Peanut and the Burning Tank

The problem is this: Boys who are born amd bred of mischief will always look for mischief. It starts early. Right in their mama’s tummies , the baby brats kick, and jump up and down as if playing a wild game of kickboxing. When they are born,  they extend the same trouble. They bite their mama’s breast instead of suckling. They repeatedly pee on their mama’s backs, burp straight on their mama’s faces and  soiltheir diapers  as soon as they are changed.

The fact that peanut was always in a gangly, like-minded group of bratty boys resulted in an endless stew of mischief.

They lived in a village called Ndeffo, a leafy hilly land at the edge of Mau forest ranges. Despite having only small traces of land, the folks there kept many cattle, sheep and goats. In the afternoon, when lower primary classes ended lessons, Peanut and other young boys herded the animals along the zigzagging murrum roads. Sometimes, they drove their herds into the Mau forest. The trees in this beautiful forest were later cut down and then land turned into farms.

 

Afterwards, the thirsty animals led them to the nearby River Karare. The boys often swam naked in this muddy river in a section surrounded by thick bushes. They competed racing across, sand competed diving head-down-legs-up or in the ridiculous bottoms-down style they named Kisumu style. The water was so deep so the diving required expertise. Peanut was a champion at swimming and diving.

 

The cows, sheep and goats would meander off to a neighbouring farm owned by Kamau wa njinju. He was a terrible man, famous for administering corporal punishment to boys, and to his wife to, and to his wife too. When the animals loitered onto his unfenced farm, he drove them away, scattering them in different directions. He then crept to the bushes near where the hyper swimming and diving activity of excited, naked boys was in full blast.

Kamau wa njinju sneaked out of the bushes with a mean looking stick and grabbed the nearest boy. On seeing the feared man, Peanut and the other boys splashed out of the water and fled, unheeding of the bushes scratching their bodies. Only when they paused for breath at a safe distance did they remember that they’d left their clothes at the bank of the river. They listened to the sound of determined whacks, and the yells and screams of the unfortunate one.

 

Before heading back to his shabby house, Kamau wa Njinju collected all the boys’ clothes leaving behind only those of the one he’d caned. Anyone who wished to get dressed had to go to his house and apologize for running away, and then receives double the number of cane lashes. The other boys did just that. But Peanut never ever near Kamau’s house. He was proud of the fact that unlike the other children ,he had underwear. His mum was a teacher and insisted that her children had to set the right example by wearing underwear. So Peanut waited in the bushes until it got dark, and then cut through peoples firms,  and  sneaked along the empty roads all the way home.

 

Fearing an even greater beating from parents, the boys never reported Kama wa Njinju.in fact, Peanut’s clothes disappeared forever. But the animals were recovered after having entered after having entered several people’s farms and causing destruction. The following morning, Peanut’s mother was confronted by angry people demanding compensation. Peanut promptly received a thorny beating with a cane torn off the branch of a pepper tree from his no-nonsense mum. And his mum banned Peanut from swimming.

The next time there was a swimming contest, his mates urged him to join him in the water. Peanut was hot and sweaty after a hot afternoon herding cattle, sheep and goats. But he did not want to disobey his mum. He sat on the bank of the river and watched his friends splash in the water as they prepared for the swimming competition. The water was so cool and inviting. The temptation to swim was too much. Peanut had to defend his title. After all, he was the reigning champion. Into the water he dived.

 

Although they tried not to make too much noise, Kamau wa Njinju sneaked up on them. Of course, the other boys ran away as fast as their legs could carry them. Kamau wa Njinju snatched their clothes and marched off to his house with them.

 

But Peanut was too happy to let this upset him. He let his skin dry thoroughly in the sun, and then raced home and put on some old clothes. He was sure that his mum would not find out that he had been swimming.

“You have been swimming, haven’t you?” his mum asked, in an innocent voice when she came home from work.

 

“Of course not!” Peanut said.

 

But his mum was an expert in detecting the tell-tale signs. “We agreed you should not lie to me. We agreed you should not swim anymore. You have just lied. Go bring the cane. Quickly!”

 

Peanut got a peppery beating

The next time there was a swimming competition, Peanut was determined not to disobey his mother. His mates said he was showing off because his mum was a teacher and did not dig on the firm like most of the other women. They said he was showing off because his mum had bought him sandak shoes. Most of the children had no shoes. His mates made fun of him, called him a girl, peanut put his hand over his ears. But when they said he was just scared of losing his title, Peanut could not resist showing them who was who! Into the water he went.

 

After swimming, Peanut jumped into a clean section of the river and jumped out before mud stirred up. He was convinced his mum would not find out.

 

But when he got home, the first question was, “You have been swimming, haven’t you?”

