I have always loved my father but that day I felt like I hated him. I walked beside him that morning with a long moody and angry face. I felt like he was taking me to prison. I kept asking myself why. Why would he do that to me? I thought that I was his favorite. It was on a Thursday. A cold Thursday morning. Come to think of it, maybe that’s where my hatred for cold Thursday mornings sprang from. I look back in awe at my tiny self walking by his right side. My head could barely reach his knee. He walked at the pace of lightning. It didn’t make things better that he was holding my hand. I felt like I was flying at some point. Or rather walking on my toes. Poor six year old me.
On my dad’s left side was my brother Frank who was looking so much calm and collected than I was. It’s always been in him. It’s like in his world there are no worries. Sometimes I wish I could sneak into his mind and have a look at what he is thinking. He never despairs amidst chaos. He knows not how to stress about tomorrow. He reminds me of Jason Bourne. If you’ve watched Jason Bourne in any of his movies, you realize that he likes minding his own business. But he is wild when provoked. He is tough and he is a destroyer of his enemies. Bourne reminds me of Frank. Though Frank doesn’t destroy his enemies. He also has the personality of Mark Usher, the guy from House of Cards.
So here we were the three of us heading to Faith Baptist Academy. The very first time I was going to step into a classroom. The idea of schooling sounded like torture to me at that age. I just loved food and playing and relaxing back at home. Joining school was not something I looked up to. I dreaded school because I had heard stories that teachers caned people. My older cousins could come back home with stories of how their teachers were so hostile that they could cane the whole class at times or whack pupils on their cheeks back to back in quick successions. Perhaps that’s why school frightened me so much from an early age. In my mind, I had grouped teachers in the same category with monsters. Little did I know that some teachers were like Angels from heaven. They were sweet and kind. They could buy you snacks and teach you how to design amazing Halloween costumes. But that was only some.
On reaching the administration block, I could see kids who looked younger than me play around without any signs of terror in them. That sparked a little curiosity and interest within me. The secretary we found at the reception was a nice one. Her name was Becky. She was nice to kids. She gave me candy which I didn’t share with my brother. I used to mean as a kid. But my brother was older and as I look back now I sense that he was highly mature because he never minded and wasn’t bothered by such things. This was not his first time in school. He was simply changing schools unlike me who was stiffly scared of that day. To date I still wonder how some kids look up to their first days in school with unwavering enthusiasm. I was not enthusiastic at all. I was standing there in an oversized sweater holding tightly to my brother’s hand (The tailors of those days were very discriminative of kids. It’s like they believed that kids did not deserved fitting clothes).
When my father left us in school that day, I cried. If any of you people didn’t cry for being left by either parent on your first day in nursery school, then perhaps you didn’t love that parent. My brother consoled me for a little while before a huge madam teacher pulled me away to what would be my class for the rest of the year. She was unsympathetic. She never seemed to understand that all this was new to me and that a little gentleness would be much appreciated. Her words were too harsh for a six year old. She almost confirmed my earlier suspicions that teachers were monsters who should be feared at all costs.
It’s either I was too sensitive or she didn’t like her profession and she was taking it out on little kids. I later learnt that day that she was a mother to two of the kids in my class (The same class in which she was a class teacher). It is during those days that I noticed that one of the major ways in which massive corruption is perpetuated in this country is through parents who are class teachers to their kids. Those kids were untouchable in class. Their names never made it to the noise makers’ lists yet they were they loudest of noise makers. Or if they appeared, the whole list would be discarded or the noise makers would be forgiven altogether. They were known to other teachers. In short, they had connections in school. They could appear with food only meant for the staff during lunch hours and you wonder how they were pulling that off. In most occasions, they were the prefects to their classes. But who could blame them. Don’t we all want the best for our kids? I mean if you were a class teacher why would you make anyone other than your kid a class prefect?
Interestingly, I later came to like the madam teacher together with her kids. Her son was the class prefect while her daughter was the class monitor with her being the class teacher. That family was running our class. With time I realized how much the teacher was compassionate. She was hard on us for a reason. She wanted us to learn that life is not easy and that no matter what challenges one may experience they have to be very strong. I don’t remember much about the friendships I made from that first class of my life. It was a long time ago anyway. The year was 2002.
There is however one boy whose friendship struck me and stayed on even in those younger days. His name is Jeff Paul. He doesn’t like to be called Paul even today. I have never quite understood why. I mean if I were named Paul, I’d so much love to associate with that name considering how great Paul in the Bible was at writing letters. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is one of the best letters I have ever read. I love letters. Too bad I don’t talk much to the people with whom we used to communicate with through letters.
The memories from those younger days may have become blurry in my mind but I can never forget how Jeff was my defender during those times. He hardly knew me. He was like one of those kids you see in movies who like taking care of the newbies and protecting them from the bullies. There are days I could see him scrapping my name out of the noise makers’ list after negotiating with the class prefect. I could make noise in class at times. I never knew how to be quiet back then. How times change. The same cannot be said of me these days. Silence has become my domain. It’s like the vibrancy that I used to have just vanished into the solar system.
