I cannot remember her name. Her face is but a shadow by now. She was the tallest in class though, taller than all the boys, and stronger. I cannot remember her voice. I wonder if she ever talked. Though she was crying the day I entered class 5. She had been forced to repeat class and a teacher was comforting her, telling her it was a new year with its share of blessings. She walked barefoot as most of my classmates did. Though there was a manner in which she walked on earth, as if it was dough and she was kneading it with her feet. She seemed to understand every fold of the ground with her feet. She was always gentle and kind to me. Let us call her Earth Woman.
Time flew swiftly, my classmates lost in the melee of their rough and tumble games, with me still so shy as ever, walking around talking to my invisible friend Promet as if my mind was in a craze. Then the rumor started, from a boy in our class, that Earth Woman was number one that term. I was aggravated. I was always number one. End term came and the whole school sat in the football field in a circle, with the teachers in front of us on desks. Mr GG started reading out all our rankings, from class one, starting with the person in the last position.
Earth Woman came late. New uniform. A handbag strapped on her shoulder (we all laughed at her grown up woman act) but the most amazing thing is that she wore shoes, beautiful, well-polished shoes with a strap. I remember wondering if the ground her bare feet knew so well would recognize her with her shoes on. Mr GG now announced that he was reading the ranking for class 5. Earth Woman smiled brighter. After all, she was number one. I stifled a tear. How could I not be number one? All went still, even the wind, and there seemed to be an eternity concealed between Mr. GG catching his breath and him announcing the person in the last position.
“Position number last. Earth Woman with *** marks.”
Mr. GG was loud. We all heard it. The air cracked as if it was solid. Earth Woman sat so still as if she had turned into a statue. Then the air shook with the force of laughter. Boys clapped. I kept silent and watched as Earth Woman stood up. I watched as she bent and took off her shoes and clasped them under her arms. I watched as she leapt up so quick, like a flash of light and run, avoiding the gate but jumping over the fence and running as fast as she could toward Silanga (a tiny stream from which we collected clay).
The headmaster sent the strongest boys to run after her and bring her back, calling her behavior insolent, but that day Earth Woman must have been aided by the wind, for when her pursuers were plodding their way down to Silanga, she was already a tiny, darting dot going up the Chebokokwo hills.
May be she went to the other side of the hills, caught her breath and decided to join Chebokokwo Primary School.May be she gave up on school and decided to help out her parents on their farm. May be God was waiting for her on top of the hill with a chariot of fire, and she was taken to heaven and turned into an angel. All I know is that she never came back to school the next term and I never saw her again.
PS: I was number one that term and given a black basin and an orange plastic jug