He hesitates when his name is read out.Many times his name has been read out and all he has ever received is regrets.He fears this is probably going to be no different.But he is a courageous lad.In the fifteen years he's been alive,he's seen it all.He's been through the kind of stuff most people never get to go through their whole lives.That's why he's approaching this situation with caution.The world has bruised him,and made him wiser in the process.He doesn't even hurry things up any more.Even this day,when he woke up ,he took all his time before embarking on the treacherous twenty kilometer walk,to his county headquarters town hall,where he and other short-listed education bursary applicants were to know their fate.Having done this journey the previous year, and the one before,he was of no particular hurry to have his heart broken again.But he got off,after all the cows and goats were taken care of.Its the first thing that he has to do,no matter the day,no matter the hurry.
Along the way,the county's fuel guzzlers sped past him heading to the same venue.He suppressed an urge to make an attempt to flag one down,fearing the fate he would suffer in the hands of those burly,mean men that alight from the vehicles,whenever they make a stop by the road-side Nyama Choma Ranch,owned by the Governor's personal assistant.He has seen them before,because across the road,as his father's cows graze,he would lay under the shade to quench his thirst using water from an old, dirty bottle he always carried with him.
So when his name is read again,he mutters a short prayer,and heads for the dais to receive his verdict.His shorts,the same pair he's gone to school with this past year,now has holes at the back,that expose his back-side.The two girls with pony-tail hair and shiny clothes, seated at the front momentarily abandon their phones to gaze at this boy heading to the dais with torn shorts and obviously no under-wear.No one seems to wake up to the irony that they too, though far more endowed,are here for the same thing as this poor boy.They nudge each other and giggle under their breaths,as they gaze at this walking bundle of poverty walking to the front.Their mother rebukes them half-heartedly as she too,suppresses a laugh,heaving heavily in the process and the gold-chain around her neck is yanked out of her blouse.She clicks,then curses in Harlem-made English,and throws it back to its place carelessly like its of not much value.She's getting agitated with all this waiting.Its a children's bursary meeting for Pete's sake,not an I.M.F board meeting,and she and her girls have a long drive back to the capital,once they receive their letters.So the organizers had better hurry things up,or she will call the Education Secretary,he being the one that sent her here,with a word that her girls must make the list.This way,she can avoid paying school fees altogether and spend the cash on that holiday in Mauritius.
Society Laughing At Itself
The Chief presiding officer doesn't shake the lad's hand,maybe because you can spot the cracks on them from a few meters away.In the ensuing confusion the lad drops his letter and, as he bends to pick it up,the entire dais erupts in hearty laughter.Even the outside catering boys from a nearby four star hotel,as they collect their cutlery and left-overs from the dais, follow suit.Its their left-over food that actually led to this costly slip.Who wouldn't have?. For the boy's buttocks,both of them,are now officially out,having broken the last few remaining straps of thinning strings that kept total nakedness temporarily at bay.But you can only hold on to a cob web for so long.The end had to come.Though he's used to life's humiliations,rarely does it happen in front of such an affluent crowd of on-lookers.He has no desire to be a stand-up comedian,so he refuses to to participate in this laugh.He bows his head in shame and runs out,only stopping to get his breath when he could no longer hear the laughter.Only to realize that he is leaning on the gate of a police post,the same one he spent two nights in,for grazing his father's cows by the gate.So off he goes again,but because now darkness is setting in,he feels a familiar calm that comes with having to hide from humanity,because one is not properly clothed.Finally,the ordeal is over.
