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The War of the Ears - Moses Isegawa

The War of the Ears - Moses Isegawa

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Published by maneno.pl

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Published by: maneno.pl on Feb 24, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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12/11/2012

 
The War of the Ears
Beeda stood on the school veranda and watched the last pupils disappear down the road. Hethought of this as the road swallowing pupils. The day’s climax, a question-and-answer session, came back to him and he heard his voice rise to fill the classroom:‘What is twelve times five?’‘Sixty,’ the pupils sang cheerfully.‘What is twelve times seven?’‘Eighty-four.’‘What is twelve times twelve?’‘One hundred and forty-four.’He loved the interaction and the pupils’ rapt attention, which placed him at the centre of their world, and made him feel alive. The world outside school was full of questions he could notanswer and things he could not control. But when he stood in front of his class, he kneweverything and there was nothing he could not do. Now his class was gone and he was back on the periphery of their lives, and the school, withits abandoned classrooms and silent playground, made him think of an empty shell. When hetried to imagine what would happen if the road did not regurgitate pupils tomorrow a feelingof near panic crept over him. Night was falling. On the left side of the school the trees in the forest were slowly sinking intodarkness. On the right side, the details on the hills were disappearing, the profiles hardening.This was the loneliest time of the day and Beeda hated it.He listened to the wind rustling the leaves of the mango and the bright red flowers of theflamboyant trees in the compound. It drew his attention to the sharp sound of the typewriter coming from the headmistress’s office. He could see his mother’s fingers flying over thekeyboard, striking the letters with great precision. He liked to watch her type blind, her eyesfixed to the text, her hands a seeming extension of the machine. It was the only survivingtypewriter in an area of dozens of square kilometres, and its sound made him feel proud.Ma Beeda had started Nandere Primary School as a small operation under the mango tree inthe middle of the compound twelve years ago. It had become a large school with nineclassrooms, creamy, rough-cast walls and a red roof. She had invested her inheritance, as wellas her heart and her soul, in the school. She had bought the materials to build it and hadchosen the colours to paint it, and she had planted the seashore paspalum which covered theentire compound. Measuring himself against her, Beeda often wondered what kind of mark hewould make on the world.
 
‘Beeda, where are you? Come and help me,’ he heard her calling from her office. Her voicecarried well, it was used to issuing commands and addressing school parades. In church,rising in song, it made the rafters quake.‘I am coming,’ he murmured, but made no effort to move.‘Where are you? Do you think we are going to camp here all night?’He did not reply. He looked at the hills and the darkening sky. He heard the trumpeter hornbillcrying
waaa-aaa-aaa.
It was his favourite bird and he loved to watch it fly.Beeda had detected a note of anxiety in his mother’s voice. It made him both uncomfortableand reluctant to find out what had happened. She was so good at camouflaging anxiety andabsorbing pressure that whenever it leaked out, he became fearful. And then he would hear the plaintive baby cries of the hornbill.Ma Beeda looked up and shook her head when he entered. The head-shake was a bad sign; italways meant there was a crisis. It always meant that the big world with its perplexingquestions had intruded on their predictable little world.‘We have a problem,’ she said, lifting her fingers off the keyboard and looking him in the eye,as if the answers were hidden there. ‘I got another letter this morning.’‘What does it say?’ Beeda whispered in a voice almost foreign to his ears. He tried to regainhis composure by staring at the oil lamp burning on his mother’s table. But its sharp smellnullified any calming effect of the yellow flame.Ma Beeda handed him a piece of paper the writer had torn out of an exercise book. Thehandwriting was compact and just legible in the mediocre light.We have warned you many times to close your disgusting school and to stop poisoning God’schildren with your filthy ideas. But you have refused. We know that you are a governmentagent and a tool of the Devil. Above all, we know that you are proud of standing in the way of God’s work. Who will come to your aid when your hour comes? Remember, nobody spits atour warnings with impunity. The Most High, who gave us the Ten Commandments to guide usin all matters, sent us to stamp corruption out of this country. He sent us to cleanse the entireland with fire. God’s Victorious Brigades are watching you day and night. Your punishmentwill be both heavy and harsh. The War of the Ears has begun. And as the ancient saying goes,
 Ears which don’t listen to their master get chopped off.
You are next.For God and our Revolution.Colonel Kalo, Chief of Operations.Colonel Kalo: the mastermind, so most people believed, of the local branch of the rebels of God’s Victorious Brigades. A specimen of the Colonel’s thumbprint made in blood marked theend of the letter. It was the proof that the letter was authentic.
 
‘He should know that we are going to continue with our work,’ said Ma Beeda. ‘We havenowhere else to go. Everything we own is in this soil. We are teachers, and we are going toteach whoever wants to learn.’Her voice was too calm for Beeda’s liking. It meant that there was no room for compromise, a position he did not find wise. Beeda hoped that, as before, the threats would come to nothing.A war was going on in the forest and in the hills, where rebels and government forcesoccasionally clashed. In the period between engagements, the rebels attacked civilians,furthering a campaign of terror, while the government forces, in turn, looked for rebelcollaborators.‘Did you speak to the teachers?’‘Yes. The majority wants to stay. Two or three want to run away.’‘Did you hear from the regional commander?’‘He assured me that everything will be all right,’ Ma Beeda said, as if the commander had liedto her.‘When is Uncle Modo coming?’ Beeda’s voice was still hoarse with fear. Modo was a former soldier and Beeda wanted him to come and help them.‘I don’t know.’‘I thought he made a promise,’ Beeda said, staring at the lamp as if his uncle was hidden in its belly.‘I am sure he will come, but I cannot say when,’ his mother said firmly. ‘Don’t worry. We willmanage. There are always people looking out for us. Do you think they will allow the onlyschool in the area to close?’‘No, they won’t,’ Beeda said without conviction. There was a limit to what unarmed peoplecould do.Ma Beeda went back to her typing, filling the room with the sound of the keys. When theletter was finished, she pulled it from the machine, read it over, signed and sealed it in anenvelope, which she locked in a drawer.She put a waterproof cover over the typewriter, pulling the edges to make it fit snugly. Shecleared her table quickly, putting the files in a big metal cabinet, which she locked, anddropped the key in her bag. She turned down the wick and the lamp went out, the darknessmerging the office with the compound outside. She picked up her bag and started humming
 Kumbaya, my Lord, kumbaya...
She did that every evening. It was the signal that the day hadofficially ended.Beeda walked out of his mother’s office and stood on the carpet of grass in the compound.Behind him, he heard his mother closing and locking doors, her voice coming nearer. Sheinsisted on closing the school herself. She liked to hear the sound of the locks.

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