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Saturday, 1 August 2020

Breaking a Hair Clip

I was six years old, and Captain Hook was chasing Peter Pan. Back then, as in now, I star in my dreams and take the persona of the hero. I woke up in a sweat shivering and my sheets wet.

“Mom! Captain Hook is a pirate and was chasing my boat, and I got a little wet,” was my explanation the following morning.

The year was 1990, and I was in a public school—one of the best in Nanyuki. Given they were only two. It was leafy, clean, and prestigious. As I recall, we were twenty in my class with one teacher attending us. That’s where the good news ends.  

Our teacher was Mr. Gitembo, an angry middle-aged man, with a temper, a beard, a hat, and deformity on his left leg. I feared and loathed him. No wonder I was dead last in all the tests we did in my class and was labeled fat, slow and naughty. I didn’t want to disappoint and lived up to my labels.

Class one was my worst year in primary school, and it took two years after to recover. Days seemed longer than usual, even though we were in class for less than four hours a day. I came alive the moment the lunch bell rang. And I would be out of the class door, out the school gate, running all the way home, a good two kilometers away. As fast as my little tiny legs could let me.  

I imagined Mr. Gitembo never wanted to become a teacher of such deprived brats, like us, who made noise and misbehaved. We shared his feelings and never missed an opportunity to make his days feel longer. And so a vicious circle grew worse as the year went by.

 I was tired of the forced silence and walking on eggshells. Mr. Gitembo had tried everything in his training coercing, intimidation, and settled on caning. It suited him well, to cower us and cane those he considered outliers. Or rather non-conformists, and we were few, me being the ring leader. He would move me around the class, like a pawn in a chess set, as I got into small fights with my classmates.  Back then, I had a memory of a goldfish, every day seemed new and fresh, ready to indulge his patience.

In my class, there was a beautiful girl, a third-generation Indian called Mishka. On this day, because of my long list of misdemeanors, I was seated right behind her. The day was hot and windy. Mr. Gitembo was speaking in a foreign language because words came out of his mouth, with strange sounds. I thought I was alone until I turned and found, half-closed eyes and disinterested faces.

A breeze kept blowing through the open windows, and Mishka’s hair would fly. It was soo soft,  unlike the taut kinky hair my sisters forced me to apply oil to, and braid. This hair was different. It slapped my face and left strands floating in there. I imagined brushing her hair, and not having to spend the amount of time my sister required in kind to earn me some pancakes. I left the hair on my face for a moment before I brushed it away. I sat back and noticed a shiny hair clip on her head. It had crystal nuggets. I was bored and was drawn in, so I let my hands wander and reached out to touch the hair clip. It felt metal and plastic at the same time. Mishka turned around and smiled, I blushed and pulled back.  

Five minutes later, curiosity drew me back. My hands reached out, this time, Mishka lost the smile. And for a strange reason, my hands followed her hair. Then it happened, the hair clip snapped.

“Who makes such weak hair clips!” I thought in utter shock.

The thing broke mid-air and fell to the ground in a thousand tiny pieces. My first reaction was to run to the front, pick a tub of glue, and try and salvage the stardust that was once a hair clip.  But, the scream that came from the young girl was enough to break a glass and immobilize an army. How could a tiny girl scream so loudly? My ears were ringing, but not loud enough, because a slap landed on my face, and I was beside myself. Everything went reddish black and oscillated. When it all came back to focus, I saw Mr. Gitembo standing beside me, begging and soothing Mishka, who was crying.

“You have gotten yourself into trouble, young man,” an inner voice reminded me as fear choked me. Mr. Gitembo was a new man with a new crusade. I could see the vermin in his eyes. “Get to the front, you stupid boy,” he boomed, waking the class. I was a lamb going to slaughter, as I dragged myself to the front for my punishment. It was late August. I had become desensitized to the caning with a PVC pipe with a piece of dried stick stuck in. It must have been six times he whacked me, turning my little bums sore. And after a few insults to boot, I was given the hair clip and required to produce a similar one by the following day.

“First thing in the morning, or else!” He said. The unknown, after ‘or else,’ gave me pause. My creative mind saw me hanging upside down on a rope while crocodiles and sharks lurched up towards me from steaming hot water.

“Mom! I need to tell you something,” I said as I got home.

“What is it this time?” She responded aghast. She always had this horrified look when I spoke in such a tone.  

“Something happened in school today, and I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing.”

 I chose my words carefully.

“The teacher asked I buy a strong hair clip for a pretty young girl.”


“She is so pretty, mom. I wanted to touch her beautiful hair, but her hair clip broke in my hands.” Pause.

“It was so weak, I wonder who makes these.”

I pulled out the pieces of the broken hair clip and placed them on the table and waited. My mother wasn’t saying a word.

“I was asked to buy one like this one.” I pointed at the exhibit. The next words tumbled out of my mouth quickly.

“And not go to school tomorrow without it.”

Then with the most innocent eyes, I could muster, I looked up at my mother.

“I blame my hands’ mom. I just wanted to touch her hair, and see what it was made off. It is not like my sisters,” I was now the scientist explaining something new.

My mother laughed and hugged me. I was prepared for worse, maybe an outburst.

“I will drive you to school tomorrow.” She said, giving me a look, we both knew too well, of a mother who knew the mischief of her son.  

 The same afternoon, she drove back to work, in her beaten-down Volkswagen Beetle, and when she came back, she had a brand new hair clip. Shiny, with bluish glitter, and tiny silver crystals. My mother’s taste was exquisite, and it wasn’t fragile and flimsy like the stardust I had broken.

The following day, as was our routine, once in a while, she drove my sister and me to school. As usual, we had to push it up a small hill while my mother sat in the driving seat, urging us on.  I stood behind her as we walked to my classroom. As she had a chat with Mr.Gitembo in the corridors, I shifted uneasily at my desk, watching Mr. Gitembo blush while standing beside my mother. She was animated, and he was laughing. He was nothing like the scary man we were used to in class.

He wore back his face when my mother walked away.

“Edwin come to the front,”

I shuffled my way to the front.

“ I want you to present this to Mishka,”

He handed me the hair clip my mother had given him.

“I want you to apologize and say you will not break her things again.”

Mishka came to the front and had her large beautiful warm eyes on me.

My lungs were deflated, and I was gasping as my focus moved from the class to the tiny beautiful girl I had a crush on.  I presented the hair clip like a ceremonial award and looked at the floor.

“I am sorry for breaking your hair clip, I will never do it again,” I said. And the class went nuts.

Mishka seemed to love the hair clip, and I became her “boyfriend” for the rest of the few months we were in class one. They even had a new song for us.

Edwin the fat, and Mishka the pretty

He broke her hair clip and got her heart

Now they are best of friends

Who would have known?      

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