“Because what’s worse than knowing you want something, besides knowing you can never have it?”
“Five raised to the power of two…,” the teacher said.
The clack of the chalk on the blackboard irritates Ng’enoh. He adjusts uncomfortably in his rickety chair.
He stares blankly trying to pinpoint the crack on the wall that let in the sun. It is still dark outside. According to his watch it is 4 o’clock in the morning. He considers going back to sleep but the goat skin doesn’t hold a promise of any comfort. He decides against it. The night runners have not even finished their rounds. This thought assures him of some company out on the road. Why do they run? What are they running towards? Why does anyone run? Are they running from something? We all running away from our miseries in one way or another. Right?
Today, he has to catch the bus. He does not have a particular destination. Any will be just fine. Can I possibly get away? And go where? Any place that is not here? He rummages through his thoughts trying to see if among the rubble lay a solution to their current predicament. He has missed a button. He mutters a curse under his breath.
He is the first born in a family of six, three girls and three boys. The perfect symmetry. We don’t choose our families. What if we could? Blemishes. The snoring of his little brother brings him back to the present. He feels his way in the dark trying to find his only pair of shoes. Theirs was a dysfunctional family.
Bomet is unusually cold in July. Baby making weather they called it. The biting cold has numbed even his feet. His worn out shirt with a torn collar is still wet in some parts. The sweater he has on is only a formality it does not serve any purpose. He quickly walks through the dark almost breaking out in a sprint. Faint lights approaching from a distance gives him a glimmer of hope. He wants to stand right in the middle of the road. He starts to frantically wave the bus to stop.
“Dad I need money for my school fees.”
“Chukua hii majani chai, kwa saa ii sina pesa,” the old man says leaning down through the driver’s window. The black paper bag hangs in the air for a second. Hesitation. He considers walking away. The anger boiling inside him has completely paralysed him.
He stands on the side of the road confused. The red lights fading in the horizon cuts a piercing ache through his heart. He tastes blood on his tongue. He can feel the pounding of his heart. He considers tearing the paper and scattering the tea leaves to the wind. The thought of his mum stops him. She had sat distraught by the fireside as the tea boiled on the fire. They didn’t have something to eat. The sugarless tea on the fire would have to suffice to get them through the night. The future seemed nothing but bleak. The hopelessness written on her face was unmistakable. She had held back her tears. Rage.
Why can’t they just find a way to fend for themselves? Do I have to do everything? He looks back through his side mirror at the fading figure of his firstborn son. He shifts to a higher gear and accelerates. That large tract of land that I left them with let them do some farming. He wants to reach out and feel the one thousand shilling note sitting pretty in his pocket. His second wife will surely prepare a delicious meal tonight. He smiles to himself.
He hates Maths. There is nothing worse than trying to focus in the afternoon. The classroom is hot. He clenches his fist to try fight off the hunger. There is no rumbling. An empty stomach full of air. The minyoo in his stomach must surely also be on the verge of emaciation. They are probably frantically looking for a way out. Where do they go? There is no excrement. His lunch box is gathering dust at the back of his desk lost among his books.
He tries to focus on the lesson. He wants power. The power to change his past. To undo his present. Rewrite his future.