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4 & 3/4

Have you ever loved something so much, you need an encore?

So, I know I have talked about school a lot but this one happens right at home. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go to school 7 days a week so I had to at least be doing something during the weekends. One of my greatest loves is food. For several years, I was the family’s ‘dustbin’. I would eat practically all of the leftovers. That ended with the advent of adolescence in my younger brother.

I always liked eating chapati. It is still my favorite to this day. I would be lying if I told you I could remember when this dalliance began. It probably did while I was a toddler. A joke common in Kenyan circles is that children fake sleep so that they can taste the first chapati before the rest of the family does. The joke is true and probably wired into every Kenyan’s DNA because almost everyone did that at some point. If you ever get the opportunity to meet me and we have those awkward silences, you can bring this up as a common point and we can pivot from there haha.

Look at this beauty!!! Argh now i’m hungry. Obtained from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/324470348135782041/

This story is crazy because I am talking about two of my oldest loves in the same story. So, during the weekends and school holidays I made friends with all the children of a certain household in our neighborhood. We lived in a Compound made up of three families. There was ours on the far end, the hellish existence that I called home, the middle house which had a delightful girl (I remember her as a girl because she was significantly younger than I was) and an overbearing brother who was probably not significant to me and the first house which had everything I always wanted. The first house had three children, the eldest was a lady and her two siblings were boys. They had the perfect blend of everything, they had the cool dad, the loving mother and their food was spectacular.

I say this with a bit of a chuckle because African parents don’t like their children eating in other people’s houses. Maybe it is because Africans are so profoundly proud in their ability to provide or because the famous West African movies almost always had a villain poisoning someone’s food. Either way, I was not supposed to have found out that their food was spectacular and that made the food even more alluring.

The lady from the first household was named Angela but I would call her Angie. I think I might be romanticizing a little bit but that lady was every bit of an angel. Her name was aptly chosen. I can’t even fathom what would happen if she was named otherwise. I just read recently about someone remarking about the appropriateness of the surname that Usain Bolt has. Some names are just meant to be for specific people you know? Anyway, Angela was beautiful and had an attractive laugh. The kind that makes you stare in awe. She used to laugh a lot and ten years plus later, I still affectionately remember it.  It is so rare to find a first-born sister being a tom boy because it is normally pegged on the influence of older brothers but she was. She didn’t care she was a tom boy, she wanted to play with the boys and also influenced our choices of play from time to time. She was the first person I interacted with who said gender be damned and carried on with life. A breath of fresh air. If you are keen enough, by this point you would have already figured out that she meant the world to me.

I must have been a pretty rebellious kid. At 8 years old I had already rejected the notion of age in relationships as she was 3 years older and I already had a crush. I could gush about her the whole day which is weird considering I have no idea what happened to her.

The two brothers were amazing as well. They were my constant companions and we actually went to the same school. We were inventors, teammates, playmates. We were just mates and that was so crucial for me. The second born was particularly gifted with his hands. He could make anything out of wood using nails and a hammer. I remember we made a human powered wooden car and we’d take turns pushing each other around. He also made some sort of tree house behind their house and we would sit and talk about anything and everything. Our adventures with chopped trees would result in me having nails pierce the bottom of my foot thrice. The pain would quickly be forgotten every time I would meet them. I recently got reminded of this friendship through Madeline Miller’s the Song of Achilles. I loved them so much and when after three beautiful years they moved out of the tiny compound I cried uncontrollably. Can you believe it? Even now as I’m typing this, I am holding back tears, correction tried to hold back tears as one of them just fell on my keyboard.

