Celebrating East African Writing!
He woke up to the sound of his father’s radio across the room.”Did the power people miraculous reconnect the electricity or did dad manage to finally get some batteries for his radio?” he thought to himself.
Elsewhere in the room, his mother was boiling water to make so strong tea for him and his brother before they step off for school. She did this for them despite having more than one hour to sleep before duty at her office would come calling.
He dreaded this moment but he had learnt to adopt it being routine for as long he could remember. His father who he referred to as dad was still snoring off. He had at least two hours to sleep.
He jumped from bed and searched for his short and shirt through the dark. His mother was using the only available kerosene lamp in the kitchen cum sitting room. He put on his only short but it was still dump… the socks too were dump.
“It is better clean and wet than dirty and warm,” he told himself as he made his way to the kitchen cum sitting room.
In the process, he stepped hard on the sheet dividing the sitting room from the bedroom and it feel down. His mother signalled to leave it alone as he would fasten it later.
“Run to the shop and get half a loaf. You will have to do with that for the day. In the evening I will make you some ugali and cabbage early enough before you are through with your homework,” his mother told him with sadness in her eyes.
The house was stuff and smelling of booze. This was nothing new. Waweru’s father was turning into a drunk and they only saw him in daylight on Sundays since the whole family was in.
“But dad said he was going to pay for us lunch at school. Why don’t you wake him up and tell him that we cannot spend another hungry day at school. Maina keeps crying and I never know what to tell the teachers when they ask,” he told his mother as we reached for the wooden door to run to the shop and get what may turn out to be their only meal for the day.
“Don’t worry son. Mum will try getting something for you as she comes home this evening,” his mother said as four teary eyes gazed at her.
Waweru got to the shop and after making his purchase, Kimotho the shopkeeper reminded him to tell his parent to pay their debts. He sagged his head as he walked back to the house and got his slice of bread and sugarless black tea.
But as he and his brother reached for their shoes, Waweru realized that there was no polish. It is inspection day at school and everyone has to be neat. The two pairs of shoes are as dusty as it can get after an evening of football with the other boys the previous day.
“Think fast,” he told himself as he tried to figure out the time since the only source, dad’s radio, had gone dead. The batteries had recharged themselves as the radio lay dead for the past week.
He moved to the corner of the room and got some charcoal. He sat outside the door, crashed some in the last polish tin, and added some water and some petroleum jelly. After wiping the dust off the shoes, he smeared the home-made “polish” and brushed them hard with the few twigs remaining in the shoe brush.
“Maina, here… let’s go now. I do not want to be beaten by Mr Kiarie for coming to school late,” he told his brother has he tired the laces to make sure that the shoes fit well without exposing his torn socks.
“Bye mum… see you in the evening,” the two boys said in unison as their mother put her bath water in a basin.
Hand in hand, they walked and 20 minutes later, they got to the school gate just before Mr Kiarie.
Waweru adjusted his brother’s shirt and made sure that he had entered his class two room. Before rushing to his class five room on the other end of the block, he warned some boy not to dire touch his brother.
Waweru got to class only to find everyone busy doing their homework. Well he was lucky because he had managed to get home before dark and did his.
Waweru sat pretty gazing at his classmates who were busy trying to finish their homework. Thank God for his mother’s strictness, he could be in the same position as the rest of the class.
May be he could just borrow a copy of “Neighbours” and read one more story before class begins since there was nobody to chat with. The thought turned into a tap on his deskmate, Kariuki, who hurriedly shoved the book at him making it clear that he was a nag.
“I just wish my parent could buy me this book,” Waweru thought to himself.
Waweru had grown up to be content that he was born in humble background and he could not get as much as his friends would. But the more he closely looked at his family, he kept telling himself that things would be better.
If dad came home early, Waweru thanked heavens for it and prayed that it would last at least another day. Only for things to go back to normal the next day and his father would be back to his drinking habits in a town where everyone new everyone.
Shopkeepers along the neighbourhood had become hostile to his family as they owed each and every one of them. Dad would get things on credit from one shop and mum would get from a different one. They avoided owing any of the shopkeepers a lot of money but it made no difference when it came to the total debt.
