Bonsu was so engrossed, he did not notice how beautiful the little village looked now that the sun was beginning to cut through the mist. The tea-women working in the fields, dressed in tired rags, carrying straw baskets on their backs supported by long strips of cloth that went round each basket, and then round their foreheads; the odd boy or two, chasing an old leather ball in the dew-covered grass on the other side of the road, their laughter high-pitched and a little too loud, obviously intended to lure their more hesitant peers to join them in their morning play. Here and there a young calf, separated from the pasture-bound herd, lowed pitifully for its mother.
The speeding bus bumped hard into a giant pothole and flew into the air momentarily before landing with a thud back to the ground. All the passengers, more startled than hurt, hurled curses at the driver:
"You think you're driving sacks of beans?" shouted one.
"Will something unspeakable happen to you if you drive carefully?" cried another.
For his part, Bonsu did not react to any of this, did not even notice it; except perhaps as a far off backdrop to the turmoil the tale he was reading was stirring within him.
His day had started quite normally. He had been sent by the minister to what was known to be a far-off outpost of hooliganism, a putrid sore on the education system's skin that the minister had been hesitating to deal with all this time, until finally he had decided to prick it and see what sort of pus came out. For Bonsu though, it was just another routine school inspection - the only bonus was that he would get to see the famous Champisi with his own eyes.
Champisi Reformatory School had long ago won its fame as a correctional facility for wayward minors. It was the scene of many astounding, sometimes jaw-dropping, transformations in character. Consequently, all society's hopeless cases were sent there. One term there turned the most hardcore delinquents into the meekest of lambs: unduly obedient to authority, and more than usually appreciative of laws and their importance in the smooth running of society. The punishments were severe, the working hours long, the teachers' authority absolute. Corporal punishment was the rule. Most of the teachers viewed children as spoiled brats who needed to have sense beaten into them. Teachers who distinguished themselves elsewhere in their affinity for, and excellence at, wielding the rod - the ones whom parents had complained about in other schools - were all sent to Champisi.
However, times had changed. Many parents, and almost all educators, now believed that corporal punishment, as a method of correction, was a shameful relic of a barbaric past that had no place in raising today's child. Fewer and fewer parents were willing to send their children there; and nowadays, judges too hardly ever sentenced minors to a Reformatory Regime. In fact, the law had been amended to stipulate that only those children whom psychiatrists and counsellors had given up on could be sent to these schools. "But of course, those were extremely few given that Rule No. 1 of said Shrinks and Counsellors Code states that 'No child is irredeemable... especially by me," Bonsu thought to himself, chuckling softly.
Also, the government had, two years earlier, begun to crack down on corporal punishment, and directives had been sent to all schools round the country to check the practice with immediate effect. As most government directives go, this one too was a decade behind the times. Most schools had long ago outlawed the practice of their own accord. Those that hadn't done so yet had quickly fallen in line with the new regulations - most that is, except a very notorious few; and Champisi was the most notorious of them all.
The Minister was determined to rein in all errant schools, and assert his authority over the older institutions in particular. Thus it was that his main implementer, Chief Inspector of Schools, Kapale Bonsu, had found himself aboard a 6 O'clock bus headed to Champisi Reformatory School. More than half an hour later, he was passing through a misty village that was yet shrouded in slumber, and wresting the last minutes of sweet sleep from a night that was just as unwilling to part from it.
When Bonsu first got to the school on a bodaboda from the bus park, he had the overpowering feeling that he was seeing an institution in its death throes. Maybe it was the thick, unkempt bush outside the high brick wall that stood so high it seemed like it had not been cleared for weeks. Or perhaps it was the ancient gate that led into the school, its vertical metallic bars rotten with rust and age. Beyond it, an old guard, his bow lying across his lap, was dozing on a stool. The ancient school seemed to wheeze through his lungs, for his snoring was low and terrible as the death rattle. If he had any arrows, he was probably hiding them away because it appeared he had none. Bonsu shook the gate slightly. The low grumble it elicited startled the old guard out of his slumber, and for a brief second, the sleep-addled sentry fixed him with a dull uncomprehending look. He struggled up from his stool and shuffled towards the gate. The thick bunch of keys dangling in his hand jangled harshly in the still morning air as he looked for the key to the huge Solex padlock that secured the school gate. His mouth mumbled a sleepy greeting as he opened it. "Good morning," Bonsu replied, smiling, as he went slowly through the gate.
