[Editor’s Note: You guys know Joe Black Munuve, from bikozulu? Yeah, he wrote in this space. About high school and life thereafter. Enjoy]
The theme song of an on screen depiction of my finishing high school would be R-Kelly’s ‘The Storm is Over’. High school has been a glide through unpredictable skies. I still can‘t believe I’m done. At some point, the question of high school’s worth had been sitting on a weak fence.
The four years have flown so fast. I have clear memories of joining high school as a mono; the lowest form of life. So far below the caste system you could literally smell Hades. Appalled and a wee bit overwhelmed by the new life. Here, friendships ensured survival and these were based upon the degree of sophistication with the city chaps, who were the loudest, lording over the much more docile country group.
These city chaps would mock them, make fun of their accents, and jeer loudly when they were reading passages in class and every other thing that would clearly outline the difference between them. They would do all this at a distance, though, since country dudes’ fists had about the same impact as a log from the driest tree. A blow could knock out your teeth as well as your jaw.
Prior to then, I had preferred solitude. There was no peace in keeping to oneself as there had been before. It was impossible to stay alone because they were so many of us and it was doubtless you’d find a kindred spirit no matter how far up the freakish ladder you were. You’d stop thinking your Superman underwear was childish when you found someone who owned a collection.
I made fast friends. Jesse, a slim, slimy coasto dude who spent all his free time writing rap verses. It didn’t hurt either that he had a hot sister at a neighbouring school whose lumbering backside had me groggy eyed two days straight.
There was BJ. Big, hot tempered and very dark, he was by all means a larger doppelganger of mine. People used to pick on us because of our not so light complexion every chance they got. I can’t tell you how much I hated that. Taunts on supposed physical ‘shortcomings’ are the hardest hitting. You’d think that being ‘dark black’ was a crime. Like black isn’t in our flag. Like they didn’t have dark hidden areas.
When I couldn’t brush it off, I would hurl back insults at them. BJ’s approach, though, was slightly different. He would take matters into his own hands. And damn, were those hands big. When he took puny arms into his, the taunts stopped. Between my witty replies and BJ’s fists, there was no one brave enough.
Then came rowdy form two. Here, things changed fast. Naiveté was quickly shed. With the restraints of being a mono released, we fully got into proving our manhood. Girls were the ultimate test. You would spot a girl while with your pals. They would egg you on and you’d go to her. It was your lucky day if she was as clueless as you were since you could always lie to your friends that her blush appeared when you told her about her sweet luscious lips and your desire to plant yours on them.
You had to smooch a girl.
It was the ticket to joining the gang. The problem was that we never knew how to ask for this. We did not know the procedure and, having lied about the numerous times we had kissed before, couldn’t ask from friends who had. We would ogle at seniors smooching their girls during funkies and deem them gods.
Kissing scenes from movies were keenly observed, crammed and then put into practice. They didn’t, of course, end with a kiss despite doing everything as we had seen. The girls didn’t put on the mushy, love laden expressions like the ones in the movie did. They would have amused expressions, finding your pained face and closed eyes extremely funny. Others would be alarmed and just run for it. It simply eluded us and as time went on we began wondering about the logic of it all. What exactly was intimate about swapping spit? We would be like, where is the romance in sucking someone’s lips like an oyster anyway?
Within no time we were in the third form. This is where shit took shape. Many pieces of the puzzle fitted together. Kissing stopped being a novelty and became the norm. Peeps wandered off, linked by interests this time. I was seventeen back then, carefree, sprouting a moustache, putting away a novel a day. I recall I was entranced by African literature. The revolutionary fervor began growling inside me, fueled by Soyinka, SaroWiwa, Ngugi et al.
My discipline plummeted. I had virtually brought myself up. It was only natural, therefore, that I would have problems with prefects who got off by ordering people around. They hated my guts. I would get them into an exchange of words then proceed to humiliate them. With the might of the class behind me, I could never lose. They would laugh loudly at my quips and boo at the prefect’s who would take offence and forward me to the office.
I recall my sessions with the deputy principal. I enjoyed our conversations. It was only too bad that they ended either with ridges on my backside or a suspension letter in hand.
Occasionally, I would write strongly worded pieces on the wrongs done to us by the administration and pass them round the class like Marxist leaflets. A teacher once busted me writing one of these in class and took me to the staff room where he asked me to read what I had written to the other teachers. I never finished. They pounced on me like a pride of starved lions on a new born foal.
Then the inevitable happened. Slight offense, capital punishment. I was kicked out with all the subtlety of a headmaster accused of impregnating a school girl. Perhaps the largest blotch on my record, you could say, but the fact that you are reading this is the lemonade I made from those bitter lemons.
Form four was a laid back year. New school, new approach, new beginnings. It was my year of reflection and recollection. More writing, less trouble. Many thanks to Jackson Biko. KCSE came. Did us, we did it, life moved on.
I have mixed feelings about finishing high school. It is both the bane and boon of the Kenyan education system. You finish school all pumped up and psyched, happy to be free at last but then few weeks along you are clamouring to be back in uniform. Freedom, which in essence means idleness, is a far worse prison than engagement.
Finishing school comes with empty minds and even emptier pockets. I haven’t had a cent on me for about two weeks now. I have even forgotten the feel of money. I could easily mistake a coin for scrap metal. It takes finishing school to fully understand the saving power of pocket money.
At first I was intent on staying in Nai with this very cool uncle of mine but then, having been brought up in Kitui, city life is not that easy to adapt to. Especially since I am used to theft-free Kitui. There are no itchy fingers there. An incident of theft is easily settled with the thief ending up either eating grass or having his orifices blocked.
This, I should add, served me well when I was at school. Whenever someone stole stuff of mine all I had to do was tell a story about that guy who stole an iPod from my cousin, and had his nether organs relocate to his forehead. That always did the trick. I’d find my item tucked neatly under my bed. Not that my cousin has ever seen an iPod, mind, much less owned one.
These days I’ve been much prowling about Majengo. I walk past these streets so often I swear the stray dogs know the rhythm of my footsteps. Now that I have gotten to know my hood well, I have realized it was not the place I thought it to be. Actually, it is the place to be. Granted, most of its inhabitants did not bother with high school. But the knowledge of books has always been secondary to the knowledge of life, which Majengo peeps have in abundance and at the moment, that is what I am trying to gain. Street smarts.
I know I cannot be on my bum for long. At some point I’ll have to look for something to keep me engaged and keep my pockets lined. However, before I do, I’ll kick it with my homies, as I get schooled in the world outside books.
I shall take my leave now, if you don’t mind. I have just received a text from Armstrong. A life lesson calls.
PHOTO CREDIT: Callalou Photography