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Last Man survives scare over fake certificate

By Makau Kitata

It was the last day of high school. We were excited at completing our studies. We were entering a free world with no rules. And the following year was an election season where we anticipated to get jobs as Electoral Commission of Kenya clerks. The only requirement was a school leaving certificate.

In those days, it was the standard recommendation employers asked from young people. And in our school, the “leaving” as we called it, was awarded on the final day after the national examinations.

“Let all Form 4 students assemble at the parade grounds for a final inspection,” announced our headmaster.

I brought out my packed metal box and placed it in front of me. My classmates stood in a final military-style parade with headmaster and staff opening box after another. As your box was cleared, headmaster issued a certificate and said, “All the best”. The accounts clerk followed, gave you your caution money. This was spent the same day as bus fare; the rest to buy our freedom fantasies. You then took a one -way out of the school and hoped never to return.

When the headmaster came to my box, he threw out all my items and prised out the bottom cover. I was hiding my civilian clothes under my box – a pair of trousers, Arsenal t-shirts and a jacket.

“This is the person who has been stealing from us,” he announced.

“He is the fella who has been stoning teachers at night. I have seen someone in that jacket in the dark,” screamed Kateti, my maths teacher.

“Let me find you in my office, boy,” the head teacher ordered.

At the office, he went for his stack of wooden cooking sticks he used to blast boys’ buttocks. He took his time to select the heaviest and surest to inflict final pain on the truant on the final day. For some reason, I was not scared. I kept calm and let him rant.

“You are a good performer but a sneaky fella,” he began. “You have a choice: I cane you or I destroy your life forever,” he continued, brandishing the school leaving certificate.

I had already done my final exams and the police van had taken them for marking. The worst the headmaster could do was recall my papers and explain to the world what having civilian clothes had to do with exams. I looked at him and made to walk out. As I did so, I saw him dig his claws into my certificate and throw the pieces into the dustbin.

“You will look for me for these canes. Your life is finished,” he cursed.

I walked from school thinking how to acquire the document without suffering corporal punishment.

Let me talk to the teachers, especially the one I helped connect with Lucia, my classmate, I mused.

He asked me for money. But I had none, having missed my caution money as part of the punishment. I had no choice but to talk to my auntie who was the headmaster’s secretary. As it turned out, the headmaster had many uncollected certificates he had prepared and signed. They had not inserted the student’s names, yet. My auntie took one and inserted my name and brought it to me.

When I looked at the certificate, the headmaster had written: “He leaves a lot to be desired.”  I asked my auntie why she chose that one.

“All the remaining certificates have those same words,” she told me, “They are for all who leave school without a certificate. If you want it changed, you pay the headmaster and lose caution money as well.”

“But this is wrong,” I protested.

“It is his side hustle. They’ll keep coming or send someone to collect for them.”

I couldn’t go back, and I was never going to request my father to do it, let alone let him know.

That was the certificate I used to apply for my first job as elections clerk. On election day, I joined my former classmates at the polling station. After the elections, we went for our salaries. Our former headmaster was the returning officer in our constituency p.  He sat with other election officials in this office where all of us clerks were receiving our pay.

As each of his former students received an envelope with pay, he would smile: “That was my student. We teachers are blessed.”  One after the other, my former schoolmates would head to headmaster’s table and drop Sh500 in his eager hands.

“Good job, boy, you’ll get far.”

 I received my money and made to walk away.

“Hey you, Last Man, where do you think you are going?” he shouted.

“Come and ‘see’ the elders before I announce you are using a fake certificate.”

The officials looked at each other, then turned to me in surprise.

“I personally tore up his leaving certificate. How did he get the job?” the headmaster said.

“All certificates had the school letter head and your signature, Mr Headmaster,” said Pastor Musyoka, the ECK presiding officer.

“Doesn’t this boy have manners? You should thank the person responsible for the unfolding fortunes in your life.” Thundered Headmaster.

I looked at the agitated headmaster, his eyes focused on the envelope I held.

“No sir,” I replied, “I don’t have manners, but I now have a lot to be desired,” I said, as I took the road home.

Dr Makau Kitata is a lecturer at the University of Nairobi.

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