Mother was cooking supper when I got home.
“Did you find the dog?” she asked.
I told her I had not.
She was not surprised by what went on between Jimi, Hari and me. She said she did not
understand any of it. To get her interested, I informed her that Hari was drunk again.
“Oh,” she said.
So, I told her Muturi was drunk too and what he had said about beer and young men.
She worried about that for a while. Then she remembered to send me down to the river to
fetch water. When I told her I had bookwork to complete she observed that if I would be happy to
eat a book for dinner, she would fetch the water herself. So, I ran down to the river to fetch the
water. After that I chopped wood and run to the end of the village where she had a vegetable
garden and brought her a bunch of pumpkin leaves.
It was dark by the time I sat down to my schoolwork. There was no paraffin in the lantern, and I
worked crouched by the fireside.
Hari came home shortly after dark with our two gallons of milk. He set them down by the door
and, without a word to me or to mother, went out to his hut. When I went to call him to dinner an
hour later, he lay on his back staring at the roof of the hut.
“Go away,” he said gruffly. “I’m not hungry.”
I retreated without a word. I was telling mother about it when Hari stormed in and asked what
was for dinner. He ate quietly, morosely, and mother did not ask him about my dog. This hurt
me. I was tempted to tell him what Muturi had said about fools and beer. Then I remembered
how sharply his slaps stung and refrained from doing so.
He had a quiet, morose dinner and back to his hut. Soon after, mother went to her room to
sleep and I returned to my homework.
I worked at it till father came back from Bwana Ruin’s kitchen, where he was cook, and asked
why I was up so late. It was midnight, he told me.
“I’m doing my homework,” I told him.
“Homework?” he asked looking in the dark.
“Book work,” I said.
Like mother, he thought homework was the work I did at home, chores that had nothing to do
with school. Things like fetching water, chopping wood and running errands. Schoolwork, they
said, should have been done at school.
He stood by the doorway looking round the hut as if he had forgotten what he had come home
for. This is how I mostly remember him. Standing by the doorway and stabbing at the darkness
in the corners of the hut with his torch as if expecting to find a surprise waiting there for him.
Looking about the hut like a stranger. Which, in a way, he was.
His day started before dawn. The hut was pitch dark when he left to light the wood burner in
Bwana Ruin’s kitchen. It was dark when he returned around midnight.
“Hari lost Jimi,” I said to him.
“Jimi who?” he asked absent-minded.
“Jimi my dog,” I said. “Hari lost him.”
“Hari?” he seemed to have forgotten him too.
I let him ponder and recollect before informing him Hari had drunk so much beer in Nanyuki that
he was still drunk.
“Oh,” he said, just as mother had.
Between him, mother and Hari I lived a thoroughly neglected life. If I had been a dog I would
no doubt have strayed. The only time they seemed interested in my welfare was when I did
something a boy should not do. Like when I went trout poaching with other village boys. Then
they would all agree I had been a bad boy and beat sense into me.
Leaving father to find his way around the hut, I returned to my homework. I had three pages
of arithmetic to work out before I could sleep.
Father made a complete tour of the hut and got even more confused. With the dying light of
his torch, he stabbed at the various objects in the hut and finally saw and remembered me and
“Don’t worry,” he told me. “Dogs find their way home?”
I informed him Jimi had never been to Nanyuki before.
“Oh,” he said.
He puzzled about it for a while.
“Why did the dog go Nanyuki? he asked.
“Hari took him there,” I reported.
“Oh,” he said again. He shared this expression of absolute puzzlement with mother.
“Maybe Hari sold him,” I said.
“Sold him?” even more puzzled. “What for?”
“For beer,” I said recklessly.
It didn’t matter that I wasn’t supposed to know about such things. Now father was
confounded. He never drunk beer and anything outside Bwana Ruin’s kitchen seemed to
confuse him a lot.
I told him what the ox driver had said about Hari.
“Muturi the ox driver?” he asked. “But he is always drunk himself.”
“They work together,” I said.
“Oh?” he said.
He looked puzzled. I decided to worry him a little more. I might get more sympathy from him
that way, I thought.
“They were drunk,” I said.
Father thought about that for a moment. Then he decided mine was not a problem he ought
to be worrying about and went to bed.
I crouched by the fire to continue my homework. The heat from the fire burned my eyes.
From time to time father would lend me his bottle light, as he called it, to see by. It was an old
two battery torch, much dented from falling about in the dark, and the batteries were always down
so that it cast a feeble orange light on the books. But it was still much better than crouching by
the fireplace with the heat from the fire burning through my forehead and boiling my brains like
Homework was the one thing we never went to school without. Turning up in school without
homework was looking for trouble. Yet there was no imaginable excuse for a boy to miss school.
Our headmaster was a great believer in the virtues of obedience, endurance and
determination. He could imagine no reason, short of sudden death, for a boy to miss school. He
had a long, unbreakable cane with which he enforced the three virtues.
“Lesson One,” he bellowed at the offenders. “It does not matter whether you lost your
homework books, fed them to the rats or gave them to your mothers to make a fire with. You
come to school as usual, with your homework in order, in uniform and on...?”
“Time,” we yelled.
Sometimes we would plead for mercy. We had no desks to work on at home, no lanterns to
see by, no time to do the homework and no one to help us with our bookwork. Most of our
parents could not read or write themselves.
The headmaster would listen to our pleas, smile and tell us that, when he went to school, they
did not have those things either. Still he had gone to school every day with his homework in
order, in uniform and on...
“Time,” we yelled.
“Lesson two,” he said waving his notorious cane in our faces. “It doesn’t matter the economic
status of your social environment, the educational and intellectual capacity of your parents, or
even the stated pressure of your daily chores. You must come to school with your homework in
order every day, in uniform and on ...”
“Time,” we yelled.
We did not know what he meant with some of the words, but we had to seem to understand.
“Good,” he said. “I am glad we are all agreed. Now, all the boys whose homework is not in
order, and all the boys who did not come to school yesterday because their homework was not in
order, take one step forward.”
The boys stepped forward shaking from the fear. Lesson One, as we had nicknamed him,
went through the lot with thorough dedication. Absentees were his favourite group. Before
thrashing them for missing school he scrutinised them for other offences, such as dirty
fingernails, uncombed hair and torn uniforms. All were punishable offences and he whacked us
for each and every one of them. Then he sent us to our class teachers to explain the unfinished
Many boys talked of one day running away to the land beyond the hills, where it was
rumoured there were no teachers and no schools.
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