“Pssst…pssst….. Echima! Echima!”
“Don’t snob me with a colonial artifact girl”
“Pesa kidogo Na ushaanza kushikilia jua”
“Hata Joshua alichoka!”
Even though she was the only one graced with a time piece in a class of a hundred and twenty, her classmates had learnt to read the sun with the accuracy of a marksman within an inch’s range. To the second! And with only 15 minutes to call it a day, they were a literal ticking time bomb. Maybe it was the heat of the day finally catching up to them, or the heated prospective of what’s possible behind “closed curtains” and off school hours with a special someone. Most definitely the second but in whatever way you viewed it, it did not conflict the fact that the temperatures were exothermic. And the more it dwindled ever so slowly to 4:00 PM, the harder it was to miss the raunchy whistling steam of a boiling kettle that was their remaining patience escaping. Ding! Ding! Ding!
The gongs of the ancient bell resonated rather chaotically around the school before being completely drowned amidst the jubilation and thunderous stampede of the five hundred and fifty students out of the school. Yes, out of the school. The bell had undoubtedly earned a reputation as a mere formality as school itself. But from a distance, squirming amidst the reflection of the rusty chrome rays from the bell and the dust storm of the “thirsty wildebeests” Echima could undoubtedly make out the silhouette of her little brother. Rolled up in a pile mud, dried and drop into a swamp and then some more. But it was definitely him. Sprinkled with a glee that could have only come about with the rather obvious memorandum of understanding that she was responsible once the clothes got off him.
“This isn’t half as bad as yesterday Kidi”
“Ma… ma…. Madam… Es…Essy…. didn’t.. let us have PE”
“The chiefdom’s glistening moon” The voice sounded all too familiar and uncomfortably close for comfort with an obvious stink of sarcasm. She watched the bell still resonating in her hands. Probably hard enough betting her reflection would scare him off. But with a thousand chips on the rusty sides of the trusty old bell, she couldn’t help to think how everything worked out for her to be here. Marred with decades of a spiteful history it was this same bell that echoed with a grim resonance that hovered over the coffee plantations at exactly 4:00 AM 24/7, 365 days a year with an exception of the Queen’s birthday. Someone they had never met, seen or cared about. But in the last moments of their “graceful” departure, gifted the chief with the construction of what was to be the only school in the region and a royal pocket watch. Years down the line however, this was to be seen as the last kicks of a dying horse to a feathering regime. But he still much appreciated it that he would gift all of them to her only daughter. Echima Adamma, “The child of beauty”. But what was meant as a symbol of relish turned sour so very bitterly fast to the general population.
“You shouldn’t be here”
“I think I too heard the bell crystal Gahiji”
Falling just short of about 5’5 feet, Echima was still a towering image of all what could be when the fates were given a little push. She picked up her little brother ever so delicately to try and reduce the collateral on her own clothes. Popped out her hip and that would be his pedestal for the kilometre and a half journey back home. But the brazen young lad wouldn’t have his pedestal that low and barely half way through the journey he was towering by her shoulders and waving at everyone and no one like the future heir he was. Her shadow now casting an extra 2 feet on the scorching brown earth like the other girls her age she’d occasionally pass coming back from the river. But unlike her, their necks played a delicate balance as their hips with water pots on the spot their crowns are supposed to be.
Evening. The orange shade of the setting sun grew ever so beautifully beyond the canopies creating beautiful cascades of contrast on the undergrowth below. The winds felt calmer with barely a tag on the skin and the atmosphere was set for the evening. From a far mothers could be heard calling back their children in the only way they can “Baki huko‼” – Loosely translated, “You better come home but you’re better off not for your own’s sake.” The smoke billowing from the neighbouring huts marked the time for the usual uninvited and unannounced guests. The cows staggered home stiffly from the bounty they had during the day. The cocks crowed their last and the young “men” from their routine leagues would now lead a chant that more often than not brought a close to the day.
“Kila mtu kwao kwao”
“Sima na Omena”
And so she smiled. Maybe it’d take a while for other girls to join her in school. But as for her, she was the Queen’s first move. The Real Gambit.