Go to Law School.
Not any other law school. The University of Nairobi School of Law. Make that Parklands Campus, if it is not too much trouble. It is important that you attend this particular institution, because that is where she will be. That is where you will meet her, the one with a face as soft as dawn.
But first, you need to get there. Here is a two step guide on how you do that.
- Attend Maranda High School
You need to be from Kisumu. The old one, when the city was still new, fresh and naive, not this teenage one that now has flyovers, traffic jams and brags too much about an airport. This is important, because a boy growing up in Kisumu at that time has very little chance of crossing the rift to attend a high school. Meaning, when you finally finish your primary school education at M.M. Shah and pleasantly disappoint your mother with 408 marks at KCPE, you will be called to attend Kisumu Boys. But your folks will not be having none of it. Instead, they will organize for you to go attend Maranda High School. Furthermore, si that is where your brother, Deogratias, is? It only makes sense.
‘Your brother will take care of you,’ Karua will say as she kisses you goodbye, watching her last born turn to take his metallic box to the dorm. Ayana Dormitory will be written at the door. Deogratias will have organised for you to sleep in the same cube as the Dorm Prefect, so that you do not get in trouble with the other boys. You will sit on your bed, resplendent in your new oversized uniform. Blue has never been your colour. You are a Red kind of person. But it is not like you have a choice. Dark Blue, White and Black is all you have.
2. Hate Physics.
Like all good things, your father will die. Your elder brother, Nimrod, will come to pick you up for his burial, in the middle of your first term exams. It will be just after writing your History paper. Easy. You will have finished before many of your other classmates. You will not sit for any other paper that term. In second term, during mid term exams, the Physics teacher will step into Form One North with a stack of papers in his hands. He is tall and walks while arching his back forward a little, as if to maintain stability. Mr. Adipo does not stay in the teachers quarters like the rest of the staff. He lives in Bondo town and commutes every day. Perhaps that is why on the afternoon that we are to sit for the Physics exam, he comes in thirty minutes late. The timetable said the exam is supposed to start at 2pm, but it is not like you will mind an extra thirty minutes to cram notes.
But now Mr. Adipo strolls in class and there is a scuffle as students rush to put their books away.
“As agreed, the passmark for this paper is 34 out of 70. If you do not meet this mark, kiboko.” He has always been straight forward with his class. Those who fail to meet his passmark secure themselves a trip to the staffroom. The number of strokes depend on just how far you missed the mark by. “The moment I give you a paper, keep your mouth shut. No talking, otherwise…” None of us needs to be reminded.
You get your exam paper and start scribbling. It is a lukewarm paper. Not that hard. There is no way you are not going to get 34 marks. You flip your paper to confirm that you have answered all the questions, and then you lean back to watch as other students struggle. Some scratching their heads, others biting their pens.
You are good.
Only that you are not.
When the papers return two weeks later, the number 30 stares back at you, circled in red. No way. There has to be a mistake. You flip the paper and it has more ticks than Xs. So how is it that you have 30? You count the ticks, they are 30 indeed. Then you ask your neighbour for his paper to compare, and that is when you realise that your exam paper had a whole leaflet missing. You did not answer like five questions, because you did not have them.
He will understand. He has to. I mean, it was your first time sitting his paper. And is he not the one who said we should not talk the moment we get papers? There is no way you can handle four of his strokes. Since you have a complaint, you make sure that you are the last in the queue, so that you do not interrupt him with stories when he is meting punishment. You watch with tears in your eyes has he raises his hand to the heavens and brings down that thick cane on the other failures. Each landing resounds. Boys squeal and holler and beg. Others do not even look like they feel pain. They just bend over and take it. No rubbing. No tears. Their buttocks must be made of steel. Then there are those who think they have iron asses. They kausha the first two strokes, but then by the fourth, they are calling their grandmothers’ names.
“Excuse me sir, my paper had a problem,” you say to him when your turn finally arrives. “I did not realise that I had pages missing…”
“Young man, I do not want stories.”
“Why did you not say anything?”
“You told us to keep quiet. It was my first exam, sir. I did not check, and I did not fail that much. I only missed the passmark by 4 points. I did not have a leaflet, sir. I did not know, sir, I did not know.” You rush through your sentences, tears brimming, words tumbling from your mouth, salt stinging your eyes.
