No Ordinary Days

Getting into St. Patrick’s High School was an exceptionally happy occasion for me. St. Patrick’s was not my first choice, not even my second, or my third – it was not in my mind at all. My first choice school had not accepted me; and the only school that invited me was too remotely located, much to my parent’s dislike. As a result of this, I waited at home continuing my responsibility of herding my family’s three hybrid-grade cows whilst my father ran up-and-down our district, meeting and begging administrators of renowned schools to admit his son. As January came to a close, reporting deadlines for many schools also passed. Still, I wasn’t in school. I was slowly starting to panic, but I held on to the belief that God was putting together a perfect plan for me. One week passed without word from any school. Two weeks passed.

Sometime in the third week, my father made a breakthrough, and got me admitted to St. Patrick’s High School. He assured me that it was a good school, although my opinion on the matter was largely inconsequential. The important thing was that he believed it was good enough for me. So, the following Monday, he put me in a van he rented in haste and drove me some 300 kilometers away to my new school. I was very happy to finally be in school.

My first week in St. Patrick’s passed without much action, except for frequent reminders that I was new in school, which came in the form of harassment by third and fourth-year students. Otherwise, I quickly acclimated to my new school, making no close friends in the one month that I had stayed there. Instead, I spent almost all of that month catching up to class work. At the end of the term I did well and out of more than one hundred students I was ranked fourteenth. My father was very proud. I was just happy to have been in school. The April holidays passed all too quickly for me.

In the second term, I resolved to improve, and perhaps get to know my roommates a little better. It was around this time that I began to get acquainted with Eric, who slept on the upper level of the bunk-bed we shared. Eric was tall, big and athletic. Although he and I came from the same district, he was from the city, and unlike me he had no rural upbringing. As such, I considered him urban and trendy; a wise-guy who knew more Sheng than I did. Eric was in the school’s track-and-field team as the school’s rising star at the hammer throw, the discuss-disc throw, and the javelin throw. Every evening after classes, Eric would quickly change into his sports gear – an old frayed vest, a stinky skin-tight pair of black training shorts, a pair of worn-out Reebok sneakers, and a black bandanna. Thus dressed, he looked completely out of phase with me in my school uniform which comprised a blue shirt tucked in a gray pair of trousers, and polished black shoes. Without saying a word to anyone, he would slip out behind the bed sheet that served as a door to our room, into the hallway of our dormitory, Chumo House, and outside into the field for practice. This was his daily routine.

Usually, I stayed on in our room, having enrolled in no extra-curricular activity in the school at the time. My other four roommates often stayed outside after classes chatting away, or playing cards. I did not know them well, and felt out of place in their company. I never felt the need to put any effort to improve our relationship. I was fine with the situation as it were. However, all of this were about to change very dramatically a short time later.

One event that forever changed my relationship with my roommates occurred on a Sunday. Sunday was not particularly a favorite of many students because of the day’s schedule. Typically, Sunday started with a mandatory church service for students early in the morning before breakfast. This requirement was strictly enforced by a teacher and prefects on duty for the week, who went door-to-door to kick out students who tried to sleep in. Then, breakfast time came, and with it more drama. Third and fourth-year students, and some second-years, commanded priority access into the dining hall because Sunday was “bread-day”. Often, timid first-year students like me, stayed at the end of the line, eventually finding ourselves without bread. On luckier days we would scramble for the last piece of bread. In addition to my run-ins with teachers for oversleeping on Sunday, and for missing bread, my Sundays were bound to be hairier than all other days of the week.

The struggle for food at mealtime continued at lunch. As usual, I wasn’t the first at the table. Much of the boiled maize-and-beans meal was gone, leaving only isolated grains and broken bits of plastic plates in the serving pan. Relief came after lunch, when a matinée was scheduled between one o’clock and four o’clock. I enjoyed this daytime entertainment very much, as it not only offered an opportunity to watch American action heroes, but it also was an exciting opportunity for me to listen to native English speakers talk. I tried as much as I could to stay close to the TV, while staying a safe distance from a boisterous group of students who never seemed to enjoy the afternoon movie without yapping.

Another reprieve from Sunday’s challenging experiences was dinner time, which was far more civilized than all other meal times because the school mandated the presence of a teacher at dinner. The teacher typically stood near one of the five doors into the dining hall. As a result, the area around that door was more peaceful than the rest of the hall. Some teachers preferred to walk around the eating area to ensure more homogeneous peace in the dining hall; nonetheless, chaos sprung up from one end of the hall as soon as the teacher was at the other end. It was a comedic event for some but for me it signaled trouble. I remember once, when a mischievous student sent a lump of ugali flying in the direction of the teacher when he turned to look the other way. The piece of ugali missed him, but landed on my neck instead, splattered on impact and messed my school shirt. My friends and I would later joke at the event, claiming that the naughty student purposely targeted me, rather than the teacher.

On that fateful Sunday, most of the day’s routine events were coming to a predictable end. The evening classes, fondly referred as The Preps, ended promptly at ten in the evening. I put away my reading materials, closed my locker, and paused briefly to check for pens that may have rolled on the floor when I had dozed off during The Preps. Finding none, I made for the door, and headed to Chumo House. I intended to do some laundry that I had put off earlier in the afternoon so as to watch the 1998 VHS movie, Mercenary 2: Thick and Thin. I grabbed my bucket, detergent and dirty clothes and went behind our dormitory where an underground water tank, the Water Dam, was located. After drawing water from the Water Dam, I started on the shirts, rubbing and wringing quietly in the night. The footpath stretching from the classrooms to the dorms and passing by the Water Dam was somewhat busy, and the constant student traffic provided some security in the dark.

Then, out of the night emerged two familiar faces: the school deputy head prefect, Koinange, and the prefect in charge of the school’s health office, Harry. I looked up briefly at them, the returned my focus to my laundry bucket. They approached me, and inquired casually about my day whilst offering no hints to the painful ordeal they were about to subject me to a little while later.

Everything happened very fast. Harry and Koinange asked me to join them in the school’s computer classroom to help them with a case involving Eric. At the time, I was unaware that the request is just a facade to get me to react at the mention of Eric’s case. In my eagerness to help, I hurried to finish my laundry. Hanging out my last piece of laundry on the line, I asked the prefects to go on ahead while I put away my bucket. Unknown to me, however, was the fact that I was already under suspicion for theft, which meant that my request was doomed to rejection. Harry accompanied me to Chumo House, where I left my things. He then escorted me into the computer classroom.

Harry was the de facto muscle-man of all the prefects in the school. Interestingly, he did not come across as intimidating at a first glance; nor was he any more muscular than an average Kenyan teenager. However, growing up in the rural countryside of Marakwet where tribal clashes with neighboring Pokot cattle rustlers were common had taught Harry a thing or two about showing a mean face. Rumors were rife around the school that he had firearms training, and possibly he had engaged in combat. Perhaps it was because of his background that Harry had very visceral reactions to injustices and crime, which served him well when he campaigned for election as a prefect. The prefect position afforded him the opportunity to uphold a moral code that resisted villainy of any kind; no misconduct was too small for Harry. He was the perfect fit for the disciplinary arm of the prefects’ organization.

Harry led me into the computer classroom where a group of prefects were waiting. It occurred to me then, that Eric’s case was something bigger than I had imagined. Eric was there as well, crestfallen. As soon as he saw me, he stood upright from the shelf he was leaning on until then. Fire burned in his eyes, and I could feel intense animosity from his glare. I did not need to be told that he believed I had wronged him, but I still was visibly shaken when he actually accused me of stealing from him his pocket money sum of Ksh800. Everybody in the room stared at me as I froze, unable to respond. I knew what they all thought: guilty!

When I finally found the words to say, all I could do was squeeze out a single no. No one believed me, and I could tell it by the doubt on their faces. Again, Koinange asked me where I had Eric’s money. He assured me that there was to be no further mention of the incident if I just turned in the money, or agreed to secretly replace it, so long as I admitted to taking it. In his mind, the case could not have been simpler. I was the obvious criminal because all circumstantial evidence pointed to me as the culprit. For starters, I had been known to linger in our dorm room alone while my roommates found more useful things to occupy their time after classes. Second, I shared a bunk-bed with Eric, and he kept his trunk full of his belongings on the floor right beside the lower bed on which I slept. I knew he kept his money in the box –it was common practice for students to keep their valuables in these locked aluminum boxes. Based on these facts alone, it looked to all that I had been in the best position to steal Eric’s money. As for the motive, I suppose everybody assumed I needed cash to counter my terrible luck with food at mealtimes and to bribe my way out of endless harassment from third and fourth-year students.

