It’s mid-morning. The sun shines brightly upon my perfectly tanned upcountry skin. I am not thinking, or to put it better, I don’t feel like thinking. And I just want to be left alone to type my overdue work on the computer. That is if I will have the stamina to do it. Nature always inspires me, but not this time round. I am laying on the banks of River Gura, a Maasai shuka as my bed and a breastfeeding pillow as my headrest I want to type, but all that my head screams is sleep, and some more sleep. Am I alone in this? Foe every time I have work to do and deadlines to beat, sleep comes in droves.
My younger brother brings me popcorns. And my younger munchkin cousins come tagging along. I don’t want noise, can’t they understand this? Do they think I am just sunbathing? Hell, there is better bed in the house than sleeping on the grass by the riverbank and looking up to the heavens for ideas to flow into your head. And even the pointers I have drafted are not helping not today. The river is clear, with its sparkling waters enticing me. And I regret that I left my swimsuit in the city. I have always done this, so stop rolling your eyes like you haven’t heard me well. I mean, I always swim in the river whenever I get the chance. Is it any different from swimming at the beach?
But I don’t swim in any river. I swim in this magnificent river, known to be the fastest in Africa, or East Africa, I don’t know which. It has sweet waters and sparkles from afar. It has the best tasting Tilapia, to which I owe my intelligence. It’s fury it indefatigable during the rainy season and no none, even the experienced residents of Gura Valley dares go near it. It has very black smooth rocks and boulders by its banks that instantly iron out your cloth after swimming. We always used this trick when kids. We would swim in the river, carry some body oil with us. After the forbidden escapade, we would hang out ourselves to dry on the rocks and then apply oil on our bodies, smear our feet with some dust and innocently walk home. Mum never suspected, and if she did, she sometimes she ignored our childhood pranks.
I have lost several clothes by the riverbank. I would carry clothes to change and hide the rest under a rock to pick them up later when mum was not around. Sometimes passerby saw the clothes protruding from underneath a rock and walked away with them. Sometimes(the source of river Gura is the Aberdare ranges) it would rain from the mountains and the river would overflow, sweeping elephants and buffaloes downstream, and my clothes would be swept away together with them. I remember s I approached my early teens, my mother bought me a very beautiful spaghetti top. I swam with it and hid it behind the bushes. That night it rained heavily. I couldn’t believe that my beautiful top was gone. Whenever mum asked about it, I would always look at my small sister and say that she knew better where it could be.’
I ousted someone from power as the class prefect in class five. It was not a coup, but the whole class was behind me. But I had my haters too. We usually took packed lunch to school. The lunch break was 50 minutes long. Isn’t that too much time to eat? We used to form cliques to take lunch together. This particular month I and my friend Waringa excommunicated ourselves from our lunch clique and decided that we would be a duo clique. And we also decided to change our lunch time regime. Okay, I birthed the idea and convinced Waringa to join me in it.
We used to take lunch in the school playing field, which was next to the river. I have even lost count of the times that the ball was carried way during games and P.E sessions. And a boy was always forced to swim after it. We decided that we would always swim for the first 20 minutes of the lunch break, then dry ourselves out in the sun for the next thirty minutes as we ate. Clothes dry faster in the body than when hanged out. There was no school policy against swimming, and I don’t think there is until now. It was an unwritten rule, those ones that no one needs to tell you or remind you. Nest to the playing field was a deep end, the kind that we enjoyed deep-diving to. I have always been unstoppable, I have always been a rule breaker.
Being a prefect, every –teachers-except –one favorite student, the English guru, the girl who always carried the trophies in the solo verse categories, the girl whose name was always on the top student in the larger school zone, there was nothing to stop me. And so Waringa and I would swim, every day, and other pupils would come to cheer us on. I was always the envy of other kids, others wished they had my guts, others wished they had my sharps. Others just simply wanted to be me.
The head girl hated me, simply because her brother, was my enemy first, and then my classmate second. He was extra cheeky and baboonish. He always topped my list of noise makers with a times 8 at the end of his name. That is how much of a noise maker he was. He always hated, he loathed me for that. The other reason is because he had an auntie who taught us social studies. I was her favorite. Anytime we did exams she would bring me soda and sweets to class because I had topped in her subject. I would take my snacks as she taught or as she caned the ones who had failed her pass mark mercilessly. Joe always bore the brunt of her anger. With him receiving the most painful strokes. And because he always wanted to act cheeky, he always pretended not to feel pain. This would infuriate the teacher more and she would add him extra strokes with accompaniments of insults like, “Kubafu, Wanyu(pronounced as Wanyo)” I have never understood what Wanyu means up to this day.
This particular day as we had our swimming session, someone informed the head girl, my enemy that I was swimming, she left her food and came running to where we were, with a gathering of kids cheering us to splash the water harder. We did our usual 20 minutes. Her presence did not bother me. After coming out of the water, she told us that she wanted to watch us swim again. So we dove back into the water. Hardly had we splashed the water for a few minutes when she told, us, “Come with me, you will explain this to the deputy head teacher.” We were a sorry state because we always swam in our school dresses. Our sky blue dresses were hugging our tiny bodies and we were dripping wet. So we left our lunch boxes by the riverbank and proceeded to follow this girl with a head to the deputy head teachers’ office.
Surprisingly, I was not worried. I knew how to negotiate my way out of silly situations, and I was confident that even this, I would. So we stepped into Mr. Irun’s office. He was my Mathematics and Kiswahili teacher (funny combinations, Huh? He even taught geography and music). And the quick-tongued head girl was like, “excuse me sir, I found these two swimming in the river.” I was a favorite of this teacher. When other teachers called me Judy, he always called me Wangui, I don’t know why. He gave us a quick sweep and shook his head. I was apprehensive. I had never been in the wrong side of school rules. My parent had never been summoned to school at any one time. And here lay the prospects of me bringing my dad or mum to school or being sent away for two weeks. I had to defend myself, and so I said the first thing that came to my head, “But sir, It was too hot.” I almost laughed at myself. I knew Waringa would not talk. She didn’t have my guts.
Mr. Irun looked at us, two little girls with blue dresses hugging us tightly, and water dripping freely from our now warm bodies. We were barefoot, we had even forgotten to wear our shoes at the river bank. He looked at us and addressed me. It was clear I was the ring leader (that is if there is a ring of two). “Wangui, go home, dry up and come back tomorrow.’
We did exactly that. The next day, and the next one and the next of the next one and the next one, nothing happened. That’s how I got my free ticket to swimming in the river, whenever I wanted, even when in school. And that was the end of the tries by enemies to see my downfall. Until today, I swim in the river, and nothing can stop me.
Below is a sneak peek into how fast this river moves during the heavy rains