It was dark, the pitch darkness that often follow the end of full moon. Up there, in the grim sky faint view of submerged stars broke the monotony of blackness. Black Forest school was quiet, deathly quietness that was expected after the prefects had patrolled the halls and the form two’s whispers had died down. Ham had wanted to go out to visit the convenience but he just would not get the courage to do it. Someone with malicious intent could be larking out there in the dark he reasoned. His restless mind relived the day. The school had been awash with the pressmen at break time. The prefects had loitered checking if anyone would open his mouth to speak to the press. It was under control until a pressman had cornered him.
”hey, what happened? Was he your classmate? Was he in form one Blue or Red? Do you have any information about this molestation in your school? How many form threes are gay, do you know?” The press kept following him as flies swarming around to a bad smell. Ham wondered in his mind if he had any role in their presence in school.
Ham had waved his hand weakly suing them away like he usually did to the pestering blue flies in the school main ablution. When they did not go away he opened his mouth and said, “Please leave me alone I am just a form two and I don’t know anything you are talking about. Please, please.” that’s when the prefect saw him and booked in his role of offenders for the day. Speaking to a strangers was out of the question even Ham knew it was against school rules at Black Forest School.
Hams mind rested on something else, the prefect that had booked him. He had followed him to class then stood in front of him sneering. His big black pimples looked darker and riper. Ham could tell that he was in deep trouble. With a menacing grimace the prefect had announced, “You will face the music. Tomorrow. See me at lunch time”
After the nine O’clock news that evening things had taken a turn for the worse. Ham had settled in the main hall after dinner to view news-bad news. This was part of the reason sleep would not come. Ham stayed awake in his bed, gazing from the decker bed through the grilled window his head rested on the window ledge. He gazed into the emptiness. Sleep had deserted him and much as he willed to sleep, it was the dark thoughts that kept crowding his young mind and chased sleep away. Then his mind went back to the news of the evening.
The whole school was here watching. The bad publicity his school had attracted had brought a sense of gloom and fear and unity in different measure to the whole school. The pictures were there, as clear as daylight. The pressman chasing him, the equipment hanging above his head. Then the news came in quick sharp short sentences that shocked everyone initially. The juicy part, was Perhaps what they had intended the public to know “Which class would you get most gays in the school?” the newsman appeared to ask Ham on the TV screen. “Form two” Ham appeared to have confirmed. The whole school listened in a lull, then a student giggled and a burst of loud roaring laughter filled the hall.
The news had been edited Ham could tell. He had been fixed into a corner. Even with that knowledge of impending punishment his thoughts refocused at the laughter. The whole school laughing at itself, at how low it had sank to the abyss of moral decay. He worried that this piece of news and the laughter would make the following day’s lunch date with the deputy captain more complicated.
His mind drifted to yet another direction, piecing the pieces of how it all started scrambling. This make believe face of Black Forest that had stood the test of time as an edifice was slowly falling apart. This lie that had gone on for far too long was being unmasked and it was shocking even to him.
It was the last Saturday before school closure the previous year that this heavy burden befell him. He had wanted to share his own experience with Jay Po his best friend in form one before the school closed but he did not. Now Jay Po had fallen a victim. Last week on Friday to be exact Jay Po could not walk to the dispensary anymore. His wounds had soared, spread then became septic. The deputy headmaster had advised him to take two weeks bed rest. He had assured him that it would be alright. He was just there sleeping in the dormitory when the rest of the school was in class studying for night preps.
On the night Jay Po escaped Ham had sneaked back into the dormitory to help him park. In whispers Po had shared.