My defense argument was frail in the eyes of the prefects, who doubled as judge and jury. As the highest ranking prefect in the room, Koinange naturally assumed the role of supreme judge and was comparatively more civilized and diplomatic. He offered me various chances to save face and simply return the cash. However, my biggest problem was that there was no crime to admit to as far as I knew. So, I persisted in resisting my accusers. I had no idea why they thought I would take Eric’s money when I was in good financial health at the time. Indeed, even if I wanted to I was not strong enough to break into Eric’s locked box. As I protested thus, I gasped as I saw Eric’s box wide open in front of me on the floor of the room, with its lid twisted up from its hinges so that it looked the broken shells of an oyster from which the precious pearl had been snatched. It was painfully obvious that someone had forcibly opened the locked box, and that whoever it was had ample time to do so. I pitied Eric more than myself for his misfortune. Koinange was running out of patience and his diplomacy was not yielding its desired fruit. It seemed that better methods were necessary to solicit a confession from me. In the back of my mind, I did not think the prefects would actually resort to violent measures. I was wrong.

When Koinange stopped reasoning with me, he handed me over to Harry. Where diplomacy had failed, the coldness of blood and iron substituted promptly. Harry was swift. His first blow to my right cheek was as unexpected as it were discombobulating. I reeled towards to floor, recovering too late to brace myself for impact. My hands stretched out automatically towards the floor, while my head jerked up to avoid collision with the aging floor tiles. Luckily, one of the prefects instinctively reached out to catch me, but instead grabbed my Chumo House t-shirt, tearing my left sleeve in the process. I looked up at Harry, and he was looming over me. I knew I was in trouble, but I was too scared to think straight. I was not going to confess to a crime I had not part in at all – that much was resolved. I did not take the cash, my eyes pleaded, but my throat was dry and not a sound came from my lips.

Koinange and the others simply looked on. Eric flinched. I cried. I was very ashamed at my own tears but I couldn’t stop crying. My cheek was hot and raw from the slap. I did not want any more of the pain, but I knew the only way to end it all was for me to admit to the charge of theft. Suddenly in the middle of the beatings, an idea flashed in my mind. I offered to bribe my way out by giving Eric some of my money. However, Koinange wanted me to come clean and not only give back what was Eric’s, but also to acknowledge that I had indeed stolen from Eric. Therefore my proposal was rejected, and I endured grueling interrogations for two additional hours. Harry slapped, kicked, lashed me with his leather belt, and swore at me. Koinange periodically interrupted with conciliatory propositions, encouraging me to own up and put a stop to the pain. Other prefects joined in, abusing and admonishing; in entreating and pressing me to give up my foolish obstinacy. I was guilty and there was no prudence in suffering for a measly Ksh800. A few weak-willed prefects who could not stand the torture any longer, began to believe I was truly innocent, but they did not stand up to Harry, especially as he frenetically lashed his belt back-and-forth, cursing. Eric just looked away, uncertainty slowly crippling his resolve.

I lay on the floor, pain piercing me from every part of my body. My determination to stick to truth grew stronger with each punch and kick that Harry delivered on my numbing body. I made my mind to uphold my innocence. I was convinced I was right, and they were wrong. I would get my vindication by my sufferance. The more I hurt, the more I felt they sank deeper in disgrace. I loathed every one of the prefects. I despised them for their uncivil conduct. In spite of my miserable state, I stood tall in spirit, proud at myself for holding on to my innocence in the face of cruelty. I no longer responded to anything they asked of me, and I could no longer feel the pain. My mind refused to let in any more suffering, and my body lay limb. I looked at Eric, and he turned away. I pitied him more. Harry began to hesitate and his blows softened. His conviction was failing. I was victorious. I smiled at myself: I am triumphant!

I awoke earlier than usual on Monday morning. Breakfast was served at seven and assembly was at half past seven. I was in no shape to appear publicly, especially not in front of nosy teachers and students. So I stayed in bed most of the morning, nursing my swollen face. One of my other roommates took pity on me and risked punishment to bring me breakfast in bed. That was the first time I realized Tim was kinder than I imagined him to be. Later I learned that my absence at the school assembly and morning classes was conveniently explained away by Harry as a health-related matter. However, what I did not know until a few days later was that even though I was clearly not in any state to move about, a prefect had been assigned to observe and report on my movements. Apparently, I was not completely out of suspicion. By afternoon, my face had healed well enough to walk outside lie about my bruises, reporting them as a sports-related accident.

In the evening, just before dinner, Koinange called me. Predictably, he looked greatly relieved to see my face was starting to return to its normal outline, but he expressed regret at the whole affair. He summarily apologized, stumbling over words as he asked spoke to me. Without thinking, I said yes, I forgave them. He asked again, obviously assuming I must have been disoriented by last night’s ordeal. Again, I said yes. Koinange watched in disbelief as I turned away and entered the dining hall. I was smiling.

No Ordinary Days

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Getting into St. Patrick’s High School was an exceptionally happy occasion for me. St. Patrick’s was not my first choice, not even my second, or my third – it was not in my mind at all. My first choice school had not accepted me; and the only school that invited me was too remotely located, much to my parent’s dislike. As a result of this, I waited at home continuing my responsibility of herding my family’s three hybrid-grade cows whilst my father ran up-and-down our district, meeting and begging administrators of renowned schools to admit his son. As January came to a close, reporting deadlines for many schools also passed. Still, I wasn’t in school. I was slowly starting to panic, but I held on to the belief that God was putting together a perfect plan for me. One week passed without word from any school. Two weeks passed.

Sometime in the third week, my father made a breakthrough, and got me admitted to St. Patrick’s High School. He assured me that it was a good school, although my opinion on the matter was largely inconsequential. The important thing was that he believed it was good enough for me. So, the following Monday, he put me in a van he rented in haste and drove me some 300 kilometers away to my new school. I was very happy to finally be in school.

My first week in St. Patrick’s passed without much action, except for frequent reminders that I was new in school, which came in the form of harassment by third and fourth-year students. Otherwise, I quickly acclimated to my new school, making no close friends in the one month that I had stayed there. Instead, I spent almost all of that month catching up to class work. At the end of the term I did well and out of more than one hundred students I was ranked fourteenth. My father was very proud. I was just happy to have been in school. The April holidays passed all too quickly for me.

In the second term, I resolved to improve, and perhaps get to know my roommates a little better. It was around this time that I began to get acquainted with Eric, who slept on the upper level of the bunk-bed we shared. Eric was tall, big and athletic. Although he and I came from the same district, he was from the city, and unlike me he had no rural upbringing. As such, I considered him urban and trendy; a wise-guy who knew more Sheng than I did. Eric was in the school’s track-and-field team as the school’s rising star at the hammer throw, the discuss-disc throw, and the javelin throw. Every evening after classes, Eric would quickly change into his sports gear – an old frayed vest, a stinky skin-tight pair of black training shorts, a pair of worn-out Reebok sneakers, and a black bandanna. Thus dressed, he looked completely out of phase with me in my school uniform which comprised a blue shirt tucked in a gray pair of trousers, and polished black shoes. Without saying a word to anyone, he would slip out behind the bed sheet we used as a curtain to our doorless room, into the hallway of our dormitory, Chumo House, and outside into the field for practice. This was his daily routine.

Usually, I stayed on in our room, having enrolled in no extra-curricular activity in the school at the time. My other four roommates often stayed outside after classes chatting away, or playing cards. I did not know them well, and felt out of place in their company. I never felt the need to put any effort to improve our relationship. I was fine with the situation as it were. However, all of this were about to change very dramatically a short time later.

