“Let me tell you, duck meat is the deal.”
“Nope. Chicken meat is the thing.”
“You’re saying that because you haven’t tasted a goose.”
I chipped in and maintained that beef was in fact the deal.
This conversation was with my sister and two other people who hold no importance.
“Of course we know you love beef.” My sister said.
“I love beef but goose first in line.” Not so important person A said. I’ve never had goose but there was no way it topped beef.
“I’m with duck before anything.” Person B stated.
“Chicken is the best. Ask anyone.” My sister insisted.
“If you ask anyone they’ll tell you beef.” I put in.
“Shut up. Beef is not the best meat just because you think so.” My sister snapped.
“You would think the same if you ate it.” I retaliated.
“Never.” She winced.
My mom used to have the same opinion about beef. That was until her sister enticed her with some matumbo. Not liver or lungs. Matumbo. She started eating beef and can confirm that beef is in fact the best meat.
My sister’s case is different. Nothing changes her mind about beef. Not even matumbo. We’ve tried marondo and kidney. We’ve even tried tongue. There’s something they say about eating a tongue….
“What will you eat in heaven? They serve beef and milk there.” My dad asks her every time.
Bold of him to think we were all going to heaven.
“OK. What comes after beef for you. Chicken, goose or duck?” Person B asked.
“You eat tortoise?” She was more worried than horrified.
“Turtle. There’s a difference.”
“How can you eat such a creature?” She asked cringing. Oh, poor kid. I thought to myself and left them to their boring lives.
Forget about turtles and tortoises. Let’s talk about something else. Something interesting. Interesting and very much true. Grace. Not grace, Grace.
Now, bear in mind that haters will consider this fiction but it is indeed factual.
I like to refer to myself as an inbetweener when it comes to being brought up. I spent a great deal between village and town life to know and enjoy both ends. Now, I started my schooling in the village. You know the drill. We just sang and picked on each other until it was time to go home. Actually I was picked on. When you are the only one with fancy shoes and a long pencil and carry a bag to school you are bound to be picked on. I never was happy to go to school. I did anyway for a year.
One day I arrived late. And the teacher on duty was waiting patiently for me and my family of latecomers. There was no talking to him. The only thing doing the talking was a cane across our bottoms. I kept pushing and pulling others ahead of me until finally it was just me and him. He grabbed me by my dress and did that thing with my dress that shaped out my small behind and landed two strong strokes. That was the last day he and the school saw me.
I moved to the city with my aunt and got admitted in a public school. The obvious happened; being looked down upon because I was from the village, kids laughing at me blah blah blah. Bullying is bad kids. Don’t bully people no matter where they are from. It’s not as innocent as it seems.
Months past and it came to my teachers attention that I was proving the old adage wrong: jogoo wa kijijini hawiki mjini. I was wikaaring. I was the first in class. I didn’t see how that was a big deal. I just did what the teacher told me. Repeated what she instructed and that was all. Never did it ever get to me. I swear, I didn’t even know I’m the first one in class most of the times.
“Si wewe ndio number one.” Someone would tell me when I asked who was the brightest in class.
Everything was OK until I became a lot of people’s enemy. I’m calling them people and not kids because they had a choice and they chose enmity. They could have just been nice to me and asked me to help where they needed it. Even the class prefect and monitor hated me. I was always on the noise maker’s list and the teacher had given them the power to punish us. Where others received two canes on the palms of their hands I got five, because she miscounted mine and had to start again. The funny thing is I was only punished when the teacher was not in.
Now enters Grace. Grace was a good girl. Healthy, lively, beautiful, plump with her skirt a little raised at the back. She had this air of confidence around her. She was just that person you were proud to say you knew. I wanted to be like her if not her.
I think we we friends. Or were we acquaintance? No, I could have sworn she and I walked home together and talked about how good it must be to be born white. Yes, it was her I used to take to the toilet. It was definitely Grace who smiled at me the first weeks in school. Or was it?
I don’t know what happened but she changed and became openly disregarding of me. I didn’t pay attention back then because I was always on the field playing ‘kati’, jumping ‘babli kan’, hide and seek, ‘uki’…name them. But now looking back I realize that girl killed me a million times with her eyes. I was just too happy to notice.
