I used to school at a place called Amani. Lore went around that it’s where Armani got his name from. You know the Armani I am talking about. Don’t you? Giorgio Armani. That Italian designer. These things are on the internet bana. You can Google and see. I rarely think about Amani. Or miss it. To some extent, I think that I was too young to make sense of most things that happened in my surrounding. Regardless, there are some little bits of memory that still linger in the deeper recesses of brain. I remember the teachers walking around with godly statuses. They had power. They could command you to pick litter or clean the compound and doing a shoddy job was out of question. The latter would be considered unruly behavior or treason and could be met with wanton shaming and punishment.
If memory serves me right, the boys gave the headmaster most headaches. This is not to say that the girls around were saintly. Certainly not. There were some who not only beat up their fellow girls but also engaged in fights with boys. Looking back, it’s comical just thinking of the things people fought about. A small quarrel could snowball into a shocking exchange of blows. But what is teenage hood without the fights, quarrels and little rebellions?
Boys behaved like villains. Fighting was the name of the game. The winners were respected. The losers were shamed and shunned. It was the season of chaos. It was the age of rivalry. That sounds like something Charles Dickens would say. If Dickens were writing this story, he’d probably add that “We were all going to Heaven. And we were all headed to Hell”.
In these chaos of childhood, there was this young boy called Jack. Bloody brilliant boy. He always topped the charts in his class when most examination results were being released. He was the icon of genius. Looking back in retrospect, I can’t help but compare him to a young smart Lord Voldemort who mesmerized his professors at Hogwarts with sheer brilliance. Except that this was no Hogwarts. This was Amani and kids didn’t fly using broomsticks or learn charms or play Quidditch during term ends.
Jack was always the Jaguar Shark. A trait he carried to his adulthood. To which he has made good use of. There is, however, no denying that the young Jack Brian was one of the most chaotic boys I ever saw in school. Everyone knew him around. It’s hard not to know an intelligent boy who gives teachers headaches. One day he would be flagged for exemplary performance, the next day would be caught up in the fight of his life on the school pitch. With an indefatigable spirit, he colossally bestrode the school defining life for himself and charting a path less taken by many. He’d take on the big boys in arguments and expand his dominion over the small boys in equal measure.
With football being our lives back then, we played more ball than we studied. Our class was known for talent. We dominated the school league. My brother Frank’s class, which was ahead, was known for their physicality and for the hubris that they brought in the pitch. They never won fairly. They were exasperating and their shrewdness was vexatious to the spirit. I wonder where some of those chaps went to. People like Bena and Rashid. Bena was charming outside the pitch but a terrible monster inside the pitch. Rashid never knew the rules. He aimed for people’s legs instead of the ball. He gave boys lifetime injuries.
Then there was Jack Brian’s class. They all had one thing in common. They knew nothing about football. They suffered massive defeats in the hands of everyone. There was however one thing they knew best, causing chaos. A game would be on and Jack Brian or some other rowdy boy would say “Onge Bwana!” That was always a sign that hell had broken loose and that there was never going back. You knew that things would end up in the staffroom and that there would be consequences. But who cared. We were all young and daring. Living our best childhood lives without knowing.
Taking a mental journey to those past days obviously makes me nostalgic. But then Amani was a short-lived experience. Everyone was soon moving. To another school. You don’t always understand these things until you grow up. Later on, my parents would sit us down to tell us how our new school, Blossom Education Center, would be the springboard against which we would be propelled to great heights. We were obviously against the move. It’s not like that mattered. At that age, you never won an argument against an African parent. In fact, it’s still hard to argue successfully against an African parent. Unless of course, it’s on an issue regarding technology. That is the only time they listen to us keenly with their specs lowly hanging like those of Goat Matata.
Amani was gone. But the memories lingered. Blossom was our new home. My first day was nothing but bliss. I was startled by the many old faces. I had heard the rumors around that there would be a massive exodus from our previous school to this new one but I doubted. The rumors were true. The old gangs were back together. So were the old teachers. Led by the headmaster himself, a man still revered in the land for being a very strict disciplinarian. Ooh, did I mention that Jack was part of the exodus? He was there. Emboldened like never before. Ebullient like The Binj. He still had his signature laughter. A peal of laughter I can only compare to that of Denver from Money Heist. His laugh is truly an undefeated stroke of bliss.
The year was 2010. Jack was still Jack. Not even changing schools had changed him. His ingenuity showed in every prize giving day. He didn’t need no adapting to a school. Or so it appeared. He was going places. He was the kind of student teachers talked about in the staffroom in hushed tones with great pride. Everyone knew that he was a prospect. Or ‘a national school material’ as some teachers used to say.
He was cheeky and smart. We had known each other for a while by then. We would have mundane conversations about mundane things. He tells me that my friend Jeff and I bullied him but I don’t remember that. I was never a bully. I was a darling of everyone. (You should all believe this). With age comes courage. Jack was soon hitting on girls in our class. Can you believe this audacity of this boy? We were a year ahead of them but that never deterred him. He was ahead of time in everything. Not even the class difference was a barrier to him.
