Going down memory lane, I can’t help but smile about how things have changed. Three decades ago, a school was a school, a teacher was a teacher and a student was a student—if you are from my era, you know exactly what I mean. Back then, the teacher was a highly respected person in the entire countryside. Although male teachers used bicycles to work, they were valued not for what they owned but for what they did to the children of the countryside. And that was to ‘kick ignorance out of the heads of the future leaders’, the best way they knew how. As a common mantra claims, a teacher was a maker of civilisation.
Back in the day, the teacher was a close and great friend of the parent. On public holidays, the teacher would get the rare honour of receiving an invitation to a home. In such a home, a he goat would unceremoniously lose its head to the chagrin of such a teacher’s pupils in the home.
I remember the headmaster—the term head teacher had not been born—of my former primary school with nostalgia. Mr. Finish, for that was his nickname, is solely the reason I am the man I am, or rather, the reason I am not the man I would have become. The godsend maker of civilisation appeared on the scene to forcefully stamp an indelible mark in the graph of my life. He drummed into my unwilling head the virtue of punctuality. “Punctuality is the mother of success,” was the signature preamble to his speeches at parade.
Mr. Finish would awaken the entire countryside with his whistle at exactly 6.30am as he rode to school. This told every pupil that they only had half an hour to be in class and settled. When the whistle ‘cried’, we would all be jolted into a mad dash. As Mr. Finish neared the school, our speed increased hysterically. Cases of boys and girls urinating on themselves at the sound of the whistle were too many to count. Woe unto whoever crossed his ‘red line’; such a person was 'finished'. That’s how, and why, he earned himself the moniker ‘Finish’.
One day as I took uji outside our kitchen, the whistle ‘cried’. The mug of uji fell from my hands and spilled all over my body and school uniform. The damned thing was so hot that I got burnt on my legs from the knee downwards. In a panic, I rubbed a cloth on the burnt part. The result was that the entire skin pilled off. Although I knew I was crying more from the fear of Mr. Finish than from the pain on my two legs, my mother looked at me and declared that I had to go to hospital. But I would hear none of it as I cried loudly. It actually took my old man to force me to go to hospital immediately. It was much later that the pain from the burn replaced my fear of Mr. Finish.
Mr. Finish was not only a strict disciplinarian but also a moralist to a hilt. All letters to girls would pass through his office for censoring. Granted, the girls in upper primary were of marriageable age. One day, a ‘village dweller’ sent a letter to a girl in standard seven. In it he said that he loved the girl like sugar, peremende and honey. There were other niceties said in the letter likely to suggest that the two knew each other as husband and wife. The poor fellow put a spoonful of sugar, two ‘Big G’ sweets, and petals of a rose flower in the envelope. There were some drawings on the envelope, which emphasised the fellow’s lustrous intentions. Then he wrote after the address, “Let it fly like an aeroplane.”
The poor girl was made to read the letter at the parade ground. The whole parade got free entertainment as ‘Peremende’, for that became her name henceforth, struggled to read the love letter. After the whole ordeal, she was sent home to get her father. The letter writer was careless enough that he had written his name. He was a standard seven drop-out from the same school who was known to most of us. His occupation then was charcoal burning. It became an inter-family matter that ended at the chief’s office. Today, Peremende is a teacher in some place or other while the letter writer is another man just about the countryside, with nothing much to show for his letter writing skills.
Those were the good, old, golden days. As for me and my house, I shall forever be grateful to Mr. Finish for finishing the devil in me that would have long finished me. Long live Mr. Finish.
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