 

“Of course not!” Peanut said, confidently, even though he did not like the glint in her eyes.

 

The beating she gave Peanut for indulging in an activity she had banned, and for lying to her, raised painful bumps on his backside.

 

Peanut thought that his mum was receiving information from evil angels because every time he swam, no matter how few the minutes he stayed in water, he was discovered. His backside was constantly on fire.

 

But he was not alone in this. All the boys had been caned by their parents for swimming when they were supposed to be herding cattle. The boys put their heads together to figure out the tell-tale signs that gave them away.

 

They conducted an experiment. Peanut jumped in the water and then let his skin dry in the sun. The boys studied him. They noticed his skin was very, very dry and were marked with tiny, visible cracks. Ah! They quickly grabbed a young maize cob from the nearby field. They crushed the kernels in their palms to get the milky sap. They rubbed this sap on Peanut’s skin. His skin now looked a bit dirty, but normal.

Then the boys noticed that Peanut’s eyelashes had clumped together. Peanut rubbed them until the lashes separated. The boys were now satisfied that if they rubbed milk sap on their skins and separated their lashes, their parents could not possibly tell when they had been swimming.

 

There remained one major problem. Kamau wa Njinju. If he scattered the cattle while the boys swam, their parents were likely to be suspicious. The boys decide to come up with a plan to teach him a lesson.

 

They came up with what they called a genius of a plan. A bitter argument erupted as to who was to be left behind to look after the cattle. Everyone wanted to be in the action group. They argued for a long time before coming to an agreement.

 

On the appointed day, the boys trooped to the river in a noisy group. The noise to let Kamau wa Njinju  know that they had arrived and they were heading yet again to a swimming orgy.

 

Some boys hid in the bushes at the place where Kamau always showed up. In a polythene bag, each boy carried a warm mound of cow dung. They were the dung squad.

 

Peanut and several other boys jumped in the river fully dressed and made excited noises while beating and splashing water with their hands. They were the river squad

They waited. Finally, two informers stationed in the bushes further back whistled a warning that Kamau wa Njinju was approaching. Peanut and the rest of the river squad splashed knee-high water and yelled at the top of their voices. Faces sweating and hands shaking with excitement, the dung squad stood in readiness.

As Kamau wa Njinju emerged from behind the bushes, one of the dung squad boys threw a missile of sloppy dung right on Kamau wa Njinju’s face! Another fat pat of cow-dung landed over his unbelieving eyes, and slowly sloshed down to his nose and mouth. Several lumps thrown by tensed arms missed and zoomed past his face, but many of the semi-solid sticky stuff made target with a satisfying slap, thump and sucking sound. Kamau wa Njinju flailed his arms like a cornered animal.

The mission was complete! Everyone fled through the bushes.

That evening, Peanut expected real trouble from his mum. He started massaging his already tormented buttocks in readiness for the beating to come. It didn’t happen, In fact, his mum was in a very good mood. Two parents had come to update her on advice she had given them about to keep their children interested in reading. She had told them to buy or borrow some enjoyable or funny books and read them together with their child. The parents were thrilled that the child was keen to read. Peanut’s mum was so happy that she came home with sausages. As they feasted on sausages that evening, Peanut glowed with happiness. It was the best day ever!

 

The next day, when the boys quietly led the animals to the river, they discovered Kamau wa Njinju had fenced his farm with thorny bushes. In the section where they used to swim, he’d placed huge stones and kei-apple branches. He must have stayed up all night to complete this job. The boys were amazed. They could have removed the stones and branches, but without any discussion on the matter, the boys stopped their swimming expectations. It might have been due to guilt, or perhaps it was due to another major distraction at their school.

 

Peanut attended Mutarakwa Primary school, where his mum taught biology.

In those days, school children were given a free packet of milk every lunch-time as part of the national Nyayo milk program. Stone buildings were being constructed at the school to replace the aging wooden structures but for whatever reason, the building work had stalled. One of these incomplete buildings housed the principal and his deputy’s office. I t also served as the special store for storing cartons of Nyayo milk. The boys discovered that the incomplete store had a gaping hole for ventilation as the window beneath were still boarded up. It gave them an idea for another master mischief plan.

 

The boys congregated below a ventilation hole and assessed its size. It was certainly large enough for the plan they had in mind. Peanut remembered his mum’s warning. Since she was not married, every now and then his mum reminded Peanut that she was the sole disciplinarian in the house, responsible for making sure Peanut did not become a hooligan. She wanted him to grow up to be a responsible young man. But somehow, he always ended up in another goof. The temptation was too great, and the group’s solidarity mesmerized him, Why was mischief so much fun?

