We all had those days, weeks, and months when something snapped, and we went a bit crazy. This is one such story I kept in the recess of my mind. I was barely ten years old.
"The phone is really nice and shiny," I said, reaching up. It was placed on a high cupboard, in a corner right outside my parent's room. It was kept there so we could also receive calls since our parents were always away working.
Unlike the one before, a quaint rotary system, this one was white and had buttons. It looked so light caged and padlocked in a metal contraption that held it down, hiding the buttons.
Big Sis was standing on a chair beside me engrossed. Her focus was on the manacles holding the phone buttons out of access. With no social media back then, and with little interest in television, Big Sis was looking at her only source of entertainment. The brightest girl in Laikipia District, based on her last award, was stumped.
My eyes moved from her to the phone and wondered what she had seen that I was blind to. In many ways, she was my hero. I tried emulating her as far as a boy could emulate a girl without being one, and failed miserably.
"Come, Edwin, we need to see how we can turn this phone over."
One thing she always did was involve me in some of her sinister plots. With her cajoling, I didn't need prompting to break the rules. Every morning brought wonder and excitement, and a fresh set of rules to be broken. I thrived in breaking the rules, not big ones though, just those I found limiting, and inconsequential.
Mother thought otherwise and had my hide when I went too far. This was before I had enough reason, to reason, and the cane was my only form of shaping.
"Come let us try and get to the buttons below this," she said, pointing to the metal contraption holding the phone. It was a futile attempt.
My parents were wise. They had earlier bought a rotary phone which we proceeded to hack and get free calls going out. The new phone was an upgrade, a veiled attempt to tame us. Actually, let us say they were taming the person who used the phone most, Big Sis. It even had a code. This is what my sister and I were trying to go around.
"I know Mother makes calls all the time, why don't we find out which code she uses to unlock the phone and then, get the key duplicated," said Big Sis looking down at me from the chair she was standing on. My eyes were wide open. "That is so cool." I loved challenges, and getting the code would be the first step.
Well! Getting the code was easy. I was always lazying around Mother. Nothing strange about a jumpy kid being around his mother when she is making calls. She wasn't even slightly suspicious as I climbed up to sit beside the phone as she talked away, while I observed her every move. Over a few days, I confirmed the four-digit code she used. The more challenging bit was getting the key, which she kept in her person most times.
"There is a locksmith in town who makes copies of keys," said Big Sis. "He mentioned if I take him an engraved cast, he will turn it into a key. "Ok!" I said with a grin.
"You need to take this mound of clay and press the key into it, leaving an impression. One side at a time, side by side," she said. "If you are caught with it say you were playing a game. And look natural."
I looked down at the mound then up at my sister. This was the most dangerous plot I had undertaken, my palms were sweating. So later that day, when Mother was somewhere busy, I went into her room. I knew where she kept the bunch of keys, and I looked for the tiniest. That is the one that opened the ugly metal contraption that held our dear phone prisoner.
Big Sis had said, take an impression of both sides. So I did that. I was indeed the last person anyone would think of doing something so sinister. I caught a wicked laugh before it came out. Then tiptoed out of the room. You never know, the walls could be listening.
"Here you go,"
"Good job," she said, snatching the mound with the impressions, and running to her room, and shutting the door behind her. Leaving me standing alone in the corridor.
At that moment mother passed by whistling.
"Why are you always standing outside your sister's bedroom, don't you have something less sinister to do?" she asked and walked on, not expecting an answer from me.
Big Sis went quiet for a week. She told me nothing and behaved normally. Then one morning after Mother had gone to work. I heard her laughing in the corridor, I thought she was talking to the house help and made no thought of it for a couple of minutes, then I peeked into the corridor, and guess what? She was seated on the cupboard, telephone in hand twirling the cord around her fingers, chatting away with a friend.
I walked up to her and looked up. I thought of the kindest thing I could say to someone you believed a hero, and came up with, "Hey sis, what happened?" She turned away and ignored me.
I guess that didn't work. So the following morning with Mother in the next room. I spoke up loud. "Hey Sis what happened."
"SSSHH! you want them to know?"
"Know what?" asked Mother walking into the room. Having just changed into her nurse uniform and about to leave.
