The saddest day of my life should have been the day I stepped into St Peters. It took place along that pavement between the academic square and the dormitories. St Peters is one of those schools Catholics really invested in designing. The academic square meets you immediately you enter the place, giving you that immediate smell of books and pens. From there you have to wind your path round the lower goal post of the football pitch in a ritual that initiates you to the land of sleep.
For four years, this path represented transcendence between rest and work, death and life, good and bad. Five minutes of transition. Every time you went up, you went up to books. Every time you went down, you descended into the hands of older boys who had the tools of aggression, suppression and conquest.
So as I went down that first time, in five minutes I witnessed the longest time of my life, and went through something that could be termed nightmare only because understatements are taught in literature. I had lost a new high quality shirt, a new high quality bucket, a second hand but still very quality towel, a new pair of sandals, a shoe, and I spent the rest of the term at the receiving end of teacher’s wrath because I didn’t have a necktie. Those were possessions dear to me. Not just because they were new; they were my first ever possessions outside our compound, and they marked my biggest achievement from childhood to a manhood I had longed to attain. All lost to a boy called Sakwa. I heard the teacher call that name and ask him to direct me to Urban, my dormitory.
Yet that was not my worst day in life.
I soon came face to face with the true landscape of rugged souls in the world of God. A tall man would emerge in the name of Orido. I don’t know what I’ve done with his second name; maybe Melchizedek or Nebuchadnezzar because of his height and tough hand. But you needed not to know his first name when you could not deal with the second.
So it is my first evening and it is time to sleep. I hear a whistle from the furthest end of Urban. Metal boxes start shutting loudly and boys begin descending their beds and heading where the whistle came from. They are going to be given a cake or sugar for the evening, I say. I can go there tomorrow.
What happened immediately after I cannot really put into words. I remember finding myself on the floor, screaming and yelping. I screamed louder each time the whip pumped into me. The giant above was saying things I couldn’t hear, partly because of my own screams and largely because he was stammering from anger.
The next day I woke up with a swollen forehead and salt on my tongue. And that whole year, I was to fetch hot water from the dining hall to Orido’s cubicle as punishment for not attending an urgent meeting.
In the cubicle next to Orido’s lived Dan. Daniel Onyango in the school record books, but we called him JOJ after the legendary radio host James Onyango Joel. JOJ was this chap who knew and owned a thing about classical music, and so it wasn’t by chance that he led the school choir several times to the extent he was named after a big music lover.
He was the house captain for Urban that year.
JOJ was a man of few words, saving all the rest for the music. He was the house captain. My covenant with him started that second day after Orido beat me up. He came to my cubicle and asked if I had any sugar. I said no. You got any margarine? No. Anything to eat, small bro? No; Nothing.
When the lights went off at 10.30pm, I opened by box with the strictest discreteness I could muster. I knew where the groundnuts were and so with shut eyes, in the dark, and in fear of even myself, I took my hand to the bowl and grabbed a sizable amount and locked the box back. Then I began to have my night, groundnut by groundnut, and it felt ecstatic.
It was Filipo, the guy on the lower bed, who spoilt the party when he shouted that someone was ‘cracking’ something. He said it aloud like I owed him a debt. My heart lost its hold. Soon JOJ switched the lights on and came directly at me. There was already a parade waiting by the time I carried the box to the big boys’ cubicle for inspection.
After losing my food, I was to brush Dan’s shoes every morning, clean his cubicle every Saturday and bring my box for ‘inspection’ every time he felt hungry. To serve as an example to myself and others with a behavior like mine.
I think his real name was Alvin Munyasia, but First Born stuck really well. He remains the hugest guy I’ve ever seen wear a boys’ school uniform. Think as I may, there is no single memory I have of the giant smiling. He wore an eternal frown, a somewhat look worth people’s sympathy. I thought he was like that because he felt for his next victim. Even on weekends when he led the cheering squad and sang nasty songs about St Marys’ ugliness, he never left behind his wrinkled forehead that was enough a threat to anything on two feet.
He was taller than most teachers. Then he had this lower set of teeth that said war.
FB was not the ideal prefect. Wasn’t prefect even. But he was the one who woke the school for morning preps every 4.30am. He manned the line at the dining hall every meal time. He beat us up to rush to the Catholic Church for mass. He determined what Ayaya the school captain did. He was the boss.
But when I joined I knew none of this. The first few weeks and there are schools flowing in for sports. He comes to Urban and calls out all wheelbarrows. By now every form-one knows that’s him. It is 3.30am. He gives us the full plan of how we are to behave in the day. I am delegated the role to fetch him water in the morning, make his bed, get some sugar into his cup and, most importantly, carry him his water bottle during the cheering.
FB finds me in class with other boys. His whip comes biting from the shoulders into my back. My mind races back to wee morning. I know I’m cooked. I cry out for mercy. He whips his 43rd. Assistant school captain comes, finds its FB and goes back to mind his business.
That was the first day I wanted to quit school. When we talk of brutality, that is my finest example.
I have seen brutality. I once lived at an estate in Eldoret where my neighbour was a short guy who hawked roast maize to travellers in town. He had a wife and seven children. He was a committed businessman and a staunch Adventist. Quiet and mostly unnoticeable.
Every Saturday we would know it was a Saturday. He beat up his wife and children so bad the whole of Eldoret knew. Sometimes people said that was how SDA men behaved. Others said it was because people of his tribe loved hot temper.
Mama Newton never complained. On Sunday evening you would see her softly pick Baba Newton’s cloths from the line so tenderly you thought they were quail eggs. And every weekday, Baba Newton would come back home in the evening with a pack of soy beans, some avocados and maize flour to be met at the gate by the committed wife.
The beatings continued though and most of us preferred to stay away Saturday evenings to give enough room for blows. One Sunday she said no. She confronted him in public, raised her skirt to her breasts and did the most expected: showed Baba Newton her arse. She cursed blindness upon him before everyone. Then she went away for good.
That was the saddest day in my life.
A woman having to parade her used buttocks to buy her emancipation. On those buttocks I saw marks of brutality, daily violence, oppression; but tied with bonds of love. Uncertainty. Total confusion. I was sad because as society, that was where we had reached and everybody thought everything was normal.
My neighbour last week hit her houseboy with a frying pan. He collapsed immediately. Will live with a tattoo of a pan on his cheek.
The children wanted to go to school, he hadn’t brought the milk. That was his crime.
But she is also a guest of the state, eating half-cooked beans until nature cleanses her.
Too little life. So much brutality. Men against women and women on men. Master on the mastered?
Man in his obsessive pursuit of aggression has striven to perch his achievement on conquest and domination. School bullying should not be our food to and from bed. Nor home battering. It thence stops to be a matter of man and woman, student and bully. It goes beyond the mask of colonisation to the bare reality of individual dominance and manipulation: oppression.
To defeat oppression we must face it as oppression and not as workers against the employer. Not as wife or husband battering. Not as school bullying.
Author of the post writes at papawere, check his site out.