usually, my hand shot up before teachers finished asking questions but nothing was usual about today. Neither of my hands consented to being lifted. I had to wrestle with them culminating in rhythmic shaking that was in tandem with the rest of my body. Slowly, my right hand rose from between the leftmost row towering above everyone else yet only half raised. I couldn’t raise it higher. For a moment he looked at me, his face expressionless, then quickly looked away.
‘Anyone else…?’ He asked as he looked around the class. ‘…apart from Benson?’ He finally said as his gaze rested on me with my half raised arm. It was at that moment that I knew how practical it is for someone’s heart to skip a beat…
I was in a semi-public primary school and if you don’t know what that means, well…neither do I. Where I come from, discipline was no different from punishment and most of the time it was physically induced…. talk about teaching a lesson. New teachers were known to flex their muscles as a display of how committed they were to instilling discipline and how no nonsense they were. But not Tr. George.
He was different. From the moment he first stood before us in class, we fell in love with him. His demeanor was magnificent and boy did he know how to dress. Looking at him, no one would argue that teaching wasn’t a white collar job. His smile was enigmatic, the kind that lights up a classroom. We had just graduated from lower primary and were now in class four. He was our first Kiswahili teacher; a position he was to hold for years.
He started us off with great teaching skills and conversational abilities. He was a great storyteller as well. His Swahili was superb as he was from the coast. We loved hearing him tweng and soon we began to speak like him. Love for the language grew in us. Unknown to us was that behind the smile was ambition, ambition that would yield a determination that would make all of us suffer. I should have noted this darkness when he said that as kids we were to be gently caressed, but after the veil of adulthood had been lifted we should be prepared to reap what we sow. No one got it so no one cared. There were complaints from the senior classes of his brutal methods but that was their cross to bear. We were carefree and he let us be. That went on until we were in class five and our grades started plummeting.
There comes a time in a boy’s life when they realize that there is more to life than books. The girls look prettier. FIFA becomes something more. You feel me? This was that time for most of us and unfortunately so because Tr.George began being strict and using the misters during lessons.
‘The misters’ was a nickname given to the canes used at school. They had formerly been bucket handles and more specifically the handles of tins used to package cooking fat…Kimbo, I vaguely recall. There were two types of misters: Mr. Blue and Mr. Red. In my school, Mr. Red was lethal, only to be brought out in dire situations. Mr. Blue was the first line of defense against any indiscipline. In fact, I only saw Mr. Red being called to duty over defiance cases alone.
Tr. George had a unique way of holding a mister. His way assured premium tears for us students and I bet this translated into maximum pleasure for him. His passion for our success blinded him, making him more brutal by the minute. He made even more unreasonable demands like earlier arrival times and later departure times. It was all for our future, he said. He loved his job. It was more of a calling than a profession.
Later on in class 5 he introduced hatma. Hatma(from hatima) is the Swahili word for fate. This was the moment he would return our Kiswahili exam papers after marking them. He would ensure to carry a Mr. Blue with him. A stroke from his Mr. Blue was the equivalent of three Mr. Reds from any other teacher. He never smiled during hatma and if he did it was out of pure anger.
The class was well distributed as per the teaching arrangement but during hatma the first three columns would be left empty in each row. The middle row could go as far as five empty columns because that’s where he would stand as he called out our names to go pick up our papers. Everyone went for their paper but not everyone was allowed to go back to their seat. There was a strict fixed protocol to be followed. What changed was the range of punishment as per how difficult the exam was.
Once Tr. George called out your name, you were supposed to go for your paper without hesitation. Those who were above the pass mark were allowed to go back to their seats provided they did not have a star on their paper. Those below the pass mark and those with stars were to kneel in one corner and wait for him to give everyone else their paper before he turned his attention to them. Attention in this case meant unrelenting determination displayed as brute force. Sometimes he would slap a student as he handed them their paper before directing them to kneel. The fear in that room was enough to rival the one invoked when you suddenly hear “Leta simu hapa” in a CBD alleyway.