Jeff never used to say much either. He was a cool young boy. He had a good height considering the fact that he was taller than most of the class members. As we grew up, I got to learn a few things about him. Some of his strengths and his weaknesses as well as fears in equal measure. He was brave from a young age with a unique kind of confidence that most of us lacked. It is during those ages that a number of us could not express ourselves confidently before teachers. Personally, my fear of teachers had taken a huge toll on me to the extent that if I maintained eye contact with them for long then I could get bad dreams and nightmares during the night. The same could not be said of my friend Jeff. He was assertive from a young age. He even smiled while talking to them. That was for sure the epitome of success in lower primary school. It is not until so much later in life that I actually got to know where his confidence came from. It’s from his father. His father speaks with great authority in a voice that naturally commands. The mum is however soft and not as commanding.
Jeff has a strong peculiar relationship with his dad. They talk freely over the phone and in person. They talk like long term buddies. It’s admirable come to think of it. My dad and I may be close but we can never talk like buddies. How would we even start? I imagine myself telling him things like “You got to be kidding me dad”. How would that even play out? We may be able make some nerdy jokes occasionally but it is unimaginable for us to talk like we are roommates or something of the sort. It’s like there is an invisible wall between us that regulates the levels to which we can surge in a conversation. It reminds me of another of my friends who tells his dad things like “Dad leo kumewaka moto nakuambia” or “Dad maze life ni kunoma joh”. I must admit that I love such kinds of parent-child connections though. It doesn’t work for those of us whose dads were born in the 50s though.
It surprises me to date how we changed schools at the exact time in the year 2005. Surprisingly we ended up in the same school again along with other mutual friends. Those were the days when parents could gang up against a school administration they didn’t like and just decide to pull off a mass exodus by taking their kids to other schools. It is in the course of one such exoduses (Is there a word like exoduses?) that we found ourselves in a new school with new structures and new teachers as well as new kids. We became good friends. He was naturally bright. He could top the class in all subjects in three successive exams. And of course he was loved by all the teachers. When you consistently top in class like that you get noticed by teachers. And of course you earn the respect of your classmates too. They start making you the football captain and they give you lots of love. They look up to you for inspiration especially when teachers ask questions in class. They even fear you because back then we believed that the brightest person in class was equally the toughest in terms of physical strength. There used to be those harsh teachers who would punish a whole class if no one could answer a question they asked. I am glad we had Jeff in class. He could answer such and save us a million times.
I don’t know what kind of connection the parents from my area had at that time because it seems like they all wanted the same things for their kids. Late in primary school, there was another change in schools and you guessed it right I found myself in the same school with most of my friends from the former school. Of course Jeff was there too. At this point we had known each other for ages. I could say we were best friends. The new school was so much fun than the other two. Blossom Education Center was its name. I loved the school. I loved the people. It had so much positive energy and so much life. It is at that stage in my life when I saw some of my classmates start falling in love. These were people I had known since childhood and I was just amazed at how they had grown so much. They were also feuds of course. I still miss the place at times. Life may not have been smooth occasionally because of some little drama but that could not outweigh the feeling of greatness that filled the atmosphere around. That is where we would end up doing our KCPE exams. I have not seen most friends since my last day at the school but Jeff has always been around. He has graduated from being a best friend to a brother. He’s family now.
Families fight but I doubt we have ever fought or if we have then it has become blurry in my mind. Families also share some secrets. He has confided in me most of the times especially when it comes to his love affairs. All my life I have never seen someone who moves on from relationships quickly like he does. Sometimes he does so as if the previous relationship never existed. It’s a mystery how some people have such capabilities.
As I struggle with my legal education at the University of Nairobi, he does his at JKUAT in Karen. Look at us so many years later going in the same direction career-wise. It’s exactly seventeen years since we became friends as little kids in that tiny class at Faith Baptist Academy. Seventeen years of friendship is not something to be taken for granted. Some friendships never last even a month or two. Jeff Paul is a demonstration of true friendship. We all need true friends in our lives. It’s a rough world we have here. It’s a mad world. There are days I tend to think that if the CIA were to come looking for information about me then the only person who would be in a position to tell them everything and anything about me is Jeff. He has been to our home and he’s met all my siblings above the fact that we were classmates and ardent friends for eight years. We may have been to separate high schools but he still never went away. He was always available during times of need and when I needed to confide in someone.
Why am I giving a glimpse of this story here? Because someone recently told me that it’s these little things that matter in life. That they are what constitute life. And that we are nothing without them. We are who are because of them.
Cheers Jeff Paul.
PS: I may not be available here frequently from now henceforth because of some other things that I may have to undertake but I will still try as much as possible to bring you stories every Wednesday. Thank you for reading. God bless.