Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Refugee

The Refugee

I was sitting on the veranda sipping a brandy and contemplating the infinite when round the corner came a scraggy figure with a bandage round his head. Heaving his backpack onto the ground, he clasped his arms around me. ‘Uncle Kalaki!’ he exclaimed, ‘Bwanji! How nice to see you again!’

‘Bwino! Good gracious! It’s Henry! Aunty Alice’s boy! I hardly recognized you! What has happened? You look like a refugee from a war zone!’

‘I am,’ he laughed. ‘Most of the boys got rounded up, but I managed to get on a bus. The conductor hid me on the luggage rack.’

‘Come and have a bath,’ I said, ‘then I’ll find some of Jumani’s old clothes, and clean up that wound on your head, then you can tell me all about it.’

An hour later he made a second and more civilized appearance on the veranda. ‘Now tell me all about it,’ I said. ‘Did you set fire to the headmaster? Kill his dog? Impregnate his daughter?’

‘It began from almost nothing,’ he said, as he sipped a cup of cocoa. ‘On the first day of term, my friend Simukoko was sent home for not bringing his school fees. He had only 330 pins instead of 700. He pleaded with the Headmaster to defer the remainder until next term, since his parents were both unemployed. But Mr Wopusa wouldn’t hear of it.’

‘So you were all annoyed.’

‘Simukoko is captain of the school football team, and we were due to play St Joseph’s the following Saturday. That evening we called a meeting and decided to send a delegation to talk to Mr Wopusa the following morning.’

‘But he still refused?’

‘He said he couldn’t make an exception for one, and without money he couldn’t run the school, and we were trying to undermine his authority. Then he put us all in Saturday morning detention for insubordination.’

‘Wasn’t he over-reacting a bit?’

‘He always does. He seems to have no confidence in his position. Some say he’s got no degree and others say he only got the job because he’s related to the minister.’

‘So you called another meeting.’

‘Yes. And a lot of things were said. It was pointed out that the government has declared that education is free, but this Wopusa has invented a lot of fees. We have a computer fund, but no computers. A bus fund but no bus. A swimming pool fund but no pool. Meanwhile Wopusa sends his children to Simba School at $2,000 a term and drives round in a Jaguar. So we resolved to go on class boycott until Simukoko was reinstated.’

‘So Wopusa expelled the ringleaders.’

‘Exactly. How did you know?’

‘Incompetent bullies always overreact, and then get deeper and deeper into trouble. So you had to call another meeting.’

‘This time we invited the press, and voiced our complaints that the national education policy wasn’t being followed. There were not supposed to be fees, but the Headmaster was collecting fees and misusing them. There was supposed to be equality of opportunity, but other schools are much better than ours. We demanded the sacking of the Headmaster.’

‘So instead Wopusa sacked all of you?’

‘Exactly. The next morning we all got expulsion letters, which stated that we would be allowed to return only after we, and our parents, had signed a declaration that we would never contact the press, would never organize a class boycott and would never hold another meeting.’

‘But you called another meeting?’

‘We had no choice. The next morning we congregated in the quadrangle to plan our march to the Provincial Education Officer, to demand our educational rights as laid out in the Education Policy, and our human rights as laid out in the Constitution, as explained in our Civics textbook.’

‘And did you march?’

‘No. The Police Mobile Unit arrived with batons, tear gas and guns, surrounded the school and attacked us. The battle lasted for the rest of the day, leaving two students dead, ten with bullet wounds, two hundred in prison and five hundred hiding in the forest’

‘So that’s when you burnt the place down?’

‘Yes,’ he said ruefully. ‘That battle saw the end of Limulunga High School. We razed it to the ground. The best bit was burning the Jaguar, it went up like a Tunisian fireworks display.’

I walked into the house and collected Jumani’s old baseball cap, and a large blue RB chitenge. Then I went back to the veranda and asked Henry to stand up. I put the cap on his head and the chitenge as a gown round his shoulders.

‘You have now learned that all law and human rights are not worth the paper they are written on, and the parasites in charge are a bunch of idiots who will do anything to stay in power.’ Then I rolled up a copy of Sangwapo and gave it to him as his certificate. ‘Congratulations,’ I said, ‘Your education is now complete. You are now a graduate.’

‘Thanks, Grandpa,’ he said. ‘A graduate of what?’

‘A graduate of Political Science.’

‘Shall I be able to get a job?’

‘You’ve already got a job,’ I said. ‘You are now a political thug. You’ve been educated by the government.’

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