“I had intended to use the ablution next to the lab one when they attacked me” he had said in a weak voice
“Who were they did you see their faces” Ham asked anxiously
“Yes, the deputy captain and four others, I could see their ghostly faces in hoods in the dark. His stocky rugby muscles was evident and his voice gave him away”
“What did they do it, those brutes, how did they hurt you this much, why Po why did they do it?” Ham inquired
“I really cannot tell why. They pulled me to the wilderness. That deserted dark place where form fours study-under those dark shady trees. There, they forced me to a scrum position. The deputy captain forced my neck between his knees like an ox on the yoke. Then the others kept pulling down my shorts. I could hear them scrambling like hyenas do over carcass as they tore my shorts then soft tissues with their sticks. Then when they finished. The prefect helped me with the short. He said.” “My friend if you try to tell this to anyone, we shall come back for more. This time you will be dead.” “I could hear the steps of their shoes fade away as they varnished with slight cackles of vultures after a voluptuous meal.” Po said then paused for breath “Then who helped you back to the house. Did anyone notice?” Ham asked in a low tone. “No. So far no one knows this other than you and the deputy headmaster. I reported it to him directly. He has not taken any action even with all the details I shared with him. I think he is protecting the perpetrators. I am leaving this school tonight. I am sneaking out before I die here”
Ham had helped Jay Po sneak out. Together they staffed a few belongings into a plastic bag then they tiptoed to the fence. Jay Po frame faded away and vanished into the night as he hobbled his wounds weigh on one leg. Then he melted under the cover of darkness. Ham had walked back to class and pretended to study but his mind was with Po. Would he tell his parents? Would he die quietly from his wounds? He could not tell. He had not opened his mouth to anyone on this matter until today when the pressmen appeared in his school.
These pressmen who talked as if they had more details than he did surprised him. Now as he lay in his bed gazing into the dark sky he was sure someone else perhaps another student had seen him escort Jay Po to the fence. How else would the press just pick on him? How else would he be the one to be interviewed by this unethical journalist? Still it was a mystery to him.
A bat flapped and swooped through the gaping holes that the louvers had once occupied and snapped the mosquitoes that had been buzzing about his head. His mind wandered and strange as it sounded even to himself, he was now thinking about his school-To be a student in Black Forest School was no cake walk, he thought. It was not what his father had described to him earlier. The Black Forest school that had straight paved walk ways lined with flower beds and painted stones and working hot showers with flashing toilets was a lie. Instead he found many things missing, security lights were long dead the pit latrines were full and fat white maggot’s wriggles on the floor every time he visited. Everything about it was a miss even seeing the head teacher was a chance.
The gong of the assembly bell went before winks of sleep could form in his eyes. Students prepared and rushed out to assembly. The headmaster walked in carrying a copy of the Daily News. His face evidently cold as and tense as a corpse with anger. He spread the front page of the paper for the student s to see. “Student Gang Rape in Black Forest school-Confirmed”.
The headmaster was waving the paper wildly and swearing. He said, “This is the work of a student in form one who sneaked out of this school at night to spread falsehood and rumors about our school. This is what they do when their rich parent force them to schools they don’t like. They will not succeed with their bad motives. This schools reputation and success has been built on my sweat. A lot of hard work and painful sacrifices of the board, parent, the old boys association plus the Ministry. Under my watch I shall not and I repeat shall not allow a few misguided form ones to ruin this school. My own legacy has gone into making this school one of the best in this republic. We shall expel you from this school if you do this kind of thing. That student Ham in form two who spoke to the press see me in my office at ten” he concluded. The prefects who were lined next to him nodded. The teachers applauded then the students clapped in appreciation. The assembly dissolved.
At ten Ham arrived outside the headmaster’s office trembling like a malaria patient with high fever. To his surprise his father was already seated on the outside bench waiting to see the headmaster. His father called him outside a few meters from the office. He could tell his father was visibly annoyed and in his mind he was sure that perhaps he had received the expulsion the head-teacher had talked about in the morning assembly.
“My son I need to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” Ham’s father said anger chocking his words. He coughed to clear his voice then continued, “Did you confirm that the school had gays? Was that you talking to the press? I am an old boy of this school and I can tell you without fear of contradiction that it is total rubbish. This is a respectable school which has produced best brains in this country. Those who matter. The best leaders. Do you want to demean all that my son?” Hams father paused shaking his head in wonderment.
