The First Encounter

Irunya’s memory never fails him whenever he contemplates the day he first met Rege. He was in class four and rumours had it that there were new admissions in school. The bullies were very much elated. They viewed new admissions as a new supply of pleasantries during break time. Their eyes gleamed with pleasure whenever the subject of new comers was brought up. It was during Miss Waihenya’s class that the newcomers were introduced to the class. Irunya liked Miss Waihenya. Her skin was dotted with black spots. On any other person they would not have been noticeable. However, on the five footed, light skinned Miss Waihenya, one could not miss them. Other women would probably recoil at the thought of black dots all over their face but not Miss Waihenya. She walked with her head held up high. This air of confidence left quite an impression on all who crossed her path. Among those who were quite impressed was Irunya. Nonetheless, Irunya liked her more because she taught literature. It was the only subject that allowed his mind to roam beyond the four walls of the classroom. Nothing excited Irunya more than creating characters every time they were required to write compositions. Furthermore, Miss Waihenya had a way of bringing fictional characters to life. Besides she was kind. She treated the students equally irrespective of their backgrounds. No student got special favours because they were children of the local Chief. Yes, Irunya liked her very much. It only seemed fit that she would introduce the newcomers, add colour to an otherwise dull ceremony.

‘Class. As you are aware we have some newcomers joining us today.  I would like to introduce them. I hope you make them feel welcome’ said Miss Waihenya bringing the class to a pin-drop silence.

The students sat up straight in the chairs. The bullies were almost standing. They surveyed the newcomers as a Cheetah surveys a herd of Impalas; sizing them up, wondering who would make for easy picking. Irunya felt sorry for the newcomers but he was also excited at the thought of making new friends.

There were four newcomers in all; three boys and one girl. One boy towered over the others. He was restless. He fidgeted with his scrawny schoolbag. His sweater sat awry on his shoulders. His eyes shimmered with wonder as he passed them over the heads of the seated students He had a smile stuck on his face that remained unfazed even at the jeering look of the bullies seated at the back of the class. Irunya could not help wonder at this new boy. It wasn’t natural for newcomers to appear bright on their first day. In fact, if he was on the verge of shedding a bucket full of tears, Irunya would have been at ease. This was natural. However, this new boy beamed that everything and nothing. When Miss Waihenya asked the newcomers to state their names, he almost burst with joy. He should be trembling at the thought of speaking in a room with forty strangers, so thought Irunya. Irunya was intrigued by the new boy. It seemed there was something peculiar about him and Irunya had the peculiar feeling they would become very good friends. It was now his turn to introduce himself. While the other newcomers were shy and withdrawn, the new boy was loud and extroverted.

‘The name is Irege but my friends just call me Rege. It sounds easy to the ear’, said the new boy.

‘Well, Rege, we are not animals, are we now? I am sure you have two names. Out with the first.’ retorted Miss Waihenya while blessing the boy with the most genteel of smiles.

‘Why Madam, I believe it is James. I have not used it in the longest time that I thought I had forgotten it completely.’ the new boy rejoined with a slight bow of the head and that infectious smile still stuck on his face.

The class could not help bursting out with laughter. He was a charmer alright. Such fine English he spoke for a boy in class four. And with that single rejoinder he became the darling of the class including the gracious Miss Waihenya. As she showed the newcomers to their seats, all eyes were fixed on Rege. James Rege. He walked with an aura of confidence never before exhibited in the class nor the school at large. The girls giggled in a most silly manner. The boys beheld him with wide eyes. They worshipped him. Miss Waihenya allowed the performance to continue for a while before bringing the class to attention.

‘Right, let us now turn to Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Weep Not Child’

Irunya fondled the novel while still eying Rege who now sat a few desks to his left front. Irunya could not help smiling. He foresaw interesting times ahead with Rege around. And indeed he was right.