So this was the famous Champisi. Directly, on entering the gate, you were met by an imposing, dull, grey structure, built out of large bricks made of sand and cement. Bonsu found it odd that the building had its back to the gate. Although modestly sized, the building was abnormally tall, so that its austere walls seemed to disappear high up into the morning; you could barely make out the outlines of a roof in the mist. The whole impression was of a drab, pitiless edifice built to keep things in, and the grim resolution of harsh discipline was etched on the face of every brick.
The Inspector followed a well-worn gravel path, the visible part of which was discernibly much narrower than it had originally been, and the bush that had eaten up the better part of it was pressing in menacingly on either side of the remaining track. The path led from the gate, round the grey building, and opened to a large compound around which a number of other structures were arranged. His long experience with schools, especially those of the old kind, told Bonsu that the storied off-white building directly across the compound was a classroom block. Although it was barely past 7 o'clock in the morning, already he could see through the windows black pupils' heads; and through some doors, the silhouette of a teacher might be seen moving from end to end, or scribbling on a black board.
The compound slanted slightly downward and from his left, on the upper side, the thin acidic smell of dung assaulted Bonsu's nostrils. He looked up and saw what had once been a sizeable pigsty with about five small stalls. Now only two of them were occupied: the middle stall by three or four giant pigs which lay lazily on the ground. "They are probably still asleep," he thought. The last stall to the extreme left housed a number of little piglets; these were already up and ran in frantic circles within the closed stall, their snouts held constantly to the ground, and every once in a while they stopped to sniff at some point on the ground, as if they had caught a whiff of some buried treasure.
To his right, on the lower side of the compound, Bonsu saw two smaller buildings, also off-white in colour. One of them had ADMINISTRATION painted just above the door in big blue letters. He started to walk towards it. As if on cue, a thin, nervous-looking man walked out the door and stood momentarily on the veranda, his eyes scanning first the gate, then the path that led from it. His eyes fell on the approaching Inspector and for a brief second Bonsu thought he saw him start. Consciously, he planted a welcoming smile onto his face and strode forward purposefully to meet the approaching visitor. They met half way, and the thin man stretched out his hand in greeting. The Inspector clasped it:
"Good morning sir," enthused the thin man, pumping Bonsu's hand vigorously. His palms were sweating a little, his grip a bit too tight. "My name is Godfrey, Godfrey Murungi. I am the Head Master."
"And I am the Inspector," Bonsu rejoined. He made it a point to use his title the first time he was meeting Head Teachers: it let them know who was in charge.
"You're most welcome sir," Mr. Murungi replied, but this time his voice sounded somewhat subdued. "Let's go to the office," he said, turning back and leading into the building from which he had emerged.
A short while later Bonsu found himself seated in the Head Master's office and, although the morning was undoubtedly cold, the school's top executive was probably shivering for more reasons than just the cold.
The Inspector, though, was so accustomed to the terror that accompanied his visits, he hardly paid it any attention these days. In his younger days he would have attributed it to guilt on the teachers' part, but experience had taught him otherwise. Human beings who found themselves in the presence of an Authorised Fault-finder were just as likely to react with fear whether or not they were actually guilty of wrong doing - especially if it was one who also had the authority to punish them. And so Bonsu, as was his wont, found himself reassuring the Head Master.
