Her presence in the room was heavy and ubiquitous. The suffocating smell of her perfume filled every pocket of air and smothered our noses so that we could hardly breathe. The large springy cane she held in her hand took all the attention we would have paid on our breathing and focused it on how fast she would swing her hand and how randomly we would scamper away, farthest from the cane most preferably.

The tall figure at the door moved towards us swiftly and began screaming a tirade of words that none of us could hardly comprehend.”Silly good for nothing boys who cause nothing but headache to all the teachers in my school. Useless! I will hang you on a potato stem and leave you to rot there!!”That was her usual gibberish and at eight years of age all we could do was stare at her sheepishly and wonder when the caning would begin and be over with. “Clearly you are well on your way to becoming charcoal salesmen and gravediggers! AND WHAT IS THIS? Nyokabi? A girl! HOW?!!”

I stood up when my name was called almost as automatically as a bullet would have shot out of the muzzle of a gun when the trigger was pulled. The ruffled mass on my head that I attempted to arrange and christen cornrows had come apart for the third time today. My dust covered school uniform would have easily gotten first prize at a street urchins garb competition but really I didn’t care. Playing truant was no frivolous affair.

As our hawk eyed head teacher approached me searching my face for any signs of remorse she poised her arms in caning position, raised up like a falcon reaching out for its prey, indeed she gave new meaning to the expression ’the old bird’ She wielded the “black mamba’ cane menacingly, so called for its effectiveness at inflicting maddening pain and the horrific bruises and lesions it indented on the body. Nail sharp edges notwithstanding, this was one piece of nature I had learnt to detest with comforting passion. I knew she was going to let me have it.

My thin body structure was not much to behold, so she didn’t stare for long but compensated for the extra time by hurling the larger than life paper punch machine on her desk at me with surprising force. The old bird did have some strength left in her. The force of the tool to my head knocked me off balance with so much force that I found myself seated on the ground and tongue bleeding. I had bitten myself. Mrs. Kamuzi as she was known set upon me with kicks and blows that would have sent a ravenous lion back into its cave hungry. The buckles on her shoe tore into my flesh impatiently and opened up wounds that  I knew would fester with infection in a few days. Black mamba swung into action and my back was not spared either.

All this time I withdrew into myself and started to imagine a peaceful place, full of calm and safety against this incursion of violence. A grassy meadow for the mass of hair she was now puling off my head. A cool river with calm icy water which reflected the clear blue sky, for the warm blood that flowed freely from my body. Sweet fleshy mango fruit for the open wounds that now punctuated my skin from head to toe. She was relentless, unabashed and unabated.

My partners in crime now crawled to the darkest corners of the office and watched in silence as the festival of torture carried along. It was Nyokabi she wanted. She was not to be disturbed while she was handling disciplinary cases, not even by a parent. Those were the instructions bawled out during the weekly assemblies in the hall. They were more relieved than scared that it wasn’t their turn for punishment. As they watched timidly, as if ashamed to see my plight, Mrs. Kamuzi intensified her orgy of violence, “You will not shame this school anymore! You will not shame your parents anymore! You will not shame ME anymore! I WILL NOT LOOK BAD! I WILL NOT LOOK BAD! I WILL NOT LOOK BAD…

Her voice was now trembling and pitched to a scream as she started foaming at the mouth. I curled myself into a foetal position to protect my body from the heavy blows it was receiving and continued in my trance of imagination. Her strong perfume was still suffocating and the air was rich with hot air from her breathing like an angry bull. Despite all this the blood from my swollen lips and mouth did a good job of dulling the nausea. I couldn’t open my eyes to see what she was doing to me and that was a relief because the damage to my body would have been too much to take in anyway. One of my arms was facing different directions like the broken compass in my geometrical set, and then came a loud raspy thud that made everything silent. Aaah, sweet silence. Silence and calm that lifted me on their lofty wings and set me up on a high place, far from Mrs. Kamuzi and her mad shrieks and painful lashes, far far away.

After some time, I was recalled back to reality by a certain fire that had been lit on my body. I screamed out loudly but I could not hear myself. It must be the pain, I thought to myself. It was like somebody had dipped me into the biblical lake of burning sulphur spoken of for the judgement day. FIRE FIRE FIRE. Fire that could not allow me to think feel or do much else. I was trapped and unable to go back to my grassy meadow, with clear blue skies and cool calm waters. But along with the fire came an awakening. The massive influx of beatings had stopped. Abruptly stopped. Then numbness set in.

I began to wonder about what was happening and came to learn much later what had transpired. My accomplices hidden at the corners of the office had panicked and began to scream hysterically. They had run out of the office leaving Mrs. Kamuzi and I in our labours. They had attracted the teachers on duty’s’ attention who had swiftly addressed the cause of the boys’ frenzy. The teachers, male teachers for that matter had had to pull Mrs. Kamuzi off of me to stop her biting me with her teeth. I had then been quickly rushed to the school sanatorium where the nurse’s absence had forced the teachers to take me to hospital.

As I lie in my bed tonight and run my fingers over the smooth contours and serrations on my body, I wonder. The darkness caresses me and engulfs me in a world of imagination. In my utopia I can walk without the use of crutches. I am not compelled to slave on with my Braille and speech classes. Clouds of hatred and confusion don’t muffle me and force me to gasp for air. I don’t jump from every touch of help from my mother or brother. Drowning in despair is converted to basking in the sunshine. I am free. All I can remember as I mull over my adversity, sliding deeper in the sheets to search for warmth, is that night. That fateful night in boarding school. That long night five years ago. The night of my sight.

© Gilbert Mitullah