It was the red ties who finally ruined Saturday knock for all of us. Knock, for those who went to schools that had nicknames, was what we called dawn preps. I am not sure if they still call it knock – or worse, or if Maranda High School students even wake up at 4am anymore. They are a national school now; they eat chicken regularly. Anyway, back then knock was mandatory every day except Sunday. We were commanded to wake up with the first rooster. Because Alliance and Mangu boys apparently woke up to read at 3.30am to read. They didn’t, if anything, you should have seen my rage when I got to uni and found out ati they’d wake up at 6.00am. By 6am, in Maranda of the roaring 2000s, we had woken up, did a one and half hour dawn preps, taken breakfast, cleaned up, and we were heading to sweep our portions of that dusty compound.
Saturdays, though, were unofficial off days. There was nobody rushing you in the morning to go for dawn preps, teachers on duty did not patrol to see who was sleeping in class, and class monitors looked the other way if you did. What was the harm? By Sato you were tired from a long week, and we only went for knock just because. On Saturdays we did not care about Alliance and Mangu and Starehe – or whatever fancy nicknames they called themselves in those Insyder magazines.
My problems started when a couple of red ties decided to skip knock one Saturday. It was not uncommon for red ties to skip dawn preps on Saturdays; they simply chose the wrong week to do it. I forget the name of the teacher on duty that week, but I remember he was new. You know how those ones were – barely out of university, not yet even employed by the TSC (signed by the BOG), but had the eagerness of a bladder pressed with pee. This one was not any different.
That Saturday he patrolled the classrooms during dawn preps – another thing that teachers on duty seldom did, and noticed students missing. He had all the classes write down the names of all the people who skipped knock. The following Monday morning, the Deputy Principal suspended all of them, and stripped them of their red ties.
Silently, we cheered, because there was nothing more delicious than a fallen red tie. The shame of them going back to wearing blue ties like us. It was banishment. Being a prefect in my school made you a demigod. You did not queue at the dining hall. You got better food, always a priority for top layer. You did not queue at the kiosk. You did not have cleaning duties – if anything you policed them. You punish anybody for whatever infraction; be it a Form One or a Form Four. If a red tie told you to go down and give him fifty, you went down and gave him fifty.
Prefecthood was a fraternity; they watched out for each other. So on Saturdays when the rest of us could be slaughtered for skipping knock, a red tie could do it and his fellow comrades would suddenly go blind.
We hated them. We hated their brotherhood, their privileges, and their cruelty. But we hated them more so because we weren’t them. So whenever a Red Tie was kicked out of the fold, it was always a cause for celebration.
But relishing the fall of demigods to mere mortals was the only good part of Red Ties getting caught sleeping. The same breath that clipped their wings, took away Saturday mornings. The Deputy Principal decreed that anyone caught sleeping in class- whether during knock, regular classes, afternoons, or night preps – would be sent home.
That is how I got suspended too, a couple of days later.
See, in Maranda there was no way you didn’t sleep in class. Our days started at 4am and ended at 10.30pm. In between, you were doing assignments, attending class, eating ugali and beans for lunch, afternoons were hotter than Twitter banter, in the evening you were made to run round the field 4 times, and then run to the pond for water, then run back in time for class, then run for food and run to class for night preps.
There was no rest in that school. Not when Mangu and Alliance were doing Form 4 course work in Form 3. So, of course, at some point your eyes were bound to close when they shouldn’t. The day mine did, I had been trying to read Biology. The teacher on duty walked in on me, and my name was put in the class monitor’s Occurrence Book.
That morning, after assembly, the Deputy Principal sent me home for a week.
Oh, I forgot to tell you, the DP was my mother’s cousin. In the way Africans who live within 500sqkm of one another are cousins. In my head, I’d expected leniency, a slap on the wrist. Well, more like three of the best on my buttocks. That would’ve been leniency in Maranda terms. Instead, Mr. Odipo looked at me and said, “Kijaaaanaa,” he called everyone kijana, “pack your things and go hooooome.” He’d talk like that, like he was reciting a poem. “Go hoooome to your motheeerr. And say hi to my sistaaaa.”
I guess I was also stupid in expecting a C.R.E teacher to know anything about forgiveness. Or family. Vin Diesel would never punish family, would he? And even though Mr. Odipo shaved his head to the scalp like Vin Diesel, he knew nothing about family!
Mother Karua found me in her shop in the evening when she came in from work. We had a shop in Lake Market, in the Kisumu CBD, which she opened to help her with bills after her husband died. In the shop, she employed someone to help her turn business for electronics and Abuja piece. In the evenings, she’d leave her job in Maseno University, stop by the shop to check the sales book, before heading home.