Back to my story. While we were hanging out one day, Angie disclosed that she normally eats five chapatis. Five? I was in disbelief. I couldn’t imagine that. The food is so good that my mum imposed a quota on chapatis. My dad would eat three while the rest of us peasants and lesser beings would eat just two. I did not believe my mum when she wouldn’t finish even those two. She’d eat one and fumble with the second while proclaiming that she is starting to get full. I mean what? She was obviously toying with us as she would eat some while preparing the food. I still choose to believe this haha. The process of making chapati is long and tedious, it could take maybe three hours from start to finish. The longest hour is the last one. Why? The smell of the oil christening the wheat would pilfer through the kitchen openings to greet the already starving citizens. I have no idea whether this happens everywhere, but when the smell starts searing in, there is normally anticipation in the air. Like we are all anxiously waiting for something. I mean it never used to make sense, we suffer through an hour long of beautiful smells from the kitchen, luring you in, enticing you, twisting, seducing your olfactory senses and only for the two chapatis to be devoured in a span of five to seven minutes. It was not satisfactory to me.

I still recall during one of these quotad servings, I had inadvertently combined two chapatis and eaten them at once. As I was reaching for the third chapati, my mum would slap my hand away from the hotpot because I had already had two. I felt cheated, I was delirious, I could not believe that I had made such a mistake. I went to bed hungry and angry. I was so upset that I decided to sleep it off. Just to prove how recalcitrant I can be, I used to time my mum and if she didn’t count the amount of left over chapatis before going to bed, I would steal 1 or 2 from the hotpot a la Fantastic Mr. Fox. This would not leave my mum amused. For ten years now, she has been religiously counting chapatis before she leaves for bed and making an announcement declaring the same for everyone to hear and bear witness.

As soon as I got home on the day of Angie’s revelation, I confronted my mum and told her if Angie can do it then this small kid can also do it. A testament to my fiery ambition even then. My mum, being such a good sport, jested that there’s no way I could finish the five chapatis. I insisted I can and she decided to challenge me. She said next when we eat, in a week’s time, I would have my five chapatis. I was ecstatic, triumphant and would lord it over my siblings. In the same way the Greek sagas are written, the gods were probably not happy by my proud boisterous behavior and would be motivated to make me fail. My brothers were definitely on the chapatis side and would have been probably rooting for my downfall.

I was upbeat the whole week and my support system would encourage me all the time. They would hype me up and I was a boxer in that time and space, a bona fide Muhammad Ali just before the rumble in the jungle. Everyone in my life at that point knew about this highly anticipated event as I had effectively done the promotion. Incredible that I was fighter and promoter in the same event. Something even the greatest couldn’t ever do.

Anyway, Saturday finally showed up and here I am ready and primed to challenge history and preconceived norms. Perhaps to me, this also meant that I’m challenging the two chapatis quota. Now that I am a lawyer, I should have demanded for this in writing. The smell came as consistently as it usually does and boy was, I excited! I would finally not have to worry about the quota. I must have skipped lunch to keep me hungry.

The first three were amazing, I probably rushed a little bit and stuffed them down my throat. However, by the end of the fourth one, I had started getting full. Ladies and gentlemen, if my stomach could creak, it could have under the weight of what it was carrying. I probably did not strategize properly. I should have taken my time. Few bites into my contest and my strategy was long forgotten so time was not a consideration at this point. This is the one and the only time in my life where I have labored to eat chapati. I labored over the fifth one. I reached three quarters of it. When I look back now, maybe my mum wanted to teach me a lesson and made them relatively thicker. I would not be derailed however and was so happy about the 4 and 3/4. I was so proud; I remember rubbing it in all of my brothers’ faces. My father would laugh heartily when he heard what I did. My three friends were exhilarated and so happy. They had thought I’d be disappointed by coming up just short but I didn’t care and they were so happy. I don’t know whether this is a fiction of my imagination, but sometimes I imagine Angie’s laugh when she heard of my chapati exploits.

We still have a quota nowadays if you can believe that haha. But after a revolutionary struggle, it was moved to four. I laugh sometimes at how my two siblings remind me of that particular incident. You see each time we finish four chapatis we look at mum with those puss-in-boots eyes asking if we can top up. I grew older and understood why the quota exists. The process of making them is back breaking but those ten minutes are what we live for. Isn’t that the point of life anyway?