He does not know the contents of his letter yet,but he takes solace in the fact that he had scored more marks than most of the applicants that showed up,including the two rich girls with pony-tail hair.A man will always be a man and he can't stop thinking that the girls must really be beautiful.And clean.Clean is what caught his eye.They even carried handkerchiefs,in a world full of leaves and grass.What a waste,he wonders.Why such kids don't blow up the entire exam,he fails to understand,yet they will blow their noses at the slightest opportunity.If he doesn't go to high school this time,he might just give up.This is what he fears most,for he knows he has the ability to become a literature lecturer,in one of the colleges in the capital.But no one will take him and he is beginning to blame himself,thinking he is probably the problem.If there is nothing tragically wrong with him,why won't anybody give him a chance to study?Why is his own country so afraid of him?Why won't anyone give him the chance?. Why is it that every time he tries to appeal to humanity for help,all they see is his torn pair of shorts?Every time he has to queue,the girls get picked and he is told to go fend for himself "like a man".Even through the radio,whenever he has come close to one ,all he's heard is what this and that person and organization is doing to "rescue the girl-child". He is not against girls being rescued from all that outdated cultural practices throws at them.But he wonders why,unlike the girl,in his case,the society chooses to make sick jokes on him.Or why,in its quest to free the girl,it will imprison the boy.At this point,even hope would do.Or an assurance from someone somewhere that his existence is at least legal.Maybe that phrase "girl-child", sounds more attractive and catchy than "boy-child".And the donors will always go for the fancy phrases,to attract more funding.He simply doesn't understand.He shakes his head,but stops immediately,for having waited for this letter the whole day,he's had nothing to eat and is only now realizing that his head hurts.
Valley of death
As he nears the valley notoriously called the valley of death,he is filled with apprehension.He doesn't know whether to proceed or retire for the night in the farm by the road.In this valley,many lives have been lost.Gangs are known to share their loot in this valley,and anybody walking on foot here has to be outright crazy.He thinks about his father's cows and the whipping that would be sure to befall him,should he not take them to graze first thing at dawn.And with that, he shelves the idea of spending the night out in this farm and decides to soldier on.If anybody wants his life,then it must be worth something,he says to himself.And the system may not see it,but eventually somebody else will.
The fuel guzzlers speed past him again,as they head back from the bursary function,sweeping their powerful lights around him,only to leave him in more darkness.Momentarily blinded now,he misses the head of a deadly panther by a whisker.Or rather the panther misses him by a quarter of a millimeter.How God takes care of those who no one wants.His heels ache.His entire torso follows suit.But he so far away from home,and the letter that may eventually transform his life cannot spend a night in the bushes.Its like leaving your first new car in a Jua-kali garage for a week,alongside the rusty Tuk-tuk.Something is wrong with that picture,he reckons and laughs,so that birds nesting in the nearby bushes frantically jostle for fleeing space.So he troops on.Though he's walked to school all these years,this particular walk has been particularly brutal,because its being done on an empty stomach.At least in school, the feeding programme has given him a few grains of boiled maize and beans that pass for lunch,everyday for as long as he can remember.And for that ,he is eternally grateful.Though the boys all have to wait for the girls to be served first, so they can scramble for whatever is left , they,and he in particular have never been bitter by this show of preference.He understands pretty well that this programme was meant for the girl-child.The fact that he gets anything out of it at all,is to him a bonus and he is thankful,but doesn't know to whom.All he knows is someone has kept total starvation at bay for him,for fifteen good years.If there is a God out there, it must be Him,for no human has shown any particular interest in his welfare.
He arrives home at mid-night.He has nothing else left in him.He's literally dragging his feet now.He can barely remember the political speeches that took all day.Not much was said about education,which even he could see is what this function was supposed to be all about.Political groups were formed before their own eyes.Loyalties were declared while others were severed.Careers were ended while others were began,this same day.The huge strides being made by women and the girl-child, was applauded by speaker after speaker.More was pledged towards the girl child.A certain non-governmental organization,in search of more funding, that pledged to throw in a few boys here and there,was threatened with immediate de-registration. And as Marufuku Shida now fans the fire, so he could read the final few sentences of his regret letter,he can feel his head spin and the whole world crash around him.For a whole day,he's entertained the thought that his day to leave all the poverty behind,may have finally arrived.How could he have known that it was the wrong kind of entertainment.He is staying, after all.His dreams have,once again,come to a grinding halt.He will live to fight another day.But his biggest worry now is if he even wants to live.He is a criminal that has never committed a single crime.He was born a poor boy.Nobody will have a poor boy.Tragic.
Though he's heard of a discreet recruitment of young boys to a rag-tag militia in a neighboring country,he looks at his letter of regret one more time,as if expecting to find a sentence he'd missed. Its the core business of this militia to maim,kill and generally wage a senseless war against his country. He has no desire to be a traitor to his country.But a young man can only stay discriminated against for so long.If his country rejects him,someone else will welcome him.Your trash is gold to someone else.So he gives a quick thought to the recruitment.Then he pushes the idea to the back of his mind,and hits the sack,a real sack that pass for a bed,to suffer endless hunger-induced nightmares.For now.