"Sir, this is just a routine check. I just came to see how things are going. I'll be here for one hour - two at most. I'm sure everything's okay." He paused meaningfully, and then lowered his voice slightly, holding the HM's gaze steadily while he spoke, as a man may speak in confidence to a co-conspirator, "We also have things to do, you know." The Head Master burst into a short, strained laugh. His relief was unmistakable. Here was a man they could work with!
Turning to his Secretary, he directed her to "Give the big man some tea", before going out and returning a short while later with a massive, black, giant of a man with enormous teeth and a heart-warming chuckle. He introduced the giant as Mr. Kisuule, and told Bonsu he would be in charge of taking him around and giving him whatever help he needed. "I would have liked for my Deputy to do it, but he's not around yet. I wonder why, yet I had told him you were coming and he would be responsible for making sure your visit went smoothly." He was fidgeting again, dialling a certain number, probably the Deputy's, on his phone.
"It's okay Mr. Murungi. I'll go with Mr. Kisuule," Bonsu reassured him. Then, turning to the towering teacher, he said, "Show me the Staff Room," and begun to walk towards the door. Mr. Kisuule led him to the other off-white building just next to the administration room, his huge figure stumbling forward with accustomed ricketiness. One almost thought he was going to fall, but he didn't. It did not take Bonsu long to notice that he had a slight limp in one foot.
It turned out Mr. Kisuule was a very jolly and garrulous fellow. The short journey was filled with cheerful, animated conversation, only occasionally punctuated by huge intakes of breath and noisy exhalations; the Inspector found the whole exercise rather amusing. When they got to the Staff Room, the Inspector greeted the handful of teachers inside with a brief smile and wave, while his eyes took in the small room in one quick glance. "Nothing much here," he thought. He asked for a table and chair to be placed for him under the mango tree just outside the Staff Room, and Mr. Kisuule carried them out himself, cracking some joke about "having stamina" with the sole female teacher in the staff room.
Bonsu followed him, and while he settled himself into the plastic garden chair, his gaze fell again on the pigsty just across. "Is that the school farm?" he asked. "That one?!" Mr. Kisuule followed his gaze. "No! That one used to be the pigsty for the school, but after sometime we ran out of money to sustain it so now the Deputy keeps his pigs there. I'm sure very soon someone will come and open for them to go to the farm and feed from there. The farm is that side," he turned slightly and pointed to his right, beyond the classroom block, "behind this building..." His voice seemed to trail off momentarily; then with a sudden burst he added, "Eh! We have a big farm my friend! You think where do the children do their exercise? Ahahaha!" His whole body shook with laughter, and mirth seemed to so suffuse his face that a sort of glow seemed to come over it.
Bonsu smiled, genuinely amused. "Do your exercise... Did people still use that phrase?" He had last heard it used that way when he was a boy in school, and it had meant working in the school farm, every last inch of which had been divided up amongst the teachers. When a teacher wanted to punish you, he sent you to "do your exercise" in his plot or, if everything was already done, to the Deputy or HM's plots, for theirs were often so large that there was always bound to be something to do there.
Bonsu placed his bag on the table, retrieved his worn Inspection Report formbook, flipped through it until he came to an unused form and proceeded to fill a few preliminary sections. Then he turned to his waiting guide. "I am going to move around for about thirty minutes, I should be back by 8. Then you can send me three boys, one at a time, so that I can interview them briefly." Mr. Kisuule nodded to indicate his comprehension of the instructions and proceeded towards the classroom block.
For Bonsu this was nothing more than a routine inspection. He had proceeded first, as he usually did, to the kitchen, then the dormitories, and finally the toilets. As usual, the kitchen was spotless, the cooks courteous and elegantly turned out, and the freshest, most nutritious foods stewed quietly in the pans. As usual, the dormitories were in perfect order, the floor scrubbed squeaky clean, and the beds well laid. As usual, the toilet was immaculate, and although the paint on the walls was visibly old, it was beyond doubt that the virtue of cleanliness was held in the highest regard indeed in this school, not least in this most vital of facilities. It was always like this wherever the Inspector went. The law prescribed, after all, at least three weeks' notice to the schools before he visited.