One event that forever changed my relationship with my roommates occurred on a Sunday. Sunday was not particularly a favorite of many students because of the day’s schedule. Typically, Sunday started with a mandatory church service for students early in the morning before breakfast. This requirement was strictly enforced by a teacher and prefects on duty for the week, who went door-to-door to kick out students who tried to sleep in. Then, breakfast time came, and with it more drama. Third and fourth-year students, and some second-years, commanded priority access into the dining hall because Sunday was “bread-day”. Often, timid first-year students like me, stayed at the end of the line, eventually finding ourselves without bread. On luckier days we would scramble for the last piece of bread. In addition to my run-ins with teachers for oversleeping on Sunday, and for missing bread, my Sundays were bound to be hairier than all other days of the week.

The struggle for food at mealtime on Sundays continued at lunch. As usual, I wasn’t the first at the table. Much of the boiled maize-and-beans meal was gone, leaving only isolated grains and broken bits of plastic plates in the serving pan. Relief came after lunch, when a matinée was scheduled between one o’clock and four o’clock. I enjoyed this daytime entertainment very much, as it not only offered an opportunity to watch American action heroes, but it also was an exciting opportunity for me to listen to native English speakers talk. I tried as much as I could to stay close to the TV, while staying a safe distance from a boisterous group of students who never seemed to think that the rest of us needed their incoherent commentary of the movie.

Another reprieve from Sunday’s challenging experiences was dinner time, which was far more civilized than all other meal times because the school mandated the presence of a teacher at dinner. The teacher typically stood near one of the five doors into the dining hall. As a result, the area around that door was more peaceful than the rest of the hall. Some teachers preferred to walk around the eating area to ensure more homogeneous peace in the dining hall; nonetheless, chaos sprung up from one end of the hall as soon as the teacher was at the other end. It was a comedic event for some but for me it signaled trouble. I remember once, when out of mischief a student sent a lump of ugali flying in the direction of the teacher when he turned to look the other way. The projectile path was off, and the piece of ugali missed the teacher, but instead it landed on the back of my neck, splattered on impact and messed my school shirt. My friends and I later joked at the event, claiming that the naughty student had purposely targeted me, rather than the teacher.

On that fateful Sunday, most of the day’s routine events were coming to a predictable end. The evening classes, fondly referred as The Preps, ended promptly at ten in the evening. I put away my reading materials, closed my locker, and paused briefly to check for pens that may have rolled on the floor when I had dozed off during The Preps. Finding none, I made for the door, and headed to Chumo House. I intended to do some laundry that I had put off earlier in the afternoon so as to watch the 1998 VHS movie, Mercenary 2: Thick and Thin. I grabbed my bucket, detergent and dirty clothes and went behind our dormitory where an underground water tank, the Water Dam, was located. After drawing water from the Water Dam, I started on the shirts, rubbing and wringing quietly in the night. The footpath stretching from the classrooms to the dorms and passing by the Water Dam was somewhat busy, and the constant student traffic provided some security in the dark.

Then, out of the night emerged two familiar faces: the school deputy head prefect, Koinange, and the prefect in charge of the school’s health office, Harry. I looked up briefly at them, the returned my focus to my laundry bucket. They approached me, and inquired casually about my day whilst offering no hints to the painful ordeal they were about to subject me to a little while later.

Then, the conversation shifted quickly. Harry and Koinange asked me to join them in the school’s computer classroom to help them with a case involving Eric. At the time, I was unaware that the request is just a facade to get me to react at the mention of Eric’s case. In my eagerness to help, I hurried to finish my laundry. Hanging out my last piece of laundry on the line, I asked the prefects to go on ahead while I put away my bucket. Unknown to me, however, was the fact that I was already under suspicion for theft, which meant that my request was doomed to rejection. Harry accompanied me to Chumo House, where I left my things. He then escorted me into the computer classroom.

Harry was the de facto muscle-man of all the prefects in the school. Interestingly, he did not come across as intimidating at a first glance; nor was he any more muscular than an average Kenyan teenager. However, growing up in the rural countryside of Marakwet where tribal clashes with neighboring Pokot cattle rustlers were common had taught Harry a thing or two about showing a mean face. Rumors were rife around the school that he had firearms training, and possibly he had engaged in combat. Perhaps it was because of his background that Harry had very visceral reactions to injustices and crime, which served him well when he campaigned for election as a prefect. The prefect position afforded him the opportunity to uphold a moral code that resisted villainy of any kind; no misconduct was too small for Harry. He was the perfect fit for the disciplinary arm of the prefects’ organization.

Harry led me into the computer classroom where a group of prefects were waiting. It occurred to me then, that Eric’s case was something bigger than I had imagined. Eric was there as well, crestfallen. As soon as he saw me, he stood upright from the shelf he was leaning on until then. Fire burned in his eyes, and I could feel intense animosity from his glare. I did not need to be told that he believed I had wronged him, but I still was visibly shaken when he actually accused me of stealing from him his pocket money sum of Ksh800. Everybody in the room stared at me as I froze, unable to respond. I knew what they all thought: I was guilty!

When I finally found the words to say, all I could do was squeeze out a single no. No one believed me, and I could tell it by the doubt on their faces. Again, Koinange asked me where I had Eric’s money. He assured me that there was to be no further mention of the incident if I just turned in the money, or agreed to secretly replace it, so long as I admitted to taking it. In his mind, the case could not have been simpler. I was the obvious criminal because all circumstantial evidence pointed to me as the culprit. First, I had been known to linger in our dorm room alone while my roommates found more useful things to occupy their time after classes. Second, I shared a bunk-bed with Eric, and he kept his trunk full of his belongings on the floor right beside the lower bed on which I slept. I knew he kept his money in the box –it was common practice for students to keep their valuables in these locked aluminum boxes. Without needing more proof, it was apparent that I had the best opportunity to steal Eric’s money. As for my motive, I suppose everybody assumed I needed the cash to counter my terrible luck with food at mealtimes and to bribe my way out of relentless harassment from third and fourth-year students.

My defense argument was too weak or even unacceptable to the prefects, who doubled as judges and jurors. As the highest ranking prefect in the room, Koinange naturally assumed the role of supreme judge and attempted to act more civilized and diplomatic than the rest of the group. He offered me various chances to save face and simply return the cash. However, my biggest problem was that there was no crime to admit to as far as I knew. So, I persisted in resisting my accusers. I had no idea why they thought I would take Eric’s money when I was in good financial health at the time. Indeed, even if I wanted to I was not strong enough to break into Eric’s locked box. As I protested thus, I gasped as I saw Eric’s box wide open in front of me on the floor of the room, with its lid twisted up from its hinges so that it looked like open oyster shells or a bird with wounded wings. It was painfully obvious that someone had forcibly opened the locked box, and that whoever it was had ample time to do so. I pitied Eric more than myself for his misfortune. Meanwhile, Koinange was running out of patience and his diplomacy was not yielding its desired fruit. It seemed that better methods were necessary to solicit a confession from me. In the back of my mind, I did not think the prefects would actually resort to violent measures. I was wrong.

When Koinange stopped reasoning with me, he handed me over to Harry. Where diplomacy had failed, brute force substituted promptly. Harry was swift. His first blow to my right cheek was as unexpected as it were discombobulating. I reeled towards to floor, recovering too late to brace myself for impact. My hands stretched out automatically towards the floor, while my head jerked up to avoid collision with the aging floor tiles. Luckily, one of the prefects – Nixon, as I came to know later – instinctively reached out to catch me, but instead grabbed my yellow Chumo House t-shirt, tearing my left sleeve in the process. I looked up at Harry, and he was looming over me. I knew I was in trouble, but I was too scared to think straight. I was not going to confess to a crime I had no part in at all – that much was resolved. I did not take the cash, my eyes pleaded, but my throat was dry and not a sound came from my lips.

