This is not the school that sits at the center of Bondo District, no. It stands at the heart of it. The highest point in all of Bondo is where some Anglican missionaries saw fit to build this school. If you take a slight jaunt down South, you will pass by Nyamonye Girls and Wich Lum before ending up at Usenge Beach where fish abounds, and HIV/AIDS has taken on the people like a bad rash. Up north is the butchery, Lwak Girls. We call them butchers because of their blood red and white uniform- and the lorry they proudly call School Bus. We have a lorry like that too. Only, we use ours to transport drinking water from River Yala. Still, these girls make our blood run south faster than CDF projects. To the east is Nyamira Girls. We recognize them because there is no way we can miss them. One of those constants in life that we simply cannot ignore.
Every day at 4pm, the Time Keeper Prefect (don’t ask me, I only study here) strikes an old rustic car rim hanging from a mango tree next to the staffroom. We rush out to the dormitories, pick a trough, bathing soap and energy left from the long day and run to the pond. The pond is about five kilometers away, or something in that neighbourhood. It is green, jeweled by thick deposits of cow dung on it’s shores. Both school and village policy forbids us from swimming in it. It is the only source of water for the entire Nyapiedho sub location.
When we reach there, we wrestle the grazing cattle out of the water, in order to collect water for bathing. We balance the troughs on our heads as we try to find a spot in the nearby bushes, where we will strip down to shower. On the other side of the pond are these Nyamira Girls. We cannot make out their faces, all we see are blue skirts appear from a corner, bend over before disappearing from our sights and into our sexually starved imaginations. Since we are an all-boys school, and the paraffin they put in our githeri doesn’t hold its end of the bargain, the blurry blue skirts tickle our debauchery. That is when bathing soap finds its other use- the kind they do not advertise on TV.
All this is rather strange to me. It is mid 2005 and I am a form one. The older kids do not seem to have any problem with this routine. I am still learning how to protect my underwear from being stolen. Yesterday when I put soap on my face, and bent over to scoop water from my trough, a thorn prickled my ass. By the time I finished rinsing my face of the lather, someone had nicked my new Cowboy underwear and Imperial Soap; and in their stead, left me some torn Caterpillar briefs and Panga washing soap.
After bathing, I join the rest of the crowd in a spirited run back to the school in time for the evening assembly. The prudent ones carry extra water in five litre jerricans. Note that this is also the time of the year the sun goes apeshit on this side of the Sahara. It is pissed off, smiling down on us with the brutality of hell’s caretaker having a bad day. So by the time we get back to Maranda compounds, we are sweating, and dusty. The important thing is that at least water still remembers what your skin feels like.
5.30 pm finds us standing on the assembly grounds. The sun is completing its solitary sojourn across the sky, and its evening rays are painting the skies orange. Yet even then when it is halfway dipped on the other side of Usenge, we can still feel the heat take a seat beneath our skins.
The monos (Form Ones) stand in the front rows in absolute silence, listening devotedly to the School Captain, his two assistants and the prefect on duty. The rest of us, that is the misguided monos and the fourth formers, are grumbling at the back about why we have to suffer the same rhetoric every evening. We stand with our hands buried deep inside our pockets, perhaps searching for a single fuck to give.
Most of the time we come up short.
But sometimes we get lucky. Our names are called by the Prefect on Duty to remain behind. Usually that means we received letters. Missives from desperate damsels in Bar Chando, Nyamonye, Nyamira and Lwak. The lucky ones get mail from Kisumu Girls. It is a rarity to receive something from Nairobi. Those ones we just read about them in Insyder – about how they give their schools strange, salt-of-the-earth names like Changez, Choxx, Patch, Quabbz, Bush and Boma (ours is Mars Ice Cool); and how they go for funkies instead of school outings/trips.
Once, Ng’iya Girls’ name appeared in Insyder. Wololo! Omera I am telling you that term the whole of Bondo and Siaya could not sleep. They even dumped us for Kisumu Boys and Chemelil Academy.
You will know a letter is from Bar Chando if it is Cash On Delivery. Nyamonye Girls, believe it or not, have the best handwriting. Lwak and Ng’iya try to put a little effort. The envelope is perfumed and your name is written in calligraphy. But they are needy- always asking why you take so long to reply their letters in the first paragraph. The first blahdy paragraph!
I would have stayed behind for my letter, except for one problem. It is Friday. They are serving nyama today. That means two words: Top Layer. The coveted thick coat of brown liquidated cooking fat covering the nyama soup. I missed it on Tuesday because someone stole my plate. But today, I have carried it to the assembly grounds, tucked it inside my sweater, just like many others standing at the back of the assembly.