Every end of term we would be called for a closing assembly and every time I received books and pens and rulers, presents for number one. Everyone was used to it including the other classes. Even before being called they already knew it was me. So you can imagine the horror when one particular term I got called for number three.
Some boy was number two and the first one was, surprise, surprise.
Everyone was shocked. Including the teachers. I could hear the murmurs as I walked to the stage. My heart was beating fast. My hands were shaking. I realized then that I did care about being the first. I realized it felt good. And looking at Grace proudly standing before me I knew how she felt. Both about being behind me and being the first. I had a taste of her life.
The school had upgraded from books to ‘bikers’ that term. They are not hot pants, don’t correct me. The girls were given two bikers and a pantie wrapped in a clear wrapping paper. Ah, back when everything was good in the plastic bag industry. I don’t know what the boys got.
“I beat you.” Grace flaunted on my face as we went back to class. I didn’t have the mind to say anything back. I just wanted to run somewhere and cry. What was my aunt going to say? Number three?!
My classmates ran to class leaving me behind. I’m calling them classmates because I don’t have a reason to call them people. They were as shocked as I was about the happening. Some of them looked like they wanted to console me but thought against it because they still didn’t like it that I still beat them even by the number I got.
“What’s going on?” I heard the teacher ask. I was leaning on the wall outside the class looking dejected and vulnerable. She obviously saw my posture and dying aura and was concerned. She was a good one that one. I remember she let me read ‘laugh’ ten times just so I could get it right but I couldn’t. She gave me ten chances while others got only two. She was not happy I got that wrong. The only thing I got wrong. I’m sure Grace got it right though which made me feel even worse. I swore to make sure I read everything and got everything right.
“I got the price for first position. I beat her.” Grace was saying. My throat was becoming dry and I could feel tears stinging in my eyes.
“No. No. That’s a mistake. You’re number three. She’s number one.”
Everyone looked at me. Or was it at Grace?
“No, I’m number one.” Her voice was louder than anyone expected.
“I’m the teacher. I know what I’m saying. Whoever called your names must have done so in reverse.”
Grace and I looked at each other. I saw anger and despise and hatred all at one go. She was heaving.
“Grace, give Sapho her price.” The teacher said. Grace hid the wrapped paper behind her. She didn’t want to give it back. I felt something move inside me. Something I’ve never felt before.
“No. It’s OK. Let her keep it.” I said.
“It’s the same thing anyway.”
“Are you sure?” The teacher looked at me. I smiled.
After that we all headed home. My people were walking beside me telling me how shocked they were that I was number three. According to them, no one could be number one but me. It’s pretty obvious why I’m calling them people now.
“Oh. Look. There’s Grace.” One of the people on my side said. I looked ahead. Grace was standing under a tree just a few walks away. She was not alone. The girl she was with looked two or three years older than her. Something told me to run. And I did. But they caught me. You can’t run away from two people who really want to catch you for whatever reason.
“This. This is the one who keeps stealing your position?” The girl asked holding me by the color. I think she was Grace’s sister. She was scary.
“Yes.” Grace said rubbing her swollen red eyes. Girl did fall hard I guess.
“You. What’s your problem? Who do you think you are?” She nudged me by the head. She was fuming and seething I feared for my life.
“I said. Who do you think you are? You think you can just come here and take things that don’t belong to you? I will show you today. I will show you.”
I think she slapped me. I also think she asked Grace to slap me too. It’s safer to think. Being sure in such cases does not do anyone any good. She took off her sandals and I think she beat me with them. I think I cried and asked them to stop. They took my price and threw it away and soiled it. I think I nosebled. Like I said it’s safer to think.
My people had abandoned me. They watched silently in the shadows. I think some were cheering. A passerby came to my rescue. He was a man. He walked with me until he was sure I was OK. He was nice.
I never talked about the incident and no one brought it up. I guess we all agreed telepathically to never talk about it. It was just an incident. Incidents happen. I understood grace. She was the top student before I arrived. I stole that from her. But her attacking me in the middle of the road with her sister. That I did not anticipate. I was hassled and rounded out like onion rings in oil. They turned me into a criminal who had stolen the life out of someone. And all i did wrong was be first in class.
She didn’t come to school the following term. She had transferred. Whenever she comes to memory I try to think of her as the good friendly girl I wanted to be like. But you can’t control your memories. I just hope she did become first in the school she went to and in everything she ever did.