My stay at Anestar Boys was short-lived. First-term, I studied hard and did my best to catch-up. I scored poorly in maths and the sciences but I was among the best in languages. After being away from school for six months, beating other kids at languages bolstered my confidence.
Seeing Isaac, who had now become my best friend, a literal class above mine made me feel so much guilt but what was done was done.
Second term, things became harder. I wondered who came up with the idea of schooling. At Anestar we had these five teachers we used to call the big five, meaning if you found yourself in trouble and answerable to them, you were done for. They would squash you like the big five in the wild. There was this other teacher we called Avatar, he once whipped me so hard that I couldn’t feel my butt for a while. It got numb, and then later sore. I remember wondering whether he wanted to kill me.
I started getting mad at how we would get beaten, not for serious offences, but small mistakes like not having your tie knotted properly, or waking up ten minutes late for morning preps.
At this point, I was a great fan of hip-hop and a rebel was nurturing deep inside me. The gangster way, that’s what my teenage mind loved.
What if we went on strike, would you throw stones?
I kept silently asking myself this question and my desire to lead a strike grew.
It was during the third term, a few weeks after reopening school that I decided to plan a strike. One of my friends and classmates fell ill. His body temperature was high. An extrovert, it was weird to see him silent and gloomy, with listless eyes, and lack of appetite. When he went to the staff room to make known his problem, he didn't even get to voice it. He got slapped across the face upon entering the room. His necktie was askew. The teacher on duty could not have a conversation with a cretin whose tie wasn't well knotted and tightly hugging his collar. All he could do was slap him across the face. My friend came out, a vein pulsing on his temple. Red face, raw from the hard slap, tears in his eyes. I got ticked off, gave myself the first reason to call for a strike. 10 a.m. porridge served to students was knocked out of the school schedule. Reason number two. But the true reason was that I just hated school. For nights, I schemed. A plan to pelt stones was in place.
I approached four boys in my class who I knew hated school and I could trust them.
How about on a Saturday night, during entertainment, we switch off power from the main, and then pelt stones? Think of it this way. We won’t get caught. We may all be asked to go home for a week, as they investigate. What a well-deserved break! When we get back, they will be chasing dust. We will have wiped the trail. No disappointing our parents. No hurting anyone, well, maybe just the director when we make window panes rain all over. How about that?
The four agreed, but on the condition that I involved our seniors, to have a watertight plan with higher chances of success. There was a friend that I went to primary school with and it so happened that he was at Anestar Boys too, having been expelled from another school for God-knows-what. My senior by one class, I approached him with the plan.
“How many form two’s are in on this?”
“Forty,” I lied. I knew very well that if I said four, he wouldn’t be in on it.
Within two weeks he had mobilized more than thirty senior boys. I had also mobilized more form two’s, though mostly my friends. Since it was difficult for more than fifty students to congregate and discuss, we would sit in the field during games time, in clusters as though having normal school-kids-talk. The main group consisted of me, the other senior mastermind, and a few other boys from both classes. Word would then be passed around to the rest.
Every evening, we casually collected stones, shoving them in backpacks. I remember my friends and I would pretend we were playing that game where you juggle three rocks in the air, and would end up in the dorm with the stones, stack them in bags. This went on for one week. We also went for broken chairs in the school store and tore apart the metallic chair legs, these too would come handy when smashing windows.
On the Saturday of the planned strike, my team (form twos) had just one role. To switch off the lights at exactly 9 p.m. when everyone else was in the entertainment hall. Form threes would then start by smashing the T.V. and then the windows. We had put all trust in the probability that once the strike was in motion, even good students who knew nothing about it would join in.
I appointed two boys and gave them the plan. How they would creep through the field, in the darkness, to the small room behind the canteen that housed the school’s main switch. They were to switch it off at exactly 9 p.m. I synchronized two digital dial wristwatches.
By 8 p.m. we had taken our supper and were all in the entertainment hall. Lights off, just the beaming from the huge screen mounted at the front. We had our backpacks, filled with rocks. Underneath the seats, we had metallic chair legs, broken, ready for use.
At 9 p.m., however, the lights in the whole school did not go out as we expected. 9.10 p.m...9.15 p.m...9.30 p.m... nothing. Something was wrong. Sweat broke out under my armpits as I kept lifting the face of my wristwatch and pressing a button to light it up. The other senior mastermind kept coming to my seat, angry, asking what the hell was up.
And here’s what was up. The boys who’d gone to cut off power had been caught. All this while, they were held somewhere in the staff room by the school security guards, and the teacher on duty. They got whipped, but never said exactly what they were up to, only that they wanted to switch off power for fun. The teacher made a mistake of letting them go since it was already time for bed, having recorded their names and informed the school director about the latest development.
