The Six Million Dollar Man, we called him. He waltzed (more like kung fu-ed) into our lives on a nondescript day as we played kati and branda and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. You see, it was break time. Break time, when pupils as young as five years or some old enough to be their parents, were all out in different corners of the school compound taking a breather from the harsh reality of books and teachers. Break time, when gossip and rumors took the blink of an eye to reach even the ears of the truants smoking behind the ablution blocks. Break time, when most teachers congregated in the staff room to sip tea from huge thermos flasks that mysteriously emerged from the female teachers’ large baskets. Break time, the twenty minutes in between lessons that the often corporal punishment-inclined teachers let children be children.
It didn’t help that he came in a car, a rare spectacle at this village school tucked in the midst of a piggery and the largest bacon factory in the country at the time. It had earned itself a reputation of sorts. The school, that is. Topped the charts, eh, Divisional CPE listing. For those not in the know, CPE was the predecessor of the current KCPE exam and it was completed after only seven years of primary education. Unlike KCPE, CPE was a three-paper affair that was devoid of hair-raising subjects such as GHC or Social Studies or Kiswahili or Music or Arts & Craft (I would love to know what the crafters of the early 8-4-4 system were on, but that’s a story for another day). Anyway, any proud holder of a CPE certificate will tell you that theirs was the real deal – the real curriculum that prepared boys to be men and girls to be women. They will regale you with stories of how school was fun back then, with only three subjects to worry about – Maths, English and General paper. You will hear how scoring thirty-six points was the epitome of success. But before I digress too far, this village school did very well in the CPE exams that parents from far and wide brought their children to dispense off their ignorance under the capable hands of the corporal punishment-inclined teachers I mentioned earlier.
And this is how The Six Million Dollar Man joined the act. The gossip and rumour mills at the school had it that he was the son of a Minister (not the tpye that preach fire and brimstone but the law-making type). The play is set back in the Nyayo era when milk flowed in schools and with it sweet voices singing praises for the powerful and mighty that made it (the milk) possible. A son of a minister in our humble school was therefore not something anyone could ignore. Expectations were raised. The pupils for one, hoped for more packets of milk, never mind the rumor that it was laced with chemicals that would make us sterile or that some finger tips had been found in it. There was also expectation that our smelly neighbour, the bacon factory would be forced to give each pupil some lard to take home as compensation for the foul learning environment we endured. And I am pretty sure the teachers could taste promotions and they must have rubbed their hands in glee even as they dreamed of ways to instill sense into their charges. Overall, life in this rural scene could only get better with the minister’s son around.
Anyway, that was as far as the gossip and rumours went. The Six Million Dollar Man soon became part of our community and in particular, part of my class. There was nothing much to write home about in the looks department. Anyway, they all look the same at that age. In any case, gender differences only make greater the Chinese wall as each tries hard to keep to their ilk. But our man had something the girls, or even his fellow boys could not resist – his story telling ability. Back then, televisions, let alone cinemas were a preserve of the very priveleged in society. It could well be that only a handful of pupils in the entire school had tv sets back at home. Most boys lived for the once-a-month open air cinema events that happened at the nearby shopping center. I say boys because most mothers, mine included would have died first before letting their girls attend these events. The action-packed, martial arts movies were the favourites and the boys lived in between each event trying their level best to outdo each other’s memories of the escapades of their heroes.
Without fear of being labelled a feminist, there is a way boys (men included) can go on and on about a particular subject they have an interest in. A case in point is my nephew who flew in an aeroplane for the first time this last August holidays. Todate, if you mention the word aeroplane, or he sees one up in the sky, you will be treated to the most graphic, entertaining description that his five-year old self can muster, including the exact noises the engines made. And so it was with my boy classmates. Some of the discussions would be so heated that fists would land on hapless faces of enchanted listeners. That was until The Six Million Dollar Man happened. It seemed he had watched more movies than all the rest of the boys combined had watched in their lifetimes. His were more current and the way he told the stories was captivating even to the teachers, who often pretended not to be listening. It helped that he could imitate the heroes’ voices perfectly and his master of the English language was way better than most of the others. At first, the girls feigned disinterest but the boys’ mirth drew us closer like moths to a flame. Our kati long forgotten, our break pasttime became joining the boys to listen to their tales and watch the only version of kung fu that we had ever been exposed to. And that is when I paid a keen interest to the one they sometimes called Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan.
I decided he wouldn’t bite as my mother was wont to say. He was human after all, and funny and sweet (Ok, maybe not). And I loved his stories. He seemed to know so many places and often came to school with sweets that he shared freely with the other boys. Of course we were envious but you do not walk up to a group of boys and ask to share the loot unless you wish to be trampled on. I should have mentioned the sharing was more like the scrabble for Africa. Oh! And The Six Million Dollar Man had a tee shirt with the same print that they drooled over. Never mind the tee which anyway was worn under the shirt and the girls were never allowed to see but I am pretty sure he sometimes appeared in my dreams. However, I do not remember ever having a personal conversation with him. I would know because such a conversation between a boy and a girl was more often than not the butt of many a jokes. I was happy though listening to his stories that transported me to the fantastic world of heroes with more than the proverbial cat’s nine lives. He stayed around for exactly two school terms and just as he had appeared, my Six Million Dollar Man waltzed out of my life. When he failed to turn up for the third term, the gossip and rumours had it that he had gone to a school in America. And just like a bad dream, my fairy tale wedding vanished.
I was only six years old.