When we were friends

2013-06-25 00:00

THE first day of school is a moment to cherish. In the morning, each pupil wakes up early and puts on an oversized, fresh uniform, ready for the initial step into a new life. Expectations are high on this momentous occasion.

“You must study hard if you want to become successful. You must behave to become good citizens,” the teachers encouraged the new recruits.

But, each year, the pupils were surprised when the teachers embarked on protests and did not go to school to teach, and the pupils missed lessons. The pupils asked: How can there be success if the teachers never pitch for lessons?

The teachers replied: “It is a bread-and-butter issue. Yah, the bread and butter that you are carrying in your lunch box, that’s what we are fighting for.”

“But how can people fight for bread and butter?” the pupils wondered. Soon, it was time to establish friends, and lives and classes were normal, until one pupil, many wanted to forget quickly, came into their lives.

It was at the fish pond that the mischief unfolded. They were behaving like other normal children, misbehaving. Then this anonymous child pushed someone into the water. Everyone was frightened that he would drown and they screamed for help. The child burst out laughing, cruelly, as if the incident was a triumph.

“That’s what you get for fishing in a prohibited area. Next time you should be more careful,” came the cunning caution.

So, he had the courage to stop everyone from disobedience. Who was he? Sadly, it didn’t stop there. The next day, he demanded their food and threatened retribution if they did not concede. They did. From then on, they had an enemy. And it got worse.

They all loathed break time because of him and wished he would go elsewhere. But he never did. He was the first to arrive and the last to depart. He came from a steady background, so few suspected him. Worse still, none ever believed he could be so mean, except his victims.

No matter how they told of his cruelty, everyone dismissed them as sissies and whiners. The last thing they needed was to be called a sissy, so they continued with their miserable lives.

Each morning, they left home for school expecting another struggle. As predicted, they found him by the entrance, waiting to torment them as usual. The gates were locked, and there was nowhere to run.

“So what did you bring me, my little friends?”

He would address them as little, as if he was a grown man. All quivering in their outsized uniforms, some wet their pants even before school commenced and the teasing would get worse.

Their lives became miserable and they hated school. He continued to pillage their resources at will and there was no one to stop or caution him.

Unknown to all, a friend had other ideas, but never divulged them. He had always been like that, a quiet fellow who had his own way of addressing challenges.

They had become acquaintances by coincidence. In fact, no one ever wanted to become friends with him, but situations like this required collaboration.

“I have a way to deal with him,” he suggested. The next day, he took a knife to school. Yes, a real okapi knife. “Today I will slice him, like the bread he snatches from us, if he tries anything stupid,” the friend declared. They all thought he was joking, until the bully was running for his life, the friend in pursuit. There was laughter, but no one told the teachers. And they thought it was a victory.

How wrong. It was the beginning of turf wars that would end with innocent deaths. The next day, the bully recruited his own gang and declared revenge on whoever defied his orders. And he meant it. The battalion numbered 10 and they all carried bigger and sharper knives. The harassing became consistent. Now there was a real reason to loath school. It all came to pass in a moment of madness, or was it heroism? The friend, alone, decided enough was enough. After school, he suddenly grabbed the gang leader by the throat and wrestled him to the ground. He was a small fellow, so he tumbled down hard, head first. Everyone ran for cover. The friend punched the poor bully into submission in no time. It was horrific. None had known that a human could produce so much blood in one fight.

Without warning, a gang member came from behind and stabbed the friend once, twice, three times — they lost count. He collapsed in a heap and the gang pounced on him. Pupils fled.

The next assembly brought the expectant sad news. The friend had died from his stab wounds. They all knew who had done it and started it, but no one wanted to tell.

Another day passed and more sad news. The bully had committed suicide in his grandparents’ home. School was suspended for days as they mourned.

Pupils trooped to the bully’s homestead to convey their condolences.

The grandmother, frail from lament, said she never imagined something like this would happen to her only grandson.

Undeterred, the gang regrouped and recruited more members.

• Derick Matsengarwodzi is a freelance journalist from Zimbabwe and he lives in Pietermaritzburg.

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