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ATB BA Danstan WasobokhaI unzipped my bag to get a book. It was a tradition to have a book on one’s desk just in case the ‘Teacher Teacher!’ warning came through. This was the role of the ever keen students who sat next to the windows or the door and then spotted a teacher coming before wuickly warned the class.
Nobody ever made any serious study when the teacher was not in class. We were all lost in stories, games, ‘Mchongoano’, pranks and sometimes fights that resulted from the activities. Our fights were conducted in a modest way. We would all keep quiet and create an ample space for the contestants to exercise their control and skills. The elderly students would see to it that nobody cheered loud enough to be heard by non-members hence disrupting the fights.
As I reached in to my bag for my book, to my surprise, I found a packet of chewing gum. We called them ball gums. They were small and round, resembling marbles. They were chewable and came in different colors. I had forgotten to deliver them to our shop the previous day. I had gone to a wholesale in town after school, to purchase the gums for resale at the shop. I had to find a way of disposing them off before they got stolen. I contemplated sneaking back home during break, but was too afraid so I decided to try selling them in school because there was a ready market. Even though one piece cost one shilling, I decided to sell one piece for two shillings because of the high demand.
Chewing ball gums was such an invaluable achievement among my peers. Not everyone could afford them. It was a sign of prestige. As a result, some students would chew one piece for a whole week. At the end of every day, one would stick the piece at the lower hidden side of the desk. One would then retrieve it the following day and chew for the whole day. This would go on until one acquired a ‘new’ ball gum. Some students would go searching below the desks and steal the pieces of gum they found hidden because they could not afford buying ones for themselves. Close friends would share the expense of buying one ball gum and chew it in turns. This would go on until the friendship came to an end. In such situations, the one with the gum just before the friendship ended, would hold the advantage i.e. the ball gums .
I loved chewing gum; this was close to my heart. To be honest, let’s just say I loved chewing everything: paper, biro tubes, pen lids and so forth, after which I would hit random people with the piece full of saliva. In such situations, I gave my enemies first priority in service. I enjoy watching my victims try to figure out who had hit them as I pretended to be busy reading. Oh what pleasure and fun I got from this! Anyway, I wanted to be like the cool kids who could afford to buy ball gums.
I would throw one into my mouth, close my eyes and suck it enthusiastically. Let the sweet flavor run through my tongue. I love doing that. This also preserved the ball gum and made the excitement last longer. I sucked it until all the color was gone and the gum is white. That is when I would then start chewing. That was it, I was happy and at peace. I could chew happily ever after. When I opened my eyes, people would be all over me; some expecting a bite, while others expecting to be successors at chewing, while my closest friends hoped to get their turn to chew.
In a blink, my desk was flocked. I made it clear that nothing would go for free. This broke many hearts and I wish to apologize now, since I never had the time to do so then. My friends got frustrated, angry and virulent. My resolve went on until one Pambestine Mbuyu said,
“I’ll buy them from you.”
Those were the magic words. Like a lady being wooed, I turned and looked at him seductively. “Now you have my attention, continue”. He made an offer, one shilling a ball gum. I paused for a moment, not wanting to be viewed cheaply. That is when my entrepreneurial spirit came in, ‘I can make a killing here!’ I thought to myself and I gave my own counteroffer,
“Two shillings a ball gum.”
That’s 100% profit! Just like that. Guys were desperate for sugar and the offer was accepted immediately. I think the guy bought ten of them at that time. The next one five, then eight, then…I lost count. Soon I had an empty packet and a full pocket. I had chewed some.
So, I became the richest person in just minutes. I had successfully made a big smile on my face and equally a big number of enemies in class. The business was on! I had accidentally discovered the venture I needed the most. I had started a business of sorts, I had no intention of starting the business but being the canny, shrewd businessman (as it felt) that I was, or rather, hoped to be, I spotted a gap in the market and I moved in to fill it. I had tested the waters and indeed it was sweet.
The following day, I bought another packet and sold nearly all of them. I got money. I had started from the bottom and now I was there – thriving! My customer base was growing fast. Recommendations went beyond the four walls of my class and I had investors wooing me. It was all rosy until when the devil tempted me. I intentionally fixed gum on the teacher’s chair. My Science teacher sat on it. It stuck on his trousers. As he got up to write on the black board, the gum stretched like a tail. The whole class burst into a laughter until he noticed. I was snitched by acclamation.
Coincidentally, two other students, a boy, Zuzu and a girl, Chiriku were caught fighting. The fight was ignited after Pambestine Mbuyu threw gum on Chiriku’s hair and fixed Chiriku’s fervent enemy, Zuzu. The gum stack on her head and clasped her hair. She was so mad that she could not talk. She got to Zuzu’s back and bit it hard. He let out an ear-pricking shriek and proceeded to seek vengeance. The whole class was in euphoria as they watched a surprise but entertaining clash of these two titans. That was when the head teacher got in. Like a graveyard, the whole class went silent. A cloud of dust made us all have blurry vision. From the egregious lines of mucus on Zuzu’s face, one could tell the fight was absolutely disorienting to him. They were sent to the deputy head teacher’s office.
I went to the staffroom. The Science teacher gave me ‘Twenty-two of the BEST’ that’s how he called his strokes of cane. My English and Kiswahili teachers each added eight extra strokes because they claimed to be my friends, I didn’t know since when. The deputy head-teacher’s office was opposite the staffroom. As I left the staffroom, I could hear Zuzu being interrogated. The kind of questions I heard sent chills through my body. Fear enveloped me. I stopped in my tracks, literally. I clearly heard the deputy head-teacher saying, “Zuzu, you must tell us who gave you the chewing gum! I know it must be a day scholar, it cannot be a boarder.” Man I was scared. I was shaking as I went to class. “Will he snitch? No he won’t! He better not. He should say that he was given during visiting day. HE BETTER NOT SNITCH.” That was all that was going through my mind. The teacher came to class, but as expected, I was not concentrating.
A knock on the door jolted me from my melancholy. The person on the other side of the door did not wait for the teacher to say, “Come in” before opening the door. Yes, you know it, a tall, bespectacled man came in, the deputy head-teacher!
“Wanyonyi!” that’s how he used to call me, “Follow me to my office.”
I was scared. I had been snitched on. From there the script was as usual. I was caned into confessing. “Yes I was selling ball gums in school.” I was then ordered to write down a list of every person I had sold a ball gum to. I wished I could dig a tunnel right through the office. My empire was crumbling, albeit in a pool of tears, but it was crumbling nonetheless. With shaking hands, I wrote down every name I could remember. That evening, I chose not to go home for dinner. I decided to play football with pals until late.
A few moments before dusk, I headed back to school for preps. Upon reaching school, I saw my dad getting into the staffroom. I nearly cried. Oh, I had failed to mention, my dad was the chairman of the school board and here was his son running an illegal empire. Still, the deputy head-teacher should have kept matters to himself. Guys who know my dad know he is an astute disciplinarian. I was summoned to the deputy head-teacher’s office yet again during prep. To this day, that was my worst experience in school. I was whacked by my dad till I could not shed tears anymore. I just made contrite facial expressions and dry screams.
The head teacher tried to stop him but no! He who had begun a good work in me, could not stop it until he brought it into completion at will!
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