Once again, my gaze shifted towards her but this time round she was looking directly at me, smiling. I blushed, and for a few seconds dropped my gaze to look away as if to gather my wits on what to do next. She was beautiful in a unique way with a crop of short black hair that was always kept that way. I cannot remember seeing it in any other way . The dark of her eyes had this inviting look when she stared at you and possesed a strange ability to draw you in as if some powerful magnet was tagging at the very depths of your soul. A cute radiant face easily balanced with her light skin tone, made it easy for her to stand out in a crowd for the keen observer. I happened to be one of those very keen observors who got drawn in to her quiet demeanour and calm. It’s still hazy how it all begun anyway…but when I looked back at her again, from my momentary thoughts, there she was, quietly listening in as another girl animatedly shared. I was anxious and excited because in a few minutes, our time together was going to happen and I could hardly wait for the damn bell to ring to give me the break I so craved for…guess it was the same for her…though we hardly could define what this really was. So I will focus on what I felt.
I grew up in the village and in the city. My dad, a trained agricultural officer travelled wide across the country to see off numerous government projects in diverse farms. My mom, a nurse, was sold out to a nomad lifestyle and I cannot recall ever living in any location we would call home for more than three years. It was a gypsy life of sorts. Consequently I learnt to keep friends for short periods and lived for moment. This worked well for my truant nature. Humble truancy I would call it because I never tried both extremes…thanks to my fun loving nature. A few years during my early primary school, we settled in Nakuru. My dad had got a lucrative job through a church mission group to oversee their land. I later learnt that this was facilitated by an uncle of my mum’s who through his various highly placed contacts in government, secured for him the placing with a promise that he should take care of his family. The family politics aside, the job came with multiple benefits that included a free car, for his many errands, a large three bedroomed bungalow that boasted a large compound with a live fence and a huge garage. The first and last house we ever lived in that had a garage.
But the playing field was what gave me the highest thrill. I remember back in 1987, when Hannu Mikkola won the Safari rally….I ran round and round our large compound pretending I was he. Our parents had bought us some new yellow and blue T-shirts. One for me and another for my brother. I was 7 years old and I was so enthralled to have mine with a large No 7 emblazoned distinctively on its upper left side. Now Mikkola’s car was a No 7, and I was 7 years old and for an adventurous boy, this was the epitome of pure heavenly pleasure. Little wonder then that I drove my imaginary car till dusk.
From early on, My truant cheeky side was well known. I used to hide behind a maize stalk thinking that no one would see me when I would ran off the house without permission. I was five then. But now, we had a compound all to ourselves… One day, as were having a bath, some impish sneaky whisper told us to run out of the bathroom naked….we found ourselves outside and flaunted our birthday suits to all and sundry…we laughed so hard especially when passers by stopped to gaze through the live fence….we would then ran back in and wait, and then out we would go…. we repeated these antics with great glee and only stopped when a harsh command screeched at us to get in immediately. Nonetheless, we destroyed two chairs because they were made of spring and that gave us a much needed high when we turned them to trampolines. We would jump up and down on them until our dreams were just about jumping sessions.
But Nakuru did not last long…in just two and a half years…we relocated to the village. “It’s our new home you see,” my mother placated. “You two will have a large compound to play”…she beamed. That comforted us and got us in high spirits. It’s only later I learnt that my dad had lost his job and as a consequence, my mom was forced to get a transfer so that we could all start our new lives in the farm where my dad had built a timber house for us to live in.
Our first night there was memorable…and for a child it was heavenly because we ate chapati and chicken. I can almost smell the dish to this day. Somehow, the mix of chicken soup doused in flour to make it thick, cabbage diced with tomatoes and carrots and some rich chapos made from the greatest cook I had ever known; my mom…still stirs some old nostalgic memories. We settled in fast and got ways to make “reggae” continue…we made balls from polyurethane papers, cars from omo and kimbo boxes, discovered plants that had tyre like ends and using mud, made toy wheels from them and on and on our inventions grew.
Soon, our parents announced that we would enter our new school by end month. So one morning, they walked us for some 3 kilometres to meet the head teacher and enrolled us to the new school. My brother immediately started to learn mother tongue which was examinable but I was exempted from it. Being a class 3 pupil, it was considered too late for me to start learning Kikuyu, and they would thus ensure I learnt only did study six of the compulsory 7 subjects. It was never my decision anyway, and I did not care. I soon learnt that this school was different. If you got late to school, the teacher on duty would give you such a whopping you would whimper for the next one hour.
