Be advised that at the time of these unfortunate series of events, I wasn’t laughing.
Growing up in our dusty little corner of this giant rock, I was quite the naughty boy. I had a serious problem with authority. These are facts and anyone who knows me personally can tell you that for free. I kept pushing the limits on what affairs a child could technically engage in without getting committed to a juvenile correctional facility. As a matter of fact, I was threatened severally with a trip to ‘njifanairo‘.
Njifanairo was the dreaded Wamùmù Juvenile facility in the searing hot and mosquito infested plains of Mwea. Njifanairo was like a nuclear warhead to boyish activities; pretty deterrent.
So, My Guka Jackson Macharia, the funniest man I ever met, used to run a kiosk at our home. That man, may his soul rest in peace, had a flair for the dramatic. He was popularly known as Mwalim or teacher. And no, that man never taught a day in his life. He used to cheerfully yell out to everyone, and I mean everyone, ‘ Yes, Mwalim!‘. So naturally, everyone called him ‘Mwalim‘. He used to send me on errands and I would procure certain goods for his shop. I know the terms ‘send’ and ‘procure’ sound like a pretty neat and voluntary arrangement, but it was an arrangement that was based on threats of serious physical violence. Absconding from said duties would attract one of his signature beat-you-to-within-an-inch-of-your-life beatings.
It was also a pretty risky fiscal endeavour for him because I was dangerous around money. I was a chronic gambler and a lover of mandazi – things that required money – and which I had none. I had particularly poor impulse control so obviously my threshold for resisting temptation was quite low and this caused me to severally chew mandazi with stock monies that Mwalim had seen it fit to send me to procure goods with. Of course, afterwards, I would receive the standardized beat-you-to-within-an-inch-of-your-life beating. Let me tell you that people don’t die as easily as you think. watu hawakufangi virahisi vile unafikirianga, kwa sababu ningekufa na hiyo vita kitambo sana.
So one day Mwalim decided to send me for paraffin that was meant to be sold at the shop. He normally used to send me with a plastic, 5-litre kibuyu to buy paraffin worth a hundred bob. This particular kibuyu had a very prominent line traced using a nail. This line was put in place after a benchmarking trip by Mwalim to a certain Total petrol station and it was meant to be a benchmark of what constituted paraffin worth a hundred. The reason Mwalim felt the need to take it upon himself to benchmark was because I had a well established tendency to buy 80 shillings worth of paraffin and pass it as a hundred’s worth. After that mark was put in place, I tried different means to try and beat that trap and it almost always ended up with a very serious beating.
For instance, I once chewed the pastry known as ‘koiro‘ or coil and ended up 10 bob short so the paraffin didn’t hit the mark. I got desperate and added water to make up the difference. Our science at school wasn’t upto date so I wasn’t aware that water and petroleum products didn’t mix. I literally tried to beat science with alternative facts. I know, I wasn’t always bright. Matters escalated verily that day. I got a deluxe, top of the range, limited edition beating that echoed across the village. The kind of clobbering they write books about.
So anyway, one day I was sent out for paraffin as usual. On my way to Total petrol station, I passed by our local kiharu stadium, and I found my Ninjas very engaged in ‘ngufìko‘ or ‘ngufí‘. Ngufí was some sort of gambling with coins that was like crystal methamphetamine to us boys in Thanda maria; extremely addictive. We would call it ‘kùonjorithia‘ or investing; and it’s no wonder one of the founders of Sportpesa came from Thanda Maria. The excitement was fever pitch and I decided to join in. I reasoned if I invested just 10 bob, I could get around 30 back and chew ‘koiro‘ to my heart’s content. My 10 lasted like 2 minutes and now the paraffin wouldn’t hit the spot. I remembered the beating and decided to chase the 10 with another 10. In less than 10 minutes I went from being 10 short to being 100 shillings short.
I knew that I was definitely going to die that day.
So I came up with a very poorly thought out plan. I waited until it was dark and I rolled in some heap of dust and threw away the kibuyu. I went home and found Mwalim sitting in the kitchen listening to BBC on his old radio. This particular one was those models that were usually powered by approximately 76 dry cell batteries. I gave him a long and scary tale of how I was accosted by the infamous street urchin, ‘Pùrùrù‘, and his gang who made away with the kibuyu and the one hundred shilling. I even had the audacity of telling him that I was lucky to come out of the mess alive. To my suprise, he seemed convinced but he told me to take a shower. That was a little suspicious, because out here we never showered, we just washed our feet when it was muddy. He told me to eat, and I ate. When you had a major transgression you either received a beating or went to bed hungry. If you were offered food, you knew that the beating that would follow would be, as we say in the village, ya ihíndí rímwe. That is the village equivalent of a thermonuclear war.
Normally, if you felt that there was a beating in store and it wasn’t forthcoming, you announced that you were retiring to bed, and anyone who had an account to settle with your body was then at liberty to proceed. I did so at 9pm. Mwalim immediately stood up and told me to grab a jacket.
I grabbed a Jacket. It was a green one. I remember it like it was yesterday. ‘Tùthiì tùgacere Mwarim,‘ he said. That’s the English equivalent of ‘Let’s take a walk.’ And we walked, but we walked in the direction of the Mùrang’a Sports Club which I found strange. I didn’t know what the old man was getting at but I went along. When we reached the Municipal offices and he started making a left turn towards the police station, it dawned on me that he was taking me to meet and greet the local law enforcement at the then dreaded Murang’a police station.
The infamous Land Rover 109, GK 890P was parked outside. I started seriously panicking. My classmate Virginiah Njeri had made the trip the previous week for a similar transgression and came back with a serious limp. I was particularly keen on not getting a limp. Then Njifanairo crossed my mind. I started singing like a canary and told him the whole story on my knees. He calmly asked me to tell him who ended up with his hundred and a slight problem arose.
When a group of 10-boys play ngufí, a game of pure chance, no one exactly ends up with your money, it’s distributed – evenly distributed. This is simple probability.
So I said Jamleck, the naughtiest and the baddest of all the village boys.
I wasn’t thinking straight because the searing hot plains of Mwea were on my mind. And so that turned out to be a pretty bad idea. I thought Mwalim would leave it at that, but he didn’t. He said, ‘tùthií kwa jamureki‘. So at 10pm we started making the long trip to Jamleck’s house. We got there at around 11pm and he asked me to verify that that was indeed Jamleck’s house which I did. He told me to knock. I knocked severally and after a while the mum opened. Mwalim calmly told me to then state the nature of my business and I said Jamleck had chewed my money at ngufí and now Mwalim wanted his hundred back.
Jamleck was woken up with a flurry of kicks by his mother but he didn’t have any hundred on him.
Since there was no hundred to be collected, we left. As we left their compound, I could hear the thud of blows and Jamleck’s blood curdling screams as he received a standard one. When we got home at midnight, I received a very thorough, artificially enhanced, industrial strength beating from Mwalim jack that ached for days. To add a little bit of cream to this cake, I also received another major clobbering the next day from Jamleck; complete with a month’s ban from the stadium.
I have laughed hard at the memory of this. Writing can be therapeutic.
Mwalim Jack was quite the man. Definitely one of the finest men I ever met. I really hope that from wherever the wind blew him, he knows that I grew up to be a standup man and a gentleman.
Ngarana ùrotùra umamaga kwega kuuraga.