You are 13-years-old seated on a threadbare desk in a cold classroom. It is 7:00a.m but your checked school shirt is half drenched in sweat from the upper right shoulder right up to the left armpit. If it were any other day you would not have cared about it. But it is your last day in primary school. The shirt will not matter after today.
The invigilator’s high heels make their presence known and stop next to you. Her hand stretches and places a paper on the desk. The feeling is unreal. Eight years have passed by too quickly. You are now sitting for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Examination (KCPE).
In the 8 years, you shed teeth and grew better and permanent ones. You learnt how to tie shoe laces as well as the neck tie. You looked forward to the 4:00 o’clock bell. When it rang, you took your nylon paper made football and dashed to the middle of the field where you would toss it in the air and then let it fall on the tip of your toughie shoes in mid-air. In those days, you barely remembered that at the end of your 8th year, a science final examination paper would be staring back at you. Even if you did, it never mattered then. You just wanted to play street football with Njoro and Kibe who lived in the homestead separated from yours by a fence.
But here it is, the end of 8 years. You start thinking you should have spent more time learning Mathematics or Science more than running around with kites. Maybe then, this moment would be less scary. You get by the three days of the final primary school examination and go home free. You are not sure what the results will be though. Your mum has already enquired about admission to a national school not far from your home.
Two month later, you are on the edge of the couch listening to a man (Education Minister) on television speaking about the nation being proud of some names he has just read. Part of you hoped you would be on the list. But a bigger part knew those whose names were read never spent time watching WWE wrestling matches during their free time, nor played village football until nightfall. They learned fractions and algebra, they studied, they revised and followed advice from their teachers and seniors. That is the reason their names were called out.
On the second month of the year, you are on a school’s admission queue. You have a coloured aluminum strong box on one hand, sweat and clinched fist on the other hand and fear and uncertainty on your face. It is your first day in high school. You take a look at the parent’s faces and they can’t hide the discontent of their children joining an average school. Your first day is devoid of happiness and celebration.
A few months later, you become used to the routine; wake up, class, breakfast, class, class and more classes. You are so used to it that your legs have a mind of their own; they lead and you follow. The bell becomes your master, or do you become its slave? There are no brakes. Why would there be brakes for average students? But you hear the rumors about national schools having fewer classes and not waking up as early. But the principal stands in front of the parade every Monday morning and reminds you that you that an average student wakes up an hour earlier.
In the midst of the noise, you find solace in scribbling stories at the back of a chemistry book. You write about the dull classes, poke fun at the form four student who made you clean his towel on your first week as well as writing about the torture of a structured system.
English is you favorite class. It excites you. You love the literature class. You are fascinated more with how the books are written more than the stories. You become more in love with words with each story you scribble down. Occasionally, the math teacher catches you in the middle of writing a thought that couldn’t wait for the class to end. He always reminds you that calculus, number and science matter more than words. Stories are women’s world, he reminds you.
On February, a year after you complete secondary school you are walking towards the post office. You have come to pick your university letter. You are excited. You had applied for a journalism course a few months earlier. You have been watching Christiane Amanpour in preparation for your career. You unfold the letter and your face drops on reading the first sentence. It says that the government (Kenya University & Colleges Placement Services) is pleased to sponsor you to study Bio-Chemistry.
You walk back home and remember that words don’t matter. OR DO THEY? FIND OUT!