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Last man joins school

By Makau Kitata

I am the seventh born in a family of eight. That has its advantages and horrors: Young enough for everyone to see you as a baby, but not the real baby. Not so for my eldest sister: The tyrannical school-master-ish disciplinarian saw everybody.

When village children older than me were joining Class 1, I wanted to start school too. I cried a bucket and convinced my parents. Big sister took charge of preparations. The local tailor fabricated a uniform as my sister and I watched.

“Fit the shorts with suspenders, he might lose the shorts,” she declared.

“How would I go to the toilets?” I protested.

“Shut up. Do you want to join school or not?” sister sparked.

At break time, I didn’t go to the toilets. Later, everyone was to remove their sweaters. It was hot under the iron sheets. I hastily left the class and tucked the suspenders in my pants. Surviving the first hours of schooling.

Tuesday, some cheeky girls noticed my suspenders before I could tuck them away.

“His shorts have belts,” they loudly announced.

Everyone swarmed around me, colliding in belly laughter. I heard guffaws, as a vortex spun around me.  One boy yanked at my shorts.

“Suspenders to avoid losing his shorts!” They screamed.

I wished to hide. But I pushed the suspenders over my shirt, ignoring the mob. I avoided play the whole day.

That evening, I resolved to cut them off. I debated:

“This will stop my classmates from laughing; but I have my sister to reckon with. This school thing is causing me so much agony – I will escape school all together.”

I became a truant. Dutifully leaving home, I’d mid-way sneak into the coffee farm and deeper into the bush, along the river, then I’d resurface at lunch time and go home a normal scholar – you’d think.

A week went, and another, until the class teacher noticed. They dispatched Tom and Thuku – the strongest, most senior students – to hunt and march me to school to face the wrath of all staff, if they succeeded.

So, I looked for a sturdy elephant-defying shrub and gripped. Hard as they pulled, I wasn’t letting go of the bush. I hollered:

“They have broken my hand.”

The scouts fled in terror. Tiny me was but the last man standing. The following day, Mother piggy backed me to school.

“Is this the little thing defeating you?” The headmaster wondered. “Why do you hide, boy?”

I hadn’t yet faced such authority. It filled me with dread worse than kids laughing at me.

My eyes rolled as I lied:

“Mama leaves me taking care of the baby at home.”

Mother looked at me and shed tears. I was shattered.

I was too small for the headmaster, legendary for corporal punishment, to cane me. My sister would have twisted my ears off my head and probably beheaded me. And that would have been okay. But mum cried.

A freezing mist swallowed me as I remotely heard the headmaster announce: “You can carry this thing on your back to school daily. Go to class, boy.”

I saw Mother desolately walking away as I wandered dazed towards my class. They were waiting for me.  I sat in the front row for small children, like a warzone TV news reader in an open-air studio. I kept that seating place for eight years – and still do.

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