He was unstoppable. Ooh, and the girl he was hitting on was the head girl of our time. Not just any girl. He caused some ruckus around when he sent her a very beautiful success card at the onset of KCPE examinations. Sometime last year, I asked this head girl, who is still a good friend of mine to date, what she thought of Jack’s move. “I liked that. It was daring and exhibited so much confidence. Besides, the card was beautiful” she said. Jack Brian was always a wonder kid. Making moves nobody ever made and venturing into territories which everyone steered clear off. He was saving to buy success cards for girls at a time when we saved to buy Jackie Chan movies.
I left Blossom in 2011. Jack would leave it a year later in 2012. A whole world of memories was left there. A bunch of cheeky escapades. A string of endless feuds. A host of funny moments. A myriad of clashes with the teachers. A cocktail of happiness and sadness. A season of endless possibilities. We had it all. We devoured the experience like an oyster. We were sad when the end came closing in but we had no regrets. I have never met any of my former schoolmates who wished they had done anything differently. It was a full-blown experience of schooling and living with no formula.
Maseno School came in 2012 for me. I always felt that my admission there heralded the beginning of something grand. They promised to turn us into men and they did. If Blossom was the wonder then Maseno was the miracle. Fast forward to my sophomore year in high school, I found myself helping new entrants (form ones) as the norm dictated. When I saw Jack Brian coming in sandwiched between his parents and making their way through the main gate, I was like “No way. Are you spying on me?” If only I had known at the time that a similar scene would play out years later in February 2018 at the University Of Nairobi School Of Law, I would have been certain that he is a spy sent out by some dark forces to collect data on me.
Maseno was undoubtedly exhilarating for him than me. He made new friends fast. In no time, he had reconnected with Vinnie and Ian, some two chaps we studied with in primary school. Vinnie was not the same Vinnie everyone knew in ryma. Whatever happened to Vinnie only he knows. He was still nice though. At least that’s what I saw. Jack wouldn’t say the same. Ian was a different kettle of fish altogether. He seemed to have found his path. He a model student. Someone your mother could tell you to follow his footsteps or to befriend. Vinnie became the boy your parent would instruct you to stay away from by all means. Jack almost veered off to the wrong path but His Father Who Art in Heaven always brought him back to the right lane.
When we left Maseno, we were men. After years of perseverance and being part of that unique experience it was imminent. High school has low moments and high moments. One moment you’re clashing with prefects, the next moment you’re writing a letter to a girl over at Kenya High who is probably thinking of someone else. Jack knows a thing or two about this experience. God knows how many night preps he spent writing letters to a girl in Kapsabet Girls. While all that was vanity, there’s no denying that all those tiny details shaped who we all are today. Someday, Jack will tell his grandkids that he got heartbroken when he received a letter ending with “Have a nice life”. His grandkids would never understand because the coming generations will not revere men of valor, courage and honor.
I left Maseno for law school after my father miraculously convinced me that Law is better than Software Engineering. It would be great deception on my end to say that I grew up with a burning desire to be a lawyer like my friend Masiga. When Masiga was born, his grandfather held him on his arms and said “Behold, my grandson would be an advocate. He would be the voice of the voiceless.” A part of that magnificent prophecy might never come to fruition because Masiga is astronomically headed for the corporate world. Somebody else in that family will have to be the voice of the voiceless.
A year later while in Parklands, Jack showed up. Even his parents had known me then. They know me as the guy who has schooled with their son everywhere. Interestingly, we come from the same place.
Schooling aside, Jack is a very decent human being. A brother and friend of the highest class. His domineering spirit is still visible in many aspects of his life. When he puts his mind to something, he can work magic. He is the guy who will any day save a drowning friend in stormy waters instead of heading for the safety of the dock. He drinks though. A little. For the love of fine wine and to appreciate the artistry of brewing. He is not the kind who goes home wasted to his parents and says things like “You guys look familiar. Do I know you from somewhere?” Above all, he is a responsible firstborn. Or rather being a firstborn has instilled some sense of responsibility in him. I know that if it were up to him, he’d have chosen the comfort of being the last born. But what is that saying about what to do when life gives you lemons? He has made the best lemonade there is with the lemon he was given.
Ooh. Did I mention that God gave him an angel in the form of Tracie Minik Larmoi? His girlfriend is a truly kind and genuine person. She’s become family. And they say that family is everything.The boy who used to carry mandazis in his pockets and eat boiled maize by the roadside is now a fine gentleman. He isn’t as successful as he desires yet. But he is chasing success like a hound in the wild chases a deer. We all know there’s only one outcome.
I don’t know what inspired this title Jack is Back. Some things we can’t just explain in this life.
PS: I want to tell my grandfather Michael Okungu that he was a great man, wherever he is.