All the three pupils he interviewed were also predictably content and happy. They were all clad in well pressed khaki shorts and spotless white shirts, still stiff with the stiffness of new clothes; and smiling through cracked lips and broken teeth, they told, with dead eyes, a tale of ''delishass'' food, ''educative'' games, ''partisipetory'' classes, and "very very good'' teachers. O! The teachers! In fact, the entire environment was "perfect and conducive for raising and educating the country's future leaders", they all concluded.
Everything was going as planned. By 9 O'clock, Bonsu was filling in the last sections of his Inspection Report when two black legs, thin as broomsticks, and clad in dirty, old sneakers, intruded on his field of vision, on the ground area just beyond the desk. He looked up to see a boy with the most curious eyes - they were at once daring and searching: you felt he was looking straight into your soul. The boy had stopped when Bonsu looked up. He seemed undecided whether to come forward or run for his life. The Inspector smiled kindly and gestured for him to come forward. With a surprising boldness that belied his timid stance from a half second earlier, the boy stepped forward, and was almost reaching the Inspector's desk when a loud, belligerent voice cut like a whip through the air.
"You! Go back to class!" It was Mr. Kisuule. The boy jumped and looked up suddenly. His whole body suddenly seemed to freeze like a frightened mouse's stuck in glue.
Bonsu did not look behind him. Instead he felt compelled to ask, a fierce concern evident in his voice, "What do you want?" His eyes, urgent and imploring his confidence, sought the boy's; and for a moment or so, the boy remained petrified, eyes still fixed at the terror behind the Inspector. Then, almost visibly, Bonsu saw him drag his eyes downward towards his own. The look he gave Bonsu was at once despairing and trusting - it broke his heart because no child's eyes should carry that much despair about anything, or place that much trust in a stranger. Striding slowly, determinedly, like a strange Christ approaching his own Calvary, the boy placed a 32-page Picfare notebook on the Inspector's desk, holding his gaze all this while, before turning slowly, deliberately, and walking off towards the classroom block.
Although highly intrigued by the incident, Bonsu would soon have brushed it off as one does the random curiosities that daily fascinate us for a few brief seconds before our ordinary cares intrude and crowd them out of our consciousness. He pushed the notebook to the side, making a mental note to carry it with him, but only for curiosity's sake. He might have forgotten all about it as he hastened to finish up his report. Bonsu hated to have work pending, and he did have things to do after all. But Mr. Kisuule's thinly disguised agitation, and his insistence on getting the boy's notebook from him - "That boy has a wild imagination... Of late he's always reading books and scribbling in that book of his...In fact other pupils even fear him...What was he telling you anyway? Was he disturbing you...? I swear he's going to see me!" - had convinced him to take it with him, to hurry to the bus park, and to open it and read it first thing on getting into the Kampala-bound bus.
Having once been a teacher himself, Bonsu could tell immediately that the child's writing was remarkably deliberate, and quite good for one his age. Here though, it seemed a bit hurried, and it took some effort to make out his 't's and 'f's. Even then, it was quite easy to read.
I remember the day when paul came to our school very well. It had been raining and raining the whole night and in the morning big earthworms had come out of the ground to vomit. Teacher Nakawooya taught us in Science that when it rains too much the earthworms under the ground drink too much water and if they don't come up to the ground and vomit they will die.
It was also very cold that morning. The teachers made us jog around the Candidates Block to warm up before class.
Mr Kisuule ran behind us with a long fresh green stick in his hand shouting "If I catch you I will set fire to your buttocks!"
Everyone knows that no one can cane like Mr Kisuule. Childrens call him omulaalo because he can beat you like as if he is beating his cows at home. Mr Kisuule is a tall black man with very big teeth. He likes laughing very loudly and his whole body can shake and shake and shake when he is laughing. Sometimes he can even start crying because of over laughing.