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The Slap

The night’s supper has been great. It was a meal of Succotash. A favorite among boys in my boarding school. You see the thing about this meal is that it will hold your stomach steady from 6.30pm(when dinner would end) till the end of preps which was 11pm in the night. So revered was this meal that some would save it for later after an extremely long study session. At 11 pm if you weren’t tussling with sleep then you were tussling with hunger. There was no two ways about it. I was mostly tussling with sleep. I was a morning person and would spend most of my night preps from nine trying not to sleep. Sleeping on the wooden desks was more comfortable than I thought it would be. Why was I motivated not to sleep? It wasn’t because I was a model student, on the contrary, it was because I would run the risk of being woken up by slender wood canvassing my bottom.

This particular evening was no different, I had the usual meal and put in honest work from 6.30 to 9 pm. I was satiated as I had accomplished what I needed to by then. I nudged my deskmate and indicated that I would take a ‘power nap’ so that I could become rejuvenated. I had already made my calculations. The staff on duty this particular week would show up twice at night, at 7.15pm and around 8.55pm. I had religiously observed their patterns like a predator. As you can see, no way of telling you that this wasn’t in any way premeditated. I had planned appropriately. In retrospect, the time I spent trying to not be caned would have earned me a little more in terms of grades but hey kids are always kids.

So back to my story, I indicated that I was going to be asleep and proceeded to fold my arms in preparation for my well-earned siesta. I don’t remember much after that and it must have been a peaceful sleep. Now, kids in boarding school play practical jokes on each other all the time. One trendy prank was actually slapping someone’s exposed cheek while they slept. This particular piece of information will come in handy trust me.

I woke up, my mind was foggy. I looked around and couldn’t see anything clearly. You know how in the moments after you wake up your mind takes some time before it sets in? That’s exactly where I was. I could feel a sting on my cheek. This meant that I had been a victim of that cowardly prank. Imagine my furore, I was busy minding my own business, not disturbing anyone and I’m woken up. I have never been shy of speaking in public. I stood up from my desk, declared loudly that no one has the right to slap my cheek and the person that did that was pretty stupid and, in what I thought was a brilliant act of defiance, clicked and got right back to sleeping.

“Young man are you calling the School Captain stupid?”

In that school, when you heard were referred to as a young man and were trapped between four walls, you just knew you were in hot soup. I quickly sprang my head up to see the School Captain, sadistically amused that I’d called him stupid. His face was marked with a grin so wide that although ear to ear is a cliché, anything but is a mistake. He was strongly built, a gym workhorse, with a penchant for sadistic behaviour especially when meting out corporal punishment. In contrast, I was slim and small for my age, only my ego and my brains would qualify to be put in a high school class.

Slowly I turned to look at my classmates, it was taking all of their efforts not to burst into guffaws of laughter. Almost accusingly, I looked at my deskmate who was apologetic and looked like he had been gagged. He shrugged and I understood, he doesn’t pay my school fees anyway.

What happened next I am not proud of, apparently I had already been added onto a list of students caught sleeping in the whole school on top of my humiliation. In addition to this rather unfortunate set of events, I had to beg him to ‘forgive’ me. I would do anything not to be caned at this point. With peer punishment, you’d always escape the cane and instead do some chores or something.

I cleaned a large portion of the library after. The punishment ceased to be relevant to me after a while, but the face after I had been slapped is as clear to me as it was then. This story came to me just around nine pm and I must say, I enjoy the thought of sleeping with my cheeks exposed knowing no stupid Captain will slap me.  

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Secret Code

I have always had an overachieving family. People normally have to contend with an overachieving member of the family but somehow, I ended up with an overachieving cohort of people that I have to grow around. Sometimes it is pretty unfair the pressures that come with that. Anyway, my elder brother had that natural overachieving glow. I honestly can see how Cain from the Bible would get jealous of Abel. My elder brother had a glow that could not be explained. Everything he did was gushed over almost as if Midas himself was here with mortals of the 21st Century. I grew up in his shadow. My light, while it was bright outside the house, was akin to a firefly next to an LED torch inside the house. No one ever focuses on teaching you how to cope with being the shadow so you have to come up with your own ways to survive. For some it ends in submission and for others it results in a feistiness that can only be the result of a monstrous chip on the shoulder. This aggressiveness is probably why I am always regarded as a good lawyer. I am relentless and exasperating, just ask my family.