Koinange and the others simply looked on. Eric flinched. I cried. I was very ashamed at my own tears but I couldn’t stop crying. My cheek was hot and raw from the slap. I did not want any more of the pain, but I knew the only way to end it all was for me to admit to the charge of theft. Suddenly in the middle of the beatings, an idea flashed in my mind. I offered to bribe my way out by giving Eric some of my money. However, Koinange wanted me to come clean and not only give back what was Eric’s, but also to acknowledge that I had indeed stolen from Eric. Therefore my proposal was rejected, and I endured grueling interrogations for two additional hours. Harry slapped, kicked, lashed me with his leather belt, and swore at me. Koinange periodically interrupted with conciliatory propositions, encouraging me to own up and put a stop to the pain. Other prefects joined in, abusing and admonishing; in entreating and pressing me to give up my foolish obstinacy. I was guilty and there was no prudence in suffering for a measly Ksh800. A few soft-hearted prefects who could no longer stand the torture, began to believe I was truly innocent, but they did not stand up to Harry, especially as he frenetically lashed his belt back-and-forth, cursing. Eric just looked away, uncertainty slowly crippling his resolve.

I lay on the floor, pain needling throughout my body. Strangely, I began to feel like a martyr. My determination to stick to truth grew stronger with each punch and kick that Harry delivered on my numbing body. I made my mind to uphold my innocence. I was convinced I was right, and they were wrong. I would get my vindication by my sufferance. The more I hurt, the more I felt they sank deeper in disgrace. I loathed every one of the prefects. I despised them for their uncivil conduct. In spite of my miserable state, I stood tall in spirit, proud at myself for holding on to my innocence in the face of cruelty. I no longer responded to anything they asked of me, and I could no longer feel the pain. My mind refused to let in any more suffering, and my body lay limb. I looked at Eric, and he turned away. I pitied him more. Harry began to hesitate and his blows softened. His conviction was failing. I was victorious. I smiled at myself: I am triumphant!

I awoke earlier than usual on Monday morning. Breakfast was served at seven and assembly was at half past seven. I was in no shape to appear publicly, especially not in front of extra-ordinarily curious teachers and students. So I stayed in bed most of the morning, nursing my swollen face. Tim, one of my other roommates, took pity on me and risked punishment to bring me breakfast in bed. That was the first time I realized Tim was perhaps kinder than I imagined him to be. Later I learned that my absence at the school assembly and morning classes was conveniently explained away by Harry as a health-related matter. However, what I did not know until a few days later was that even though I was clearly not in any state to move about, some prefects had been assigned to observe and report on my movements. Apparently, I was not completely out of suspicion. By afternoon, my face had healed well enough to walk outside and lie about my bruises, reporting them as sports-related injuries.

In the evening, just before dinner, Koinange called me. Predictably, he looked greatly relieved to see my face was starting to return to its normal outline, but I was surprised that he expressed regret at the whole affair. He summarily apologized, stumbling over words as he asked spoke to me. Without thinking, I said yes, I forgave them. He asked again, obviously assuming I must have been disoriented by last night’s ordeal. Again, I said yes. Koinange watched in disbelief as I turned away and entered the dining hall. Not knowing what else to do, I walked into the dining hall, smiling.

iMagineMe: The Game

4.35AM Saturday, April 30.

I have just had a lightning jolt of an idea so powerful all sleep has left me. I think I may have finally climbed the heights only reached by genius inventors. An idea for a social game has come to me, in my dream, and I want to record it before it all disappears with the mist of dawn.

In my dream, I am at an airport terminal, waiting at the ARRIVALS.I have no idea what city I am, but I know I am at a popular, busy airport. I feel that I know the place well; it is as if I go there frequently, like I work there. Or, I know someone that works there, and I have been to visit the place a number of times. I feel I know it, in my very being I can feel it.

My first impulse is to let my head slide past hers and rest on her shoulder, but I suddenly stop short and kiss her on her right cheek.

Two ladies approach me. I have never met them outside of this dream, but I do know them. One of them, dark-chocolate complexion and thin is talking to her friend, who has a tanned skin tone; also thin.

They seem to have both had a fun time wherever they are coming from. I will call the former Carol, the later, Sue. Carol has a black lady’s bag hanging from her shoulder. She is dressed in black:  short skirt, short top terminating just above her belly button. There is a silver stud where her navel should be. Her hair is a glossy black, thick mass of curls that rest squarely on her shoulders. Sue has a brown bag. She is dressed in a short dress, yellow, and terminating just above her knees. Her brown hair complements her tan very prettily. They are walking towards me. I smile at them. Sue waves and smiles. Carol looks uninterested in me, and continues talking at Sue.

Just before they come up to me, about three feet away, Carol stops, gives Sue a hug and turns. As she recedes, my hands move up to wave her “bye-bye,” but stop mid-way as Sue jumps in for a hug. I throw my hands around her waist. She wraps hers around my neck. The bag slides down a little, but stops to rest on my left forearm. The suede feels soft on my skin.

Sue is shorter than I am. She stands 5′ 5’’ tall – just enough difference for her to look up at my face when we hug. My first impulse is to let my head slide past hers and rest on her shoulder, but I suddenly stop short and kiss her on her right cheek. She feels supple. Then, I let my head go all the way down, and now we are hugging: my neck locking on hers. A few seconds later, the hug comes apart, and we walk through sliding doors into a lobby filled with sofas and ottomans. The lobby reeks of caffelatte and other caffeine drinks from the nearby in-building Starbucks, and I feel repulsed.

I have my right hand rubbing gently on Sue’s waist, and although we are safely avoiding all the obstacles in our way, either human or furniture, we are not looking ahead. I am looking directly at Sue, and she is looking at me. Her face shows signs of fatigue, and I notice she is terrible at hiding it. She smiles at me, and my worry is assuaged. Still, I show concern and ask her what is wrong.

“You realize I am dating now,” she replies. Her response catches me somewhat as surprising. I mean, I do not feel that I am dating this woman in my dream. I know her, yes. We seem intimate, nay; I seem to think we are intimate, yes. But, dating?

“You are! Who?”

“You.”

She is calm, unassertive and unprompted as she replies. Her remark flows naturally, as if it were a usual exchange between us. This woman knows me. I feel that I know her, but I am not certain. My entire being is happy, my mind is dreamy. I smile back at her. I am tantalized. My face drifts to hers irrepressibly. Then, a deep stabbing pain hits me. My mind is black. I am in a brief stupor, before I realize what just happened. I have just rammed head-first into the wall beside my bed, and I have a terrible protuberance on my forehead.

***

Just as my pain dies down, I realize how potent a dream I just had. It was vivid. It was well imagined. I felt real, and it reflected my reactions with near real-world accuracy. In other words, the dream played a scenario just as it would play out in a real airport terminal, albeit major alterations in characters and personalities. I realize that this dream can form the foundations for a social game I will call iMagineMe. The basic objective of the game is to let players learn more about fellow players through a series of imagined scenarios. For example, player 1 asks player 2 to pick a scenario. Then, player 1 describes that scenario, putting him/herself as the central character. It is in many ways an answer to the question: how would you (player 1) act in this or that situation? Also, the player 1 may elect to describe the scenario, but with player 2 as the central character. This second format answers the question: how do you think I (player 2) would act in this or that situation? Of course, the game requires that both players assume some knowledge of each other. This is not to say, however, that the game may not come into play in ice-breaking scenarios.

There is no limited number of players for the game iMagineMe. It has potential to accommodate as many variations as needed, but the central rules are the same. The scenarios and descriptions must be agreeable to all parties involved. All descriptions must be affirmed or debunked by central character; that is, if a description offered is a false assumption, the central character(s) must dismiss the false information by saying, “You’d think so, but you’d be wrong.” At this point, it is optional to yield the right description, or demystify the fallacy. Players may not engage in truth-or-dare situations. Any participant has the right to waive a scenario as “Unthinkable.” Unthinkable scenarios are those that would otherwise reveal information deemed unnecessary, personal or confidential by the responding player. In this case, the play may come to an end, or continue on other scenarios. These are the central rules of iMagineMe: the game. Other rules may be introduced on a case-by-case basis, but central rules are supreme.

Disclaimer: any currently existing social games similar to iMagineMe are not models for iMagineMe. iMagineMe creators do not intend to infringe any gaming laws and any such violations are purely coincidental. Please play responsibly.

True Lies: It REALLY Was Me

It really isn't all that bad to speak the untruth. It is only comfortable; I just want to avoid getting in trouble.