There are a few benefits of carrying a plate to assembly. It means you will not have to pass by the dorm first. You run straight to the Dining Hall. But the risk is that you might accidentally drop it. And when a metallic plate drops on deathly silent assembly ground made of tarmac, everyone will know. Especially the overzealous prefect. He will pick you out. In fact, your friends at the back will sell you out. There is no honour among Top Layer contestants. It is nothing personal, just politics. There is not enough Top Layer to go round, so competition is to be eliminated by all means necessary.
After the mailing list is read, the C.U Captain prays for supper. And then the Asst. School Captain says “Dismissed.” And that is when the amazing race begins.
It is approx. 150 meters from the assembly to the dormitory area, where the Dining Hall is also situated. Seven hundred students, one highway. The ones who were standing at the back have a short head start. We run. Some trip and fall and slow down the rest. Nobody cares. Casualties will be counted later.
On the way, plates are yanked from all kinds of places while on the run. The uncreative ones flash them from beneath their sweaters. Others from their socks. Others from their buttocks. Others snatch them from the hedges surrounding the dormitories.
I have this one friend, Eric Randa. He places his plate loosely at the top edge of a water tank next to the dorms. He approaches at full speed, kicks the tanks, and a little tremor brings the plate down. He grabs it midair and runs for the Dining Hall door.
Sitting ducks, mostly monos from Nairobi, left their plates in the dormitory, and have to wait for the captain to bring the key.
The cacophony reduces when we spot Owishe, our boarding master at the hall. Running slows down to rushed walking. I do not go in the hall first, because Owishe is a man with a soul darker than midnight. He beats up anyone who comes into the hall panting. Five people later, when the coast is clear, I rush in.
The ones who know the cook get three pieces of meat instead of two. I do not know the cook. If at all he serves me extra, I pull my plate away before he can remove the excess, head over to the next cook who throws in badly cut sukuma wiki. If he serves you watery sukuma wiki, you drain the soup out. Then head to the soup serving place.
My face lightens up when he skims off the yellow Top Layer and puts it on my plate. Now I can go for the ugali. A plate of ugali is divided into tree, each 120 degrees, like the Mercedes symbol.
The trick here is to eat the ugali with the sukuma fast. Nyama and Top Layer is to be eaten with bread from the canteen before it dries up into solid fat. The plate is wiped clean with a quarter loaf.
By the time supper is done, darkness is already creeping in. The atmosphere is growing darker shades of grey. I throw my plate, unwashed, inside the wooden cabinet in my cube and hurry for the library. They let us borrow storybooks on Friday, Pacesetters Series, which we will return on Monday.
I will not read the book tonight. Tonight I will see the prefect on duty for my letter. It is from Kisumu Girls, my sweetheart has written in. Her name is Winnie Awuor. She has big handwriting. And at the end of her letter she has dedicated to me Crawl by Chris Brown.
This night, is business night. People will handwriting that look like Owishe’s soul will ask me to write their replies. That will cost them Ksh. 12 bob- which translates to half loaf. Others who want the address written in calligraphy on their envelopes will have to pay 20 bob. If you want both, I charge 50 bob.
These prices are non-negotiable. Take it or leave it.
Most of the time, they take it.
The 10.30 pm gong will be struck and we will walk lazily to the dorms to sleep. Most people do not talk. We find ourselves, a bunch of zombies with half-awake eyes, dragging their feet to bed.
Not many people know about me or my school. We only reign at Drama Fests. When it comes to sports, we are at something of a disadvantage. Our principal, Enos Magwa, does not give a bat’s nipple about anything other than books. Our biggest rival in academics is Maseno School, so we are among the behemoths of academia in Nyanza.
But we do not blip on any radar past Nyamasaria.
If you tell me that a decade from now Maranda will dethrone akina Maseno School, Kabarak etc., I will laugh so hard that you might even get offended. I mean it is 2005 after all. If you tell me that ten years from now the opulent and sophisticated Strathmore High, Saint Mary’s, Aga Khan, and Loreto Convent/Msongari will be humbled by our name; that the learned excellence of Mangu, Starehe Centre and Precious Blood will be on its deathbed, with their privileged existence wired to beeping life support; that Lenana School, Kenya High and Nairobi School will be nothing but colonial ruins, archaeological sites and national monuments, trying desperately to hold on to their academic youth, I will laugh so hard that my name will appear in bold in the list of noisemakers.
I will even write for you that letter to Nyamira Girls for free. Just because I appreciate a good sense of humor.
This coming Sunday, I will attend the mandatory church service. I will sit at the back, of course, where I can catch some sleep without the Man of God seeing my small sin in the house of the Lord. When I wake up, I will not pay attention to him. To burn daylight, I will randomly open my Good News Bible, and I’ll accidentally land on Proverbs 17:16. It does a fool no good to spend money on an education, because he has no common sense.
And I will wonder what the hell that even means.
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