In Summary
  • Dear son, I’m praying that by the time you will be joining secondary school, you will be big enough so that you don’t experience what I went through.
  • Many predict that you will be a big boy (apparently, your feet show it) and I hope their prophecy will come true.
  • You are just one year old as I do this letter.

Dear Jijee,

This morning as I was heading to work, I saw a very short and tiny boy in a secondary school uniform walking alongside a woman in the dusty streets of Nairobi. I assumed it was a mother and her son heading to some secondary school for Form One admission.

And I pitied that boy.

In terms of size, he looked like your average Standard Six pupil, and the bag strapped on his bag only served to reinforce a metaphor of someone too small for the loads of his age.

I was about the same size when I joined Form One. I was aged 13, a year younger than most of my classmates, and way tinier than the average Form One. That was pain from all aspects.

Dear son, I’m praying that by the time you will be joining secondary school, you will be big enough so that you don’t experience what I went through. Many predict that you will be a big boy (apparently, your feet show it) and I hope their prophecy will come true. You are just one year old as I do this letter. Being a new dad, I know squat about how to tell if a child will grow to be a David or a Goliath by reading how the way feet spread out. But the “experts” have made the prediction and I will go by it.

MORE PAIN THAN ACADEMICS

Anyway, my first two years of secondary school, in a boys’ boarding institution, were more pain than academics.

I remember coming across a group of seniors (as Form Three and Form Four students were called). Their sharp eyes were trained on me as they made the whistle sound that is meant to communicate disbelief. You would think I am one of those brave women who steal 56-inch screens and hide them between their legs under an oversized dress or the infamous “kichwa bila mwili” people who are displayed at agricultural shows.

“Are you sure you are a secondary school student?” one asked, and I nodded sheepishly. They continued shaking their heads in disbelief. The traditional bully questions followed and I think I cried somewhere along the interrogation.

In the dormitory, I earned myself the Kapienga nickname, Sheng for a pinch of bread. It was a name reserved for the tiniest of the tiny.

Being pienga meant being perceived as the lastborn; a pushover; a slave for every other senior student. I lost count of the times a Form Three or Form Four idiot lazing on his bed would hand me a cup larger than the Champions’ League trophy then ask me to fetch him tea as I went for mine.

I would curse under my breath but just oblige. Looking back, I think I should have been a rebel. Even with my tininess, I know a little resistance would have earned some respect from the big boys. It worked for some fellow Lilliputians.

And when it came to queuing for food, where order was not always guaranteed, the push-and-shove was a nightmare for the tiny. Boys at my school really knew how to fight a good fight (and finish the race for the top layer).

Times without number, I — the short law-abiding Form One — would find myself in a queue where the other taller, bulkier students wanted to jump queues, an act called “despising” in school lingo.

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