I have a theory about untruth, and it has nothing to do with the movie “Just Go With It,” scheduled for February 11, 2011. My theory is untested; it is a speculation, really. I speculate that untruth is a defensive response to events construed as potential crises. Summarily, I will define the terms untruth as the deliberate alteration of information to avoid sincerity and honesty, and crises as any perceived or actual unfavorable consequence of sincerity and honesty.

In my life, I have been untruthful purposely for entertainment and sometimes for a means for escaping imagined or real trouble. Often, untruth has landed me in more trouble than if I were sincere and honest. However, on several occasions I have gladly evaded crises and found myself entertained by the experience. It is only unfortunate that the relief of closure seems forever elusive in episodes of untruth.

Untruth begins quite easily by altering a seemingly unimportant fact in a bigger picture problem. Say, for example, in a situation where a theft has occurred and you were a witness in the crime. You are sure you saw the injustice occur but you decide to report as having glanced in the direction of the crime scene only briefly and managed to catch the color of the criminal’s jacket as (s)he darted around the end of the street. You reason that investigators will leave you alone, may never appear before a judge to give testimony, or worse, be targeted by the criminal or his/her associates. The half-truth is very convenient; you put down your statement and the cursory preliminary investigation casts your testimony to the very bottom of their priority lists. But, the enterprising lawyer representing the plaintiff will not relent until all evidence has been brought forward and dissected with utmost keenness. You are approached to confirm your statement and unconsciously you say you witnessed the whole thing. Obviously, you are excited to exercise justice and service, but you don’t realize your verbal inconsistency.

Inconsistency is an existential human problem. Or, I should say consistency is. We are hardwired to conform with order. We love to organize and make sense of things that our chaotic universe throw at us. Although we are handicapped in our understanding of our world, we imagine it as beautifully and masterfully designed to move in harmonious continuation. The fact of this matter is controversial; however, it is apparent that chaos is the human antithesis. As such, we choose to maintain a semblance of order in our lives. Our minds will naturally want to continue harmoniously with our environment, and the unconscious thought can be understood as the most uninhibited, honest and sincere response to events.

Back to our example, the enterprising lawyer catches red flags in the differences in your statements. Only one of your statements can be accepted as truth. Now, you have a choice to right your initial wrongs. But you think again about the bother it all will become. It already is quite bothersome, anyways, you conclude. Therefore, you decide that you may have not actually seen anything. Only you thought you saw, but it was probably your eyes playing games on you. You know, like vertigo. It couldn’t have been true. Besides, you wear glasses and they might have been misty. New information, endless lies. Ultimately, you are caught in your own web of untruths, unable to delineate fact from fiction, and a different personality is created. The new person is consistent with the half-truths and outright untruths. (S)he is in complete harmony with the nascent world of untruths.

So, I submit to all now that untruth is useful for our sanity. If we must coexist peaceably with our world we need compatibility with it. But we also must protect ourselves from perceived risks. It is our animal right, an instinct. If an untruth is convenient to us, by all means we shall live with it. If a truth will rob us of our comforts, why embrace it? We must lie, then, to continue living without discomfort.

To better clarify this argument, I implore you to look at an example of a disgruntled employee. The employee insists on keeping her job for income’s sake, but she can’t stand her boss. The boss is an obnoxious jerk, and that is not an invented fact for everybody knows it. The employee struggles to go to work, and manages each day to suppress the welling dissatisfaction she gets from her job. She hopes to get a new job with a new and better boss elsewhere, but in the meantime, she must put up with her insufferable boss. The resultant friction grinds her patience until one day she crashes. Tears cannot relieve her dried and tired spirit. Even if the employee gets a new job with better conditions, she is broken and inefficient. Inevitably, her new boss will demand more from her than she can deliver, and the employee, with a history of abuse, readily misconstrues her new predicament as a conspiracy targeted at her. She begins to self-pity and lament her fate. She may even think she is doomed to an unlucky life. In time, the employee crumbles in depressive episodes and mental disturbance.

If we trace the problem pathologically, we find a continuous thread of inconsistencies that are combating the employee’s mind. The mind wants a peaceful coexistence with the status quo, and if chaos is offered instead, the mind cannot submissively go on. The mind must rebel, and it will. In response, the mind may seek an alternate reality, a better environment for itself. However, subjected to continual chaos at work, there cannot be a safe haven for the mind to seek refuge. The only option it has left is to shut down in a last ditch strategy at revolt. And with it, all symptoms of crazy.

Lest I inundate you with innuendo, let me end this entry by pointing out the take home lesson from it: we need consistency to keep us mentally healthy. If truths cannot deliver us from the chaos, we are but to turn to untruths. We will avoid crises by all means possible.

Now, This Can’t Quite Be Right!

OK, here’s the deal. I seem to recall that I willingly left my father’s house, willingly got in the rickety ol’ van, and willingly went through airport security without pausing to look back. I do not recall, however, what my mother’s face looked like as she waved goodbye to me, a loner on a journey to an unknown land. I do not recall because I never looked back. I could not look back for fear of loosening my last strong nerve and breaking down into a teary mess. I feared my hand would fail me and drop my wheeled carry-on suitcase, which was my entire possession. In it I had a couple of dress changes and shoes. I had my visa-stamped passport in my hand, and I was clutching it so hard I can still see the impressions my sweaty fingers made on its front and back covers. When the plane lifted, I shut my eyes until the captain assured us that we had attained cruising altitude, and it was safe to unbuckle our seat belts. However, I continued to keep my eyes closed until I convinced myself that the plane was no longer flying nose-upwards. By the time I was ready to open my eyes a crack, we were flying across the border out of Kenyan airspace, and entering the Ugandan airspace. My folks back at the Nairobi airport must already have been on their way outside the city and hip-hopping back to the country by then. I can imagine my poor mother clinging to my dad, completely overwhelmed by emotion. I can picture her shaking uncontrollably, and trying very hard to hold back her welling tears, as she always does when she is excited. My dad is holding her, and he is very shy because everybody is looking at him. He usually is very confident around Mother when they are alone in the house, and a little more when the kids are around, but today, everybody is looking on. They are watching him, and he is embarrassed. Yet, there is little he can do about it because he has to steady the rental van. Poor old man. Back to my situation: I fast forward and I was practically in the US before officials recorded it. A few hours and a couple thousand miles later and I am at the airport in Detroit, a rare entry point for students entering the US from my country. JFK, San Fransisco, Logan. Bradley, even. Those are the names my friends have mentioned to me as their entry terminals. I have yet to find another who came in by way of Detroit, Michigan. But I wasn’t thinking, “it is a long way from home.” Now, another fast years later, I am suddenly struck by how peculiar it is I do not think it is a long way from home. I have made myself a home in this new land, and like the prodigal son I am squandering my time with work, study and life. I am quite happy. My friends are happy. We have fun. There are things, however, that jolt me to realize how onerous a task it is to keep smiling and holding on to the one nerve keeping me from going ballistic about how crazy I miss the folks. I have been asked how I do it: how I do not appear to care, why I look callous, why I laugh away like a lunatic. I have made numerous excuses motivated by the desire to protect myself against hurt, against the very lunacy I’m assumed to be inflicted with. I say things such as Facebook, Internet, Cellphone, Phone. I argue that communication has become easier and facilitated by technology, and physical contact has a peripheral importance, if any at all. I realize that I make no moral or economic sense with my half-baked excuses, but I find consolation in the fact that I have successfully brainwashed myself with such nonsensical jabber. I feel that my capacity to persuade even myself surprises me, and I’m crazy as charged for admitting it. Nonetheless, there are severe attacks of unrelenting solitude that pelt me like hail. These moments are diabolical. I get a crushing and unknown sense of defeat. I feel like an empty shell (although, it probably is just a metaphor for I what the emotion really is). But, I’m more interested in the defeat part of it. It bothers me, and it irritates me. I get worked up about defeat. I imagine that I have always been excited at the idea of success since I first learned my ABCs from my nursery school teacher, Mrs. I-forget-her-name. I always wanted first-place. I envied the genius. I looked upto the best people, the diligent, all the while jealously and silently hoping I were them.  I hated defeat, and continue to. I have tried to understand why I suffer these “defeat” bouts. I have come to some conclusions, all of which point to my hate for defeat. When I strolled out that mud hut I used to live in in my father’s house, I was headed for great things. I knew there would be speed pumps, nasty STOP signs, and uncompromising DEAD ENDs. I do not presume to have seen it all. But, I have goals of my own – the goals of a lazy man – those that I strife to achieve on a day-to-day basis. Examples: (1) work – waking up, dressing up, walking up to the bus, smiling all day… (2) home – washing up, cleaning up, eating my fridge dry of foodstuff… (3)…. I find my list is not endless. Anyhow, I expect myself to work everything I set to do, especially my own selfish small goals well. When I do not, I am angry. But I am not angry at myself, no! I love myself too much to do that.