I think he is somehow lame. Oba maybe his one leg is short. because when he is walking it is like as if he is going to fall down. and when he is running behind you the ground can shake like when the scouts are marching.
Anyway we ran and ran and the big boys could knock you out of the way to get away from him. Sometimes you could hear someone shouting and you could know that Mr Kisuule had beated him.
We ran around the block like five times before they told us to go for assembly in front of P3K. Headmaster was away so Deputy came to address us.
Deputy somehow looks like a ripe yellow mango with black spots. He is very brown with a small head which is sharp on top and he has big black spots on his big cheeks. even his jaws are big but he is thin down and very tall and he likes cutting his hair shaolin. Paul used to say that when he's wearing his white kaunda suit he looks like a yellow lollipop on a white stick.
"I have only one announcement" Deputy said. "We have a new boy. his name is Paul."
From where I was standing I could not see the boy even though I stretched and stretched my neck to try and see him. "come here paul" Deputy told him, "come and stand next to me."
A ka thin little boy came out from behind Deputy and stood in front of him. And when he looked at the children in front of him he slowly started to smile until his smile was really big. He was looking at us like as if we were soldiers on parade.
You could just see that that paul was very stubborn from the way his face looked. Everyone was looking at him, but paul for him he could not fear. Instead his face became happy like as if he wanted to do something really funny. then he put his hands behind his back like Deputy and shouted in a loud voice, "Good morning choodren!"
At first no one knew what to say. But somehow the words just came out of us and we answered Paul like as if he was our teacher. "Good morning teacher!"
As soon as we said it I somehow felt very happy. it was very funny. like how you feel when you fall when you are walking with your friends but not very hard so it does not pain very much. Somehow you feel ashamed but somehow it is funny and when they laugh at you it becomes very very funny and you can laugh and laugh until your stomach starts paining.
I think everyone from the Head Boy in P7 to the smallest boy in P1 felt it in his hair and also in his toes because everybody was laughing. Even the teachers must have felt it also. even them they started laughing.
Mr Kisuule for him he laughed and laughed until tears started coming from the side of his face. He looked like a cartoon but Deputy for him he was not laughing. He just looked at paul as if he was a mulalu. Me I had been looking at him the whole time but Mr Kisuule pointed in paul's direction so I also looked.
Paul was inspecting the children's lines and he was almost finishing the assembly. He was near where the P1 children stand and his hands were still behind his back as he was looking at the children's lines like as if he was the President inspecting soldiers at Kololo on Independence Day.
Sometimes he could see a line that was a bit crooked and he could look at the children like as if he was really really angry and all of the children could start laughing but they could hurry to make it straight like as if he was a teacher. When the line became straight paul could move forward without smiling, and the children could laugh even more.
When I turned back I saw Deputy walking angrily in paul's direction. even the teachers had stopped laughing. The children for them they were still looking at paul so they did not see Deputy coming.
Paul also he did not see him. and when Deputy catched him the whole school shouted in fear. Paul also turned behind to see why people were shouting. He found the Deputy's hands coming for him and his neck just entered them like one of Deputy's pigs when they are entering the door of their pigsty in the evening.
Deputy started squeezing paul's neck very hard, and his eyes started to grow very big like for the eyes of a fish. And then he carried him in the air on the neck and swinged his whole body and threw him on the veranda just in front of the P2 children on assembly.
Paul did not move. He just lay down flat on the ground like as if he expected it.
Deputy turned around to where the teachers were standing like as if he was looking for something, and Mr Kisuule came running with a cane. Deputy took it and at once he beganed to beat paul's bum and his back and his legs. The canes were falling very quickly like rain.
Everyone knew that Deputy was not a senior in caning but these ones looked like they really really hurt. Naye Paul for him he lied still on the ground. only his face was a bit up, and his smile was like for that of a clown's mask.
