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Crooks and Last Man build a dormitory

By Makau Kitata

For once, no one from my village joined a provincial or national school. In those first two KCPE transitions, someone was hijacking admissions of all the good performers from my area and sending them to one day school.

The incoming principal had deep connections and drove a fancy car. He was out to create a phenomenal spike in performance like he had done elsewhere. To achieve this, he would grab-admit a group of kids who would pass from any school and keep his fairytale status. I saw this as sinister and felt a great sense of injustice.

So we found ourselves in this last choice school, without boarding facilities. It felt like a waste of effort. We didn’t work so hard only to continue trekking home after primary school.

I gave my father no peace every Friday when he returned from the city. I believed he was privy to the conspiracy between the headmaster and some local brokers playing to improve the school’s performance at our expense. He didn’t understand why I had turned sad-faced and resentful.

“I need a transfer from that school,” I’d complain.

“You can pass from any school, I think,” Dad would reply.

“Did I work hard to get As in primary only to end up here?”

“We’ll see what I can do next week.’’

My uncle Daudi could not convince him either.

My mum told me I was as irritating as a giant fly buzzing between a woman’s thighs. I felt like a fly trapped under a woman’s skirt. I had had enough of home by then. And school was a fraud.

I’d stay at school late to do preps with my friends before retreating to Mutituni where their parents had rented them single rooms. In those rooms, we learned the ways of the marketplace. Some of us learned to smoke. I would then walk home at night.

Meanwhile, our peers who were not better but had escaped the scheme were in proper learning environments. They would be back during the holidays to taunt us. I was disappointed and horrified. Studying and walking back to the village every evening or staying in a small ill-lit room in Mutituni market was never my idea of high school.

Headmaster and Mr Makau, our Kiswahili teacher, who I believed had played a role in setting me up in that school, would enjoy their tipple at the local pub. I had a reason for vengeance. And so, I conceived a one-man night attack.

I watched Mr Makau every night as he staggered out from the bar to walk home. The papyrus bushes at the bridge that linked the market to the villages towards the hills gave me the perfect cover. Of all the weapons created by man, there is none as terrifying as a stone that whistles just above your head, in the dark. Survivors have been known to sober up suddenly and accelerate immediately, yelling. My missile whistled near Mr Makau’s head and he sprinted off, bellowing.

“I’ve been killed at the bridge,” he panted in the first compound he sought refuge.

“Wait for the boys walking from school to escort you.,” someone assured him.

As other teachers got spooked, it was said a band of crooks was on the loose.

It was now the end of term and first parents’ day. The illustrious Headmaster, legendary for working results miracles, had invited some big shots to talk to students and their parents. The guest of honor was one Job Osiako, principal of the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication.

“Study hard, boys and girls. You may become ladies and gentlemen of the press,” he said.

His speech stirred an electrifying desire in my chest. I instantly wanted to become a gentleman of the press. But I looked at the mud gathered on my shoes from walking on the dewy paths to school and shuddered. We were getting mocked for aspirations that a day school could never deliver.

At the end of the meeting, Mr. Makau sprang to the podium and announced that one student would give a vote of thanks to parents and guests. He looked in our noisy direction and over the public address system and announced:

‘Last Man, you are the one to give parents a vote of thanks.”

I was stunned and dazed with fear. My classmates murmured as somebody said:

“The crook is now going to be exposed.”

I walked towards the platform not knowing what to say. Along the way, I picked a handy pebble and tossed the stone from the left hand to the right and back as I figured out what to say. My colleagues saw the rock in my hand and started giggling. I closed off my nervous world to any noise at that moment. As I climbed the dais, I only saw scheming guests and our colluding parents.

I spoke only two sentences in Kiswahili: One thanking the parents and guests for coming and another promising them that if they built us dormitories, we would do our part and go on to university. I intended it to be a threat and a bond. If they didn’t fulfill, we were not to blame.

As I took steps to leave the dais, Osiako stopped me. “Come here, boy.”

My moment of reckoning had finally arrived, I thought.

“Of all the people who have spoken today, this boy has made the most sense,” he declared.

I supposed he had mixed up his words.

Then he dug into his jacket pocket, pulled out a hundred shillings note, and pressed it into my hand. Other guests joined in. Coins and notes were getting pinned on my trembling palms. My father had avoided giving me pocket money. But he rose and astonishingly gave me a hundred shillings.

“This is my son,” he proudly told the chief guest.

I walked back to my colleagues, now richer, wondering why that little speech had moved the world. I heard echoes in my ears; my earlobes got hot. I was floating on a cloud.

As I took my seat, Osiako announced they’d set a harambee to build a dormitory for us. That same month, they put up the first dormitory in Kyanguli School. Market dwellers and some of us village boys moved in. In a revealing turn of events, the spooking of teachers at night stopped.

On a Friday evening after preps, I was walking from the school canteen when I met Mr Makau and the headmaster leaving the compound for their favorite drinking joint.

“Last Man, no more terrorising of teachers since you became boarders. Could you know who amongst you was doing it?” asked Headmaster Mada as he eyed me.

“I wish I knew the people and their motives, sir,” I replied and hurriedly walked towards the new dormitory.

As I shared a hot cup of chocolate and a loaf of bread with my friends, I thought: Sometimes it pays to be a rebel with a cause. It might build a dormitory and save a teacher a shaving from a boy’s stone. Better still, a school principal might invite you to speak to students. Whether as an irritating rabble-rouser, a motivational speaker, or a profit-calculating influencer, the difference is the same.

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