No amount of words can ever be enough to describe the joy and excitement brought about by the ringing of the bell that announced break time. Whenever the bell rang the teachers knew it was time to stop teaching. It did not matter that they may have been at that particular juncture teaching the most important lesson of our lives, no, for as long as the bell had gone they knew any attempts at teaching was an exercise in futility. The bell itself was a marvel to watch. Mounted atop a huge mophane pole it was made of very heavy metal. A wire was then tied to it such that the bellboy needed to only pull the wire and the most amazing sound came from it as the long spoon-like metal head hit against the side of the bell. The choice of bellboy was a simple job. He had to be strong and tall so as to pull with vigor the wire that set the bell going! It was said that the school was once a church and that the bell was used to announce the beginning and end of service. The bell now signaled three events – tea-break, end-of-school day and the beginning of school in their order of importance. For the longest of times Mmei had longed to go to school. He watched in undisguised agony as his siblings left for school. More than thrice he had by himself decided he was old enough to start school and had without anyone at home knowing rocked up at school unannounced. His metal plate carefully tucked under his armpit and carrying a piece of wood he joined the queue as the children readied themselves for pre-assembly inspection! More than thrice he had been embarrassingly singled out from amongst the other children and had been politely asked to go home and come back three years later. Mmei had no idea why he was repeatedly denied going to school.
The teachers would have never known the real reasons for Mmei’s unparalleled love for school. Each and every school day Mmei’s older siblings came home carrying a very small amount of the most delicious food ever! The delicacy was bright yellow in colour and seemed to have been served in smaller portions. Mmei was convinced that even though he had not tasted many different kinds of food, this was the most delicious delicacy ever and it was unfortunately only served at school. It was the desire to partake of this delicacy that drove Mmei’s passion for school. Mmei woke up one day to the best news of his life. After dinner, his mother sat him down and with a very serious face explained to him that his time for going to school has come. Mmei rolled over and over on the ground as a way of some weird celebration, his mother could only shake her head in wonder. It was Mmei’s strange ways of doing things that had always worried his mother. Unknown to him, his mother had postponed enrolling him for school the previous year purely for this reason. Mmei always rolled on the ground whenever he was too happy or too angry! Mmei had a thousand questions for his mother. He wanted to know if he was going to use the same old plate he has been using at home when he went to school. “Mme have you bought my uniform already?” he enquired, but only after he had been told he will get a new plate.
“No Mmei, you will use your brother’s old uniform,” the old woman answered sadly. “Can I go to school tomorrow?” Mmei enquired excitedly. He wasn’t by any means ready for the answer that followed. “The schools are closed,” the old woman explained. “You will only start school next year.” Mmei went behind the hut and sat there sadly. He was still asking himself countless questions when he drifted away into dream land which had propelled him to school already. The bell had been ringing for hardly three seconds but Mmei had busted out of class already. By the time the teacher finished her sentence Mmei was almost at the feeding area. Ever since he started school, Mmei had never been the first one to leave class at break. He had taken his sister’s silly advice that he must always wait for the teacher to finish what she was saying before rushing out for food. He had up till now only heard from his peers how tasty the cold layer on top of the pot was. Today he was going to get there first no matter what happened. Upon waking up Mmei was shocked to see his sister standing next to him and laughing. In his sleep Mmei had been talking loudly about his achievement of having been the first at the kitchen. The village school was approximately eight kilometres away, making the total daily journey a gruelling 16 kilometres. Mmei always wondered how his mother did it. She woke them up at exactly the same time every morning for as long as he could remember. Whenever she was not home, which was seldom, Mmei and his sister would either be very late for school, or would rock up at the school gate in the dead of the night, having mistaken the glowing moonlight for break of morning.
They bathed the night before. So when the old woman woke them up, they immediately dressed up after applying a healthy amount of melted candle mixed with paraffin. Having no idea of time the children ran all the way to school. The running was propelled by fear of having to walk alone in the dark. Mmei and her sister ran their socks off, panting heavily behind the elderly siblings. When the sun rose Mmei always ran slightly behind the pack, partly because he wasn't the best of runners, but also to laugh at the spectacle that was the runners’ ankles. The melted candles mixed with paraffin would have formed a two colour scenario just by the ankles, the one part brown and dusty, while the upper leg was shinny! Mmei’s grandfather was chief cook at the local primary school when he made his maiden appearance. Having beaten every child to the first position at the makeshift kitchen, Mmei was confused to see his grandfather ignoring him. After giving him a shamefully small portion, Mmei did not move an inch. He was convinced the old man was playing some sick joke! Convinced that perhaps the uniform may have confused his grandfather into not recognizing him, Mmei cleared his voice and mumbled a greeting. “Rangolo dumelang!” Instead of replying him, Rangolo asked the next child in the line to come get his share. Having failed to convince Rangolo to give him a generous portion, Mmei decided to take matters in his own tiny hands. Amongst his classmates was a boy who was in the habit of waiting around the makeshift kitchen long after he had eaten his share. The trick was to wait until all other children were fed where upon grandfather, would announce that we could come for some more. Mmei decided to be friends with the fellow, who owing to his walking with a limp was nicknamed Kankoto, much to his annoyance.
Lunch break came and Mmei stuck to Kankoto. However, instead of calling the all and sundry to come for some more, Rangolo singled out Kankoto and ordered Mmei to proceed to class straight way. Mmei was shattered! Upon reaching home, Rangolo made it categorically clear that effective immediately, Mmei was to severe ties with Kankoto who he described as a good for nothing imbecile who only came to school for food! For the rest of his duration at school, Mmei and Rangolo’s relationship remained complicated. At school they behaved like strangers whereas at home Rangolo was a kind and generous person who showered his grandchildren with love.