Bildad was our school cook, him and a lady by the name Nungari. The rice and bean stew they prepared Wednesday and Fridays remain top in the list of the most delicious meals I have ever tasted. It was out of this world. That shit was so sweet it still features prominently in my random thoughts not to mention waking up from dreams with its toothsome after taste.
The same can’t be said of the githeri they prepared the rest of the days whose ratio of maize:beans:weevils:larvae was 10:1:10:5.
If you wanted to take a roll call with a 103% turnout, you would do it on Wednesday or Friday lunchtime. Everybody turned up for the lunch. Even those away on suspension or fees arrears or sick leave or AWOL or on self-granted study leave …. Everybody! It wasn’t uncommon to see guys who had dropped from school a term or two earlier show up for lunch one Friday or Wednesday to sample the rice.
The dish was full of booby traps of ecstasy which exploded in your mouth hitting all the million tastebuds one after the other in a chain reaction that left you teetering on the edge; on the cusp of reaching the peak. The meal appealed to something very instinctive because it always left an unforgettable experience the memory of which the partakers will treasure forever.
The kitchen area was a battle zone Wednesday and Friday lunch time. At twenty minutes to one, guys started sneaking and streaming into the school compound through the fence . A guy lifting the sagging wire strands here, another one jumping over the fence there, another one squeezing under the stunted k-apple, another one pressing the top wire strand and swinging over one long tawny leg then the other. They materialized one after the other heading to the kitchen like resurrecting zombies in a horror movie.
The points of entry were scattered all over the school perimeter. All the “illegal immigrants” would gather at the kitchen area and mingle with the rest of the students while waiting for their turn to be served.
Form ones were the first to be served. It makes sense to have the young ones eat first. The picked their share of mostly bean soup and a few beans and a minute lump of “mashed rice” engaging their honed fishing skills to catch the beans and rice inside the ocean of soup.
Form twos followed, then form threes and lastly, the seniors. The amount of soup reduced while the form of food increased with the form. The war too, raged as the form (both class, size and composition) increased.
By the time the form fours were having their turn, the area was a real Kosovo or Kandahar.
The war was characterized by exchange of words between the cooks and the students. The students would be demanding more food to their plates. The cooks would be ordering them to leave the serving area and give way to the rest.
“Ongeza chakula hapa!, sijalipa fees nusu!”
This coming from guys who had fees arrears for two terms.
There are guys who succeeded in fooling Bildad into serving them twice or thrice or even four times; the experts in “gùthaka” as we referred to the act. This was done in collaboration with a few accomplices who would watch over the food as you went for another round and another. The food would be shared later with the “player” going with the lion’s share. Others did it sole. They would eat very fast and go back to the queue before the last person in their form was served. They would wipe their lips dry to appear like they last ate a month ago.
Not always did guys succeed in fooling Bildad.
Sometimes after serving a guy for the third time, he would tell them “thìì ùke ría gatano nùgù ìno.” (Go come for the 5th time orangutan).
Other times, he would stop serving and look at you with a stare that was in between expressionless, cold-blooded and pure disdain like you were some piece of stinking yet fascinating artefact. He would not say a word. Rest of the students would plead with him to serve you saying, “mwekee food hajakula.”
You would look back at him with begging eyes but he wouldn’t budge. Yet other times he would tell the “player”, “kwenda nugu nugu.” (This shouldn’t construed to mean matusi. Even if it was so, this was so mild)
The gùthaka game was a preserve for form ones and form twos. Senior third and fourth formers did it differently. They didn’t leave the serving area until their plates were fully packed with food such that it required props on the sides of the plate to keep the food from spilling over.
You would see guys pacing with their backs to the serving platform cursing, “ìkìra irio ta cia mùndu mùgima.” (Serve an adult’s food)
Nùngari all this time would be feebly pleading with them, “rìu ùrenda cììkìrwo atía na thani nì ìyùrire? Ndùkírehe thani ìngì.” (Where do you want us to put the food? This one is already full. Kindly bring another one.)
Once in a while, we would be treated to a spectacle. Bildad, a fourth former having gotten his goat to a point where he couldn’t take it any more, would lock the door behind him an axe in hand and chase the offending student through the coffee bushes, assembly ground, maize field, jumping over cutoffs with the agility of an Olympic steeplechase runner. They would hop over the fence separating the secondary and primary schools, sprint in the open field old Bildad eating the gap between him and the student like an energizer bunny. He would take the victim to the ground in a scything sweep to our exhilaration. This always ended in that scythe sweep and the two parties, Bildad swinging the axe in his hand, would come back to the kitchen area exchanging banter.
God bless the guy who ran this school.
The way he managed to run the institution in one of the worst man made economic depressions to hit a village astounds me to this day. He allowed parents to pay fees with any commodity at their disposal that could be put to use in a school. Maize, Firewood, Manure, Nappier grass, milk (sometimes asking the parent to bring the cow to the school kraal for it to be milked for a month or two to pay fees arrears), sweet potato vines…. anything.
I am not telling you that I had to dislodge my fathers old knapsack sprayer from the school years later when I started earning something.
At least the sarakasi we conjured up in the kitchen area helped to alleviate an otherwise very gloom situation.