"Now see! I wanted it to be a surprise," said Big Sis, with an innocent face.
"What surprise," said mother adjusting her cardigan as she picked up her bag, she was in a rush.
"I can't reveal the treat; it's still too early."
Mother was now intrigued. Her eyes bounced from Big Sis to me and then back. I was sweating, knowing this one was bad.
"Ok!" Mother finally said. "I am sure I will see when you make it happen. Bye, kids!"
And off she went.
I was holding my breath and let go when she was out of the gate.
"We nearly got caught because of your blubbering," shouted Big Sis.
I swallowed hard.
"Come, I show you something," she said. And took me to her room, and pulled out a small wooden box, where she kept her trinkets and jewellery. She pulled out a key.
"Come with me," we then went to the phone, and she placed the key in the lock that imprisoned the phone. There was a low snapping sound, and the lock turned. It came free. I gasped. "How did you do it?"
"I took the mound to the man I mentioned and asked him to make me the key. He was not suspicious. In fact, he said, 'This looks like a key for a small box, did you lose one?'"
"I told him, I lost the key to my trinket box, and didn't want to break it. He sympathized and asked me to give him a few days, to fashion a key for me."
"That was all?" I asked, shocked.
"That was all!"
"Now! We use this key in a way that we will not be caught, and no one gets to know we are using the phone." She said assuredly.
"But you normally run up a charge when you call your friends, even when you are allowed to," I said.
"Don't worry, I have agreed with my friends on how we will handle it. Don't busy your mind with the small details bro,"
Somehow her assurances didn't land well with me, and I was starting to wonder what was in it for me. I was a co-conspirator, to the greatest heist in our house, and all I was getting were platitudes. If it was not for me, this travesty would never have happened.
"We need to make some biscuits for Mother,"
"Eeh!" I asked surprised now I was being roped into baking.
"Mother expects a surprise, if we don't create one today, she will keep asking, and it will create suspicion.” I was suspicious already, of what my role was in this whole drama. "Was I that gullible?" I asked myself as I helped my sister knead the flour.
"There is a wonderful smell coming from this house," said Mother as she walked in later in the evening.
We had baked biscuits. Actually, I was left watching the biscuits bake, as Big Sis went to make a call. It lasted a good 20 minutes, as long as it took for the biscuits to brown.
When she came back in she was smiling from ear to ear.
"Are you blushing?" I asked.
"No! No!" she said, laughing like she remembered something entertaining.
"Sis! I want to know what is in it for me? I have done all these things for you, but I don't seem to see the benefit coming to me."
"What are you saying. But there is so much you will get. I promise to make you some cake every month." I knew that was a lie. As soon as the first month was done, I would forget, and she would conveniently do so too. "I also will buy you something really nice," another lie, the generalization would descend with time, into a sweet or something unworthy of my sacrifice. She could see I was not moved. "Don't you want your sister to be happy?" Now she was laying the guilt down thick. I couldn't stand it. I walked away apologizing.
When Mother came in, Big Sis was all smiles, I had a plastic smile on, and was a bit upset.
"What's up with you?" asked Mother later as we had dinner.
"He is thinking about which gift he wants for his birthday," Said Big Sis, winking. I looked up lighting up.
"Mom can I get a new toy for my birthday,"
"You know Edwin, most of the money I have goes to taking care of some other things,"
I looked down, depressed. I was carrying the guilt of helping my sister do a heist. Now Mother was talking about not having enough money to buy me a gift for my birthday.
As I sat there, I realized all my hard work, and sacrifice would go up in flames.
"Mother, Big Sis has a key for the phone you bought," I said. And with that one statement, I poured down the drain our weeks of effort. Yet the weight on my shoulders lifted. The shock in my sister's eyes was palpable. Mother sat there quietly, just about to eat the biscuits we had baked. She pushed the plate away and walked to her bedroom.
"How could you?" Big Sis hissed.
I didn't care any more. I had been played for long enough. That evening I slept better, all this planning and doing sinister things pained me.
In the end, the key was taken, the phone given another lock. Mother never punished me, but she found a way to give Big Sis the freedom to use the phone responsibly. At least that is what she imagined would happen.