|by Mbũrũ Kamau|
|Published on: Sep 5, 2006|
|Type: Short Stories|
|I do not know why she had to kill herself. We loved each other so much despite our age difference. I was still trying to figure out whether to go for one among the many when she quickly bumped into me and openly declared her love for me. At first, it seemed a cloud – it would pass, I assured myself – but how wrong was I!
I told her that I was not ready to get involved in such an affair considering that I was her teacher.
“Nyambura, I can’t befriend you,” I asserted one Friday evening. “My position is very decisive. More over, you are still young.”
She looked perplexed and stared at the ceiling.
“Sir,” she called, “I really love you.”
I wondered whether she was speaking the truth or just playing with my mind. It did not occur to me that a girl, sixteen years of age and in form two, could really understand the meaning of true love.
“Let me think about it,” I said. “Just give me three days...”
“Teacher,” she cut me short, “three days are more than enough. This passion has been inside me for a very long time. I can’t wait anymore sir. It’ll kill me.”
I kept silent. Did I hear right? What if the school administration found out? Was she sent by someone to test me?
“Irene,”, I called using her English name, “As I have just said, give me some time to think about it. This is not as easy as you think.”
She left almost hurriedly. It was already half past five yet the official leaving time was a quarter to five. My mind raced back and forth weighing up whether it was the right move I was going to make.
I was the Head of the English Department at Marururumo High School in rural Kenya and at only 23 years! All my other colleagues were well above thirty and had more expertise. I had graduated three years before from the University of Pwani with First Class Honours in Sociology.
When I sought for employment, the Principal, Mr. Chunga initially looked down on me.
“Are you the one?” he asked after perusing through my certificates.
“But you don’t look this educated,” he said implying my small body.
“Sir, those are my documents,” I said.
“Can you check with us on Tuesday next week?”
I felt rather odd. Coming some 50 kilometres away hoping to get employed but it seemed that I would be quickly turned away. I had understood what his statement meant. I was not going to give up that easily.
“Sir, I’ll work as a volunteer,” I said.
This did not impress him. “Young man, I don’t know what you are taught in today’s universities,” he continued, “You very well know that you must be interviewed… We don’t employ quacks. Education cannot be compromised.”
“Sir, I understand. But give me a chance and you’ll be impressed.”
Mr. Chunga, a large heavy man, gave the impression of having been absolved into his seat. With a bald head, his face registered a twitch. His eyes, beady through the thick lenses, had given the impression to deign over me. He stood, headed to the cabinet and opened the middle drawer and took out a green file emblazoned: Subject Performance Sheet English Language.
“Young man,” he started as he showed me through the file, “This has been our English performance for the last three years. As you can see, the marks are going down every year, yet our teachers are experienced. In fact, the English Teacher is doing his Post-Graduate Diploma this year but these marks are really worrying.”
“Sir, if I don’t make the grades better, just fire me,” I told him avoiding his comments about the English teacher. He looked at me registering some frustration, which I did not know whether it was due to my pestering or the poor grades.
“Come tomorrow ready to teach.”
“Thank you, sir.”
* * * * * *
Monday came faster than I imagined. I had long forgotten about the agreement I had made with Nyambura the previous Friday. I arrived in the school at 6:50 a.m. two hours before the beginning of my first class. At university I had learnt the true meaning of the saying ‘time is money’ after failing to submit my research papers on time only not to make the grade in the unit I was undertaking. I had to re-sit the unit, at my own cost.
The month was June and so chilly that I could not hold my pen with my hands comfortably, though I managed to prepare my notes for the day. Time flew so fast that I did not realize I had written notes for all the classes. As I did not have anything else to do, I decided to stroll around the school to make myself warm. As I was walking near Form 2J, I noticed a group of students in convergence and making a lot of noise. I entered the class and put on an angry face – at least to look serious. The whole class got into a hushed silence. On the floor lay Nyambura unconscious. The scene was pathetic but so sad at looking at her miserable body on the floor. I got confused and asked an equally disarrayed crowd what had transpired.
“She just came to class and fell down,” answered Purity, her best friend.
“Just like that?” I asked feeling her left hand pulse. Everybody became silent as if I was talking in Greek. Unreliable helpers, I thought.
“Carry her to the office,” I commanded. Two boys and four girls obliged. “As for the rest of you, continue studying.” As I was leaving, it dawned on me that I had an agreement with her the previous Friday. I sensed danger.
While in the office, we conducted prayers for our sick patient, cursing the Devil for bringing this unexpected calamity into our school. My three other colleagues had also assembled but did not offer any help at all. They knew that I was a staunch church-goer, so ‘she was in safe hands’. Ten minutes of first aid and intercessory, she was still silent. I feared for the worst.