Deputy beat him and beat him, and abused him many words which I could not understand. white saliva was coming out of his mouth but he just went on beating and beating paul. Even the stick started breakbreaking but Deputy for him he just contuned swinging and swinging.
No one could move. The stick was getting shorter but he could just bend and contune beating paul until the stick was finished and there was one ka tiny thing remaining. Then he just boxed paul in the back and stopped.
He looked at his hand and then he untightened it and threw the ka tiny stick in front just walked back to where the teachers were standing. Teacher Nakawooya came running with a green toilet paper and gave it to him while pointing at his mouth. He just looked at her like as if he was confused and raised the back of his hand to his mouth.
He touched the saliva on his mouth and his mouth twisted like as if he wanted to vomit. then he turned a half of his body away from us and just grabbed the toilet paper from teacher's hand and started to wipe his mouth from end to end while still shaking his head angrily and quarrelling alone.
When he finished he turned angrily to where he had left paul lying on the ground but paul had disappeared. Paul had moved and come to stand at the head of the P5 line. The rest of us just extended behind so that he could enter.
Deputy looked at Paul badly and he looked really really mad, like those mad people from Butabika! I knew that look very well. Paul was the new toy!
Deputy turned back to the rest of the school and trsied to address us but his voice was just whispering. Everybody could see that he was fighting to control his emotions.
He read out the duties of every class for that week and also the names of the Prefects on Duty. P5 was supposed to clean the compound. cleaning the compound was my best chore. all you did was walk walk around the compound and pick leaves, buveera and bottle tops.
For me I could look for something really dirty like a very dirty kaveera and then I could fill my other hand with dry leaves and papers. and I could go as far as I wanted because if anyone could ask me where I was going, I could tell him that I was going to the dustbin and they could just allow me to go.
When Deputy finished talking he asked the Head Boy to come and lead us in a closing prayer and went back to where the other teachers were standing. He said nothing about what paul had done and but for me I knew something was wrong.
Normally if any boy annoyed the teachers they could punish him in front of the whole school and then abuse all of us for a long long time.
They could tell us how ungrateful we were. how many orphans out there were being mistreated by step mothers who burnt their hands for spilling a drop of milk. how many of them were forced to run to the streets where they slept on verandas in the cold and had to run away from mad dogs at night.
They would tell us how we were getting the very best care from the most professional team of teachers in the country. how we were being treated like royals compared to orphans from other schools. nti how could we dare to act like thankless dogs?!
After they would say that they would train us. "And how is a thankless dog trained?"
"You beat it!" we would answer shouting.
That was the normal speech. The teachers knew it. and all of us knew it. But Deputy had not given it. I wondered why. I even catched him looking secretly at Paul while Head Boy was praying. and when the prayer was over he just turned at once and went to his office.
From that day on it seemed that Paul never ran out of trouble. Whenever something was wrong, they said it was Paul and teachers were always punishing him.
When the Poetry chart at the back of the class fell down, the English teacher jumped on Paul and smeared his face with a slap although he was seated in front like he always did.
When the Head Cook, Mr. Ssemmere found maggots again in the beans for supper, he called for Paul and beated him for putting maggots in the children's food.
Even Ms. Nakawooya who rarely beat us would beat him ngoloon his head for looking at her badly when she came in for her first lesson that day.
But paul for him he was always laughing. The harder they beat him the harder he laughed. and he could laugh in this way that when he laughed you could not avoid also laughing.
In fact Mr Kisuule who teaches us Maths had resorted to caning paul whenever children were beginning to get bored. and he could not stop beating him until he was bleeding. But I think Mr Kisuule was paul's best teacher. He liked to play with him and he could run from one end of the class to the other one while Mr Kisuule chased him with a big stick.
Teacher would be chasing paul and paul could jump over a desk and the teacher could run all the way back to the front to catch him. It was so very funny that for many of us it was the best part of the day. Soon Maths became the best class for all of us.
