I lay in bed on a Saturday afternoon staring at the bottle of Jik bleach placed on the curtain box. I flirted with the idea of swallowing a few drops.
I did not want to take my life, no, I just wanted to draw attention to the seriousness of this issue. I figured if I ingested some of the detergent and got sick enough, my parents would be summoned.
When they came, I would apologise profusely for doing such a foolish thing, then beg them to consider my plea. The thought of my parents getting summoned to school because I had deliberately tried to harm myself made me shudder.
I pictured my mom’s pained face-a mixture of hurt and disappointment. Growing up, mom had done everything in her power to nurture an open relationship with me and my siblings.
However, it the thought of my dad that made me instantly rule out the Jik idea. My father would be crushed. He was my greatest cheerleader and had staunch faith in me.
We used to laugh over the fact that were it not for my mother’s stringent interventions, I would be a classic spoilt brat.
The unfairness of putting my loving parents through such an ordeal made the Jik plan lose its appeal. But that did not resolve the ache in my heart. I knew I had to do something and do it soon.
I retrieved a foolscap from my bag and settled down to pen a letter to my parents. I figured it was the best way to express the grievance that had been squeezing the life out of me; I wanted to change schools.
UNEASE IN THE AIR
I sat for my KCPE in 2007, an election year. With the skirmishes that followed the general election, many people refrained from travelling beyond their home-turfs especially in the zones that did not experience the post- election violence.
Our home area in Ngong town was relatively calm although a dark cloud of fear hung in the air as we did not know what the new day would bring.
My parents felt it was best for me not to school too far from home given the situation the country was in. Despite having qualified to attend most of the provincial schools I had applied for, my parents forfeited those admissions and sought for a school that was closer home. They made me understand that this was the best decision at that moment.
Sadly, when you are a teenager raging with hormones, reason does not always settle in nice and pretty.
It did not help that all along my primary school years, my parents had urged me to study had; get 400 marks and above then go to Alliance Girls High School.
My dad had jokingly added that if I didn’t work hard, I would end up in the nearby local school. From as early as eight years of age, I learnt to associate that school with average performance.
Now, this is not true. In fact, the school was upgraded to a national level later on and has gone ahead to produce some of the greatest professionals in the country. I guess my father teasingly said that to motivate me.
I could not believe that just because I had missed the 400marks target by a whisker, I was being made to go to that school.
They took turns, mom and dad, to make me understand that this was a safety issue. I sulked, nearly skipped my meals but didn’t quite do it and dished them the silent treatment for a day or so.
My dad did not have the courage to plead with after all, he had told me repeatedly that I was to work hard lest I ended up in that school. My mom gives tough love. She is a friend but a mom first, a role she takes very seriously.
A few days later, she announced that we were going for shopping and I knew that the deal was closed; local nearby school; here I come.
On admission day, my father pulled me aside while I was tearfully bidding farewell to the entourage that had brought me to high school. When he begun whispering conspiratorially, my heart warmed with hope. “Daddy is changing his mind,” I thought to myself.
Well, I thought wrong. Partially wrong. He asked me to work very hard in my first term and when things calmed down, we would scout for another school. Of course I was not to breathe a word to my mother.
DIFFICULT FIRST FEW WEEKS
The first few weeks were difficult, I won’t lie. The food was horrible which is a lot coming from me because I have an astoundingly hearty appetite.
The githeri was garnished with bitter weevils and a touch of kerosene. The porridge resembled my bed when my niece insists on spreading it; shockingly lumpy.
I snubbed the food for two days max then acquired a taste for it. What choice did I have?
By the third week I had learnt the ropes; weevils tasted like spice; ungodly waking hours plus cold showers were almost bearable; Use of fear as driving force for all activities was…no this never got better.
In fact, the threats of punishment and visible relish of teachers as they meted out punishment was the onset of my unsettled emotions.
When you are raised to express yourself and get thrust into an environment where children are to be see and not heard; where responding to a question is perceived as rudeness and arrogance or where you are not allowed to have, let alone voice, an opinion- adapting becomes very difficult.
WORDS THAT KEPT ME GOING
The words of my father kept me going and I burnt the midnight oil cramming as much as I could. My effort paid off as I clinched the top position across the four streams.
I celebrated briefly but the instant I got home, I called my dad aside. I had the report form on one hand and the ‘Position One’ present on the other as supporting evidence. He was cornered.
I found myself resuming the same school for second term. Apparently, my father had confessed to my mother about our side-chat. I was not surprised.
I had learnt a long time that daddy couldn’t keep a secret from mom; she had a way with him.
If you did something in secret with dad and mom asked about it, you were on your own. He would sell you out without a blink. After the confession, they “jointly agreed” that I should not change schools. My excellent performance only affirmed this decision. I opted to choose my battles and half-heartedly embraced my fate.
Looking back, I realise that my attitude towards the school had been wrong from day one. That was what ached me and from it sprung all my frustrations.
The food tasted worse, the showers got colder, everything deteriorated. I had no joy. It had nothing to do with the school, it was all about me and how I felt being there. Which raised an important question; did my feelings matter?
The breaking point came one chilly evening. I come from Kajiado where some days are extremely hot followed by freezing cold nights. The night prep had ended and as soon as I entered the dorm, a sharp scream tore the air.
We all rushed to the cubicle where the scream came from. A form one girl had found a thick snake resting on her bed. I knew that snakes were pretty common around that time of the year, but a snake in the bed?
I was so frightened that I peed my pants a little. Most of the form one students could not sleep days after the incident.
Over the following two weeks, my despair soared a notch higher.
As I lay on the bed that afternoon penning down everything, I felt a wave relief wash over me.
The letter to my parents was very descriptive and assuring. It was filled with promises that if they hearkened to my plea, I would make sure they never regretted it. I told them that I knew how much they loved me and would definitely not want me to be this sad. I am yet to put that much heart into writing like I did that day.
On receiving the letter, my parents showed up. We had a lengthy conversation that was vulnerable, honest and utterly beautiful.
We listened to each other and cleared a lot of misunderstanding. Parts of the letter were read; it was almost like an intervention with a great commitment to solving the issue at hand.
There was no judgement or blame games, thanks to my mother’s strong mediation skills. I think the next time we will share such a moment is when they are sending me off to be a missus.
Some time back, I asked my mother what made them agree to change me schools in third term of Form One.
“You always loved school. I remember on your first day at kindergarten, you hugged your father hurriedly before dashing to your classroom. You enjoyed classwork and had a thing for passing exams. At first when you said you wanted to change schools, I thought your teen tantrums were finally manifesting. I was afraid that you were changing, getting negatively influenced. But your letter made me see things from a different angle. I realised that you were not complaining about the school as much as how you felt while in the school. It dawned on me that you were truly sad. Sure, you could have “grown horns” over those first three months of high school, but I had known you longer before that. I knew that you, my child, was an enthusiastic girl especially on matters school. Plus, you promised us an “A” in your letter and that helped your case a little.”
Now, my new school was not heaven. But I was happy that my parents gave me another opportunity to build a new untarnished mentality about high school. It was a chance to get off on the right foot this time round.
Also, I did not get an A but my grade was decent enough to secure me a spot in Moi University. I am glad my parents read the letter and gave me a fair hearing. I’m more grateful that my feelings mattered to them.