By Kemboi Victor, Eldoret, Kenya
The rain stopped and coldness braced the atmosphere with discomfort. Kiruhi, the watchman on duty, entered the gatehouse, picked his raincoat from the hanger on the wall, wore it, and leaned against the door as he observed Mr. Osoro, the teacher on duty, commanding students Golden Hearts High School run to class for their evening preps.
His mind went back to the days he had been a student, about fifteen years ago. He remembered that he had dropped out of school after being expelled for boxing his teacher on a time like this, for being punished for lateness. If he had only been a good boy, he thought, perhaps he could now be that teacher commanding students, rather than watchman protecting them.
In a blink, the entire compound had become quiet like there was no one in school. He regretted being out alone, battling the cold weather to earn a low-paying income when most of his classmates had good jobs and better lifestyles. His life had never been fair to him; even for once, especially in the six years period, he had worked. All he had had was a poor paying job, frequent coldness, little sleep, harsh bosses, and a big family that depended on him wholly.
All that disturbed him. He could never change his condition. He stepped outside with a discouraged heart holding his baton and torch, his mind now thinking of the work that was ahead. The wind, now as if to join the coldness to ridicule him had started to blow so strongly that he could hear it breaking the silence of the approaching night. It swayed the trees so dangerously as if to uproot them and made their leaves whisper louder and louder, minute after minute as if to convince him to quit his job.
No one else was outside except him. He looked at his watch and realized it was few minutes to seven pm. About thirty minutes from then, he would be doing his first-night shift check, round the school. In the past, he had wished to be excused of other checks or be given a salary increment for all the difficulty he was going through. But once after he had asked his boss if that was possible, he had been served with a serious explanation that had sounded like the last warning for him.
“Listen, Kiruhi,” the enraged principal had answered him, “if you think the job is too much, I tell you for the first and last time to submit your resignation so that we can relieve you.”
To be relieved could mean job termination, so had Kiruhi reasoned. His wife and his six children, he remembered, depended on his little salary. What then would he use to support them if his job got terminated? No need for complaints, so he zipped his mouth up. And until today he has never talked about it.
Now he thought about his incoming check. Where would he start from? The tuition block area: the offices and the classrooms were near, so he decided to start it there. Next, he would check the dormitories. And lastly, he would end it at the dining hall area. The spine freezing cold bit him hard so ending his mission there could see him return with a kettle of hot tea for his nerves.
That time was barely one hour away. So, instead of being frozen outside, he went in and decided to squeeze himself in one corner of the security room and listen to some music from his phone, puffing his cigarette. He plugged his headphones into his phone and his right ear, turned the music on, pulled the chair and the table to the corner, and sat down to enjoy. He started moving his head swiftly, shortly.
He had started feeling warm when he realized it was eight o’clock, the time to go. He got out and flashed his torch around the gate. It was clear. He locked the gatehouse and followed the pavement to the main offices. In few minutes he had confirmed that there was nothing disturbing peace there.
Going round the classrooms, he felt the students were busier than usual as no one was outside. The freezing coldness had perhaps locked them as it seemed to be. So, he decided to change his direction to the dormitories, where he quickly did his check and rushed to the dining hall wishing that Shikokoti, the cook greeted him with a cup of hot tea first, before he gave him the whole kettle to carry it to the gate.
That was not to be. There was no one in the kitchen. It had been properly shut, unlike other days when Shikokoti would be around drinking tea and exchanging niceties with other subordinate staff members.
He went back to his office, cursing the rains and coldness. He even decided to skip the ten o’clock check until twelve am when students would be asleep so that he could coil himself on one of the mattresses left there the previous day by the students suspended out of school having been found drinking busaa at the dormitory. He was now shaking a bit despite the heavy coat and his gumboots which had started feeling too cold and too heavy. His hands had become numb. He put them into his coat’s pockets, and marched to the gate, and locked himself there.
He opened his drawer and pulled out his gloves and wore them. Then he pulled the mattress and spread it on the floor. In the process his eyes met with a note on the table, warning him.
Kiruhi, this time around, you are not fucking with us…Be warned…we are the bad men.
The note read like that, the reason for the warning; not mentioned. Who were these bad men? He was dumbstruck. He tried to imagine whoever had planted it there but no picture formed in his mind.