Life’s A Ride

I have been riding the CTTransit going to-and-from work everyday for most of the last three months of last year. The experience is very interesting and affords me the opportunity of entertainment and rest from the stress of work. I have met strange people (I mean, peculiar) and I have encountered insanely ordinary things as well. The most interesting thing I have seen, however, is that whenever a passenger enters the bus, they scan the vehicle for unoccupied seats or familiar faces. The later option usually works with youthful riders and the more affable adults. The former option is more popular, partly because everybody just wants to mind their business and get to their destinations.

Occasionally, I get to talk with other riders. These conversations are often about bus scheduling and timetables and changes in the daily temperature and so on. Very banal. On rare days, I go deeper and make small talk. For instance, the other day, I met Sash, an aspiring actress on the same route as mine. I had met Sash a few weeks before, but that was an ordinary encounter when the both of us were inconvenienced by a delayed bus. Back then, Sash and I exchanged the usual weather conversation, commenting mostly about the dipping winter temperatures. My encounter with Sash may have been forgotten like many others I have had with other disgruntled riders, but she was somewhat different. She was more personal.

On other days, I just look around the bus at the riders, and try to read their faces. Some are happy, others are struggling to keep half-smiles. Some just look out of the windows, staring into the air, while others fixate face front; unmoving and unaffected by anything. Others just ramble on and on about their life’s crises. Once, one rider was angrily complaining on the phone about her a discrepancy in her unemployability papers. She went on about meeting her lawyers, the red-tape at the VA, and other stuff I do not fully recall. One another day, one rider was giving advice to another on managing the flu: “My doctor said I take the syrup, and it worked fine,” she was saying. Then, she added, “but be careful, it is laced with cocaine, so tell her to go easy on it!” I was scandalized.

A few days ago, I was seated directly opposite a young girl, of college-age. I kept stealing looks at her direction because I was afraid to have her catch me looking at her directly. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that she was doing the same thing at me, and I smiled and looked down. I have heard of this sort of thing happening in bars, where ladies get progressively more beautiful with every ounce of alcohol men take take, but the same thing just happened right there in the bus that day. The only difference is that I was sober, and it wasn’t that her beauty increased but my mental image of her kept refreshing and resolving better by the minute. The mind does indeed play games, some very dangerous.

My bus rides continue to keep me refreshed everyday after work and entertained every morning to work. However, sometimes I feel I should complain to the city transport authority for when I miss the bus by a minute or a few seconds. Not once have I had to run up to the bus, only to have it pull away as I reached its side. I remember one time I had to run after the bus all the way from my house to downtown, about 3 miles of road, because it looked like I could catch up to it at the next light. “The next intersection,” I encouraged my leg muscles. Every time I reached the next stop, the light changed, and the bus moved. But I never gave up. I run after it, waving my hands back-and-forth like a maniac. The bus driver must have enjoyed watching my indomitable determination because he never seemed to realize I was running after the bus. Or, perhaps, just perhaps, the bus driver never paid attention to the rear-view mirror. After a few stops, I was running out of my breath but a kind driver who had watched me with interest took pity on my fatiguing legs and offered me a ride. The idea was for him to allow me to catch up faster with the bus, while letting me rest awhile. In retrospect, and with no ingratitude to the kind man, it was a bad idea because we could never catch up without illegal overtaking. Besides, we had at least two cars between us and the CTTransit vehicle. In the end, I arrived downtown riding the car, but hoping to transfer to the bus. I never did.

Yale Farewell: Part 3 (Party of 10!)

We are not hungry… Why foist this food upon us? We don’t want to be choked. We have enough.
– Robert Mugabe

Yesterday I went over to a friend’s house for dinner hosted for a group of ten. The dinner was great – let me say this right from the onset because I have never enjoyed myself quite as much as I did at the dinner in a long time. The food was very exquisite, and our host kept reminding us that she made it all from scratch. All of this was very true, except for those complex pizza sauces that one really has to obtain commercially. Also, as some of the guests were devoted vegans, our host just had to rely on some commercially available pseudo-meats and cheeses. Aside from these exceptions, there was absolutely nothing to complain about.
There was no specialized seating at the table, and everyone just sank into any chair next to them. Some preferred to stand while they ate, while others kept rotating from one acquaintance to the next, making small talk and propagating gossip. All of it was fun. I found myself a very comfortable armchair close to the chocolate pumpkin-flavored blueberry muffins basket (oh, what cibarious ecstasy!) from which I ostensibly displayed my large appetite for baked foods.
I sat next to a professional music instructor who wanted to know a lot more about what I did for a living than I could explain in simple language. For example, she kept asking me to explain in “lay man’s terms” what my research goals were. I came to realize that to me, this was a great task that college had not adequately prepared me for. So, here I was stuck trying to explain virions to a viola virtuoso in a language with which the both of us could communicate. I will just say that I stammered my way of this impossible task. Lucky for me, however, one chair over from where I sat was another student of biology, a high school teacher and recent college graduate. Unlike me, she had been schooled in the ways of teaching in addition to her degree in marine biology. She had been listening in for some time on my conversation with the music instructor, and she could not bear to have me assaulting the science I was trying to explain any longer, so she jumped right in and gladly offered to paraphrase my points. She did it so easily I was ashamed of my inability to represent my work in simple, coherent statements. Nevertheless, I was glad she joined in because I would have shamed myself more if I had to continue on my own.
The dessert was as good as the main course. It was a chocolate cake, served with one’s choice of strawberry of vanilla Gelato flavors and a cranberry gelatin. By the time I got dessert, however, I was already uncomfortably full because I had liberally downed two platefuls of dried cranberry fruit and walnuts salad, several muffins and pizza buns. However, I wanted more and more as everything was simply good. So, I helped myself to a good-sized serving of chocolate cake.
After dinner, we sat in a circle in the living room and had a discussion on dating and marriage. I must admit that I felt a little too young to be engaged in such a serious topic, but another look around the room and I knew for certain why this topic was very appropriate. There were two couples in the room, three bachelorettes and three bachelors. Well, except me. In any case, the discussion began with a solemn prayer and slowly developed into a heated debate on what and what-not to look for in potential mates. As in any discursive setting, there were exceptionally talkative parties and exceptionally quiet ones. I classify myself in the latter party.
Several ideas were tossed around, including one I am very particular about – money. I consider availability and consistency of income vital to any long-standing relationship especially if must culminate in marriage. Some of my friends argued that while money was indeed important, it must not take precedence in dating or in marriage. They insisted that love for the spouse must come first, then naturally, issues of money and spending will fall in place. One of the couples in our group agreed whereas the other commented that it was more important to not only sort out finances between spouses, but also it was necessary to know each partner’s spending habits before tying the knot. I found all their comments to be valid and weighty, especially because they were married 4 and 6 years each. I, on the other hand, am yet to even think about dating.
At this point, one of the bachelorettes in the group scaled up the level of debate by giving anecdotes about her previous relationship with a very frugal boyfriend. Incidentally, at one time during their college years they decided to go on a trip to France. They had budgeted every expense, including “fun.” Four days into the vacation, they realized that they had spent $0 on fun. This was very surprising to the both of them as they wanted their trip to be all about fun. Apparently, they were not having as much fun as they thought they were, but budgeting did not seem to help them along. Yet, another member of our group reported of a failed relationship about a couple that was engaged to marry. In their case, the man had a very long term plan to enjoy vacations – after retirement. The lady, however, wanted to have as much fun as they could before the kids came along and so preferred vacationing while dating. Since the man wanted nothing extravagant at the time, they broke up the engagement. We all agreed that the issue of money was indeed of great import during dating or in marriage.
Another issue that was particularly interesting to me was communication. This was a well discussed issue, and it became the climax of our debate. Everyone had something to say or add about it. For example, I recall one story about a couple that was always wary of struggle in their relationship. Every little argument was quickly hushed and scorned at. Thirty years later, the couple was filing for divorce on the basis that they just couldn’t stand each other. Two other stories were shared were about the tone that people used in their daily conversations. I didn’t know that Italians were considered characteristically “loud.” The irony, however, was that the group consisted of at least three Italians who completely took no offense at the charge. Scots, on the contrary, were considered gifted with quietude. There was only one Scot in the room.
The debate went on about other issues as well. No one mentioned that looks were important in determining a mate. In fact, we tended to avoid discussing the weight that looks carried in relationships, although it seemed to linger with unrelenting inevitability. At one point I was ready to burst out with laughter when someone suggested that when looking for a lifetime mate, try to imagine them fifty years down the road. It really tickled me when someone added, “Look at the mother!”
When the time came to bid the hosts goodnight, I was too tired but I felt buoyant. Everything had been so much fun, and the discussion very eye-opening. I very much wanted to go back to the kitchen for some more blueberry muffins, but I reminded myself that I should act with the propriety expected of a first-time guest. I complimented the host several times before donning my trademark red cap and making my exit. The party was over, but my weekend had just begun.

