My Friends, There Is Fire Outside

BACK IN HIGH SCHOOL, decades ago, I learnt many subjects, played a myriad games, sang many songs yet today one particular lesson stands out starkly in my life, like a sixth finger or toe.  

My Friends, There is fire outside.

My memories flash back into those last closing days in school when in our blue skirts, starched white shirts and red sweaters, we sang, lined up in Assembly to hear the farewell speeches and tips from our wisdom bearded teachers. We bid goodbye, no next term, to Form 4 school leavers who were on their way to meet the vagaries of the world. The world was no woman's friend, we learnt.

After lots of advice, few of which I remember, the parting shot by each teacher would be, "But remember, my friends - there is fire outside". We would all wait for this funny refrain and in rejoinder yell and laugh as we wagged hundreds of tiny fingers in unison, "My friends, there is fire outside". 

The Headmistress would be the last to speak and she dismissed us, yet again with the fiery words.

As we girls jumped excitedly onto the school buses, we ran after them waving our sweaters, hitting the sides of the buses like drums, laughed and cried, for the umpteenth time, yelling, "Friends, Farewell! Remember, There is Fire Outside!"

We cried because we would truly miss them. We laughed because we were happy for them. They were done with school and did not have to wake up at dawn to take cold baths, do homework, cut grass in the yards. It was goodbye to harsh punishments like uprooting trees for weeks, kneeling out in the yard on a chilly morning and drinking porridge which was salty with the cooks' sweat and sometimes had fat dead scalded mice in it.

We thought of the big wild cities, full of night life and how our girls would burn into flames, consumed to ashes without the protection of our teachers and the strong safety net of the school compound where the watchmen guarded us like termite soldiers at the door of a Queen's Anthill palace.

I often asked the other girls about the fire outside but no one was willing to explain. In my naive mind, I thought perhaps they were sinners and were going to face the wrath of God as promised in the Holy Book.

Our chats were lit after our friends left. These were our Head girls, School Prefects, House Captains, School Mothers, Sweethearts going to start a new life in an unknown world.

 Although our teachers said there was fire outside, little fires had already been planted in the School right after exams. Some of the girls had stoked it while burning their text and exercise books.

They claimed they would be getting married and would not need to read anymore. Cooking was the new swag. We begged, cried for the books, many of which we could not afford: Physics, Maths, Biology, Geography, History, Chemistry, English, CRE - expensive books.

"Just one, please. Don't burn the notes, please!" 

But the fire outside beckoned them and they would not listen to us. The flames went up in smoke in the school incinerator and the harsh smell of burning paper and ink hit our noses with incomprehensible truths. We tried to salvage the books but they blocked us, warned us that we would see fire.

"You have killed Brother Jero, Bye Kinjekitile, Bye Elfu Lela Ulela, Bye Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Bye Abbott, Bye Introduction To Biology! Uwiiiii," we wept painfully in disbelief, as we watched the ritual to the end of school life for these dears of ours.

An excerpt from my upcoming Book, "My Friends, There Is Fire Outside!"




Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published