He suspected the students eventually. They had always been naive and perhaps one of them could have sneaked out and used the broken window immediately he left or just before he arrived. Who else knew the state of his broken window lock if not the students? He decided to ignore them regarding it as a joke. Serious attackers would come unannounced.
But why was the message so obscure? Why had it been addressed to him? He didn’t understand. However, some thoughts started to unfold in his mind. The boys that had been suspended could have come back to revenge, and that he could be their main target because he is the one that had reported them. His thoughts changed and he now felt the message was serious, and that he had to be careful. The boys, he knew, were really the bad ones like the note had indicated.
Still thinking, a short message was sent to his phone:
Hope you have found the note…prepare to face it rough…
Even without thinking, Kiruhi replied the message:
Who are you and what do you want?
His hands were now shaking like those of an alcoholic. Was he worried? Somehow. Worry plus the unfavorable weather combined, made him shiver that way.
He waited for a response but none came. He became more anxious. He flashed out his torch through the windows despite the security lights illuminating the entire place but saw no one. He feared to get out but when he remembered how unwise that was for a watchman, he dared himself and slipped out ready to handle anyone he would meet with his fighting skills outside. He directed the lights of his torch inside the branches and leaves of the trees around but saw no one. Some trees were so leafy that he didn’t manage to see inside easily.
Still doing that his phone vibrated again, and a new message arrived:
Silly watchman….stop suspecting the trees, they will not save you.
This made Kiruhi more confused than before. He could almost hear the pulses of his heartbeat with his ears.
“So where are you then?” He shouted, now believing that his enemy was near him and could be hearing him. He got no reply.
He concluded that the attack against him was about to be executed. Quickly, he decided to inform the teachers at the office about the threat. Mr. Osoro and Mr. Ruto, the Deputy Principal were around. He phoned Mr. Ruto but the call went unanswered. He tried again but all was in vain. He phoned Mr. Osoro, but the same happened. He went to find them.
Round the compounds of Golden Hearts were dotted cypress trees. The school had been subdivided into four: the tuition block, the dining hall, the dormitories, and the fields. All had pruned cypress around them. A path from the gate led directly to the Administration Block and separated the tuition block and the dining hall on the right from the other areas: the fields and the dormitories on the left. The dormitories were behind the field leaving the gate area visible from the offices, classrooms, and the field.
Students never expected teachers to walk behind the classrooms. But once or twice, Mr.Ruto used this place to carry out his secret investigations on them without their notice.
He had heard from some students that some boys had phones in school, which was against the schools’ rules. So today; he decided to carry out an investigation.
Perhaps he could find one or two students using them, he thought. During this time, students started sleeping in class after they got tired of reading; exchanged niceties, dashed to the latrines anyhow, which Mr. Ruto treated as indiscipline.
So he went around. In most classes, students were busy reading for examinations that were two days away. However, some boys in Form Four: Ngunjiri and Munai had phones in their hands, seemingly chatting, while Manoti had his headphones plugged into his ears. He was enjoying some music with his phone.
Mr. Ruto stood outside looking at them through the translucent window pane without their notice. He wondered where these students hid their phones during inspections. After five or so minutes he appeared to them, shocking them. He opened the window fully and spoke.
“Oooh, so you are the guys I have been looking for eh? Give me the phones.”
The boys looked at him frightened and unable to speak, looking at him with their mouths half open, their bodies shaking as all students turned to look at them, equally shocked.
“Hey, I said to hand the phones to me boys,” Mr. Ruto thundered again that the entire classroom vibrated because of his voice. The boys stood up unexpectedly and gave out the phones. But Munai was too afraid until he hid under his locker, leaving Mr. Ruto to come for him.
“Now follow me,” Mr. Ruto said, after taking the phone from him. They started leaving the classroom.
Meanwhile, Munai thought how Mr. Ruto was going to handle them in the office and was scared of following him. It is him that had been sending Kiruhi messages and what he foresaw, was his actions being revealed, and him being whipped a million times for punishment. He wondered why they had threatened Kiruhi and spot-on, he decided to blame Ngunjiri. It is him that had sneaked out to the gatehouse as he had gone to the latrines and dropped the note before Kiruhi returned to the gate from the dining hall, and returned to fool him to start sending the messages.
