I arrived in Bungoma late in the evening, wet and hungry. Inside my green paper bag I had a few belongings that I had managed to grab as I made what I called ‘the great escape’ or worse, ‘prison break’. My cold legs carried me to my eldest sister’s house, about a kilometer from Bungoma town.
I gathered my courage and knocked on the door. My sister opened the door and was shocked to see me standing there shaking like a leaf. With tears in her eyes, she asked me, “Wwwwhat’s this? A joke?” She realized it was not a joke when tears started flowing freely down my innocent cheeks. She quickly ushered me in and brought a towel to dry me up and a blanket to wrap me in. We were both sobbing uncontrollably without uttering a word. This went on for long with my sister thinking someone had died at home. Amidst the sobs she kept shouting “who? Please tell me who?” To make things harder for her, amidst my sobs I kept shouting “ I’m not going back! Not going back there!”
After the confusion and calm restored, I eventually told my sister that I had made a great escape from what I termed my father’s torment. She understood what I meant because she had been through the same kind of treatment in her youth. I did not understand why she started smiling and telling me, “That’s why I’m a successful teacher”. I wondered if I had made the right decision or I was simply jumping from the frying pan to the fire. I was only relieved when she declared that I was welcome to stay in her place and that in fact she would try to get me a place to continue with my education in a school she was heading then. Though I believed she knew the kind of punishment my father was known for, I had a feeling mine was very different and severe. That is why I decided to narrate to her my torments.
One day I woke up with a start to see a towering silhouette over me. “Still dreaming huh?” My father’s deep voice echoed. “Wake up silly boy, time to go to school.” I didn’t want to start my day badly because a slight delay after the command would have resulted in a different kind of breakfast. I hurriedly gathered myself and jumped out of bed. This had been the routine ever since I joined standard one in a school where my father was a headmaster. This day was just one of the many hard days. I had endured the beatings of waking up late, not doing homework and all. I was now of age and in standard four in the same school. I realized things had become tougher ever since I stepped in standard four. My father told me I must stop joking henceforth because standard four is a senior class. The punishments had become tougher as well as the assignments. My father always had his own assignments apart from the official school assignment. There were many days like this.
I would get up and go to the borehole to fetch water as it was routine. The mornings were chilly. I used to take my bucket and soap and try and bathe behind the house. It was always hard. The water was cold, very cold. I would quickly survey the main entrance to the house to see if my father was there shaving. As usual, he always came to the verandah holding a tiny mirror to shave his beard. On the days I would not see him, I would take advantage. Was it French bath? Whatever you may call it, I would wash my face, my hands and feet and sprinkle some water on my chest to look wet. I would then stay in the cold longer to start shivering from the cold and also to buy time lest I’m accused of not bathing. On a few occasions while my mother prepared breakfast for us I had experienced the pain of being taken back to bathe again either with my father’s supervision or bathing me personally.
My mother would be busy pressing and preparing my school uniform. Some days my uniform had to be washed and aired at night if it was too dirty to ‘rewind’. Otherwise rewinding was the order of the day. The trick was to avoid playing too much. Making it dirty within the week would attract the wrath of my mother and that meant serious flogging.
I always had the privilege of sharing breakfast with my father. Of course his was ‘special’ with more to eat than mine. The good thing about sharing was he would almost always ‘sambaza’ or pass me a specially prepared egg, bread, mandazi or sconce on the rare occasions that such were available. I always took my breakfast standing because whether I was through or not, the moment dad cleared his, it was time to go. This went on day after day.
