By Rehema Malemba
Robert is again on his lonely way home from Ubunifu Primary School.
The sun is at its setting end, colouring the western horizon orange. Long shadows of buildings and people criss-cross his paths as he passes Chirahu market.Ubunifu primary school, is a few meters away from Chirahu. He and other kids would pass this market when going to or from school.
From Chirahu, it is a couple of meters before Robert reaches their home, where he lives with his mother and twin sisters; Nelima and Neema. Robert is the firstborn. He is in grade four while Nelima and Neema in grade one.
Tired and hungry, Robert drags his feet along the marram road. He has no one to talk to except elders, who he feels too tired to greet. He has to greet them anyway, just to be safe from mom’s harsh cautions of being respectful.
His sisters and classmates have long gone home. He had remained behind to work on some mathematics problems he hadn’t understood well.
Mr. Francis had earlier on during his mathematics lesson, taught on ‘division.’
“Class, today we are finishing on the last subtopic of mathematic operations. It is so interesting and easy, do you know which one is it?”
“Division,” Rosa confidently said, standing upright as their teacher had always told them to do.
“Yes, division. And what are the other operations that we have already covered?”
“Addition, subtraction and,” Joshua shot up.
“And what else, Joshua?” Mr Francis inquired from him.
“And multipurpose,” Robert quickly chipped in. He had hardly sat down when laughter filled the room. It took Mr Francis a couple of minutes to silence the class.
“Thank you for the trial, Robert, it is Multiplication. We did this last week I think the hard term just slipped off your mind. And class, hasn’t your class teacher; Madam Malombo taught you how bad it is to laugh at someone else’s mistakes?”
Robert had been the laughing stock of the class since the new term began.
Robert had always been known for his low performance in studies. As simple as constructing a simple sentence of three words, Robert would sweat himself out.
Sayeed had been a tool of intimidation
His plumb and little body had further made him the laughing stock in his class. They had nicknamed him; Fat Potato.
“Robert, the only fat potato, how much can we get from you” Sayeed, the tallest guy who was known as a bully was number one in leading the mocks.
Sayeed had been a tool of intimidation for almost everyone in class. Both girls and boys stayed away from him for fear of being criticized. Sayeed would laugh at his fellows for their poor dress code, for their looks, which he perceived were so ugly and not worthy of his company.
Robert once reported him to the deputy headteacher, and severe punishment was laid on him, but that only stirred up more insults. He threatened him, and Robert retreated from reporting him anymore.
“Will you now report to your mama, oh mama’s boy? Let her continue feeding you with those eggs of hers and milk. One day you will burst!” Sayeed said to him as he returned to class after spending his lunch hour slashing the playground as his punishment.
Robert had felt tears in his eyes. He wished to cry out loud, but that would make him appear even weaker in front of his opponent. He just rose from his seat and went out.
Robert’s mother; was known for her farming. She was called Mama Mkulima. She reared poultry; ducks, chicken both broiler and layers, and also keptdairy cattle; two cows and few goats.
Mama Mkulima and his children had been living in Mombasa town until when his husband Mzee Busara passed on in a road accident. The abrupt death of Mzee Busara, who was the sole breadwinner of the family left mama Mkulimain a turmoil state of mind. Mzee Busara had enrolled his kids in a private school.
Nelima and Neema were in pre-primary school and Robert was in grade three.
The burial was conducted. Decently and respectfully, Mzee Busara was laid to rest in his home back at Imara village. After the funeral, Mama Mkulima decided to stick in the village permanently.
“Robert we are remaining here in the village. We will not go back to town. I can’t manage the expenses alone in town. I will look for you a good school at the center. It’s quite far but it’s good for you. I know you will continue doing well.”
Robert didn’t argue or cry although it was painful leaving behind his friends with whom he went to the beach and rode bicycles. Losing his dad was more painful.
His mother had tried to hide it from him, but he had eventually learned of it. The man he walked with, holding hands as they moved round the streets of Mombasa,was no more.
Leading supplier of eggs, milk, chicken meat
Robert was the elder child and only son of his dear mother. He helped in taking care of his little young sisters as his mother went about trying to anchor some businesses. She was selling second-hand clothes at the same time supplying vegetables and other farm produce at households at Chirahu market.