Yale Farewell: Part 2 (Party of Four)

In this loveless everyday life eroticism is a substitute for love. – Henri Lefebvre (b. 1901), French philosopher. Everyday Life in the Modern World, ch. 4 (1962).

Two summers ago I came across a Japanese animated series called Maison Ikkoku. The series is a romantic comedy about a clumsy protagonist called Yusaku Godai and his live-in boarding house widow manager, Kyoko Otonashi. Yusaku is at first depicted as a poor, failed college student who is about to move out of Maison Ikkoku (a decrepit mansion). However, as he is just about to exit the house, he is met at the door by the beautiful Kyoko. Yusaku not only finds the young widow attractive, but he empathizes with her circumstances, and he decides to stay on at the mansion. Soon, a love struggle for Yusaku and Kyoko begins, ending in the typical romantic happily-ever-after marriage. Their everyday life is punctuated by boisterous and mischievous next-door tenants, and challenged by Yusaku’s charming love rival, Shun Mitaka.

Recently, I moved into a family house and the circumstances here reminded me a lot about Maison Ikkoku. There are reasons that prohibit me from mentioning these circumstances, but let it suffice to say that we have our version of Maison Ikkoku at my new home. Next door are two very quiet medical school students and a very hardworking employee of a famous fast-food chain. In the few weeks I have known my roommates, one thing is consistent: we all love food. As evidence, I present to you our perpetually overflowing fridge, and our ever greasy microwave. All tenants live on the second floor, while our live-in landlady lives downstairs, in the room with the only doorbell speaker system. (This way, she ensures that everyone entering the house passes by her door and submits rent on time when it’s due!) In my estimation, however, there is a second advantage to this arrangement: that she regulates who gets in and out of the house at will because if anyone came and rang the doorbell, she’d be the first to know.

I have not had the privilege that the landlady has – that is, to interact with every tenant at length and regularly because each one pretty much minds their own businesses. However, on those golden “water-cooler” interactions during a microwave oven “traffic jam,” I learn about my roommates poco a poco. For instance Kay (pseudonym) is from a forgotten Island Country in Africa. Guy (also a pseudonym) drove 2 days from the West Coast for his Medical School rotation requirement. I have not asked why he chose to drive instead of flying over, but I shouldn’t really question such decisions during such a financial hard time as the current one. Besides, the reason could be just that Guy planned a cross-country road trip to coincide with his travel to New England.

My other roommate, Ann (again, a pseudonym), is less quiet than Guy and Kay, but I hardly bump into her by the microwave. I figure that because she manages a fast-food business, she hangs around ovens and microwaves so often at work that home must only serve as a reprieve for her. Therefore, she  keeps her distance from additional blasts of electromagnetic waves emitted by our overused microwave. I have, nonetheless, had a “water-cooler” experience with Ann. It happened one day as I was emerging from my room to heat up some left-over Chinese take-out food I ordered the previous evening. She was stepping out from taking a shower after an apparently very busy and long day at the fast-food joint. To add to her pain, her folks had also been nagging at her to get married, and when she finally found a man to fill that need, it was no easy task to sell him off to her parents as “the right man.” So here I was, a paper plate in hand and a fussy stomach in need of food, half-listening as she vent her frustration on poor me!

Incidentally, her folks are very austere adherents of tradition. They want only the best for their daughter: the right man to care and provide for her as her father has and does. Of course, it is without contention that the father’s argument is only with the very best of intentions for his beloved daughter, but this presented a challenge to my free-spirited roommate who found herself a carefree christian boyfriend. Also, our esteemed “right man” stated that he wasn’t ready to meet the parents. Now, it is important not to forget my situation: I am still holding my plate and wishing she’d stop making that “would-you-say-something?” face. Inevitably, I had to interject with “uh” and “ah,” at the expense of my comfort which was already registering signs of loss by the parching of my lips. I could have slipped the plate in the microwave in the meantime, but from where I was standing, I’d have to go past her, turning my back on her in the process. The spirit of chivalry just didn’t seem to allow my muscles even to twitch.

Eventually, I made my sure-kill end-of-conversation remark: “Well, good luck!” I couldn’t believe it. I said it so effortlessly it seemed cynical. In truth, I was angry for two reasons. One, I was hungry, and by Pavlovian association I was angry. Two, I was looking at this pretty thing in front of me wondering why on earth she’d be troubling herself with “finding” the right man to impress her family. It seemed utterly ridiculous. I mean, let’s face it: I am loveless (and I bet a good percentage of men are); yet, I am filling my role as an emotional tampon to my very lucky roommate, who happens to have guy issues she should either be sharing with her girls or with the man in question!

Having had Ann unload her burden on my willing ears, it dawned on me that I was stupid for allowing myself to get drawn into the conversation (although it was by and large, one-sided) in the first place. Why did I feel hesitation to get to the microwave, which was only four-feet away, when my stomach squealed for a warm plate of chicken and fried rice? I realized to my disbelief and later, vexation, that I enjoyed watching her grieve her predicament. It gave me such an ecstasy to see her struggle for my support and understanding even when I was clearly unfocused. Thinking about it now, my loveless life has really made me a lowlife.

Yale Farewell: part 1

As I pulled her in for a hug, I knew it was probably the last I’d ever get to give her. She had not expected it. She reached out her hand, spreading her cute small fingers out in a fan as her arm extended toward me. I grabbed it, and was going to unclench my fingers into a handshake when, in an emotional fit, I changed my mind. No! A mere handshake wouldn’t suffice. I wanted to feel her beating heart one more time. She did not resist. She let herself fall into my arms, and grunting in surprise, threw her free hand over my shoulder and around my neck. I pulled her closer. Her cheek to mine, we stood there for a good one minute, saying not a word to each other. My mind was blank–rather–I cleared my mind of any thought. I did not want to interrupt that fleeting moment of ecstasy.

She was presently saying something to me. Although her lips were right by my left ear, her words sounded distant and echoed in my mind as if she spoke into a tunnel. All I could hear was the rhythmic pounding of her heartbeat. Yet, her peaceful voice kept intruding in unwanted but pleasant intervals. Finally, my mind found room to process what she was saying: “…we’ll keep in touch.”

