By Yunita Cole
Bali woke up, unable to sleep anymore. He then relieved himself and took a shower. He placed his uniform on his bed, ready to get dressed up. That was when he realised that he was the only one moving about in the house. He wondered why he couldn’t hear his mother humming in the kitchen as utensils clicked and clacked and no tantalizing aroma assailed his senses. That was strange.
He walked over to the kitchen and indeed his mother wasn’t there. He wondered whether she was still asleep and went to knock on her bedroom door. Before he did, it creaked open and his father’s face appeared.
“Mbona umeamka mapema hivi?” The father puzzled over why Bali had woken up so early.
“But dad, I always wake up early when schools reopen.”
“True buddy, but have you checked what time it is?”
“Dad, I never need to. I always just know it’s time to wake up.”
“Well, then let’s have a deal. If it’s too early, you buy me a soda and if you’re right, I buy you one. Deal?”
“Deal,” Bali said, too sure of himself.
On checking his watch, it was only 2am.
“What!? Not again? So I’ll lose a whole 30 bob?” lamented Bali.
“Well, you should trust your papa more. Asiyesikia la mkuu hupoteza doo,” said Mr. Malope with his usual hearty laugh, which always reminded Bali of Santa Claus.
To lose an entire thirty shillings really stung. It had happened to him once before that week. He needed to pay more attention to what his father told him, or he would lose his meagre savings. His father had created a system whereby if any one of his children contradicted him, he or she would have to make a “deal” with him.
“That will teach you to trust your daddy more in case he is right but also to stand your ground in case you are,” was Mr. Malope’s playful way of helping his pubescent children deal with their need for independence while at the same time reminding them that he was still their father. He was what his friends called a “cool dad”, a well balanced mix between friend and guardian. Bali was therefore not too worried, because he knew that his generous father would more than compensate for all the money he lost in “deals”.
They were each carrying musical instruments
Bali went back to bed. After a disturbing dream of big boys bullying him, he woke up in a cold sweat only to realize that it was 3am. He went back again, this time not too successful in coaxing back his sleep. He wondered how the children in his new school would perceive him. Maybe they will laugh at my clothes or my bag. Or maybe they won’t understand why I have to walk to school each day, while they’re dropped and picked in big cars. Will we even understand each other’s accent? Will I play my old games? Bali suddenly missed his old school.
Later on, as his father walked him to his new school, Bali was taken back to the day he stumbled onto his new found passion. It was Christmas Eve and as usual, he and his friends had walked over to the nearby mall to laze around and watch as the “barbies” came to do their shopping. To his kind, this was a luxury they couldn’t even contemplate.
As they sat outside the mall playing and talking about the “barbies”, a huge bus written “Juhudi School” rolled onto the parking and spewed a litter of excited children, looking clean and resplendent in their peach uniform. They were each carrying musical instruments that he had only seen on television. Some looked like variations of his uncle’s old guitar and others like Mzee Maiko’s trumpet. Mzee Maiko of the Salvation Army loved to dazzle with his prized possession.
Bali didn’t know how he gravitated to the motherly figure smilingly giving sing-song instructions to her posse of pupils. Maybe it was the fact that she looked just like his mother.
“Madam, what is this that they are carrying?” He asked the lady in spite of all the warnings he had received against strangers. This barbie lady couldn’t even harm a fly.
“Oh, hallo young man! Those are different string instruments. That tiny one there is a violin and the huge one there is a cello.” He memorised those two names.
“So your students know how to play them?” Bali had asked with round eyes. The lady had produced a dismissive laugh.
“Anyone can learn how to play them. Even you.”
“Me? How? I don’t have an instrument and I don’t think any of my teachers can play.”
“That’s ok. Our school wants to give a music scholarship to bright children who are interested.”
“I’m bright. All my teachers say so. And I’m interested.”
“Alright, then ask your parents to bring you to Juhudi School for an interview on 6th January. Alright?”
“But first, will you come to our concert now?”
“Am I allowed to?”
“Of course. Anyone can come.”
She kept looking in his direction and smiling coyly
And he followed the pupils upstairs to a huge hall which was almost full. Madam allowed him to sit in the reserved area, right at the front. That day he was treated to the most beautiful music of his life, produced by children right in front of him. For the first time in his life, he had felt like the proverbial eagle who had thought all his life he was a chicken. Now he’d met fellow eaglets. And he was ready to soar along.
In the front row of the band was a puny cherub with her hair in knots and the smoothest ebony skin and largest, whitest eyes he had ever seen. She played what Bali would later come to know as “first violin” so beautifully, the crowd was visibly mesmerised by her. In some places the music would get very intense with many high notes accompanied by high tempo. Cherub would close her eyes as her wrist delicately glided over her instrument, making her bow appear like a feather. Bali couldn’t take his eyes off her. She kept looking in his direction and smiling coyly at him. He would smile back and something would wash over him. Bali knew right then that he needed to be part of this band soon.
Finally at the ever imposing gate of Juhudi School, Bali hesitated. Huge cars drove in, dropping children at the entrance. He looked down at his feet, as if to compare them to the cars he had just seen. As much as he desired to give himself one of his inner pep talks, this time around he failed badly at it. The impeccably clean cabro paved driveway appeared to frown disapprovingly at his dusty shoes.
Just then he looked up. A sleek black Jeep SUV approached, its driver a fierce looking woman with her lips tilted downward. Bali was as impressed by the car as he was repelled by its driver. Suddenly he felt sorry for the child that had to live under her roof. He watched carefully as one of the passenger doors opened. A most pleasant voice cooed, “Bye mom, I love you!” In response, Mean Mom barked, “No dilly-dallying today! I’ll pick you up same time, same place!” Out swung two legs in dainty black shoes. A tiny girl emerged from the car, then it drove off speedily. It was cherub.