Parable of an African child named X

E student succeeded in life, treated teachers to chapati and tea

In Summary

• Flop's incredible turnaround was borne out of sheer determination

Soft-layered chapatis
Soft-layered chapatis
Image: FILE

This week, Kenyans joined the global community in commemorating two profound days: the International Day of the African Child and International Father's Day, coinciding with the holy day of Eid ul-Adha.

The International Day of the African Child, celebrated on June 16, highlights the challenges faced by children across the continent and calls for action to secure their rights and futures.

International Father's Day emphasises the pivotal role of fathers in nurturing and protecting their children.

Eid ul-Adha, a significant Muslim festival, reflects on the virtues of obedience, sacrifice and charity, exemplified by the Prophet Ibrahim.

This convergence of observances underscores a universal message of care, protection and moral responsibility towards children, highlighting the vital role of fathers as steadfast protectors and guides.

This convergence of themes set me down memory lane as I reflected on the notion of fatherhood as a shield. Here is a story why we all need to safeguard the dreams and aspirations of the younger generation.


I joined the teaching profession because of my love for children, and it explains why the census officer who came counting people in 2019 on behalf of the government raised eyebrows at the number of children I have in relation to my age.

Anyway, when I was half my age now, I was a young, freshly graduated teacher of English in the sprawling Eastlands area of Nairobi. I taught for a year in Kariobangi South during the time when Ukoo Flani Mau Mau dominated the music charts and airwaves in Kenya.

This is not the story. Nor is the tale of how I sensationally abandoned secondary school teaching after being hunted down like a hare by killer squads from Dandora for caning the lastborn of a dreaded gangster family.

Here is the story.

There was a boy we would teach all seven secondary school subjects, and he would easily score Es across the board. In every exam, he continued his spree of Es. No amount of change in teaching methods or educational psychology by a battalion of seven teachers could change him.

Tired, one day, Mr Ayago, our concerned headmaster, brought in a Kitui wizard. The wizard casually looked at the boy’s palms and, over chai mwitu at break time, informed us that the boy seemed fine to him. Ayago suspended the boy’s expulsion letter, which I had meticulously proofread already. We were shocked.

We continued to teach and the young lad continued to bag his E grades.

Paradoxically, if there was a Kenyan I have met who embodied Shakespeare, Imbuga and Soyinka combined on stage, then this boy, let’s call him X, was the real deal. Mr Ndwiga, the drama coach, would repeatedly tell us he had never seen a stage genius like X.

Picture this. The boy could be given his drama lines and roles in the morning and a day off like the rest to go to the spare room to rehearse. By 5pm on the same day, he had all his lines memorised, full stops included, in his unusual mind.

One day, we, the school Englishmen — Mr Ndwiga, Mrs Wahome, Calisto Sir, and Mr Makokha or Max — called him. We sat X on an upside-down bucket. It was cowboy yellow. We surrounded him, gave him a cup of Milo in Madame's Thermos cup, and I handed him a chapati mwitu.

He ate in silence and wonder. Kids there then used to come to school half-starving or fully starving day in and day out. It was common for povertified students in this part of Kariobangi to munch bangi for food or gnaw air on sweater sleeves at lunchbreak.

Then we raised the query jointly: “X, why can’t you use the same cramming power in drama festivals to cram the subjects of the classroom?” A passing Mathematics teacher laughed aloud.

X replied, “You all ridicule me, but I swear one day I will be rich and will come back here and buy you real chapatis and real tea.” We were shocked. He paused for effect, and then added passionately, “I will come in my car. ” I said amen! The others stared at me in silence.


Long story short, the Almighty above is not Osman, as the Swahili adage goes; Mola sio Asumani. I left the school and retired to the university to pursue my second degree. Years later, I bumped into Mr Ndwiga at Dallas in Embu town. He told me this:

“Max, do you remember X? ” I said I did and I also remembered beautiful B. Mr Ndwiga fidgeted. The two had a crush on each other back then. Then he said, “Do you remember his car story? ” I said, “Yes. ”

“The boy did as he promised.” “What? ” I was shocked. He nodded. “He came in a Voxy, with a kitambi, a wife and a kid with a new teddy bear. The wife brought out of the backseat a full silver hotpot of 12 chapatis, the sweet spiral ones, and a gigantic maroon thermos of conc milk tea. ”

The staffroom ululated. He squeezed a digit of cash into Mr Ayago’s M-pesa, and the man from Busia swiftly left the school for one of his ad hoc drinking sprees.


Here is the climax of climaxes. X had a job with a radio station and did voice acting and broadcasting naturally. He was doing so well.

I was so happy but suddenly, Mr Ndwiga turned saddest. I asked, “Now what?” He looked in the direction of the distant green muguka hills of Siakago, east of Embu town. Then he said after a sigh, “Life, aki life! ”

I said nothing.

X died as soon as our country’s only superhighway was opened. He was one of the many early casualties this massive road next to my home in Thika claimed. Those who buried him said he was speeding. The cops said he had done a bit of hit and run. The wife said that it was the liquor that did him in.

It matters least how our children begin or end their lives given by the Almighty here on earth, here in Africa. What matters the highest is that our job as their custodians is to nurture their dreams, against all odds.

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