How hollow those words seemed. I could literally see them fall out of her mouth into the emptiness that was my ears, dropping into even a deeper, darker void in my head. We will keep in touch. I did not want to let go. I wanted her always here, with me. Mentally, I cursed my predicament, hoping that time would suddenly start flowing backwards. Oh, how the past seemed glorious and nostalgic. I let myself recall the few hours I had spent with her at the Coffeehouse. We had each ordered a glass of juice, and spent two hours drinking it–well, mostly talking between sips. By the end, the juice had settled in the clear plastic cups, so that two layers were clearly visible. At the bottom of the cup were chunks of orange pulp; on top, a disagreeable pale liquid. I–we did not mind it. Back in high school, I was used to drinking a pale liquid in place of break-time tea. During those golden old days, the cooks would simply pour barrels of water into the pot, bring it to boil and threw in a few packets of third unrefined tea leaves. The result was a pale bitter liquid that could pass for common mud water. Some of us joked that if you were patient enough to let the lukewarm liquid sit for a few hours, you could decant clear water right of the top. Of course, none of us was bold enough to try the hypothesis, given the limited break time and stringent school rules. Ah, the good old school rules. I remember clearly now the inscription on the plaque at the foot of the flag pole: Time Waits for No Man! The message was clear: either you look busy or you were summoned to the head-teacher’s office.

If you were subpoenaed to appear at the head-teacher’s office your life that week was likely to take a turn for the worse. The message on the plague was the head-teacher’s cherished pet, and the fact that you were summoned on suspicion of laziness meant you were in direct violation of that cardinal rule: don’t cross the head-teacher. Sitting across his wide desk, he would look up at you, tilting his chin upwards for emphasis of authority and ask you to state your purpose for being there in his office. Clearly, the man knew why he had summoned you; yet, he must have enjoyed seeing your perplexed expression as you twisted the little English you knew trying to explain your guilt away. Then, sitting up from his chair, he would motion you to a cabinet on the side of the room, where he kept files on everyone in the school – cooks, night watchmen, teachers, students, and others. One time I was summoned to his office for dishonoring one of the many prefects’ codes of conduct by dressing in a sleeveless t-shirt at a Sunday morning assembly. I had made the t-shirt myself by tearing off the sleeves of my dorm’s official t-shirt, but I must have used excess force pulling off one of the sleeves and a made a huge tear along the seam. As a result, a gaping hole exposed my left ribs, and a flap of cloth swung loosely below my armpit. However, I did not mind the fact that my ribs were visible to anyone with the time to count them, or to the school bullies who loved to jab at my bare skin. I was proud of my handiwork.

Anyways, back to the head-teacher’s office. He had ceremoniously conducted his chin-up, ritualistic first examination and ordered me to pull my file from the shelf of folders in the cabinet. As my fingers racked the stack of multicolored folders, I couldn’t stop wondering why he felt the need to color-code every file. Finally, I pulled my file and handed it to him. Trembling I awaited his verdict. Guilty! I could almost hear the head-teacher’s blood-curdling sentence being handed to me. After some minutes, the short schoolteacher emerged from his chair and straightened himself up, apparently in an effort to match my height. Realizing the limitation of his height, he sank back to his chair, let out a long sigh, and took another look at my record. Finally he started, “I cherish…” There, he said it! The head-teacher like to use the word “cherish,” so much that his whispered nickname in the student community was “I cherish.” I almost let myself smile at the dramatic overuse of the word, but I was reminded of my precarious reality by his irritated “Ahem!” Flashing his eyes in my direction, he stated that I was being let of the hook for several reasons, among them the fact that I was an otherwise exemplary student leader, and I posted consistent, stellar grades in class. Other than my attempt to conform to the dress fashions of the time, I had an impeccable record. I was being let off with a first-and-last warning. I was unceremoniously dismissed from his office, but not before the head-teacher had made it clear that he had his eyes on me. “I’ll keep in touch,” he had said. Until my graduation from high school, I could not shake the feeling that I was always being monitored with hawkish attention.

Keep in touch. Yea, that was what she was telling me. Unconsciously, I loosened up and let my grip on her fail. She must have sensed the relief, for she quickly slipped out of the embrace and stepped back. I stood there, unable to find the right words. Her lips were moving again, saying something, something I should have heard. The next moment, she was receding from me towards her house. I wanted to reach out to her again but my hands remained glued to my side. With effort, I eventually lifted my right hand and stretched it out to grasp her retreating body. By now, she was approaching the door, and as I stood there at the bottom of the staircase, all I could do was pray that she miss a step and sprawl back at me. How nice that would be! I would catch her spiraling body as she flew into my capable arms, terrified at her alternate fate had I not been there. I could see myself gleaming at her horrified, cute face with reassuring strength. I would tell her in soothing tones that she need not worry, I was there. She would feel safe. I would bend over to inspect her smile as she came to. “You’ll be alright!” I thought aloud.

She looked back. “Uh?”

“Call me,” I replied, not sure what else to say.

She smiled, entered her house, and shut the door behind her.

In Jesus’ Name: The African Christian Household

Saturday March 28, 2010. Yale Old Campus.

A ceremony to celebrate the cultures of peoples of African origins was held Saturday in one of Yale’s ornamental rooms, the Lindsley-Chittenden Hall 102 on Old Campus. It was a small ceremony featuring African cuisine, music, drama, and art. Everything was designed to represent the diverse cultures of Africa.

However, I just didn’t feel at home with one of the plays choreographed and performed by the Yale African Students Association club. The play, performed without a title, themed a stereotyped religious family from a West African country. I provide here a synopsis of the play:

The play begins with the four-person family of a church pastor waking up to a daily routine of prayer and cleansing. The pastor reads a passage from the scriptures, while the wife of the pastor shouts “Amen! Amen!” after each word. The pastor’s two daughters, hardly listening to their father, and paying little attention to their overly dramatic mother, mindlessly giggle at each other. The morning devotional ends with a resounding, “IN JESUS’ NAME!”

Time moves forward several hours and the family is now in a church. The wife of the pastor is leading a praise team. The praise session is executed with such cultist fervor – jumping, thumping, dancing, shouting, et cetera, et cetera. In sum, the church and the congregation can be seen in total disarray. The pastor, having invoked the Lord’s name many times in order to calm the congregation, settles on the pulpit to present the sermon. He preaches from St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans.

“Who will rescue me from this body of death?” He screams. “What a miserable man I am! Who will deliver me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?”

The congregation respond thunderously, “Mercy! Ay! Mercy!” The pastor’s wife is particularly vocal: “Ay, ay, ay! Aaay!”

Fast forward. A few days later, a youth from the church arrives at the pastor’s house. The pastor and his wife are away. In the house is one of their daughters. The young man flirts with the girl. Another fast-forward: A couple of weeks later, the girl shows signs of pregnancy.

The wife of the pastor gets very excited upon learning the news. She is aware of the ramifications of having an unwed pregnant daughter in the home. The neighbors won’t be kind to such a development. Her worries become realized when, on stage, two of her best church-friends jeer at her family.

“Did you hear?”
“The Pastor’s daughter?”
“What shame. And to top that, he’s the pastor.”

Meanwhile, trouble is brewing at the pastor’s home. The pastor alienates his wife and children. “They are not my daughters,” he denies. The wife is infuriated by the pastor’s disavowal of his daughters. When they were the beautiful young lasses, they were HIS children, but now that things have gone south, they are HER daughters! Eventually, the family seeks the counsel of a local elder. At the conciliation, the second daughter asks to make an important announcement. The audience is left guessing if problems will continue to plaque the pastor’s house.

Overall, the play was well acted. But the artists may have taken on themselves too huge a task. Evidently, the play was designed to to bring to light common misunderstandings about the African culture; yet, the manner in which the actors handled the issue was lacking. In their quest to correct stereotypes, they let themselves fall into the very murk they desired to lead their audience from. Personally, I found their portrayal of the African christian household distasteful and ignorant. Even among the most fanatical believers of the christian faith in most African households, there are very few that practice their faith in such cultist manner as satirized in the play.

It should be noted that the African christian household is often conservative. This, however, must not be misconstrued to mean that the African christian household is feverish and maniacal about their faith. True, unexpected occurrences such as unplanned, premarital pregnancies in the homes of faithfuls are treated with more than due excitement. Nonetheless, these events are rare and hardly representative of an entire community of believers. The African christian is respectable, courteous, and moderate. Cynics who want to soil the character of the African christian only do so because they do not appreciate the nobility of the African christian.

The play concluded to a resounding applause from the audience. However, whether the audience praised the beauty of the stage-act, or its theme is open to debate. What is clear, however, is that the play succeeded to convey one message: African cultures are still poorly understood, but the intellectuals entrusted with the task of educating the world about them are dismally incompetent at their job.

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