I unbuttoned her blouse leaving the bra in the full view of the eager spectators. On looking around, everybody was mute with hands on their mouths. I chased the boys who left mumbling. I again felt her pulse. Nothing. I stopped and shook my head. I called one of the girls and asked her to repeat what I had done. She, like me, was equally bewildered. A stream of cold sweat started flowing on my forehead. I was getting rather irritated by Nyambura’s situation.
The school’s Principal and his deputy were attending a two-week annual Principal’s meeting in Mombasa, so I was virtually in charge of the school. The rest of the teachers on seeing this excused themselves to attend to their noisy classes. I was not in good books with them since the reforms I brought to the school, in spite of my young age, and having been voted the best teacher for two years running.
One hour later, Nyambura regained her consciousness. I was so happy I almost hugged her but on realizing that we were not alone and that she was my student, I rescinded. She looked so confused and smiled at me. I feigned not to notice. The rest of the girls left on their own leaving Nyambura and I in the temporary sanatorium.
“What is wrong with you?” I asked rather shaken.
“Me? What do you mean?” I asked
“Remember what I had asked you on Friday?”
“What?” pretending to be amused.
“Teacher, I…I told you that …”
I covered her mouth. “Shh!”I whispered. “The walls have ears.”
She frowned as though not understanding.
“Did you have to do it this way?”
“Yes, to prove that you are concerned.”
“Okay, I love you too,” I whispered again.
She smiled and became more beautiful than ever. I made her hair and helped her stand up. “Don’t let anybody know about this,” I warned. You may now go to class.” She winked at me and left.
I was left agape not knowing that I was doing the right thing or if it was against my profession. In the media more and more teachers were reportedly getting intimate with their students at an alarming rate, as others were marrying them while still in school, therefore going against the teachers’ code of conduct. This was rampant in the rural areas where the education officials were not doing anything to counter the situation. I did not want to rebel against the code but I was in love with this girl. The choice was too hard to make.
When evening came, Nyambura was at my office again. She looked casual. I was a little mystified but courageous. “Nyambura, you must be feeling better now.”
“Yes mwalimu. This has been my luckiest day.” She cuddled herself like an immature girl.
I hated myself for being too naïve and easily allowing her into my life, but did I have another choice? I needed love since my previous girlfriend left me some three months before. I was very heartbroken.
“Don’t be too happy,” I advised, “Love is not as easy as A-B-C. I just joked that I was...” I stared at her.
“So you lied to me?” she asked with a cloud of tears forming around her eyes.
“What do you mean?” I enquired
“You told me…,” she startled amidst sobs “… that you love me!”
I just looked at her and asserted that I was aware of my earlier assertion but our age difference and my profession were things to look into. That did not amuse her. She went into a frenzy and uncontrollable crying. I stood up from my chair and hugged her young warm body. She leant on my chest and wept. I felt like a hero liberating a captured city single handed.
“Irene, this is the wrong place for showing how much we love each other,” I continued, “Why don’t we do it somewhere else, say at my house?”
Her eyes flickered.
“When?” she asked coyly.
“Over this coming weekend,” I added, “to be precise, on Sunday.”
“Okay,” an almost weak whisper came from her.
* * * * * *
Irene and I were intimate for over two years. I was sure that we would be married once she completed her secondary education, which was just months away. Her school work also improved so much that she was a leading student in her studies. This was not her effort. I was the one who assisted her. I would get all the examinations beforehand and photocopy them for her so that she passed. This eventuality, which I am paying for dearly, led to a web of puzzles.
One day, as usual, two weeks before the district assessment examinations I photocopied them for her and she attempted the papers. When I marked them, she would scoop an A. Three days before the examinations, the government cancelled all the papers countrywide citing irregularities. New examinations would be printed and sent to all the schools within three days. The Minister for Education announced that the dates would not change. My forty days had come unexpectedly. She performed so poorly and was so withdrawn I tried urging her to move on but she quit school.
On that fateful Saturday morning, she woke up as usual, made tea for the family and resigned to her room. In there she took her diary and wrote everything about our illicit relationship and how I had been helping her get good grades in the examinations. Her family was enjoying breakfast when Irene’s younger sister, Mary, was asked to call her. Mary made a powerful painful wail. Irene’s body was dangling on the rope, tied to the ceiling’s lamp holder, lifeless. Her diary lay on the bed.
I was summoned and interdicted two days after her revelation for ‘having an illegal affair with a student under your care and aiding her to cheat in the examinations’, my interdiction letter read in part.
The most painful part about her death, however, was that she was six months pregnant with my child!