BY MIKE MUTHAKA
Once in a while my school does a round of maintenance; door handles are fixed, walls are repainted, bulbs replaced, wonky desks are bolted tighter, the cafeteria menu gets a new font. The people who do these jobs are mostly unseen.
During graduation they’re mentioned at the Vote of Thanks, aptly termed as “Support Staff”, the people who work tirelessly in the “smooth running” of the institution.
This semester there are new faces at the gates, which is a bummer because there was one particular lady who always said hello to me with a smile like the sun. I often went to class with a spring in my step just because of her smile. I’ll miss her terribly.
The guards stand sentry at the front and back entrance, five a piece. These ones are thorough. They have unsmiling eyes. They dip a hand inside your bag and rummage around for the bomb you’ve brought to class. They reek of power. This sem we get checked even when leaving school, just in case someone tries to steal a mouse from the comp lab.
Usually, though, I have no problem with security checks. The world is full of burglars and terrorists. But the trouble is that, school, naturally, makes me anxious.
School has always made me anxious. If it wasn’t the intense canings, it was the fear of juvenile offences, like not having your diary signed, or kissing a girl, or missing the pass mark by two points, which would lead to even more caning.
I thought by campus my inhibitions about school would have dissipated. But all they’ve done is trickle down to some nail-biting uneasiness. I still get a tight knot in my tummy each time I enter school. The kind of knot that would make a sailor proud. And the only way to loosen the knot is to take a dump.
I don’t even need laxatives when I’m constipated. I just go to school. My bowels move like greased lightning when I’m in school.
I take a dump every Monday morning, needless to say. My stomach starts rambling immediately the gate comes into view. I bet people see me rushing to school and think I’m the most scholarly chap in Daystar. But the truth is that I have a war raging in my belly, and a cold chest, and a clenched prostate –fingers crossed, hoping the frisky watchman hasn’t arrived yet.
When we re-opened school in August I almost shit my pants because the wochi kept running the metal detector all over my crotch. He had big imploring eyes and meaty hands.
“Hiyo ni nini?” he asked, after detecting the coins in my pocket.
“Coins,” I said.
He didn’t believe me. The bugger kept at it; looking inside my bag, patting my sides, peering under my arm pits for the gun holster. Meanwhile a tremor is tearing through my gut. I’m screaming bloody murder. I have a whole hurricane in my tummy. Hurricane Michael. Hehe.
Finally, getting impatient, I said, “Sina bunduki, boss. Nimekuja kusoma.”
He chuckled under his breath and let me through. It was only the first day. I thought the guards would ease up after a few weeks on the job. Heck, I could even make a new friend. But it’s been two months, and the guards are still rigid. A girl with a short dress will get turned away faster than you can say the school motto. (I don’t know it, either). A bottle of vodka will get you a swift suspension. And a bunch of coins will take so long to verify that you’ll be happy to poop on yourself.
Anyway, after the security check I go up to the fifth floor. The washroom at the end of the hall is rarely occupied. It’s airy and high ceilinged. You could smoke some pot in there. But don’t let Support Staff catch you, else you’ll be brought to the authorities, and a framed photo will be posted at each gate, captioned: NOT ADMISSIBLE.
I don’t know how everybody else shits at school, but mine has ritualistic undertones, a step by step process that’s served me since the first day of campo. Each step serves a greater meaning, without breaking the order.
It starts by hanging my bag on the door hook.
I take off my sweater, lest the smell of toilet clings on to the fabric. Or I get too sweaty.
I cut a piece of tissue and wipe the ceramic bowl, because germs. (Are there people who just sit?)
I take off my phone before lowering my pants. Because reading while shitting is simply orgasmic. Sometimes I toy with the idea of bringing a scented candle.
Then I proceed as nature ordered. Answer the call. Open the gates. Let her rip. Byelo. Denki. OK, you get the point.
Wipe from front to back. Check tissue for any anomalies. Flush.
By the time I’m done my legs have turned into feathers. My air vents have cleared up, and the tightness around my waist has dimmed. I feel fresh as a breeze. I get post-poop clarity. My muscles relax, and my thoughts can move to other pressing matters like the class assignment, or how to get my hands on a pair of Tarrus Riley concert tickets.
Last week my morning shit didn’t work. I was still queasy while lathering my hands at the sink.
In less than an hour the lec would call out my name, and I would give a presentation on ‘The Role of Technology and Money in Contemporary Media Industries’.
The hand wash smelled like Calpol syrup, and it made me nauseas. It’s like I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs.
Hadn’t I shat everything? (Hehe, such a horrid word, that. Shat. See that?)
Truth is, though, I struggle to keep calm during class presentations. I walk to the front too casually, doing my best to mask my racked nerves. The instant I open my mouth my leg starts twitching, and everything I planned to say gets muddled up in a pool of ‘Aahs’ and ‘Ohms’, only made worse by my comrades’ stares.
My class is on second floor. I figured I’d take the stairs up, to walk off the jitters. I dried my hands with my jeans as I walked out.
My footfalls echoed around the stairwell. I hoped I wouldn’t run into someone I know, lest I be forced to stop and make chitchat. I took deep breaths, giving myself a pep talk.
“Kwani how bad could it be?”
“They won’t eat me.”
“You got this, man. You’re Hurricane Michael.”
I stopped atop the last set of stairs. I could see my class from there. I could see the girl I don’t like going inside (vain as hell). My feet were still cold. There was a window behind me overlooking Ngong’ Road and Nairobi Baptist. I slid open the window and leaned my elbows on the frame. Crisp morning air filled my lungs.
Directly below this window is an iron-roofed structure where students shoot pool. I don’t take much stock in pool. But today the room is packed with desks and chairs, an alloy of wood and metal, some upside down, leg chairs jutting out like lances in the Battle of Black Water Bay.
Then I see it. A green Black Mamba bicycle, half-canopied by the iron roof. I imagined the bicycle belonged to one of the watchmen.
The thing looks like an antique, like it belongs at National Archives, stored in a glass cage devoid of any oxygen. The handlebars have smooth curves, but its metal carrier looks hard and uncomfortable. The type that can take the edge off.
Probably better than taking a poop.
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