With the amount of money his husband had left behind as his savings, she was able to keep the rear type of cows in the village; Fresher type of cows. She got so much milk, which most people appreciated for its quality.
At Imara, Mama Mkulima had established herself. The chicken too did so well. She became the leading supplier of eggs, milk, chicken meat, and vegetables at various restaurants and households at Chirahu.
Unfortunately, as Mama Mkulima’s business flourished, his son’s academic performance dwindled. By the time she got a whim of it, Robert was scoring less than two hundred marks out of the possible five hundred marks. Shock and sorrow strangled Mama Mkulima.
Robert had brought home his term examination report. It was one afternoon of the hot month of April.
Peeping his mother through the half-opened door, as her mother read his report, Robert felt so much guilt. Her beautiful smooth flawless round smiley face, was suddenly lengthened. Her head hung loose. After a long distant look at God-knows-what up the sky, she made a long sigh.
That got everyone by surprise
That evening, as they ate dinner, he thought his mother would quarrel or question him, but nothing of the sort happened. She was just quiet and once in a while smiled at the silly fights of Neema and Nelima. Robert knew his mother was still sad about his results.
I’m sorry mummy, I know I’m a disappointment to your hard work. Please, mom, I’m sorry. Robert inwardly pleaded.
“Mom, you are not fine. Are your eggs less than the usual number?” Neema softly asked her mother, gently rubbing her mom’s arm.
“Why shouldn’t the eggs be less, while you keep crying for them, tiny girl? Why can’t you take greens like us? You will remain tiny and tiny until you disappear with the wind” Nelima roughly chipped in.
That got everyone by surprise. Laughter filled the house to much Robert’s delight. His face lit up. There was the smile he had been searching for since morning when he brought in the results. He had continued laughing until cut short by Neema, who angrily grabbed her plate and walked away from the table. Nelima looked away from her mother from whom she expected a slap from anytime. But Mama Mkulima just smiled.
As the holiday progressed, Mama Fatuma piled books for his son to read. From storybooks to revision textbooks, he had them all. Robert also commited to gobble them up. He cut out himself from watching too much television. He knew sacrifice had to be made. His constancy turned away his friends who came to play with im.
“It is time that I Robert Busara shines.”
Soon the holidaywas over, and the schools opened. As Neema mumbled about going back to school and leaving behind the 9 am to 12 o’clock cartoons, Robert was happy and positive.
It was a new dawn for him. He was no longer going to be the dumb kid of class four but the jewel of the class. From the many books he had read, he had read Ben Carson’s book, Think Big. He loved his story so much. Whatever it takes he had resolved his mind to go for it. He was okay to sacrifice anyting just to make sure his mom was proud of him.
After reading Ben Carson’s book, one week to school being opened, he felt so much energy. He saw himself as the Ben Carson of Imara village. He had a dream in his heart. I’m going to be a great accountant. He loved mathematics and always felt terrible when he failed.
“I will rise, and let the world see what they have not seen for a while”
“It is time that I Robert Busara shines.”
got pinned in his room.
He placed pictures of stars he had spotted in the newspapers, his mother had brought him.on his bedroom wall. His mother saw them, and she just smiled to herself. He didn’t tell him a thing; she had not spoken to him anything concerning his performance since the day Robert gave her his term one report card.
True to his declarations, Robert showed the same energy in class. He would shoot up his hand and answer. Sometimes he was right, and they applauded him,and other time, he was wrong, and the ones who felt jealous of his awakening hissed at him.
But her kind class teacher Madam Judith was there to encourage him.
“Robert, I like the resolution you have taken this new term. I’m telling you, your performance will take a new turn. Don’t ever bow to your fellow’s mocks. Continue burying your head into your books and shooting up your hand every time you feel you know the answer to a question your teacher has asked.”
The few sweet encouraging lines of Madam Judith kept him going.
“Hey child, look ahead. You’ll be hit by these careless bodaboda riders. What are you thinking?”
One of the mzee arouses him from his deep thoughts. Robert assures the old man that all is well. He is about to finish assuring the mzee that all is well, when his stomach rumbles out loudly as if demanding for its case to be solved too.