I was one of the two Bensons in that class. The other Benson was Benson Mathu. He used to come in handy when it came to recalling the first African LegCo representative in Kenya, Eliud Mathu. Benson Mathu was a big guy. It could have been easier to call us Big Ben and small Ben if my personality wasn’t so robust. During hatma, his body would shake so rapidly and he would sweat thrice as much as on a sunny day despite the prevalent weather conditions. We made fun of him on normal days but no one had the will to think of humor during hatma.
Back to the day of interest…
It was a calm afternoon and we were through with our end term exams. Everyone clutched their bag regardless of the knowledge of what came next. Tr. George sent a message: He’d be with us shortly. More of a threat if you asked me. The devotees of the class got onto their knees and even those of us who weren’t that much into religion crossed our fingers. We were now reduced to speaking in whispers, which were cut short when he walked with his usual calm gait into the room. He stopped at the first desk in the middle row. Of course, by then no one was there. I could feel the breaths of those around me. The paper had been a tough one and we were all resigned to our fate or hatma, as he called it.
He gave a short cold speech then proceeded on to hand us our papers. He had already given out more than half the papers when I realized a couple of odd facts. Though I had seen a few stars on people’s papers, no one had been told to kneel so far. I had also not been called out. Tr. George arranged the papers in descending order, from the highest scorer to the lowest one. The fact that I was yet to get my paper by then could not have been good news. Soon everyone had their paper. Everyone except yours truly…
‘Who hasn’t gotten his paper yet?’ What sort of game is this? I wondered. It was true that I was the only one who had never been clobbered during hatma. However, I had also tasted Tr. George’s Mr. Blue during normal lessons for stupid mistakes. He had a reputation of being tough on bright students yet also soft on them in some other aspects. He was the mouse that bit and blew the farmer’s toes as he slept to prevent him from feeling pain and waking up.
My half raised arm wobbled with uncertainty.
‘Anyone else apart from Benson?’ My eyes flitted to Mathu but sadly he was holding onto his paper and shaking as his usual self on this unusual day. No one was left but me. I guess I deserved it. I might have been a little bit more proud than the rest. Maybe this was meant to humble me.
‘Kuja!’ He beckoned me to him. My best attempt to stabilize my racing heart was futile.
At this time his hands would have been empty except for one of the two misters. Today was different though. He did have something in his hands but it was no mister. No mister under his armpits either.The object looked presentable but you’ll have to forgive me if I was too busy fearing for my life. I had imagined this day over and over again. The day I would fall out of grace and suffer in front of the class. I didn’t think much of the lack of a mister for he had once hidden it on his back under his belt to fool the students into relaxing and letting their guard down. Narcissist.
As I approached, he lifted his hand. Had he been a bit faster, I would have thought it was a slap. I had played this scenario over and over. He was to grab me by the neck and make me lie on the desk before him then give me several strokes of Mr. Blue as everyone watched so as to instill fear before calling out the rest. It was my crucifixion, a lesson to the rest.
I’d love to say that I am as weird as everyone else but actually, I’m a bit weirder. I guess this was why I grabbed his hand so quickly for the handshake so as to seem normal. My heart was still racing as I was still uncertain of whether or not I was out of the woods yet.
‘Put your hands together for Benson,’ he said as his face turned into a smile.
‘Kongole!’ He congratulated me as he handed me the package he was holding. This is the point in events where we pose for photos but this was better. As expected, the applause was scattered and reluctant. He told them to line up and greet me one after the other. I had just aced everything in that test, 50/50. As they greeted me, my smile beamed. The package was my Kiswahili paper with a congratulatory note on the top. There was also a present wrapped in newspaper that felt like a book.
I wasn’t all that wrong; It was my crucifixion and just like the Messiah, I saved every single one of my classmates. There was no Mr. Blue that day.
Did you enjoy the story? Hit the like button, drop a nice comment and share the link on all your social media.
Want to hear more of Virgo’s stories? Add your email to follow this blog!