Writing Competition 2022: The Thin Line

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Courage is to choose to press on despite it all because what you want and hope to gain is worth the struggle.

I do not think I have ever been more ashamed in my life. Photo by Ana Via Pixabay

Written by Dalton Munga Mwangi

I have always thought there are three types of courage.

The first is the type of courage that enables you to win a fair lady. It shows in moments when you see a girl so beautiful that your lower jaw muscles forget their purpose, and you cannot help but stare. Getting closer to her makes you more nervous. It makes you sweat, but you go regardless and hope for the best. I think it is a courageous stunt because, in the back of your mind, you know there is a chance of rejection, failure, and shame.

Then there is the courage that makes you go to the jungle to hunt a lion. However, this only existed before a particular group of Kenyans were educated about animal rights. Nonetheless, I imagine smearing myself with animal fat as bait, going to the forest, and hoping the king of the jungle smells the fat and comes to me. I imagine hearing the thunderous roars and, instead of running, moving towards them. Wielding only a spear and a sword, I imagine looking into the lion’s eyes and fighting it, knowing a mistake could cost me my life. All this in an attempt to prove myself worthy of being called a moran.

Now that I've mentioned the first two types of courage, there remains a third one that is perhaps less life-threatening than the previous. It is often overlooked. I discovered it in one particular Mathematics lesson in class four. We were learning about divisibility tests. Unfortunately, I couldn't stay on in the class; I desperately needed to go out to relieve myself. I held it in until I could not. By the time I was exiting the class after excusing myself, I had left a trail of drops in front of the entire class.

The lavatory had never seemed so far. Relieving myself felt euphoric. As I walked back to class, however, I began to think about the reaction I would receive from my fellow pupils. I stopped suddenly, fearful of stepping into the class. But again, letting my fear keep me hiding in the shadows meant that I would miss out on divisibility tests. Now, that's a topic I didn't want to fall behind in. 

I took a long deep breath and walked into the class as though nothing had happened. I saw smiles amidst an awkward silence. To some extent, even the teacher could not help herself. I felt tense and began sweating as I sat. The lesson continued.

Thunder is only heard after lightning strikes. No sooner had the teacher left than the class burst into laughter. The gazes and murmurs came from each direction. It was a lucky coincidence that I sat at the front, that position gave me an option—to look exclusively at the board and only the board, no turning to face my mockers.

I was angry with myself for not asking for permission earlier, why did I wait until it was too late, embarrassing myself like that? I do not think I have ever been more ashamed in my life. Children have a special kind of blunt honesty. An innocent form of cruelty. “Unathani utapita kutuliko ukikataa kuenda choo?” (You think you will pass your tests with higher marks by refusing to go to the lavatory?)

The news spread over lunch break. The student with the ‘Best in English’ badge peed on himself. Some came close to me, twitching their noses to confirm the news. I guess I can never know if I had a stench. After what had happened, I just waited for the 4 p.m. bell to ring and ran home. I remember crying in my room for quite a long time. I felt as though there were pins pierced through my heart. I wondered why God had let such a thing happen to me. I remember I still had a fantasy that the sun followed me everywhere I went and I was ‘chosen’ for some form of higher purpose. “How did He let this happen to the chosen one?”

I did not tell anyone at home about what had happened. In my mind, I planned to stay home the next day by lying I was sick so as to avoid school, but as in any African home, I knew that would be impossible. I knew my mother would place the back of her hand on my forehead to feel my temperature, and she would declare me healthy. A ther-mom-eter, as I love calling it. It took a strong will to decide that I would go back to school and keep my head high.

I woke up the next day and left for school. I got the wildest ideas along the way. At some point, I thought of hiding in a maize farm next to the road. I stopped and was going to do it, but I decided to proceed to school. I walked right through the school gate and walked straight to my class. I saw the grins again and heard the murmurs as I sat. At that moment, as I tried to ignore the whispers, something came to my realisation. I realised I was in a shameful situation because I really wanted to learn. I looked at the badge on my sweater and decided I needed to get more of them. Nothing would stop me. Nothing was more important than my goal, to change the world using what Nelson Mandela called the greatest weapon—Education. 

I decided to live my life as I did before, raising my hand at every opportunity. I led the class in prayer every morning as usual, with a new resolve to rise above the situation. It was liberating. Looking back, I am proud of young Dalton. I am proud that he saw the thin line between courage and stupidity and did not hide in a maize farm. I am proud that he chose to walk into the class that day despite everything and realized what courage truly is.

Courage is to choose to press on despite it all because what you want and hope to gain is worth the struggle. To wake up each day and live it to the fullest despite what happened the day before. To deny the past the ability to put a leash on your future.

Maybe my courage did not save anyone else but me, but by sharing the story of it, I hope to inspire the world.


Dalton Munga Mwangi is a Seventeen-year-old budding writer living in Nakuru. He loves writing essays, poems, and short stories. This love for writing stems from his view of literature as a spell capable of enchanting everyone and making people happy. Dalton hopes to inspire through his writing.