He is indeed hungry. During lunch break, he had remained in class with Diana, their top performer in composition writing. She used to score so highly in composition, and unlike the rest, she was kind enough to be of help to Robert. She, too, didn’t go for lunch.
The sacrifice was worth it, Diana had passionately taught him.
“You see Robert; it’s that simple. Writing reflects our know-how of a language. And we get this know-how from the much reading we do. I love the fact that, you now read storybooks and newspapers.”
“Yes, I want to shine like you.”
“Thank you, Robert, and I wish you all the best. One day you will invite me to your home library right?”
The new genius in town.
“Much pleasure to me, Miss,” Robert concluded, standing up and bowing low to Diana. Diana laughed out so hard and heartily, her ponytail of hair slapping her face.
Again in the evening, when everyone was leaving he remained behind with Mr Francis to be taught division sums he had not understood. One on one with his teacher, on the subject he so cherished, he understood so well.
The session is over and he is walking home, but numbers are still dividing in his mind.
If mom wants to divide fruits among us, what method does she use? Suppose she has ten bananas, how many will she give each of us? First, she will hand each one of us, one banana. That will leave behind; ten subtract three, seven; seven bananas. And then she will again give each one of us one more banana.
Three more will be gone, and she will have remained with four. Again she will give us one each and remain with one. And at that, each one of us will have three bananas, and one will remain in the basket.
He laughs out loudly. The new genius in town. Did I just formulate that question and answered it? Oh my! Oh my!
“You’ve chosen great. You are going with all these?” the stall attendant disrupts the celebration.
His mother is shocked to see him with the many mangoes
“What?” he asks, rising from his deep thoughts.
“That pile of mangoes, it’s two hundred shillings. You’ve smiled so well. You are pleased with your choice, aren’t you?”
He has packed twenty mangoes in his carrier bag, which he had placed on the shelf. How he packed them he doesn’t know. While he was doing the sum in his mind, his hands were busy picking and packing. Mama Khadijah had even thought he was keenly observing his choice.
He wants to leave them, but the woman insists that she had not sold anything since morning.
“Sorry, mom, I will take them.” He pays the amount which is his lunch for the whole week and takes the fruits home.
Robert reaches home. His mother is shocked to see him with the many mangoes.
“Robert, what are you doing with all those mangoes?”
“Mom, you’ve always told us to take fruits.”
An idea crosses his mind
“Yes, I did, but did I tell you to eat the whole tree? I suppose you’ve bought them with the amount I gave you for this week’s lunch. Haven’t you?” Mama Mkulima starts losing her patience. What a dumb kid do I surely have? I thought he was improving. She walks away angrily, without waiting for Robert’s explanation.
A bright day turned grey. Robert proceedsto his bedroom to change his uniform after putting the mangoes in the refrigerator. One more time, his mom is disappointed in him. He thinks of a plan to please her.
Mum thinks I’m still that dull. Mom, I was helping mama Khadijah’s business. That’s where she gets money for her family’s upkeep. But even so, that should not interfere with mom’s business. He inwardly pleads.
An idea crosses his mind. He quickly jumps out of bed, where he was lying. He sits down on the floor, on the woolen mat. He takes out a paper and pencil and starts writing and drawing up numbers.
After hitting his head in a while, smiling he rose up. He takes a keen look at the paper, which is now dirty with writings. He then folds it and place it in his bag.
Early the following morning, after taking breakfast, and packing her sister’s bags, Robert goes over to the cow shed where his mom is milking the cows.
“Hey, Robert go school.”
“Mom, good morning?”
“Good morning to you Robert? You are ready for school?”
“Yes mom, “
“Then, have a good day at school.”
“Before I go, mom, I wish to apologise for yesterday. I’m sorry you walked away, because I had offended you.”
“Hey, Robert go school.”
The tone? She is definitely not okay. He senses. He feels tears in his eyes. He nevertheless continues.
“Yes, I erred. I bought stuff that I had not budgeted for. I only bought the mangoes out of pity for the woman. I didn’t intend to. But even so, I have a way out of the problem. You will not give me more cash for my lunch.”
“Because you are going to eat all those mangoes for lunch every day?”