Ham kept quiet. He had wanted to share. To tell his father everything about the school. But still he hesitated. Will he believe it even if I tell him? Will he accept that his Alma matter is a pale shadow of its old shelf? He just did not know how to go about it. His father was in such foul mood.
“My son speak up. My patience is running thin. Tell me what happened. Was there a case of rape here?’
“Dad,” Ham called his father softly then said, “I have two stories to tell. One for Jay Po, the story in the newspaper you are holding and my own story. Which one do you want?”
“I want your story son. Tell me your story. What did they do to you? I will listen and I will not judge you. Please tell me,” Hams father said in a mellow voice his attitude in an about-turn.
“It was the last Saturday of first term last year when I was in form one” Ham started to narrate his story his voice cracking in pain and with tears flowing on his face. “Three weeks after you dropped me in school. It was a dark Saturday. The prefects had organized night entertainment. We were dancing in the hall. “Sinamakosa” the re-mix by Cool James was playing. There was this form four who had been very friendly to me in the dormitory. He was not a prefect. He had been sharing his bread and even butter with me. I thought we were close. I trusted him Dad.” Ham paused. “Tell me son what did he do? Did he hurt you? Tell me now” Hams father inquired sympathetically his hands on his son’s shoulders in that loving way fathers do.
“He did more Dad, he damaged me.” ”What exactly?” his father asked in panic. “He asked me to escort him to the toilet. It was dark, security lights don’t work in this school-you know. Behind lab one, he started groping me. I told him to stop but he did not listen. Then suddenly he became violent. He pinned me to a wall behind lab one. He …he.” Ham stammered. Pause.
Ham’s sobs had escalated into shrieks of loud mourns. His father produced his handkerchief and dabbed the tears, wiping it clear from his face while kneeling next to him. His father egged him on. He said, “Tell me my son, and just tell me now. What did he do?” Ham’s father asked again his voice shaking fearing for the worst. “He produced his pipe” Ham continued the story amid pain. “It was hard as a rock, this pipe. He kept jabbing it at my navel, chiseling it away until it became red hot from friction. At some point I thought he would barrel his way through my gut. He was pinning and strangling me. I tried to fight out but he was way too strong. Then things changed. His breath became heavy. His saliva started dripping continuously on my chest like that of rabid dog. Then to my utter dismay his pipe enlarged like a puff under about to bite with a venom. Then his pipe burst open and poured a hot sticky mass of magma on my clothes. Immediately he pulled his short and ran into the darkness and back to the hall.”
“I cannot take this anymore. Wait here my son. We are leaving this school this very moment. Ham’s father said. “But before we leave I will put some sense into the head of that head teacher. I must teach him a lesson or two.”
Ham’s father walked away in a hurry back to the administration block. Ham stayed. His mind wandered in and out of Black Forest School. He wondered if his father was perhaps late on his rescue mission. He could tell that darkness had descended in his heart. The experience behind lab one he had changed him to a different Ham. He felt numb, depressed and unloved. Twice he had sneaked into the night behind lab one to try and pin down a form one to understand what kind of darkness had driven that form four to do it to him. A silent voice had called him from doing it even when he had posed like a praying mantis to pin his target. It was that hymn in the Golden Bells that had kept him sane, away from the strong urge to pin down any form one behind lab one.
Ham’s father emerged from the administration block. Ham started singing the Hymn and his father joined in:
How can it be that I should gain, an interest in thy savior’s blood….
Died he for me who caused his pain…
Bold I approach the eternal throne…
No condemnation now I dread…
La la lala..Lala…Lala….lala..lala la..la
As he sang a calmness started sweeping through his body and into heart. His father sang louder clapping with praise. His tears dried and a small smile started dancing on his face in the place of sadness. The grip of darkness began to loosen. The links of the heavy burden became lighter. By his confession Ham had been unchained.