I don't know if the other children also found paul strange. How could he keep laughing with all that pain? I had been the teacher's toy before paul came.
The teachers said that for me I would look at people badly so most teachers could beat me for nothing all the time. The canes could pain me and I could always cry after being caned. sometimes when they beat me on very cold mornings I could cry for a long time and I could only stop when they threatened to beat me again.
But some teachers felt so sorry for me. they rarely beat me. Like Teacher Nakawooya and Deputy. They only beat me when something really bad had happened and they did not know who had done it.
For paul I don't know why but all the teachers seemed like as if they hated him very much. Especially Deputy. Deputy used to beat him at least once every day. And always he could be so angry like the way he was that first time when he beated him on assembly.
One day I decided to ask paul about it. Today none of the other children was surrounding paul. We were standing under the mango tree near Candidates' block and paul was just standing there looking at other children playing football and kicking dust in the compound.
"Do you want some ice?" I asked paul in a very friendly voice.
Paul turned and just looked at me as he was smiling. He first delayed somehow then he extended his hand and broke off a piece of my ice. He threw all of it in his mouth and kept moving it from one side of his mouth to the other when it started paining his teeth.
I first looked at him but he looked away like as if he was feeling uncomfortable so I also looked in the compound where the boys were still running after the tiny ball made out of strips of rubber and used milk pints of fresh dairy which they had blown in air.
I said sorry for teacher beating you today and paul turned towards me with a big smile on his face like as if he just won the trophy of sports day.
"Did you see how I tied the canes? Teacher beat me but I was not feeling anything!"
Paul sounded so excited. it was easy to talk to him.
"Eh! But for you you can tie! For me I used to tie but still I could feel a lot of pain!"
"And you cried?"
Paul sounded sorry for me like as if I was a P1 child so I got annoyed. I shouted that they used to beat me more than him and paul looked like as if he was surprised then he said "even me I used to cry long ago. those days when mummy died and they took me to my first boarding school I used to cry all the time. But big people liked to overcane me so and I learnt how to tie so now I don't feel pain."
I was sorry for shouting at him so instead I asked him "Show me your bum and I see where teacher beated you?"
He went a little ko behind the mango tree so that other children could not see him and also me I followed him. Paul pulled down his short and showed me his bum. It was swollen and blackredblue.
Mr. Kisuule used to say that is how very black children are. He used to say that they are no longer black but blackredblue! He could shout it all the time.
Paul had black roads on his bum from one side to the other where teacher had beated him today. they looked like snakes. At the end of one bum the stick had pricked him and it was darkred but the blood had already begun drying.
"Does it pain when teacher beats your wound?" I asked Paul.
"Sometimes ka little little, but mostly it feels good".
I don't know why but suddenly I had jealousy for Paul. I had jealousy because they had beated him so much when he was a young boy and not me.
I said to him "I wish my bums were rotten. I wish they were blackredblue. I wish they were swollen too. I wish I could laugh like you," But paul just looked at me and said nothing.
We talked and talked until when they rung the bell for class. We talked and talked at lunchtime and even other times as well. That is how paul became my best friend. We could be together all the time. We could go for break together every day when we had money.
When we did not have money and paul's friends had not bought for him break, we could just stand under the mango tree and converse while watching other children playing in the compound.
One day towards the end of the term again P5 was given to clean the compound. As usual Paul and I were together. I had taught him my trick and so we looked for the dirtiest-looking buveera on the compound and picked one one.
We also picked some dry leaves and filled our hands and then we started walking slowly to the dustbin at the other end of the compound while conversing and laughing. I think we over delayed walking because they rang the bell when we were just reaching the dustbin.
We threw our rubbish down near the dustbin and run back to class very quickly. but by the time we reached class Deputy was standing outside waiting for latecomers with a big stick in his hand.
"Paul Paul Paul! Late as usual!" Deputy said when we reached in front of the class.