That day she arrived at the shop and found me seated at the corner.
“Are you sick?”
There was no greeting.
Her eyes started turning red.
“So what are you doing here?” I hesitated. “George! I asked you a question!” The shop attendant stepped out. She knew what was best for her.
“They suspended me.”
Notice how I said they suspended me. Not that I got myself suspended. There is a difference, but a difference Mother Karua did not give two shits about, not with the way smoke was coming out of her ears.
She walked towards me. “What did you do?”
“They said I was sleeping in class.”
Not that I was caught sleeping in class.
I closed my eyes waiting for that smack, and it is the waiting that killed me. Instead, she stopped in her tracks lowered her hand, and asked, “Ati sleeping in class?” I am not sure whether it was relief or surprise I was tasting from her words. What I know is that she was waiting to hear that I was caught smoking bhang, or reading a copy of Life’s Seen, or that I had found my way into the skirts of a Nyapiedho village girl. She was waiting to hear treason.
My elder brother had done worse while in High School – from selling chapos to inciting a riot. When he was done with that school, my mother knew she was also done with dealing with suspensions. So you can imagine what was going through her mind when I said I had been suspended.
I was given a week to stay at home, but who is Mother Karua? The next day, she woke me up at 6am, took me to the supermarket to get a loaf of bread and milk, and then took me back to school. Her cousin was amused to see her in his office by 8am.
“My sistaaaaa, we sent your boy home for a weeeek. This kijana is sleeping in class when boys in Mangu and Alliance are…” He began.
“Koro apenji,” Karua interrupted in Dholuo, “iduoke kwoma mondo onind koda?” Which, for the benefit of those who didn’t get it means, “So let me ask you, you sent him back to sleep with me?” If you think it sounds bad in English, it is worse when said in Dholuo in that Alego Komenya accent.
I was allowed back in school with flaming buttocks, and a directive to uproot a tree stump. I was never caught sleeping in class again. Back home, Mother Karua stopped calling me George.
For years I became Oluoch Kanindo, until she forgot about my suspension.
It is been 13 years since, and I got my second suspension. Of course, I am not still in Maranda, but sometimes Kenyan Twitter does feel like high school. There are factions. There are people who resent you for who you are and what they aren’t. But that’s just sometimes. Though, yesterday, I did get permanently suspended by that high school’s principal. DMCA notice followed by banishment from the social media space.
When you get a DMCA notice, it means you have violated someone’s copyright, and they’ve reported you.
Last year, when the pandemic kept the whole world indoors and the earth started breathing again, people were doing all kinds of things to keep themselves busy. I used to dance. I tried baking banana bread, thrice, and failed. I did one trending challenge – Don’t Rush. But what kept my girlfriend and me sane at the time was cocktails and dancing. We had been going for AfroLatin dance classes before the COVID, and so when the lockdown came around, we’d cook, make cocktails, put on some salsa, bachata, and kizomba music, and we’d dance. Sometimes we’d record ourselves and share online, but most of the time we didn’t.
We stopped altogether when I started getting DMCA notices from Twitter. See, my Twitter is my office. That is where I work. Anything that threatens that, threatens my bread. Folks at Sony Entertainment did not particularly like that we’d used their music. At the time we didn’t even realize that they didn’t like it. But when the notices came, I deleted and stopped posting my AfroLatin dance videos on Twitter.
I thought I’d deleted them all until yesterday when I got another DMCA notice from Principal Jack. This time, they did not let me delete, they shut down my account altogether. It was a video from 2018 when I had just started dance lessons, and that evening, we were being tutored on spins and legwork to Hoy by Gloria Estefan.
This Twitter was like, you know what, you are too much now. They basically said, in other words, “kijanaaaa, pack your things and go hooooome, to your motheeeerr.”
Except, this time I have no mother to go home to. She’s not ati dead. But there is nothing she can do. Even Mother Karua has limits. And Jack Dorsey is not her cousin – trust me, I asked. So I am stuck out here in the cold. The community I had built has been eviscerated, just like that. I am still trying to appeal, but it does not seem like they’ll let me have my old account back. The only option is for Sony Entertainment to withdraw that complaint. If they do, I swear on George Michael, I’m never gonna dance again; these guilty feet have got no rhythm anymore.
Otherwise, I’ll have to start over. I kinda have with a new account, but do you know how daunting it seems to try and rebuild something that took you 10 years to accomplish? Meanwhile, for someone like me for whom my Twitter community was my value, and how I got clients, it is not loneliness that I am feeling down my spine. It is the chills of what will happen when those clients realize my weight is a little light.
I guess what I am trying to say is that if you are reading this, and your mother is related to Jack Dorsey, please DM me on @TheMagush.