 

Early one fine morning, the group helped the smallest boy amongst them to climb up the wall. He squeezed through a ventilation gap and fell inside headfirst! Fortunately, he had a hard head. The cartons of milk were stacked on tables. Once inside, the boy opened one of the cartons and opened a packet of milk before passing some to the waiting gang outside. He then covered the disturbed carton with polythene bags and make sure that everything appeared normal-no spills or no tell tale marks.

 

But how was he going to get out of the store? Ventilation walls are high up the wall. The small boy arranged two tables by the wall, climbed on them and squeezed himself through the same small hole. They celebrated by feasting on ilk.it left them hungering for more.

The next morning and one after that, they raide the store again. The more successful they were, the greedier the boys became. They started visiting the store twice a day-in the morning at six and and in the evening at seven thirty. The small boy became an expert at scaling the wall. They made away with many packets of milk. In fact, the boys drank so much milk that they got runny bowels.

 

Weekends were a field day for the boys. Since the school was empty, there was no need for the usual precaitions. The boys helped the small friend enter the store as usual and posed below the ventilation gap waiting for the goodies to fall like manna from heaven.

 

One weekend, while they were waiting for milk to come raining from the hole, they heard voices approaching. Apparently, that weekend, the building project that had earlier stalledwas to be rekindled.theschool committee members, the head master and some manual workers were heading in their direction. The boys outside had no time to notify their friend inside who was busy   ripping up cartons while sucking on a packet  of milk. They just fled.

 

The small boy inside continued with his work. He was enjoying his little feast when he too heard the deep voices of approaching men. He recognised the headmaster’s voice. He froze.

 

The voices increased in volume until they sunded like roaring thunder. The men were talking about the construction that was to take place, the materials and the work force reuired. The boy heard them approach the door of the store, heard the jingleof the keys, and the metallic sound of a key being inserted in the keyhole. The boy’s bladder let loose. He was standing by the heaps of stackedmilk cartons, severalof which he had opened. As if a nightmare, he stared at the undenieble evidence of ripped cartons and empty packets of milk all around him.he didn’t have time to  hide anything.

Just as the knob was turned and the door was being pushed open, his mind came back to life. He jumped behind the door. The men trooped in and headed deeper into the store where building materials were kept. They had just began to sense the smell ofurine when they heard something like a rush of wind. They turned their heads towards the door only too see a shadow zoom off. They heard the patter of small shoeless feet rapidly moving away.

 

They saw the puddle of urine, the open cartons and empty packets of milk. They saw the stacked tables and the dirt marks leading to the ventilation opening. It did not take them long to unravel the puzzle.

 

“Unbelievable that a human being can pass through such a small hole!” they exclaimed to eachother. But they put aside the issue and continued with the day’s work as if all was in order.

 

Hearts racing like a dieselposho mill, Peanut and the other boys watched the drama from a safe distance.had the climbing boy been caught, they wouldall have been in trouble.peanut knew that on topof a beating to beat all beatings, his mum would probably march him through the school chanting that he would never steal again! So when the ,boys joined thelucky escape who was still shaking like a feather, nobody jeered the boy for wetting his shorts. Nobody  sneered their noses at the stink of urine.

 

The ventilation holes were sealed, and the school employed a day andnight watchmen. They were instructed not to allow anyone within the compound outside of school hours exept for the grass cutters ofpupils working in the school farm.

The following Monday, the matter of milk theft featured prominently in the school assembly. The principal stated that when theculprits were caught, they would pay with a full lorry-load of milk.

 

Nobody ever  talked or admitted to the  stealing even though it took a very lang time for  the principal to drop the matter. It took a more serious incident to make him forget about the mystery of the disapperaing milk.

 

Mutarakwa  Primary School occupied buildings originally owned by a white settler in  the area. In fact,  his house was still intact beside the school, and now served  as the dispensary. It was a huge, oldlooking house with small high windows, dark-brown pointed wooden roofs and wooden wallsand floor. Peanuts’s mum said it resembled Lord Egerton’s great castle in the Rift Valley.

 

Apparently, the guy had taken ten years to build a mansion ofmore than sixty rooms to please the young lady back in England whom he wanted to marry. But when she finally came to kenya and saw it, she said it resembled a  shark. She fled back to Europe and got married to someone else. From then onwards, Lord Egerton banished all women from his sight. In fact, his farm workers had to lock up their wives when he toured his farm!

 

Some classes at the school still looked more like horse stables- what with their wooden shutter windows and timber walls with walls with loud gaps that invited in cold winds. Old machinery and some ancientwater tanks lay about the school. One such tank with a million small perforations that looked like open pores dotting its side, lay in a  corner behind some buildings.

 

The tank was huge and for a long time, had been used by different generations for different purposes. It was no secret that the older boys and girls used the tank as a secret den for touching each other. Peanut and his friends used the tank in a more in a more interenting way.

