Highly Commended goes to African entrant Nancy Lindah Ilamwenya.
Nancy is a Kenyan living in Ethopia and is just 26 years old. Here is Nancy’s entry: Of Nice and Mean
“Do you think George and Lennie’s friendship was genuine or was it based on convenience?”
Uncomfortable silence, occasionally interrupted by officious rustling of John Steinbeck’s, “Of Mice and Men” novels in oblivious fingers, searching for what is not only an elusive answer, but more so, a fantastical idea, especially for our teenage minds….true companionship.
“I would like one of you to please justify this relationship.”Miss Amweno begins again, determination in her voice.
“George is a strikingly witty fellow whose charisma casts spells wherever he goes. He is self –driven and agreeable.” My mind wanders off to the movie version; Channing Tatum should have played George. I wouldn’t have any problems answering Miss Amweno.…his eyes…Channing’s eyes…
“Lennie on the other hand, well juxtaposed to his best friend George. At 6 feet and change, his gargantuan mass dwarfs most average men.” Miss Amweno continues with unadulterated vigor, clearly unconscious of the fact that most of her words are too big for us.
“His thunderous voice emerges to clearly proclaim his mental handicap…an epitome of awkwardness. So boys and girls…How can these two contradictory personages be best of pals?” She pants as if never to speak again.
Painful silence lingers. We notice her left eye begin to twitch. Signs of frustration. She mumbles to herself, anger slowly sneaking to her face. She bites her lower lip and we gear up to receive outbursts of why we are better off on the streets and our places taken by those unfortunate street children, how we should be banished to rural Pokot where we can learn to appreciate some paltry beans accompanied with yellow ugali, listening to the omniscient voice of the Almighty self-contained teacher, seated on parched ground, under an ancient teak. But like most of what she says, gets in through one ear and leaves through the other. Hers is a tough job.
Thing is, Miss Amweno is a great teacher. Admittedly, I have had the unfortunate opportunity to eavesdrop on my other teachers’ out-spoken frustrations about their meager stipend and how on the first chance to leave the profession, they would. I have to say, nothing kills learning than the knowledge that you, the student, are but a bridge, not a destination. But Miss Amweno loves us. We know it and that is why we readily forgive her outbursts. We love that she screeches birthday songs to all of us at random times of the year. We love that she walks around with a tear-stained blouse after mediating teenage scuffles. We love that she would know if we had a rough night. We love that she knows our pets by name. We love that she scribbles proverbs at the corner of the board every morning. We even learnt to embrace the Feelings Jar. Miss Amweno makes school, home.
You see, my parents split up as soon as I turned seven. A few months later, my mother was arrested for fraud and all her assets frozen. Predictably, my father immediately re-married and promptly forgot about us. As fate had it, I was left in the young but capable hands of Bwire, my eighteen year old genius of a brother. “Genius” is not to be used lightly, as he went on to win a scholarship to an Ivy League university in the USA after innovating something I regrettably don’t have the capacity to describe. Worth mentioning( to emphasize his brilliance) he made a living concocting some hallucinogen in our house which he peddled to supplement the little allowance collected from reluctant relatives.
On my brother’s departure, I went to live with my aunt, who only accepted to host me in the hope that Bwire’s pursuit of prosperity would thrive and she would have a legitimate claim, on my account.
So as I watch the all too familiar transformation of Miss Amweno’s furrowed face to her sympathetic look, I am reminded of Mama. Not in a way that compares. No! In a way that conjures up feelings of foul rejection, constant absenteeism, and numbing loneliness. I have to say that her incarceration was of no consequence to our relationship, because we didn’t have any.
Miss Amweno is it! I don’t think she knows it but most of us count on her presence for our daily dose of affection. Miss Amweno is it! The semblance of a mother we all wish we had.
“Hallo? Akisa! Are you with us?” I hear her say. Suddenly, an epiphany so real, a divine intervention through I, a humble medium.
“Yes, Akisa… Kindly enlighten us.” She responds with apparent pride.
“Well Miss…it indeed is tempting…in fact natural, to choose the negative aspect, seeing that we live in a skeptical world.” I begin. “Skeptical, meaning doubtful of each other’s inherent goodness,” I look around, silence of a church.
“Why is it difficult for us to conclude that one can love without expecting something in return? Lennie is mentally challenged. He is a child in a man’s body. He can barely make sense to save his life. He cannot remember who he is, let alone what he is supposed to do. He has irrational tendencies further exacerbating his isolation.” I pause and look around. Everyone is listening.
“Why is it difficult to believe that George could find a true friend in Lennie? Couldn’t have George searched and found Lennie’s soul? An ability that few humans possess.”
I look around again. Eyes opening up to my truth. Minds consuming my revelation.
With the confidence of a pundit and humility of a priest, I rested my case, “Miss Amweno, there is no better example than our relationship, you Miss Amweno with us. You symbolize George, us Lennie. You love us, in spite… It is like questioning your fondness for us.”
Miss Amweno smiles, eyes gleam behind a curtain of joyful tears, and then she clinches my point so accurately, “Only one who can dig beyond physical differences will to justify the relationship.
Thank you Nancy for a story reflecting the wonderful roles of teachers. We hope your placing will encourage other African writers to craft their writing skills. Readers please comment below.