Naturally, being a shadow and a kid, you want to cut your own niche. A method of standing out. However, that is not very easy if you’re five years younger than the standard you want to measure yourself with. Sometimes, you’re forced to settle for mere variations of their brilliant ideas. My elder brother formulated some sort of secret code in primary school that he used to communicate with his buddies. I stumbled upon the code one Saturday morning and saw that it was good. I decided I will also have the same code. I changed so many things about his code, but I remember maintaining one character perhaps as a reminder that I cannot appropriate everything. I remember though that the code would remain just that until I found people ‘worthy’ of belonging to my secret society. You see secret societies fascinated me all the time. My family was not much of an emotional one as they would always be more logical than touchy-feely. I would read a lot of Enid Blyton’s Famous Fives and Secret Sevens. In those moments, I had a family. I always say that that was the reason why I became such a huge Potterhead. I would get so excited to meet my real family in school much like Harry would meet Hermione and Ron. My childhood was not really sad, I refuse to look at it that way. Instead, I think of it as having high ‘highs’ and low ‘lows’.

Why yes, I’m very ready

Anyway, I finally found my clique in 7 Red. The two ladies that I absolutely love and because of two other gents. The band of five adopted the said code. Let me tell you, we revolutionized note passing in class. We must have been a terror to every boring teacher. As soon as we would get bored, notes would fly all over the place. The best part was that if we ever got caught, the notes would be anything we would want!! Imagine that,, and we were in a posh school as well so the only thing we’d be forced to do is just go sit outside and miss an already boring class. Looking back, I feel sorry for those teachers. At that moment however, I would have been exhilarated as I’d head to the library and continue reading Biggles.

I don’t remember how many times I got ejected from class for being recalcitrant but I remember one that marked the last. My parenting style in the future will always be shaped by this man. He was one of the best teachers I have ever had and he believed in me so much. It was an afternoon class. It was a particularly boring language class. My stomach was so full from the fries and the juice I’d had for lunch. The mundane class plus my satisfied stomach were the perfect ingredients for the bunch of five to decide to play. We had tons to talk about and one hour lunch breaks were not enough. We started a thread of funny quips.

One of us, mostly me, would be the primary author. I am known to crack jokes from time to time. I would pass it on to my colleagues who’d decode it hurriedly and laugh. The note would then be passed on of course with an extension of the joke. Twenty minutes into the class of forty minutes, the teacher noticed something was up. The game was well and truly afoot. The added adrenaline was amazing. We almost got caught thrice. The teacher, chasing us all through, tried to trap us by springing surprise questions and calling us out. It didn’t help that we were top of the class. All five of us. We had mentally prepared for this moment and we would answer correctly with twinkles in our eyes. All of us were clearly delighted that we were outsmarting the teacher.

Every time the note would get passed around, the note would get pithier and funnier. When it finally made a full circle to me. I had a lot to read. I would say I am an immersive reader so I got caught up in the moment. Decoding the message in my head. Wisdom is so often attributed to age and that was particularly true in this case. The teacher had shifted to walking around the class as soon as he realized most of the class including ourselves were distracted. Obviously, we were his main nemesis at that point in time and he was determined not to leave empty handed. I got caught up reading the note below my wooden desk that I did not notice until the note was abruptly snatched from my palms. I feel like at that moment I could see how chicks can be grabbed by hawks. Imminent danger was apparent to all except for the unlucky chick (me). Much like chicks, I was consumed with hunger and had strayed a little too much from the protection of the hen (in this case caution).

His eyes kept darting across the page in an attempt to fathom what was sprawled over the note. You know how if you try to make sense of something long enough you start getting annoyed? He tried to hide it but there was a flash of annoyance. He took a deep breath and motioned for me to follow him outside. The whole class exclaimed, my friends were suddenly worried about what might befall me and the rest of the class well, were jubilant that the club they had been locked out of would be outlawed. Always a consummate professional, he never lost his cool, his voice did not betray any emotion except one, disappointment.

