The last day of school was met with both euphoria and fear. Euphoria for the brilliant students who will repeatedly ascend to the assembly podium to receive their end of team score cards and fear for the slow learners who will be lampooned for being the last in class. The assembly was very orderly. The children were divided according to grades with those passing with flying colours in one corner and those not so proud of their own work in the opposite corner. The mediocre were squeezed somewhere between the two extremes. Once your name was called out you proceeded to your respective corner. The brilliant ones always walked majestically to their area, savouring every minute of it, often stopping midway to wave to the crowd as they took their place in the school’s hall of fame. It was the exact opposite in the other corner. As soon as the not so bright heard their names, they moved in such supersonic speed that often all we saw was a blurred line making it difficult to identify the culprit if you were unfortunate not to have heard their name called. I never figured out whether this speed was a deliberate ploy at hiding their identity or they sped past us to implore the teachers to quickly finish with the assembly so they could proceed to an event where they also did well. The event in question also happened religiously every last day of school, only the teachers were not allowed to attend. The stage was set. A big circle was formed around the two fear struck children literally trembling in their knees while a slightly taller fellow was very proudly directing the proceedings. A few metres from the spectacle a team of eight mean looking boys were guarding posts in the four directions. Their role was to look out for any approaching adult upon whose sight they will whistle once if it is a teacher, twice if it is just a villager or thrice if the village local police man approached atop his bicycle with very thin wheels. Depending on the number of whistles, the crowd may pretend to be enjoying some innocent children’s game or would immediately disappear into thin air leaving the policeman wondering if he had just seen a ghost.
The slightly taller fellow was in his element. He had taken off his shirt and hung it by the tree nearby and was now sweating profusely. He was trying to explain the rules of engagement but the contestants were almost in tears already. He held in both his hands some sand and his instruction was simple and very straight forward. He will stretch out his hands and invite the two to strike the sand. Whoever struck the sand first was the aggressor. The taller fellow will then explain to the trembling boy who was slow to strike that he has just been grossly insulted. The crowd never knew the nature and severity of the insults for the taller fellow whispered it softly into the insulted fellow’s ear. All I can attest to it that once done, the insulted fellow will suddenly look like he has seen a ghost. First will be his lips joining the already trembling legs and then his whole body will shake with anger and bouts of sweat will flow from his tiny armpits. Next the crowd will be treated to fierce do or die bare-knuckled fist fight with each fighter literally wanting to kill the other. The crowd watched in thunderous silence. It was absolutely necessary that the crowd remained quite as any suspicious noise would attract the teachers to the venue, hence pre maturely ending the end of school extravaganza. As the fighting intensified, the mean taller fellow was already scouting through the crowd hoping to pounce on the next pair to enter the ring. Meanwhile the battle continued with the aggressor clearly losing. He was being pelleted by heavy blows repeatedly and although he attempted to cry, the taller fellow promptly silenced him just by putting his finger on his lips and signaling that crying was out of question. The winner of this duel was strangely identified by who will be first to draw blood from the other. Only when your opponent bled were you declared the winner. Although this spectacle was open to everyone interested, the choice of fighters and the refereeing was an exclusive preserve for the fellow that failed their exams dismally. They also almost always emerged victorious.
Mmei, who was attending for the first time was shocked at the brutality that characterised the fighting. Even when it was clear that the winner was having a field day, no one attempted to stop the fight until blood was shed. It was difficult to understand how the taller boy now in his last primary school grade organised these fights meticulously when he even at this stage could not write his name. Yet he was so in control. Everyone seemed to worship him. At some stage he suddenly stopped the fight. The losing fellow smiled for the first time for he thought the fight had been called off. The tall fellow however, went to whisper again to the boy who was clearly winning. Suddenly he flew towards the weaker fellow unleashing a flurry of double kicks to his chest which sent him tumbling into the crowd. Swiftly, the crowd pushed him back into the ring only to be met with uppercuts and jabs to the jaws, eyes and nose. No matter how hard he was beaten, the weak fellow just couldn’t bleed. Just as Mmei was walking away from the mayhem, tragedy struck. The taller fellow pulled him by the collar of his khakhi shirt and dragged him right into the middle of the crowd. Mmei was shaking uncontrollably. He was still in total shock when the taller fellow kicked out the fellow who was losing badly and declared that he was amending his own rules. No one argued. Mmei was now officially the new challenger. As it was protocol, fresh sand was brought and the rules of engagement briefly explained. The tall fellow walked towards Mmei and whispered something to his ear. Strangely, instead of getting angry Mmei laughed. The crowd went dead silent. The taller fellow walked towards him. The silence was deafening. Mmei retreated and attempted to run through the crowd but there was nowhere to run. The tall fellow changed tactics and went to whisper into the ear of Mmei’s opponent and all hell broke loose.
No matter how hard he tried to block the blows, Mmei continued to feel the hard hitting punches across his face. He could almost swear the fellow was pelting him with bricks. He was about to scream when blood gushed out of his nose and mouth turning his khakhi shirt red in an instant. Mmei’s head felt heavy. He struggled to keep his eyes open. He could barely see his opponent. Still more blows were rained on Mmei ‘s head. The taller fellow wasn’t stopping the fight and Mmei was getting weaker and weaker with every blow. Not once had Mmei attempted to throw a blow of his own, for he was still to find out why he was fighting the other fellow. He was still lost in wonderland when the fellow charged and head butted him to the ground. Mmei could hear distant noises and then complete silence. He woke up in the local clinic. His head completely covered by a white bandage. He could barely see his mother for his eyes were almost completely closed. Strangely, the local policeman who rode a bicycle with thin wheels was also standing by the rickety clinic bed. “They closed school with you” he whispered into Mmei’s ear then burst out laughing as he banged the door and left.