Now he knew that by default, hell was awaiting them. Mr. Ruto’s office was that office one never missed to come out before crying, or shout for help inside, or urinate. That, he knew. He thought about that rubber band Ruto often used in his office and felt like fainting. A few days ago, he remembered it had made Onyango, his classmate, shout for help calling his mother to save him despite her not being around.
That wasn’t going to happen to him, he decided. The moon was half and the night wasn’t total dark. So as Ngunjiri and Manoti walked to meet with the lion, he dashed out and ran towards the field, his mind thinking about the maize plantations around, where he could hide shortly, and walk home, about seven kilometers from school with the help of light from the moon.
So he ran away. And because he did not want anyone on the way to recognize him as a student of Golden Hearts, he removed his sweater and remained with a civilian tee shirt. However, before he was at the field, he had suddenly met with Kiruhi, who had at last decided to walk to the staff room to report his dreadful case. How Kiruhi felt like fainting when he thought he had been attacked at last. It is the cypress fence and the civilian tee shirt that made him not recognize Munai well and sure, his worry led him to act promptly that he gave Munai two serious knocks on his head with his baton, sending Munai on the ground shouting for help. On the ground, he gave him three quality kicks which made Munai stop screaming and fainting.
With the silence, Kiruhi thought his enemy was powerless.
“Thank you, God,” he said and sat down on a log of wood, heaving. He took out his cigarette from his pockets, lit it, puffed it twice, and rose to see who this enemy was. He directed his flashlight on him and oh, he realized it was Munai, the Form Four student lying, blood coming out of his forehead.
Thrice his eyes blinked. He looked at his cigarette and thought he was smoking something that was making him hallucinate. As if unsure of what he had seen, he rubbed his eyes and said, “Isn’t this Munai, the Form Four boy?”
Suddenly, four other boys pursuing Munai arrived. Kiruhi now thought they were the ones that had been texting him, and perhaps they were after Munai too.
But why? He thought and decided it was time to fly away. He had already killed one, so he thought. And today he would be expelled from work.
The boys arrived at Mr. Ruto’s office shortly, carrying Munai that had fainted, with blood coming from his head. Out stood Mr. Osoro. Then Mr. Ruto came out after he had heard the boys murmuring.
“Who did this to him?” He asked, worried.
“Kiruhi,” the boys answered in unison.
Mr. Ruto whistled lightly, shaking his head sideways. He looked at Munai and realized that Munai had truly fainted.
“And where is Kiruhi?” he asked.
“He ran away the moment he saw us.”
“Okay, take him to the dispensary immediately.”
Osoro and the boys left, as Ruto went back to the office. In a little moment, Kiruhi arrived at the office, panting. Then Ngunjiri and Manoti were kneeling, being questioned over the possession of phones in school. Momentarily, Kiruhi had heard some quality strokes of Mr. Ruto’s rubber working on them before he had knocked on the door. Mr.Ruto was already sweating while the two boys were rubbing their buttocks rapidly to cool down the heat of the whips, and squeezing out some tears in their eyes, and some mucus in their noses.
Kiruhioverhead them, and realized that the boys had been caught with phones. Perhaps they are the ones, he guessed.
The whipping stopped and Kiruhi entered in. Mr. Ruto looked at him, and asked, “What happenedKiruhi? You need to be careful.”
“It’s my fault sir. But I am ready to pay the price. Is he dead?” Kiruhi asked sweating, his face showing excess worry. Mr. Ruto smiled.
“No, he just fainted. He will be well. Thank God you caught him before he was away.” Ruto replied.
“Look at these messages, teacher,” Kiruhi said and handed the phone to Mr.Ruto, and standing there confused. Mr. Ruto read the messages, looked at the boys sharply, and kept quiet to establish whether they were responsible or not. The boys shook feebly and faced on the floor trying to ignore Mr. Ruto, a sign that showed guilt.
Mr. Ruto turned to Kiruhi and said, “Kiruhi, it’s not your fault. Just go back to work, I will handle the matter. Munai has been taken to the dispensary.”
Ngunjiri pleaded guilty to threatening Kiruhi lastly. It was Munai’s phone that they had used to send the messages, to test Kiruhi’s courage, he said. Ngunjiri had jumped through the fence and placed the note in the gatehouse when Kiruhi was at the dining hall.
The following morning, they would be going home to bring their parents, Ruto resolved.
©Kemboi Victor 5/14/2018