Circa 1997. A small boy in rural Kenya. I should have said a ‘humble’ boy because some situations in life make you humble yourself but that is a story for another day. I get into this shop to buy ink. If you remember, most teachers insisted that you acquire a fountain pen – of course after getting approval from the same teacher that you were now qualified to use it in place of a pencil. The available (and affordable) pen was the famous Hero. Though affordable, it was out of reach for me and what I had was an assemblage of many parts of the pen – from nib to the cover(s), some cracked, others held together by strings and fitting awkwardly into each other – like a forced (arranged) marriage. But do these arrangements still exist in society today? Like seriously?

Back to the story of fountain pen and the ink. The ink was branded Wino. Later, I came to appreciate that Owino had no direct connection or correlation to the ink brand name. Keep correlation in mind because we shall revisit it. Inside the shop, there was this well-dressed gentleman who was talking to the shopkeeper. He took out his pen from the pocket and told me that if I worked hard in my studies, I would later afford a pen like his. He told me it cost Kes. 2,000 then. This money could easily buy me a complete set of school uniform, new shoes (and socks), textbooks for all the eight or so subjects, new fountain pen (with ink) and still have change to replace our leaking thatched roof with iron sheets. It was a silver pen which did not bloat like my locally assembled Hero. I was impressed – not envious because at that time I could not see myself buying such a pen. That gave me a certain spark and I vowed to acquire pens in my life so that should we meet again (in a mall not the small shop), I would remove one of my exquisite pens and ask that we compare notes.

Him: I see you followed my advice?

Me: Which one? Studies or the pen?

Him: Studies. That’s what has propelled you to greater heights.

Me: Heights again?

Him: Forget it. I have Mont Blanc, cost me Kes. 80,000

Me: No way. Could we talk more about the height please? I am still a dwarf.

*In my mind am thinking; hell, 80g’s? How much fuel is that? Can it not fuel my small car for an eternity? And someone has all that fuel in his pocket? To write what? Letter to heaven – to plead with St. Peter at the pearl gates to include his name in the book of life and delete from the black book? (By the way, back then, every head-teacher had a black book where the noisiest and notorious student was noted down for future reference). And how much will it fuel a bigger car? Because I will eventually upgrade that small car to a bigger one in the spirit of chasing the middle class dream, which we all have. No? Middle class dream: own house (preferably 3 bed-roomed), big car, six figure salary and two children – in no particular order (owning a plot of land in Kamulu does not count).

Him: Respect your elders.

Me: Well, some of them (almost said you) just want to show off. Who carries a pen worth $800 in his pocket and still walk in a straight line?

Him: Go work harder

Me: More like work smart

Him: Whatever

Such arrogance I guess can only come from a person whose pockets are constantly oiled by those rogue contractors and cartels that have to get a percentage (nowadays almost 90%) before the inking of signatures on contracts. By the way where are we heading as a country? But I digress.

Talking of pens and writing, some couple of years ago, and many decades after leaving high school, I would occasionally dream that I had not revised all the Physics notes and I had only like two weeks before the main exam. If you ever found yourself in this state in the real world, you would literally go crazy. Where do you start, what topics do you concentrate on? Pretty tough. So when you find yourself dreaming like this, you wake up startled and shaken. But then you are relieved that it was only but a dream.

Then the reality in the dream happens. More like there being a correlation between the dream and the reality.

2015: I find myself sitting in a classroom. This time round to master something. I want to be like my agemates. They had all graduated and portrayed this renewed hope and optimism when I looked at their graduation ceremony photos. I guessed this was it. This was the path to achieve the dream. So, I troop to class and slave. Some subjects are manageable while others I just put in the minimal effort and achieve the 50+1 (which would need a pat on my back by the way).

2016: There is this unit called Econometrics. It has such a fancy name but everything in it looks and sounds Greek. I had been told that it was a very easy one – the whole of my school life, whenever I was told a topic or subject was easy, it turned out to be the opposite. For instance, Probability and Commercial Arithmetic. Rocks in Geography was taunted to be very difficult, but it was so easy for me, same to Vectors. Econometrics. I downloaded the recommended textbook and started reading (since I started schooling, I have bought only one textbook by the way). The assignment was fine. But the exam was the opposite.

This was the first time in my life I entered an exam room and wondered what to write. I was frustrated. And I remembered the dreams about not reading Physics and finding myself in the exam room blank. And the frustration just grew in leaps and bounds. Then you see your classmates writing and writing and you are asking yourself; did they have a prior meeting with the lecturer before the exam? Why am I the only one suffering here?

When all you can do is write "FAIL" on the paper
When all you can do is write “FAIL” on the paper

Ladies and gentlemen, what was I supposed to do with those questions?

Life is unfair.

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