It was the first time that I had heard of the name Elijah in such a close constraint. His lips were full on pink- a strange shade, they spoke of his illicit ways and the lower lip sagged on enough that he couldn’t close his mouth properly. I was warned that if he ever says my name he would find himself rubbing my arm and at times my face. Spitting is a condition associated with good instructors and teachers, I consoled myself.
He must be in his 40s or late 30s. I couldn’t really tell for we saw the world at the same angle of elevation, and his strange tunics caused speculation amongst students that he might be ‘unmarried’ and is probably in his late 20 years.
Teacher Elijah would dangle the keys of the manual car on his forefinger. It was eons shy of a James Bond tactic. He would walk in class and stare aimlessly then ask who will be driving his car. He said this with a strange finality of ownership and god-like demeanor. No one would speak at first but his students would soon get over the awkwardness and follow him to the car. The model town board would be left scarce; the new comers would focus so closely and envy the students going out for the real deal.
The real deal is what Mwalimu One-Jiru called it on the first day. It rang on even after we left class. It rang even more when I heard a vendor cajoling a customer. He said we needed to learn the rules of the model town board first. Then he would teach us all the road signs thereafter we will go to do the real deal. He said the ‘L’ at the end too lightly and the students looked at each other unknowingly.
We then came to learn of his unique utterances after a few hours of interaction. The new students would sheepishly giggle and he would hide behind a book to ward off the uncomfortable stares. This would bring more attention and cultivate into distraction, he would then let out a smile at the corner of his mouth. Students have peculiarity of associating intelligence with fluency in English- colonization is still intact.
Mwalimu One-Jiru did not like students going for their practical; he didn’t seem comfortable sitting in an empty class. When he stood up to tell Teacher Elijah there were no students ready for driving, I noticed his knocked knees.
No one has ever seen One-Jiru stand apart from his colleagues; we usually thought it was because he was lazy. He even moved the cars with his long stick on the town board and when a car fell- he would sit up with his nose high as if to tell the students to pick it up. The gestures were unnecessary, I thought.
There were always those who wanted to be a little too helpful and would even arrange the toy cars on the town board for him; only for him to disarrange and align them as the student arranged prior. He was queer but he is mwalimu. And mwalimu is always right.
Mwalimu One-Jiru made me sit in for more of his classes before letting me go to drive Teacher Elijah’s car. I hated that he kept me that long in class. The classmates had become ridiculous over the week and I was often forced to wear the turn left sign in my head.
The receptionist was surprised that I hadn’t begun my practical; I told her that Mwalimu had said I have to finish 5 theory lessons first. That’s when Mwalimu walked in and said I only stayed 30 minutes the last two classes and departed in a jiffy. Gaddammn it snitch!
“Kesho!” he mimicked me as he used the gestures I employed whenever I took an early exit. I lied to her that my job is demanding and my boss is not as understanding as I would like him to be. The look of concern showered her face ushering me to continue narrating my work woes. I did not know which work I was doing to begin with so I looked at Mwalimu to pick up from the dotted lines.
One-Jiru started dishing about his other students, he said Ras was becoming a kiherehere and was now preying on Liz, the newcomer. He also talked of Peter who no longer came for class and was afraid that his PDL would expire. Mose had also failed his exams the previous week and was to sit for another one on 26th; he asked if arrangements could be made. He inquired of another student who apparently had failed all three consecutive exams. He was concerned that he might be forced to look for another school. The receptionist gave him half ear as she looked for my PDL (Provisional Driving License).
“Hiyo 12k si angenipatia gai fafa!” Mwalimu exclaimed as he often would at the slightest provocation. I found myself using the phrase at home with Karimi, she would ridicule me and call me ‘mshamba’. (Slaps the head emoji)
“Waitherero si we uko sawa?” He asked being too sure I wasn’t but he was adamant to show the receptionist that he was thorough with his students. I did not let him down even though he had told on me to the receptionist. As soon as Teacher Elijah walked in, I jet out behind him with my PDL in hand which was pre-signed by the secretary and me. We looked like Uhuru and his bodyguard.
Alice, a fellow classmate followed suit. We had enrolled the same day and would sit next to each other after Mose stopped coming for class. She is a mother of 2, she told me with a certain glow in her eyes, and she had dreams of bringing her first born to driving school. Her expectations of me opening up would be met with a glare and sometimes with a hoot from Elijah.
She talked of her Kisii roots; I wondered why she didn’t get along with Elijah. Her first born daughter Jackie was her favorite, she often admitted; parents have a favorite, they just don’t say it out loud. She asked me if I had a husband but Elijah hooted again and my answer was swallowed up.
It was now our 7th class and I was already bored of listening to instructions and Alice- her 2 daughters and a husband gone rogue who was living with her sister. School is counseling for everyone, my friend would tell me- you inherit everyone’s problem.
Alice would fondle with the rear window trying to let air in leaving my hair a mess, I should invest in an Orierogo style flaw perhaps. In the car, I would often drift in and out of episodes of top gear and hear British accents. ‘helo mate’ ‘ turn rai’ ‘oh bollocks you ran over the cat’.
“Kanyaka clutch!” his Kisii accent never shies away for anyone. This must be the tenth time he has instructed me to step on the clutch before changing gears but I’m slightly aloof today. I was also aloof yesterday and the day before. But today I was idly distracted; I couldn’t focus even when I clenched my buttocks and sit upright in the driver’s seat.
“Tais ni nini mbaya?” he would ask whenever I stepped on the accelerator too long. I almost went straight under the trailer ahead of us. He would call for Jesus and do a follow up question to ensure we were together.
The trailer was the least of his worries; the ronga matatu behind us was what kept me on toes, wheels. The hooting, the loud conductors whistling and beckoning at me drove me crazy. I would show them a middle finger then proceed following Elijah’s instruction. He would shake his head and touch his face with his weirdly bent thumb.
Bollocks! I ran over something, Elijah is a minute from talking in Kisii.