2020 has brought with it many surprises but the one that particularly gave me a throwback was the death of famed author and media personality Ken Walibora. This, of course, could have been because one of his books was a set book during my tenure in high school but I also tend to think that some other factors contributed to this. I loved the book Kidagaa Kimemwozea not just in its narration but also in the description of its characters. I recall that in high school an ordeal occurred on a Sabbath that drew us closer to this text and even closer to a particular character…
Yup! This is it. This is what people mean when they say ‘walk the talk’. I had just been promoted to asst. academic captain and my speech to the masses had dramatically changed. I now spoke with resolve and like someone who can actually get stuff done; unlike in the past when I spoke like an envoy. I then changed my walking style to suit my speeches and since in politics nothing is worth doing without an audience, I had to get one. So I made it a routine to get to class late and walk slowly through the class blocks displaying my newly founded walking style. Of course I only did this when I was sure that the teacher on duty was a buddy.
It’s a calm Sunday afternoon and the post-lunch bell had rung. I’m done with my walk and am about to get into my class. Something sounds peculiar though. It’s quiet, too quiet…
They say a prophet is never welcome in his own hometown, well, neither is a prefect. I had spent a good chunk of my leadership time trying to discipline my class yet I couldn’t even get them to keep quiet. It’s like noise was their trademark. So I was quite taken aback by the silence. I suspected that a teacher was inside and thought of looking through the window but that’s contradictory, isn’t it? A high ranking student council official caught peeping on a teacher through the window of his own class?
But if I got in without knocking that would be worse. It would be disrespect. Yet if I knocked in the absence of a teacher then I would be the class laughing stock for a week at minimum. What a dilemma! I’ve never really been one to hesitate or linger; I’m super decisive and so I made my move.
‘Come in,’ the voice was foreign. I had made up my mind to knock and so I had to bear the consequences, whichever they might be. That wasn’t a student though. Naah, too mature. On opening the door, I found the new teacher standing in front of the class. He had endeared himself to us in his very first lesson as a funny man so I didn’t understand why the class’ mood was somber.
On taking my very first step I noticed a rascal had taken possession of my seat. This wasn’t unheard of especially on weekends. It was fundamental to explore the carte blanche that minimum interference from the teaching fraternity offered over weekends. Guys would sit all over, speak out loud, sing, joke, fight…all in a day’s work. Obviously, we always had a man on the lookout.
‘Exc..’ I had begun.
I walked to an empty seat and made myself comfortable. I thought of borrowing a book to look more of a student then I realized that most didn’t have books on their desks.
‘I’ve been teaching for many years yet this has never happened. Never! This amount of disrespect is unfathomable…’ I took a listening break to try and get why our Kiswahili teacher was speaking English. I didn’t even know he was this eloquent.
‘Who was it!?’
Chills went up my spine. It seems my fate with Kiswahili teachers was doomed.
‘Ok. That’s Ok. I know how to get the truth out of you…,’ he said as his eyes rolled around the class and then settled on me. ‘All of you. You…?’
My mouth was as dry as it could get yet somehow I still found saliva to swallow.
‘You’re a captain, not so?’
‘Yes, I am,’ I insisted with a nod.
‘Go to the staffroom and get me a whip right away.’
There are times we wish we didn’t exist. I shot up and hurried out of the class only to bash myself once I was out of the door.
‘Now look! I knew it! I told you not to wear officially on weekends. A t-shirt and crocs would have been enough of a disguise but nope. You had to go and be the godfather, displaying your ridiculous walk as if you’re walking on the hall of fame,’ me to me.
It took a fraction of a minute for me to get the whip. As I walked back to class, I kept reassuring myself,’ I won’t let him use it on me, I won’t let him use it on me…’
On the doorstep, I inhaled deeply one last time before opening the door as I exhaled. I found him collecting something from the students one after the other. I gave him the whip then went to sit down.
‘What are you guys giving him? ‘I whispered to a colleague.
‘Pieces of paper,’
‘Don’t you think I can see that? What I’m asking is what’s on the papers…’ I thought of inquiring but since we were already loud enough I decided to keep my mouth shut. He must’ve read my eyes for he went on to say, ‘It’s a long story.’
