I felt like the president walking with my ADC behind me. No, this was more of a prisoner being escorted to his cell by a guard. Yeah, that sounded more like it. It’s funny how our own word of mouth can hold them ransom. As we got near the administration block, I slowed down. Stanley’s pace also decreased. Suddenly he pushed me from behind and I just smiled. We walked faster when we got near the staffroom for teachers could see us through the glass windows. Better to be safe. We didn’t even get a chance to enjoy the lush green vegetation that was on either side, nor the colorful pink, purple and white flowers that were blooming. We stopped on arriving at our intended destination. His secretary was MIA. I stood in front of the ‘Principal’ labelled door and took a deep breath. As I lifted my clenched right hand to knock, Stanley’s humongous hands went before me and knocked. He then retreated way behind me so that I would be the only one to go in. I looked back at him and frowned. His mischievous smile did little to hide his anxiety. He was booming with expectation. If only he knew that hope was the greatest killer.
‘Come in!’ The voice had been a loud one but that was to be expected. We had gotten used to it by now. I opened the door and got in. Stanley would be dealt with later. I thought that I would have a chance to speak to the principal alone but boy was I wrong! Seated comfortably in his office were the two teachers who were in charge of Guidance and Counselling. I was in for a lecture and loads of advice. The principal alone was a handful when it came to talks so imagine when there was three of them. I turned around to lock the door on his request and I saw Stanley urging me on my showing me an upright thumb. I turned around and found that the room was filled with anticipation as to what I was going to say. Now, why am I here again?
School had been going well. I had just received my results and I had a plain A. I felt like celebrating but since it was a boarding school the field was the only way to unwind. I’m not much of a sportsman so I used to just stay indoors during games. Thankfully, the system was flexible enough to accommodate my kind. I was busy going through some of the questions that I had failed when guys from some other streams came around. They were shocked to see my grades. We engaged in some friendly banter and soon we were challenging each other to some chemical equations on the chalkboard. Nerdy, right? Among my visitors was Stanley. He was a bright one, that was evident. He had given me a run for my money a couple of terms ago but I stood my ground. He was the one who turned the conversation to much more serious and practical directions.
We found ourselves speaking of the principal. How guys struggled to queue at the back during the assembly. Someone joked that those who needed to stand in front should carry umbrellas to shield them from his spit as he spoke. We all laughed. Woe onto us had any teacher been listening in. Stanley reminded me of the principal’s promise. He had promised Ksh 5, 000 to whoever scored an A, Ksh 2, 000 to whoever scored an A- and Ksh 1, 000 to whoever scored a B+ in the end term exam. Stanley had a B+ while I had an A. He urged me since I was the frontrunner and also in the student governing council, that I should be the one to remind the principal so that he does not go back on his word. I am very tactical so instead of forthright rejecting his proposal, I suggested a series of questions to determine whether or not I would go. It was very unlikely that I would lose yet I did. As I came to learn later on, they had been taught stuff from later classes. Being a graceful loser, all I could do was keep my end of my pact. Stanley offered, quite forcibly, to follow me and ensure that I get there and thus began the long walk.
15 minutes later…
‘Mwalimu you had said that when someone gets an A, you would give them Ksh 5, 000,’ I felt stupid. The plan was to list the cash prizes on an A- and B+ as well but I just couldn’t do it. Sorry Stanley. The two teachers who were sipping tea looked at each other and laughed out loud. One of them, Mr. Irungu, taught me history. He was a great man. A greater teacher, yet to some he was an even greater sleep motivator. To most classmates of mine, his lessons were to be endured. Anyone who has gone through the Kenyan high school History and government syllabus can tell you how redundant the coursework becomes. I don’t understand why they placed his lessons after lunch hour especially on days that we ate Ugali for lunch. Guys would wash their heads and come to class dripping only to sleep as soon as he got in through the door. He urged us to stand whenever we felt sleepy. It might be hard to believe but for some of us even standing was of no use for they would soon start swaying about their stance. He was strict on sleep. He used to move around a lot while teaching, lecturing if you were to ask me. Once he saw that you weren’t attentive, he would lean in front of you and cross wave his hands while repeating his famous question, ‘Unaniona?’ To most this was a wakeup call yet to others it was all part of the dream. Once he found you sleeping he would order you to stand in front of the class and call for rain. This involved raising your hands high above your head and using your fingers to beckon the rain to come. If one was notorious for the crime, he went ahead to spank you. Unfortunately, he hadn’t realized that we had outgrown the stage where spanking was painful to the one where it brought pleasure to both parties involved. Every time he would spank someone, the class would drown in our laughs. Those were the days.
The other teacher was Mr. Keriga. He didn’t teach me but I had heard a lot about him. Rumors spread. Rumors always spread. He was notorious for his complicated teaching style. It was said that if you confessed to not having understood his lesson he would give you a piece of chalk and ask you to explain where you hadn’t gotten it. I guess it didn’t seem possible to him for someone to not have understood since form one to senior year. Well, nothing is impossible.
The principal had been known to be a slimy man. We joked that he could make you pay him even if he was the one who owed you. It was, thus, surprising that after he laughed along with the teachers he got into his pockets and took out a Ksh 1,000 note which he handed to me. ‘Kula hiyo kwanza!’ Deep down I wished Stanley hadn’t heard that part. Oh, wait… Stanley!
‘Sir, I also have a friend who got a B+ and was wondering…’ and with that I unlocked his witty side. He chuckled as he cut me off. He said something about carrying his cross and taking responsibility and all I could do was nod. I’m sorry, Stanley, at least I tried.
‘Kwanza kunywa soda,’ the principal said as he handed me a Fanta bottle. It seems there had been an occasion and some soda bottles had remained untouched. ‘So very sorry, Stanley,’ I thought as I started sipping my soda. They took turns in advising me and encouraging me. I continued sipping my drink in measured intervals as I took in their wisdom. On Mr. Irungu’s turn, I remembered the first time that I had almost slept during his lesson. The sun had been hotter than usual. I was tired of sitting up so I supported my head with my left arm, using my left elbow as a stand. It is between that position and the one where your head lies on the desk and your supportive arm lays outstretched before you that no one knows what happened. Mr. Irungu noticed me as I sank lower into slumber. He pointed me out and asked, ‘Unataka kulala? Unataka kulala? Jaribu!’ Thankfully, I was one of the active ones. I never felt sleepy ever again. I would jot down short notes as he taught to avoid feeling sleepy.
By the time we were done, I had stood for more than half an hour. I wasn’t tired though. Would you be, with a Ksh 1, 000 note in your pockets and a stomach full of soda? I bade them goodbye and bit my lips as I opened the door so that they would look dry. I didn’t want Stanley to suspect anything happened. That was the right thing to do. After I gave him the bland explanation, he didn’t seem too convinced. He gave me that look and I was careful not to budge. He finally let it go. I had successfully learnt the first lesson of being a leader in this country. In fact, it was from the people who were supposed to teach me! I wonder whether even the national politicians at the very top had the same introduction. If so, then I was on my way to great things… Very great things…