There were like seven of us there but it was like as if for us he was not seeing us. He was just looking at paul and he looked so angry. His hands were shaking and his down lip also looked like as if it was shaking but he could bite it with his teeth and the words didn't come out.
Paul for him just looked at him and he was smiling. he did not turn his head away like the way you are supposed to do when big people look at you.
Deputy he jumped for Paul and grabbed him by the back of his head and pushed him on the ground. Paul fell in front but when he was falling he put down his hands so that he could fall properly. Then he lied down on the ground like how he liked doing and Deputy started to beat him badly as usual.
Saliva started coming from the side of his mouth and he was abusing Paul many things I did not understand but Paul for him he was as usual smiling his big smile like for a clown's mask.
Suddenly he shouted a horrible cry like a pig. Paul was crying like Deputy's pigs when they are going to slaughter them and they first beat them on the head before cutting off their heads.
Deputy also was shocked. even his temper run away from him like as if someone had poured on him cold water. Children started peeping out of the windows and even some teachers ran out of class to see what was happening.
"My leg! My leg! My leg!" Paul was crying over and over. His voice had in it too too much pain.
Deputy started shaking but he could not move like as if his feet were stuck on the ground. Even me I tried to move but I couldn't. I was just standing there like statue. It was Mr Kisuule who reached him first. He fell down on one knee next to Paul while very scared. Also me I got even more scared because I had never seen Mr Kisuule scared like this.
Mr Kisuule asked paul "what's wrong with your leg? What's wrong?" but was as if Paul could not hear him.
He just threw his head onto Mr Kisuule's knee and contuned to cry over and over. "My leg, teacher, my leg." Thick saliva was full in his mouth as he cried and also his face was full of tears so also me I started crying.
They carried paul to the dormitory and Mr Kisuule brought a tube of Deep Heat and he started to massage paul's thigh. The rest of us we were told to go back to class but everyone was very quiet.
For me I couldn't stop crying and Miss Nakawooya told me that she will beat me if I don't stop but her voice was kind and she did not. Instead she told me that I go out until I stop crying.
I run to the dormitory and found the nurse from the clinic outside the school had been called. She was helping Mr Kisuule to carry paul to a Special Hire which was parked in front of the dormitory. He was no longer crying although he still seemed to be in pain.
He looked at me and pointed at his pillow without saying anything. I looked at it quickly and turned back to him and nodded my head.
They pushed him slowly into the back seat of the car and tried to make him lie down but he could not fit. So Mr Kisuule reached into the car and slowly begun to raise his legs until they were resting on as if the car door while he lied on his back.
Paul turned his head until he could see me and he seemed like as if he was saying goodbye. I don't know why but I was sure I would never see Paul again. I started crying even harder but paul for him he just kept looking at me until Mr Kisuule came and pushed the door shut and shook me gently on my shoulder then he went and squeezed himself in front with the nurse.
I don't know how to say how I felt when Paul's hand came above the window waving bye. It was like as if my chest was a sigiri with hot fire and chacoal inside and I wanted to blow but it just couldn't come out.
I watched as the car went slowly towards the gate and hot tears started to pour out of my eyes. The pain was just too much. I felt like dying so I run to the dormitory and fell on my bed and wept for a long long time.
The other children were still in class when I stopped crying and I remembered what Paul had showed me. I got up slowly and went to paul's bed. under his pillow I found a torn cover of the notebooks they had given us.
The outer part was painted brown with big black squares drawn on it but inside it was white. But the inside part was somehow dirty. I think because of paul touch touching it was a bit brown. Paul had written there in a red pen in his best handwriting that
"I wish my bums were rotten. wish they were blackredblue. I wish they too were swollen. wish I could laugh like you."- Noel.
Just below that one he had also written in green pen that
"I'm glad your bums aren't rotten. glad they aren't blackredblue. I'm glad that they aren't swollen. glad that you don't laugh like me."-Paul.
* This story has appeared in a different form in 'The Workzine'.