‘Aha! Very good!’ The teacher exclaimed as he continued to unfold the pieces of paper he had been handed. ‘This is good work!’
‘Goodface, come and take a look.’ Now, explaining the paradox behind the name this classmate of mine was given is another entire article so just understand that he was a teacher’s pet.
‘Is this not the same person?’ The question was posed to Goodface. ‘Or are there two of them in this class?’
‘No, it’s the same student,’ he replied also taking a look at some of the unfolded papers. My mind was now in complete disarray. I noticed how despite the teacher’s angry mood remaining constant, some of my classmates were now struggling to hide their smiles.
‘It’s Ok. You can go back to your seat,’ Goodface obeyed, though in essence that seat was mine.
‘Tony!!’ Everyone burst out laughing when the teacher called out his name. ‘Kuja!’
‘Mwalimu, I can explain. Mwalimu..,’ this last as the teacher held him by the collar and dragged him from the class.
‘It’s Ok,’ the voices were drowned by the distance but everyone was well aware of the aftermath. It seems I was the only one interested in the prequel.
I rushed to my seat but I was more interested in the occupant than in the seat itself. Goodface was the class gossip and this made up for his ‘good’ looks. Far be it from me to judge, I mean, to each one their own, right?
We shared the seat, a situation made possible by my drastic loss of weight after taking on leadership.
‘So, tell me,’
‘Tell you what?’
‘Everything,’ his smile revealed his eagerness; and thus the tale began.
Mr. Kuria was one of a kind. He had this brown leather jacket that we had all learnt to associate him with. He was quite fluent in Swahili but that was to be expected since he taught it. His jokes were to die for. Set books can get boring but he knew how to keep the lesson alive. In all the three lessons we had had with him, not one had he seemed aggressive. He was even lenient in his marking. Who wouldn’t love this teacher?
Few teachers avail themselves to school on weekends, boarding school notwithstanding. In most cases only the teacher on duty and the Deputy principal are in school and they too don’t move around much. Thus, it was quite a sight to see Mr. Kuria walk on the pavement of our class that calm afternoon. His demeanor was a sight to behold. I have to admit that he did inspire some aspects of my walking style. Tony and his desk mate made a bet. He dared Tony to call Mr. Kuria by his alias. The unofficial one, of course, the one we call teachers behind closed doors but this time round he was to make sure that Mr. Kuria heard it.
A name becomes even more unique when there’s a story behind it and thus we as a class took it upon ourselves to struggle to get the perfect alias not just for ourselves but also for our teachers. I was known as Vybz Kartel because my vibes can tell but that’s a story for another day. Mr. Kuria we nicknamed Matuko Weye from Kidagaa Kimemwozea. He had spent a considerable amount of time in our second lesson together explaining why Matuko weye was sane. Being the mischievous boys that we were, we cast doubt on his own sanity when the lesson was over. It was thus fitting to hand him that title.
Fast forward and we are on that fateful Sunday afternoon. Tony gets into position and with his devilish smile he resolves to take on the challenge.
‘Matuko Weye! Matuko Weye! Matuko Weye!’ He shouts at the top of his voice. Everyone laughs, quite loudly if I may add. However, Mr. Kuria doesn’t even stop. He doesn’t even slow down. It’s like he’s deaf or something. As he disappears from sight, Tony shouts one more time.
‘In a few minutes, he was back and standing in front of the class. He gave a cold speech about students having cow dung in their heads and that’s the moment you knocked on the door,’ Goodface concluded.
‘Waah!’ I had been left dumbfounded.
‘I heard his strokes don’t make you cry, they make you sweat,’ his whisper sent chills down my spine making my eyes wider. For a moment we both froze before we burst out laughing.
Later that evening…
I insisted on sitting next to Tony so that I get his side of the story. He had been clobbered then given physical punishment to slash grass and uproot a stump after washing our class. He was exhausted and that was evident. He had adopted the sitting style invented for such scenarios. This entailed sitting with the lower part of your back thus avoiding any undue pressure on the bum. He took in gulps of air quite audibly.
‘Why did you do it, Tony?’
‘It was truth or dare…’
‘Well, next time just choose truth. Who knows? It might set you free!’ We all laughed. But there was something about his laugh…something sad…something pitiable…