This is why I never did it again, I loved him as a person. There was a lot about him I admired. He looked at me and calmly explained that I was much much better than that. Most people always tell you about the potential you have. He would remind me of this but then he was always so genuine in a way that others were not. He then proceeded to send me to my Biggles. I left heavy-hearted. I felt a sharp pain in my heart that I have never felt before. I felt bad for disappointing someone I truly respected and nothing was right with the world. Biggles was not cool anymore, in fact I do not recall reading Biggles at all. I may have just wondered aimlessly much like Cain would have done. The note sharing reduced after that since I had committed to being better. For him.

I said that he will influence what kind of parent I would shape up to become because he allowed me to fall in love with him as a person, to respect him so much that disappointment weighed heavily on my conscience. If I could have that with my daughter or son, I would consider myself a success.

What happened to the code? I still use it. I am a hopeless romantic and every so often I would scribble the name of my love interest in my class notebooks when I’m bored in class. It just hit me that this is not very different from how it started. With a boring class. My handwriting is neat so most likely I’ll be asked for my notes and my code protects my delicate love interests from knowing that I am interested.

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9371

I hope for all our sakes that you travel with me on a journey

It has been a crazy journey. 14 hours on the unforgiving road. The journey started at around 4pm and we reached our destination, a lakeside city, at 9am in the morning. My feet are tired and the only fuel that keeps me going is the incessant nagging on the need to hurry by my very determined mother. We are going shopping everywhere, shopping for things that I will need when I eventually step into the full board hotel of life that is high school boarding. The rest passes in a blur as I am obsessing over how I can’t believe the beautiful holiday that I had is finally coming to an end.

I am brought back to reality by a crude verse on the gates of our destination. The verse in itself has been difficult to locate ever since but what has always been vivid is the feeling that it evoked in me. You see people of old always say that it is easy to forget something someone did but what you won’t forget is what it made you feel. That rings true in this scenario. I am from this relatively posh school where corporal punishment is expressly prohibited and the main form of discipline was detention and deprivation of some joys such as swimming or going to the pitch. You can therefore imagine my trepidation when after 4 years of my brother regaling me with tales of caning, I am headed to the very place where it happened. I never got used to the cane as a kid, I was always apprehensive of the pain and I would shake if I knew I’m in a collision course with it. This was made worse after I never had the chance to get used to it due to my status as a student in the posh school. I had hoped that time had changed and that what happened to my brother had been phased out. This was so naïve considering I thought this humongous shift in policy could happen in only two years.

The verse was about caning the children. You would think that one verse would be enough to show that “caning lives here” but no, there were two verses. You know how hope is? Hope is just staring at an abyss and thinking it can’t be real. It is the only thing that gives us strength when faced with terrible odds. I can say that I still held on to the little sliver of hope that can make me reach out for a straw while drowning. I know I know, could be cliché but clichés exist because they’re so apt don’t you think? Anyway, formalities are done, and we’re inside the Lion’s den. The Den is eerie, almost too quiet. Tall trees stuck out awkwardly against the red soil along the road to the Administration block. It was a long silent walk and I was routinely jolted from my thoughts by the odd chirping of birds. What’s funny is that the place where I would be admitted would bear witness to a lot of caning that in my immediate future. I was reporting late and therefore I was to be admitted just behind the Old administration block, under the mango tree. It was there that my mother would finally get a taste of the fear that had been hanging over my head.

I was issued with my brand new uniform, I’m in great spirits because testing new clothes always does that to me. I have a neck tie which I hurriedly tie with the help of a friend and I put it on. Looking in hindsight, perhaps this was a prediction of how things were done here, hurriedly. Anyway, because I’m enjoying my first moment of relaxation in a while and it’s noon and hot, I am sagging the tie and pocketing. I was stunned by a sharp bark.

“Young man, we don’t wear ties like that around here!! Who do you think you are strutting about like that? And stop pocketing!!!”