I remember some days and these were many, with my feet wet from the morning dew, we would set off amidst the singing birds as the sun gently rose. This would be after I have done a quick checkup of my father’s bicycle to make sure it was clean, the tyre pressure right, the brakes working and it is well oiled. A few metres from our house as was always, dad mounted the bicycle as I ran along. He always left me way behind because of the downhill momentum. Ever since I had joined standard four, I always did this. Previously I had the privilege of being given a ride. He would go as far as the momentum will take him and leave the bicycle by the roadside knowing that I was right behind to push it uphill for the better part of the remaining journey to school. About one kilometer to school I would hand over the bicycle back to my father because it was downhill momentum again. I would then try to race against him because it was a ‘rule’ that the moment he gets to school he closes the school gate and everyone who comes after him is a late comer. He was the school’s headmaster. No one admired being a late comer and at the same time no one wanted to be absent from school unless with very good explanations. The repercussions were telling and I was not exempted from the punishment. He would simply lock the gate in my face as I raced to beat the punishment. He did not care that I was late after pushing his bicycle uphill. With other latecomers, we would line up and go on our knees and ‘walk’ on our knees on the 300 metre rough gravel surface to the parade. One day each of us was made to ‘dig our own graves’. This was a hole as deep as your height and as wide as your length when lying down. I remember my father coming to inspect and casually telling us to fill them up. He came to inspect again. “alright, make the ground level and plant the grass. I want it as smooth as it was. You’ve messed up my ground!” This was just one of the many punishments.
School life was exciting, full of anxiety as well as scaring. There were some things that only happened in school and we used to look forward to them. Other things were so scaring, we would do anything to keep away from school.
In the school compound, there were several hawkers mainly selling foodstuffs. There were two famous ones, Mama Sconce and another one who used to sell sugarcane called Namunguba. When I think of Mama Sconce’s sconces, I salivate. The nicely baked sconces with particles of flour were everyone’s favourite at break time and since they were not so many, we had to dash for them as soon as the bell rang. Now, here is the catch; you could buy the sconces by paying cash or some kind of barter trade. The latter was the easiest. For two eggs you would get one sconce. Since money was hard to come by, eggs became the order of the day. Thinking about it later, Mama Sconce was making a kill- two eggs for a sconce! She would of course use the very eggs to make more sconces. No wonder they were tasty because she had plenty of eggs. Not many of us could get those eggs through the right channel, that is, asking our parents because they wouldn’t give us. So we resorted to pinching the eggs-easy!
There was this day when I had successfully executed my pinching mission when suddenly the mission aborted. With my two eggs safe in my pants, I hurried to go and ‘shower’. What I didn’t know is that my pants were not pressed. As usual, my mother always inspected them before I wore them. On this particular day she was to get a shock of her life. When she found wrinkled pants, she decided to press them not knowing there were eggs inside! She only found out when something exploded after colliding with the iron box. I don’t have to tell you what followed.
In a nutshell, to start with, the highest grade of my mother’s punishment was administered to me. It had two stages. In stage one, standing there shaking like a leaf and naked, I had to kneel on finger millet and walk on the knees. Those of you who know finger millet know what one goes through when you try to ‘walk’ on it on your knees. In summary, I suffered. In the second and final part of the punishment, my mother brought a needle and as if she was joking, pushed it in my middle finger as if I was giving a blood sample for malaria diagnosis. My screaming didn’t help. It only drew the attention of my father, who casually inquired what I had done and instructed my mother to send me to school when she was through.
When I got to school, more was awaiting me. In the presence of a ‘special parade’, I was paraded and flogged by two teachers with my father as the headmaster ‘crowning’ it with his now famous ‘two pronged’ caning, as he held two sticks as he struck the swollen buttocks. As was his habit, before he struck he would ask, “What is your name and whose child are you?” I attracted more beating when I retorted “You are my father!” amidst sobs.
Mama Sconce was expelled from the school compound. As you can imagine, this was not all. I had to cope with constant bullying from all those whose stolen eggs had nowhere to go and all those who missed Mama Sconce thereafter. For several days after the incident I found broken eggs on my desk.
... More to come
- Thigh burning
-combing dad’s hair, cutting nails
-Posho mill, maize buying, how many cows? Their names
-End of term, no appreciation
- Busaa, knee accident