An old movie called Dead Poets Society kept me up last night. It’s the story about an eccentric poetry teacher who takes on a group of impressionable boys. But, in a sad twist, the boy that you will grow to love puts a bullet in his head, and it really puts the kibosh on the movie. It has a nice ending though, and before the credits roll you’ll want to stand on top of a table and say, “O captain My captain!”
In some ways I think I could make for a cool writing teacher. I’d wear a brown coat with candy in my pockets and bribe the students to participate. I’d give fun lectures and show these kids everything I know about writing, and eventually, they would fall in love with the art.
It’s a noble dream. But, of course, I know nothing about writing. And that’s a tragedy.
Anyway, someone, a teacher, dropped this piece in my Email and I thought, ‘Hey, this could turn into a series or something.’
I hope it does anyway.
Friends, welcome Mwalimu.
I’m seated at the back of a classroom watching thirty students bent on their desks, furiously scribbling away. I feel like I’ve been sitting here forever. I look up at the clock, twenty more minutes. I stand up and walk around the classroom, observing the students in different stages of despair and nonchalance.
I decide to walk out of the classroom, in part to enjoy the morning sun and in part to let the students get a bit of cheating done. This is only a midterm exam after all, and they are only form twos. I walk out into the beautiful Sagana morning. It’s about nine o’clock and there isn’t a cloud in sight. The well manicured lawns that surround the form two block look almost animated in their green perfection.
I stand there and take in the moment. Just as I start walking towards the staff toilet, someone taps on my shoulder. I turn to find that it’s Victoria, a colleague. She has been the closest thing I’ve had to a friend since I got to this school about two months ago. She seems glad to see me which she always is, despite the numerous occasions on which we always seem to bump into each other.
“Hi Mr. T.” She greets me in her high pitched voice.
“Hi Mrs. V” I say.
She laughs, like she always does, a long high pitched laugh that seems to come in waves.
“Aren’t you invigilating an exam?” She asks.
“I am. I’ve just stepped out kidogo. You know how it is. Let the strugglers catch up a bit.”
She laughs again. The waves.
“What about you?” I ask.
“Oh, I’m free till kesho morning. I was just going to the house now actually. I hate these boring afternoons alone in the house.”
She studies me, “What are you doing after this exam?”
I warn myself to tread lightly here. I have already managed to squirm my way out of going to her place twice before. She might not like it a third time.
“I actually wanted to go to town today, I have to go pick up some things.”
“Oh, ok.” She says, “If you get back early si you will pass by my place. Keep a lady company.”
“I definitely will Mrs V.”
She smiles again and slowly walks away. She’s a beautiful woman. Not to mention one among very few staff members who have been welcoming to me since I started teaching here. I would hate to push her away, but her flirting is getting more and more brazen.
In the beginning she had been shy in approaching me, being helpful wherever she could and silent in much else. But lately she had become more out spoken. I know nothing could ever happen between us. I’d never allow it. I’m still loyal to someone else. But I have to be careful not to turn her against me.
My thoughts are interrupted by the irritating electric bell echoing through the school. I go back to the class to check on the students. I enter the classroom and find a boy has turned his chair around and is talking animatedly to the girl seated behind him. I’m shocked at this blatant disregard for subtlety.
I stand at the door for a while to observe this master at his art. I figure he’ll turn around, see me and pretend to be doing something saner. I am proven wrong seconds later when the girl warns him of my presence and the boy turns, looks at me, shrugs and goes on talking. I am now in awe of this boy. However, all of his actions seem to question everything I stand for as a teacher, as a figure of authority for these impressionable young minds. I have to put my foot down.
“You, kijana. Mark is it? What the hell are you doing?”
He looks at me again and smirks. He studies me for a while, as if gauging whether I’m worth a response.
“I was having a stimulating conversation with this lovely lady here, a conversation which you are interrupting, mwalimu.”
These words hit me like a torpedo. I know at least four of my colleagues who would on hearing these words sprint towards little Mark, hurl him to the ground and proceed to cane him to damnation. But I pride myself on almost never using corporal punishment. It is one of those things that us millennial educators feel separates us from those violent old geezers.
This young man is however putting all of that to question. He’s a showman I decide.Putting on a show for the crowd, take away his audience and all this fire will die out.
“Time is up.” I announce. “Everyone hand in your papers.”
I turn to Mark and while trying to sound menacingly calm, I say “Go wait for me in my office.”
He pauses as if weighing whether he should waste his precious high school time waiting in teacher’s offices. He finally stands up and walks out of the classroom. I take my time collecting the papers and taking them to the teacher in charge of the subject.
I begin to wonder what caused that little outburst from this boy who I’d never really paid attention to before. Is he just a headstrong young man? Or could he have a personal vendetta against me? Maybe he knows something. But how could he? I’ve been careful. I’ve kept my distance with people. I hid it as best I could.
I tell myself that I’m reading too much into it. Paranoia is getting the best of me. But such is life when you’re trying to escape your past. Uncertainty quickly becomes your friend when you’re constantly looking over your shoulder.
I arrive at the office to find Mark lounging in my chair. He’s throwing my pen up and down lazily, not a care in the world. I decide to feel him out first, to get a sense of what he knows.
“Nice to see we made ourselves comfortable.” I say.
He smirks at me. I’ve started to hate this cock sure, arrogant demeanor of his.
“What was that back there Mark?”
“You were there as well sir. You tell me.”
“You seem like a man who is very sure of himself. What are you trying to prove?” I ask.
A smile plays on his lips.
“I’m glad you asked mwalimu. What I am trying to prove is that people like you shouldn’t be teachers here.”
My patience is running out,
“People like me eh? Well then let’s go take it up with the principal.”
“Yes!” He says jumping to his feet. “Let’s take it up with the principal. Then maybe you can explain to him what exactly happened to your wife.”
I struggle to maintain my outward composure. My insides shatter into a million pieces. He knows. The damned bugger knows. A long silence ensues. He has me cornered, and he knows it. He has a glimmer in his eye now, like a wolf baying for blood.
“Oh, you thought that little secret was tucked safely away did you?” He asks, walking toward me. “Well not anymore.”
I’m in full panic mode at this point. I can’t afford to lose this job now. I worked too hard to get here. I’d be damned if let this little shit ruin everything for me.
I can feel my anger start to rise, like mercury in a thermometer. I manage to regain my composure enough to speak.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The smirk again finds its way onto his smug face.
“You’re a liar sir. And a shit husband from what I hear, otherwise your little wife wouldn’t have ended up how she ended up eh?”
A thousand emotions make their way through me when he says that. First of all it is now confirmed that he knows. Second, I want to smash his face in. All other sound is drowned out by that of my own heartbeat. I can’t let him speak to me in this manner and just prance out of here unscathed.
I watch almost as if from another person’s perspective as I walk towards him seize him by the neck and throw him to the ground. Then I reach for the pipe on my desk. I take a second to savour the look of utter shock on Mark’s face before I proceed to work on him mercilessly.
I cane him till my right arm is raw. Still I do not stop. The only sound in the room is the rhythmic sound of the pipe flying through the air and landing anywhere from his back to his buttocks and his muffled sobbing. And then when I turn to the window I see Victoria.
She’s standing there her hand over her mouth, her eyes look hungry. I freeze. Pipe in the air. An image of a twisted statue of liberty occurs to me. I slowly put the put the pipe down, panting..
“Go.” I say.