I had never been spoken to in such a tone except by my parents. I could tell that this was extreme even for my mum because by now, she would have been furious had we been in a normal situation. Not furious with me obviously, but furious with the unlucky gent who had tried to talk to her kid like that. But this was different, she was completely nullified and quite literally frozen to the spot. After realizing my mother possessed no true say here, I hurriedly (see what I did there) jerk my hands off from my pockets and they shoot straight to the tie. I fasten it around my neck and rush to my mother’s side red faced and scared. Okay not red faced because my complexion wouldn’t show but you catch my drift. I am humiliated and for the first time I notice that a hush has settled on the hum of conversation between the parents and the teachers. My mum whispered that she can’t believe what just happened. Her words brought tears in my eyes and to this day, I don’t know whether she noticed them.

That was the moment that I knew I stopped being Blaise and started being a number, 9371. Isn’t that crazy, people are normally hazy on the moments they join an institution but I can say I remember the day I was born, because this institution marked the beginning of my life as I know it. Oh and btw, that bark made me certain that caning was a non-negotiable term of joining that school. If I wasn’t certain before, then I was certain two minutes later as that same teacher swaggered into the old administration block, seconds later I heard the sound that can only be the courtship between a sturdy wooden stick and the supple flesh that is found on the buttocks. If only all questions could be answered as clearly as mine was.

Ears Ringing

I have recently been forced to stare down at something I would not like to look at. Of course, being this old, the only thing that would force you to look at things would be circumstances coupled with an overwhelming sense of loss.

My character is abrasive, I used to be so proud of this trait. I would feel invincible. Growing up, it would feel for a moment as if I am Jack and Rose on that bridge with the sea blowing air by me. My afro hair would not be swayed by the wind as theirs would but nonetheless my soul would have been flying, momentarily filled by the gust of wind as a wind sock. I have grown up rebellious and for the most part I have been a take it or leave it kind of guy.

So what brings me to this sad soliloquy you ask? Loss. I am at a loss. I have grown to care about people too much. Does it make me weak? Vulnerable even? I would say yes. Every superhero movie tells you this is what makes you stronger. I am not sure whether they are just yanking my chain at this point. I have lost several close friends recently and it hurts like a bitch. You know what hurts even more? It’s that I recognized their value almost immediately and discarded whatever was left of my pride. I try so much to fit in with them.

I try to tell myself this is me evolving and getting better but I have no idea whether this is true. I lost someone close to me very recently. I had met her just months ago and to me, she was one of those people whom you wondered where they have been all of your life. That is how perfect she is.

You know what the problem is? It is me. I have never before related to Pumbaa this much. My abrasive nature stinks to high heaven. I lost her because somehow my character and hers do not fit in at all. Sometimes you try to mold with dry cement without realizing that actually it is dry.

What is scary is that this is not the first time. I have never been worried about this before her. She has however triggered an epiphany. It has weighed on me for several weeks now. I cannot offload it, I am constantly plagued by how hard it is to move my feet with each passing step. My luggage is getting waterlogged and the rain keeps beating down on me.

As I’m writing right now, I’m in danger of ruining another friendship with my character. What is so inherently flawed in myself I can’t seem to control. The rain is having a field day. While that statement is paradoxical, it feels nothing like a paradox. Paradoxes are so pretty, art even. Who cares about art when you’re in danger? If you are in an armed conflict and are confronted with the choice between your favorite Van Gogh painting and your life, will you care about the painting technique used?

I am in a constant state of panic, I do not know what is happening, when it is going to happen or how it is going to happen. I look around and everyone is running. I look at my feet and momentarily see nothing. I see rubble everywhere. My mouth is dry and has no saliva, my heart is pumping blood in overdrive. I am sure my veins are popping in my face. It takes me a while before I realize that the reason I can’t focus is not the metallic taste of blood in my mouth but the ringing of my ears after a bomb blast. My character has finally exploded and littered everything and everyone within my reach with shrapnel.

I am sorry,.

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