His parents were always an embarrassment since neighbours three houses away could clearly hear them argue. Slaps on his mother’s face were no secret as the only thing that separated his bed and that of his parents was an old bed sheet.
As he read the book, his mind suddenly wandered as he daydreamed of a future that he would have. He imagined himself as an important member of the society – a rich man who was the envy of the entire town.
He had a beautiful family, a nice house and a nice car. Everyone loved him and he was always out to help those who did not have.
“Good morning class,” Waweru’s daydreaming was cut short by Mrs Kamau’s screechy voice.
The whole class rose to the greeting as Mrs Kamau asked them to place their homework on the desks. Mrs Kamau was a teacher who was dreaded by all students and even some of her colleagues who had passed through her hands years before. She had been a teacher for the last 40 years and everyone in the town talked about her.
Mrs Kamau started walking around the class cane in hand, as she checked her students’ work. On the other end of the class, Waweru was shaking hard his deskmate could notice.
“What is it?” Kariuki asked him.
“I can’t find my book. I think I left it in my mother’s kitchen,” he whispered.
Waweru had to think fast or Mrs Kamau’s cane would be landing on his behind mercilessly. He immediately shot is arm up and with tears in his eyes shouted “excuse me teacher, my stomach is really aching”.
Mrs Kamau instructed Kariuki to help Waweru out of class so that he could get some medicine from the first aid box in the deputy headmaster’s office. The two boys rushed out as Waweru squashed his stomach in ‘pain’.
The two boys had played Mrs Kamau but they were the best students in her class anyway. She continued inspecting the other student’s homework and assumed that Waweru and Kariuki had done the work.
During break-time, Waweru sat under a tree in pretence, as he was still ‘sick’. He wished he were playing soccer with the other boys but the teachers would see him from the staffroom and know he was faking it.
But things were just about to get worse when Mrs Kamau sent a class two boy that he had only seen like once and summoned him to the staffroom.
On reaching the staffroom, Waweru found his brother Maina seated next to his class teacher as we sobbed heavily. Waweru was taken aback since his brother was not the type to cause trouble that would have him caned to cry that intensely.
“Waweru, when was the last time that your brother had something to eat?” with eyes popping out Mrs Kamau asked.
“We…we… had bread and tea in the morning,” Waweru answered as his eyes turned teary.
But he remembered what dad always tells him; “It is unmanly to cry in public”. And so he knew he had to keep those tears away.
Mrs Kamau was not convinced and asked; “and last night what did you have for supper? And have you carried lunch today?”
“Yes,” Waweru said.
“Yes, what?” Mrs Kamau impatiently asked.
“We ate ugali and… and cabbage! Mum and dad could not afford to give us money for lunch today. But mum promised we will have a better supper tonight,” Waweru with face down explained.
Several teachers in the room quietly followed the conversation. While Waweru’s mother was known to be the friendly woman working at one of the government offices in the town, his father was known to be the friendly drunkard who was ready to buy anyone alcohol on credit.
Waweru’s father could drink until late and would ask the barman to make sure all the people he knew had drinks. While most mean were known to do that, Waweru’s father never had the money and when he had it had to clear his earlier bills.
Mrs Kamau asked the two boys to go back to class and come back to the staffroom at 12.45 when the school breaks for lunch. She organised that they get the day’s lunch at the school’s kitchen under the school feeding programme that his parents could not afford.
That evening, an embarrassed Waweru picked a note from his teacher, walked out with his brother, and went straight home. That evening, the two did not join the other boys in all the games they could play while going to home.
That evening there was no counting of vehicles on the road, no competing who would kick the largest stone furthest and definitely today there would be no visit to Baba Ali’s shop for the broken sweets.
Waweru wished that the ground would swallow him. “Why did the teachers have to embarrass me like that? Why can’t my parent be rich enough? Why is it that no one cares?” he thought to himself.
“Waweru don’t be sad… one day we will afford all that we have wished for. Our parent may have not done it but we will do it for ourselves!” Maina interrupted his big brother’s thoughts.
But the two boys had even something more pressing to think about now.
“What do you think Mrs Kamau wrote on that note? And why did she only address it to mum?” Maina asked his brother as they approached their house.
“I don’t know… do you think we should open it?,” Waweru answered.
To be cont’d
© Oliver Mathenge 2009
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