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Rege and Irunya at Mama Pima

...they simultaneously lifted the glasses to their lips and knocked back the contents in one single gulp Illustration/John Nyagah

…they simultaneously lifted the glasses to their lips and knocked back the contents in one single gulp
Illustration/John Nyagah

It hit me again, that old malady better known as insomnia. Is it not Charles Dickens who once suffered under its heavy hand and described it as thus- ‘a disagreeable state of mind in which a sensation of bodily weariness in vain contends against an inability to sleep’?

It is seven minutes shy of four O’clock on Saturday morning. While most people are recovering sleep lost in pursuit of happiness through Monday to Friday, I am tapping away at my computer, all thanks to a few exceedingly nagging mosquitoes whose inner contents are now a form of miniature abstract paintings on my bedroom wall.

However, I am not mad at those tiny creatures for they have given me an opportunity to consider resurrecting two characters that I created and killed in the Mediterranean Sea. While on paper they died, in my mind they are still very much alive. They crave to roam the literary world again. Hence, I am obliged to raise them up. Whether they will meet death again in the Mediterranean Sea I cannot determine with certainty. Only the hands of time will tell the fate of Rege and Irunya. Here goes…

There in Kiplabai village, atop one of its ubiquitous green undulating hills, stood a mud hut roofed with thatch. Inside it, sat two young men staring at two glasses that held a clear liquid known to the locals as Mayek. Although they did not utter a syllable to each other, they simultaneously lifted the glasses to their lips and knocked back the contents in one single gulp. Thereafter, they wiped their lips with the back of their hands, looked into each other’s eyes and burst out in a long raucous laughter. Momentarily, the choir practise next door ceased. Rege and Irunya continued laughing.

Mama Pima did not know what amused them so much neither did she care. All she was interested in was the money Rege owed her. It had been three days since he last paid her for the many drinks he imbibed. She had made up her mind. Rege will no longer be a drinking resident at her house. She planted her bulky self at the door when she saw him approaching her hut. However, she could not resist his charms. The boy was blest with the gift of the gab. Whenever, he found himself in a fix, all he had to do is tilt his head slightly to the left, bend slightly towards his victim, smile broadly and open his mouth to let out a load of gibberish about how good his victim is and how his world would be utterly dull without his or her presence in it. It worked every time. More often than not, his debtors cancelled the debt. Unless it was maize harvesting season, Rege had no way of paying his debts. He quit high school. He figured his mother’s money would be better spent farming maize. His mother a staunch Christian washed her hands. She had seven other children to worry about. She left Rege in the hands of Jehovah.

While Rege esteemed not the value of education, Irunya held it in the highest regard. His nights were filled with dreams of exotic places. He longed to learn other languages and be known for his travels around the world. He craved the praises of young women in the village and the envy of the young men.Yes, Irunya was ambitious. It was the only reason one could explain his admission to the university in the city, the first in Kiplabai.

Mama Pima always wondered what Irunya was doing keeping company with the likes of Rege. He did not belong in her house. Although she needed money to take care of her siblings and her ailing mother, she did not like taking it from Irunya. He did not belong in her house. Hers was the house of men with calloused hands and wrinkled faces wrought not by the passage of time but disillusionment. Irunya was educated. He need not be here. He should be out there making his mark in the world. However, Mama Pima saw something in his eyes that she has seen in the eyes of every man that passed through her house. There was no mistaking it.

There comes a point in every man’s journey when the eyes no longer glint with wonder; when his heart is no longer restless with ambition. Beyond this point, men give themselves over to fate. They plod through life longing for the angel of death to knock on their doors. Many contemplate the means to hasten his coming but lack the courage to act on them. Hence, they plod on. They laugh when others do but with a hollow streak. They cry when others do but without emotion. Sometimes they have to be reminded it is time to eat, it is time to take a bath, it is time to do this or that, things of which come naturally to the everyday man but not to the utterly hopeless.

Irunya was not yet there but Mama Pima could tell he was walking on a slippery slope.

It is a mystery how the paths of men’s lives cross each other. These pages will not seek to unravel such profound mysteries, they are beyond us. However, the lives of Rege and Irunya are not and on these, we will dwell much upon.