“Will you stop making noise for the class young lady, we all already know your mother has given birth to a baby boy..” There was pin drop silence for a micro-second, then thunderous laughter as Madam Bena walked towards me. This was 1996, I was in standard One, St. Cecilia Girls in Budalang’i. It was THE SCHOOL. Truth is I had no idea. See, when I had gone home earlier for lunch there had been no baby and no mother. Madam though was mother’s very good friend and she lived at the hospital quarters so I believed her. As a result, when she left the class, I had never made so much noise. After four daughters, a son was very welcome in my family. It was wasted school fees that afternoon for I learnt nothing. How could I concentrate? There was a baby waiting and probably napkins for me to try out my laundry skills on.Those were not the days when every lady heavy with child(ren) had an ultrasound done and knew who they would deliver. The expectant women predicted by the position they felt their fetus sat I imagine.
Madam was my class teacher all my lower primary. I know she loved me very much. She however must have really abhorred noise making. I do not remember making that much noise though. All I remember is in the nine terms at class teacher’s remarks, my report form read” Verarita can do better, if only she could reduce noise-making.” It never mattered how well I had performed or how much improvement I had made, my parents would be livid. My father especially would work on my knuckles.
Class teacher also called out the register every morning before class. This time the baby’s nanny had left work without notice. It had been unanimously agreed upon in the house that I would skip school to baby sit.Mother would tell madam that I had fallen ill so I wouldn’t get into trouble when I went back two days later. When madam got to my name and asked where I had been two days , I calmly explained how sick I had been. She kept quiet for two long minutes, everyone was waiting very silently, anxiously… then “unafikiria sijui ulikua umebaki nyumbani kubeba mtoto? haa? kuja hapa..’ ( Do you think I have no idea you stayed at home to baby sit? Come here.) My mother had betrayed me!
Childhood innocence had a lot of its lows. I do not understand why it would feel so nice if a teacher borrowed something that belonged to one. So I gave madam my nice plastic ruler once. It looked like I wasn’t going to get it back after weeks for I never saw it with her and this worried me a lot. One day when in a fight with her niece, she blurted out how I would never see my ruler for her little cousin had broken it back home. So I walked to madam and asked for my ruler narrating how I knew it had been broken. She looked me in the eyes and angrily asked me to go to whoever had told me about it and have them give it to me. I cried.
Madam made sure I did all homework. When she was no longer my class teacher, she checked my report form all closing days. When the teachers went on a prolonged strike, she offered me tuition in her house. She was my first teacher of English. She is the origin of my love for language. When I became more serious and made less or no noise, she showered praises on me, and all I wanted was to make her proud. I saw her last year and she has not aged a day.
Then there was Mr. Adochi. He believed in me this one. He also made my life very difficult for I had to live up to his expectations. This meant I couldn’t put on the nice shorts or trousers my big sister bought me because it was illegal. Mr. Adochi did not allow his girls to do trousers or very short clothes. It was indecent. Corporal punishment was legal. St. Cecilia girls were also forbidden from night vigil masses for it was said a lot of bad things went on outside. Once when I was so curious about this night masses I went with mother. I made her sit directly opposite him just so he could see I had no intention to misbehave.When school opened especially after December Holidays, a whole list of girls who had done wrong would emerge. The wrongs included : Not greeting a teacher when you met them, It did not matter if they were on the other side of the road. You crossed it and shook their hand. Waving? How? That was unheard off. Indecent dressing was another . If you did not run into a teacher, you ran into your schoolmate. Same trouble. To add to that, there were places and streets in town that were out-of-bounds for his girls.
Walking next to or being in the company of boys who were not your blood brothers was another cause for his cane. Mr. Adochi knew everyone’s brothers . Oh and if it was even rumored that you had a boyfriend, my friend, you would face the music in every sense of the phrase. When one’s mistakes were too serious he called the parent to school after working on you. He would then proceed to exaggerate a little to prepare your parent for the task ahead 9whipping sense into your flesh). He would then offer them the cane and look on. Parents would give it back after, and give him permission to work on you,as if he hadn’t already. Nobody wanted to be on his wrong side. He had a furniture place next to the main road. There was no need walking the other side of the road as you would eventually cross over to shake his hand. You had better look decent and clean.
We had chemba his brainchild-where all teachers would line up cane in hand after the release of every exam and work on you depending on how badly you had performed or their perception of your potential. This was usually a traditional privilege accorded to the Candidate Class. It had a lot to do with how I ended up in a National School there after.
Then there was Sister Emily. The good woman of God made me leave in the convent because she did not want the Hospital Quarters kids to negatively influence me, for two holidays ,the April and August Holiday tuition. My parents had been transferred and my family had moved. Since there was no boarding in school over holidays, my parents had agreed to let me stay at a family friend’s house. Sister had other plans. She wanted me close enough to be sure I was studying. Oh that would convince every parent I bet. It did not make me happy a bit. Just so you know my family had lived in this place she did not want me in for three years before moving. She also made me cut my long beautiful hair ( I haven’t forgiven her yet for this…) so I would not spend so much time having it done instead of studying. My hair has never grown back same again…
_to be continued_