Let me explain. You see, one had to be in school by 7:30am. To be there that early, it meant you leave home by 6:30am and half walk, half run to school before the 7:30am bell rings. If that bell rang before you had arrived, then you would have to join the late comers in a long queue to face the teacher on duty. Typical of living in the highlands, the morning temperatures were sub 14 degrees. Now receiving a beating on your hands from a stick early in the morning was considered lethal. The hands would bulge after the beating and turn blue at the tips…the pain would sting and sting for the next one hour. It was a lesson in science that we learnt first hand through experience. At first I braced myself to endure that pain and soon I learned that inorder to cope with it, All I needed to do after such a beating was to put my fingers in my armpits. This made them get warm faster helping the blood to circulate at a faster rate and consequently reduce the swelling and pain. The armpits were not the only warmers, you could also use your thighs to warm your hands and this always worked the magic of easing the pain faster. This became my first scientific experiment in my new school.
After a few weeks, my mom insisted I had to hold my brother’s hand and ensure I don’t release them until he is safely in school. Soon I was adept at doing so and we somehow crafted a way of being able to run together to school while holding hands. We could run and walk like this with ease and this became our norm. Every evening, my brother would leave early to go home and as such, I begun to feel a little lonely walking home alone with no one to hold hands with. They say humans are creatures of habit. True to this, I had got accustomed to it. I was like one of those dogs that Pavlov, in his famous experiments discovered that a repeated action and command entrenched a learning and a habit that was permanent in as far as the expectation was necessary.
That’s how I got to know Milka and we begun walking home together hand in hand. Best of friends. The perfect union. This continued for a while until one day, when going home in our usual hand in hand motion we heard giggles behind us. We stopped and looked behind. Like rats, the boys and girls scurried into the bushes to hide and all became silent. I could hardly understand their excitement and just as before, we joined hands and hopped ourselves along the path. We talked about anything and nothing. Well I cannot remember now what we used to talk about. Soon, word spread everywhere about the ‘abnormal’ liason…of this boy and girl who walk hand in hand as they went home. I found it funny but the cacophony and buzz our walking elicited got my attention. The class giggles and looks made me so self conscious I felt embarassed and as if it was so wrong what we were doing.
So on this particular day, my eyes had strayed to look at her again and then the bell rang. She looked at me and smiled and we both ran outside. As we begun our ascend from the school compound on our way home, we saw a crowd gathering at the far right corner of the road. We both approached the scene and saw three men trying to kill a donkey that was tied with large ropes on the ground. “It’s sick”, someone whispered …”Look, that’s the well they will drop it into”, someone else said…I looked at the donkey as it brayed with it’s eyes wide with terror….a deep sadness engulfed me but then I felt the tug on my hand…”Time to go”, she whispered. That’s when we both slithered out of the crowd and walked home silently. When we reached the intersection where our paths would normally part, I bade her a goodbye…she too waved back and I walked home in silence.
I thought about the donkey and it’s inevitable end. I thought about the well and the sadness of the fate that awaited it. It reminded me of my dog, a large creamish yellow greyhound..that was the tallest of all the dogs I had seen in the neighborhood. I could not imagine it dying.
Our actions came back to haunt us. Soon a notoriously nosy girl in my class threatened she would tell the teacher what Milka and I would do every afternoon after class. I was terrified. I imagined the teacher beating me hard until my hands would turn blue. That made me fidget. “But if you give me a new excercise book, like the ones you usually come with, then I will not tell on you!”…That was blackmail right there. My dad kept the new Kasuku excercise books neatly arranged in his bedroom cabinet. For you to qualify to receive a new one, you had to produce a fully written old excercise book of the same brand. He knew them by subjects. “I shall” I answered back in an almost grateful but petrified voice. That evening when my dad had gone out to check on the workers, I sneaked into his bedroom, opened the drawer stealthily and slid an excercise book from the middle deftly. I looked back to ensure it was all neat then I quickly dashed to my bedroom and hid the book between the others in my bag. The following day, during class, I opened my bag, took it and handed it to her. “There it is”, I said. She took it up and gingerly ran her fingers on it in vain admiration. I could tell she had never seen such a nice excercise book before..after all, my dad always bough t the 64 paged ones that had hard covers and we’re smoothly ruled inside. She smiled back and assured me it’s done.
The next day, I changed my sitting position lest she comes back to me asking for more….I was soon learning to be cunning albeit slower than the rest. My walks with Milka slowly died off, but I never forgot about her. I don’t know what happened to her because in less than two years, we left that school and joined a new one that was near our home. I hope she remembers me and the joys of an innocent childhood romance