I have taken away these ten shillings
“That’s not so mom. The mangoes are twenty. I have divided them amongst each one of us, the four of us. Each gets five mangoes. None of us can eat five mangoes a day, right? So again, I have divided everyone’s five mangoes by one. So each day, everyone will eat one mango for the next five days.” Robert paused and took out the piece of sheet. Mama Mkulima moves closer, putting away her milking cans.
“Every day at home we eat a least a fruit, whether a banana or an orange or a mango and each of these go for ten shillings. So my sisters’ part of their lunch cash, they have ten shillings for a fruit. I have taken away these ten shillings, which amount to hundred shillings from both of them. Fifty shillings from each of them. They will be taking the fruits from home. You too will give me fifty shillings and eat the mangoes I have come with instead of buying.” Shyly he hands his mother the paper and walks away.
Mama Mkulima watches his son in disbelief as he disappeared around the corner, joining the main road to school.
The equation awakens the pride of a mother to son.
He is not at all a dumb kid. My efforts of dumping reading materials on his desk have surely not gone to watse. Mama Mkulima says proudly putting the paper away in her jacket’s pocket and proceeds back to milking.
Robert pours out his love for the environment
Robert keeps showing his love and creativity in solving problems using numbers. His prowess didn’t take time to replace his nick-name; fat potato with ‘the genie of numbers.’
As his prowess continues being exhorted, his academic performance too shoots up. As the end of term approaches, their English teacher; madam Grace asks them to write about what they love and how they are protecting it.
With the lessons he received from Diana, Robert pours out his love for the environment on the paper. He had noticed how their school was deprived of trees. Thecomposition gets his teacher by surprise. The headteacher asks for what Robert had proposed to be implemented.
During the closing assembly, the headteacher asks Robert to prepare himself to present his writing verbally to the parents and the community at large.
On Thursday morning, parents, teachers, and pupils gather under Ubunifu hall. They cheer and celebrate the best performers. Accolades are being taken one after another.
While everyone is taken up by the event, Robert is at the far end. He is tensed because of the speech he is to deliver. His mom is here, and the last thing he wants is to disappoint her once again.
An uproar of upload fills the air.
After announcing academic performances, the headteacher says there is one more awards for anexceptional pupil.
“Dear parents, teachers and pupils, we have more awards we are giving out this time. They haven’t been there, but this term, we have seen it fit to give them out. It’s one person who has warmed our hearts so much that that we thought of this special prize.”
He clears his throat, and before he carries on, he turns back and consults something from his deputy; Madam Lilian, who is seated right behind him, then pick up his speech.
“Yes, this pupil is worthy an award. But before that, welcome with me one young junior to this stage. He has amazing creativity, and the other day he wrote something so beautiful concerning our environment. He confirms the credibility of our new education curriculum which is after supporting creativity. I want us all to listen to him, and I think you’ll love it to the point of wanting to implement it as my teachers and I have decided. Robert Busara will you please join me on this stage.”
An uproar of upload fills the air. There are ululations, and cheers. Some, though like his mother, are mouths agape still in shock for they didn’t expect it. A dumb kid? A fat potato?
There is a grave silence, as the young junior takes up the mic.
Tears stream down the audience’s faces as they all watch in disbelief to the eloquent English speaker. A confident voice, voice of certainty, and no doubt. Voice of knowledge and not ignorance.
“As I conclude dear parents, teachers and fellow pupils, we all have a responsibility. A responsibility that needs sacrifice for it to be fulfilled. If all of us bring together all the seeds of whichever fruit you eat, every seedling you come across in your path haphazardly planted, we will have the vegetation that we need. We will have nursery beds of trees and vegetables and even flower beds. Let’s do whatever it takes to save our environment. Our environment needs us to be the environment that we need. Thank you.”
The crowd stands as Robert puts a full stop to his speech.
“Parents and fellow pupils, to who else should we give the award to other than Robert Busara. He is also the most improved student this term and the most disciplined.” The headteacher taking the mic immediately in the very moment of ululations announces Robert as the winner of the special prize.
It is so overwhelming. Robert can’t help himself when he sees his mother in tears coming to the podium and hugging him.
As the hugging is still on, Mama Khadijah and his five little kids come to the front and whisper to him,
“You did whaterver it took to help my children and I not to sleep hungry.”
(c) Rehema Malemba