“Then in that case I am going to give you more strokes so that next time you know. Bend!”
You do not want to cause a scene in the staffroom, otherwise the other teachers will think you are bringing your hard head and join in the crusade to set your ass on fire. Mr. Adipo is pointing at the chair. You bend over its backrest, buttocks raised, hold the iron frame, and then shut your eyes. Your lips are trembling as you stare into the red limbo at the back of your eyes.
You pray that he forgives you, but when it comes to Mr. Adipo, there is nothing even God can do. Six becomes your new favourite number. Six times he canes you. Six times a match strikes your buttocks and lights a flame that travels through the pipes of your body and into your brain, where it explodes. Six times you curse him at heart. From six feet high, above his head, a tree branch lands on you. And on the sixth time, it breaks. You break.
You leave the staffroom and the sun is in your face. That is the only time a part of you has more ferocity than the daytime star.
You will hate Physics from then henceforth. Too bad the school policy says that all Sciences are compulsory. You resent every lesson. Every student who passes it. You resent the teacher who takes over after Mr. Adipo is transferred to who-cares-where. You do not study for Physics exams. You still pass it, albeit fairly.
And then one year passes and there is shortage of teachers in the Physics department. For the first time in the history of Maranda High School, Physics becomes an optional subject. You drop it at the drop of a hat. Fuck you, Mr. Adipo. Fuck Physics. You are gone, baby, gone!
The Head of the Careers Department is the one who put in a good word for you to be admitted. He is also your mother’s relative in a that African way that can never be explained, so you simply call him Uncle. He notices that you have dropped Physics and calls your mother. She comes running.
“My sister, we made Physics optional because we do not have enough teachers. But it is a very important subject. Ideally, the weaker students are the ones we told to drop it. But Magunga is not a weak student. We have talked to him, but he has refused.” He says.
“Now, my brother, if you have failed, what do you think I can do? Nyathini wiye tek ta!” Your mother’s words taste like hopelessness.
“Because, dropping Physics is risky,” Mr. Careers continues, “without it, he is completely disqualified from many good courses. No Engineering. No Medicine,” and then he turns to you and says, “Magunga, your mother has gone through a lot this year. What do you want?
He does not need to remind you about what your mother has been through. You know she lost her husband when his kidney failed. You know all about the scramble for your old man’s estate, and how on an afternoon (one week before your visiting day), her in-law walked into your house, beat her up and told her that she has no claim whatsoever to his brother’s wealth. You can remember how she came to visit you with her sister, Aunty Jennifer, that term. You remember running excitedly from class when the receiving prefect came and called you from class, you remember how you stopped when you saw her sitting at the school Arboretum, yellow PIL paperbag next to her, how she had wore sadness in a black dress. The first thing you had asked was, “Who died?” and she said, “Nobody.” Then you had told her, “Do not come visiting wearing a black dress again.” It reminded you of dust and noise and half naked children banging on the sides of a hearse. You remember sitting next to her as you opened a lunchbox from the yellow PIL paper bag and adding, “By the way, you do not have to separate the fat from the lean meat anymore. Sometimes on meat days like yesterday, that is all I get.”
So yeah, you understand what your mother has gone through, all right. This man had no business reminding you about what you can never forget. And to what he asked you say, “I want to do law. I do not need Physics for that.”
Then you turn to her and say, “I want to be a lawyer like Uncle Jolly.”
Four years later, you are walking towards the campus swimming pool after a Criminology class. Kevin comes over to you and says, “Njelumen,” he has taken to bastardising English lately, “the girl is serious she wants to see you.” You suck your teeth and walk ahead. You know Kevin is just messing around with you. You stop suddenly when you notice that she is at the Pool Cafe, surrounded by a rally of other girls from the Module II class. She talks funny, but with a strange, saccharine accent you have never heard before or since. Some people say she is from Tanzania, but you have heard her speak in passing, and her Swahili is too horrible for that. Others say she is from South Africa. Others Egypt. Some could even swear she is from America – but those ones know nothing. The rest, the more probable ones, are torn between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Her beauty is a campus folklore. She is fond of high heels that elevate her to unimaginable realms over the rest of the campus guys and makes them cower.
Kevin here must be pulling your leg, no doubt. Girls like those have no business asking about guys like you.