That night, I convinced the two boys to sell a story that I conjured up. This was the story: Entertainment in this school was boring, because only the form fours got to choose what was shown, or music that was played. The rest of us had to make do with whatever our seniors chose. As a result, the two boys were angry, and decided to switch off the school main switch.
And this was exactly the story they sold the next morning. An unusual Sunday it was, as the big five and the Director himself were around. My friends were slapped and kicked. When asked who else knew about their plan, they gave away my name.
Isaac Muigai, the Christian Union chairman, was making announcements in church that morning when the teacher on duty interrupted him. He placed a palm over the mic and leaned in to speak with the teacher. Seconds later, his teenage voice cracked through the speakers, calling out my name. I was needed in the staff room.
At first, I was able to convince the teachers that I was innocent. That I only heard of the plan and didn’t come to report because I thought it was one big joke. They believed me, and let me go with a promise that if I ever heard of anything sensitive as boys wanting to switch off the school main power, I would report it.
I was off the hook for the time being. My seniors took over the plan and decided that since I had failed, they would now cook up a scheme of their own and burn down a dormitory.
I witnessed as students contributed money for petrol, felt the guilt and looming fear of what lay ahead but I would not tell on them. Deep inside, I still wanted us to go on strike. Though not this way, not with a fire.
A week later, the two boys who’d been suspended came back with their furious parents. I remember one of the kids, barely a few minutes in the staff room, ran out screaming, his angry dad behind him. It was the teachers who held the man from whatever he wanted to do to his son. This time, the boys told the truth. All of it. If you are a teenager reading this and you believe in the power of sticking together and never snitching, kindly do re-think. All it takes is a slap.
They told of how I planned the strike and how I told them to lie.
I found myself kneeling in the staff room, together with three other classmates whose names had been given up too. We were suspended for a week, after being caned and interrogated. The teachers thought that they had uprooted all evil with our suspension. I don’t know why I did not give up the rest and alert the school that a bigger plan was in place. We all stuck with the story that we wanted to pelt stones because entertainment was boring.
I imagined my mum and her reaction when she heard of all this. I remembered all the promises I had made to her. I cried. I regretted every decision and felt like a wretch who did not deserve any more love.
Afraid and still thinking of how to face our parents, we wasted a lot of time in Nakuru town. By the time we took a matatu to Naivasha, the last rays of the sun were pressing onto the earth. Evans had an uncle who lived in Gilgil, and so he alighted before we got to Naivasha.
I recall seeing him alight, and felt the tear in the corner of my eye. It had suddenly hit me that since we were a group, everyone would go home and face their parents alone.
In a twist of events, by the time Aron, Muriuki, and I got to Naivasha, it was late and the booking offices were all closed. The three of us were all from Narok town. We slept under a culvert running beneath the highway. Our thinking was silly: we do not have money to rent a hotel room. The three of us, once very raucous friends, huddled in the culvert, each silent. I don’t know what was going on in their minds. On my own, I was praying to God, hoping that I am worthy of one last chance. I was broken and afraid.
I remembered all the times my mum cried and felt so lost. Am I worthy of her love? I had single-handedly shattered all lights in my life, leaving myself in a dreadful dark pit.
I thank God that we did not last a night in the culvert. One of us went out at around 10 p.m., to buy something I guess, and a boda boda rider spotted him creeping back inside. He summoned other boda boda riders and they surrounded us, commanding us to come out.
“You are the little kids who commit crime in Naivasha eeh?”
“What are you doing here?”
Their questions only echoed in my head, as though faraway voices borrowed from a dream. We had to show them our school neckties to convince them that we were students. They still weren’t convinced, as according to them, no school would suspend kids at night.
They asked for our parents’ details and called them. The rest is history. We slept at a low-class lodging. All three of us slept on a beaten mattress, on one bed. Aron’s mother had sent some money to a merciful boda boda rider. I had given them a wrong number, couldn’t live through the torment of imagining mum getting a call at night, from a stranger, who hollers “hey, I found your son in a culvert at Naivasha. He says he was suspended from school.” I gave them my number, knowing my phone was at home, and switched off.
Muriuki’s mum was breathing fire all this time. She asked the rider to take us to the nearest police station. In the end, however, they agreed to get a room for us. And the next morning, hungry, dirty, and scared, we silently boarded a vehicle to Narok town.
Mama was angry. I imagine she must have cried. All I could say was, “Call the school. Tell them it will go up in flames, soon.”
Or proceed to part four