The day watchman was lazy guy. Heonly made a few rounds ofinspection. The boys sneaked into the school one weekend, and made their way into the tank. They carried perforated tins smouldering with embers of fire, and a niceload of green maize and potatoes which they had raided from nearby  farms.

 

They carefully crawled in through a large hole near the bottom of the tank.

 

They roasted the maize and potatoes,occassionaly blowing on the charcoal to keep it alive, and whispered to each other scary tales or heroic stories featuring themselves  as they waited. It was a soooty, smoky tank full of about ten boys huddled around a few charcoal stoves mmadeof tin cans, a sweaty experience but more fun because it was illicit.

 

The tantalising smellof roasting began to permeate the air, and the rising anticipation of goodies to eat was spicing the stories when a sudden loud knocking ensued. The boys froze. They peeped through the million pores, and saw the watchman and two muscular villagers holding mean-looing canes standing outside the tank.

 

It was regret time.

 

Peanut always felt that a lot of fun ended in regrets, especially illicit fun. Peanut shivered despite the heat in the tank. He felt the rush of adrenaline-panic travelling silently like osmosis from one boy to the other and back again. They were at a dead—end, like brats on display,caged and about to get the beatings of their lives.

 

One of the boys suggested that they all push the tank so that it would roll once, so that the hole they’d used to get in would move uup, so that the angry villagers with the cane would not be able to access them. The idea was totally absurd but they were not thinking normally. They did not pause to consider that the tank was on a gentle rise which sloped all the way to the sports field

The tank was held in place by a wooden peg driven into the ground. But the peg had rotten over the years. When the boys pushed the tank from the inside, their combined force broke the peg. With a sharp jerk,the tank moved.

 

It rolled. And rolled.

 

Only then did the boys realize their great mistake. Some tried applying reciprocating force by pushing in the oppoosite direction but the tank had already caught momentum. It rolled. And rolled.

 

So they were, ten or so boys in a smoky tank, charcoal tins up-ended, hot embers, burning maize andpotatoes flying everywhere. As their world became a spinning white-hot misery, the boys completely lost balance, direction, and rhythm. It was worse thangetting a beating from muscular villagers or gpoing to hell naked.

 

The tank increased speed as it rolled down the field, roaring and vibrating like angry storm.The boys contributed to the chaotic choirof the noise by screaming at the top of their voices. Hot coals burnt their bare ars,legs and feet. Hot sparks licked their faces and found their way inside their shorts and shirts. Dizzy and drunk with exhilaration and fear, Peanuts felt as though this was a hell that would last forever

In reality, it only took a few minutes for the tank to lumber down to a depression filled with sand and sawdust in the sports field. The depression was the landing designed for long-jump. The tank ground into a violent halt.

 

But the screaming didn’t stop, the world didn’t cease fromspinning like a whirlwind, the burning didn’t stop. In fact, the sudden stop felt like an anti-climax. Peanut thought he was going to faint becauseoof the noise, the pain, the heat. It was some long moments before the worldfinally gave the slightest semblance of saneness.

 

By grace of God, there were no serious casualties. In fact, the good old hole was stationed waist high. The big boys hastly scrambled and hoisted  themselves up. Some ran away in mad rush for wateror whatever they could get to cool down their burns. Two cared enough to pull out Peanut and another boy who was too short to climb out easily.

 

The boy’s faces and other exposed skin had visible burns and blisters. Their clothes looked asif they had been thrown into a septic tank, chewed by a pig, set ablaze and then pulled out of the fire mid-way. All the fun-fare, the excitement was gone and the whole lot was shame-faced crest-fallen band of boys!

 

There was nothing else to do but go home. Peanut knew he was already in trouble because he was late. He found his mum waiting for him.

 

But when she saw his sorry sight,she spokesoftly which brought tears to his eyes. As he cried, she seemed to sympathise. He told her the whole story. He admitted toalmost everything.  She listened  carefully, prompting him for details whenever he got overcome by emotion.

 

When he had finished, she ordered Peanut to fetch the dreaded cane

"Why did you mix with that group of brats you call your friends? Wea greed you are not going to have anything to do with them didn’t we?"

 

Without waiting for his answer, she continued, "Why did you go inside that tank? Are you crazy?"

 

"We were having a….a… warming ourselves there"

 

"Since when did you start feeling cold in broad day light? I’ll warm you with a beating1 Hurry with that cane"

 

His mum believed in biblical teachings that if you spare the rod, you’ll spoil the child. She gave Peanut a never to be forgotten caning. His burns and blisters received an agonizing anointing. As though that were not enough she paraded Peanut in school, in front of the headmaster and her teaching colleagues. They all said that Peanut was embarrassing them as teachers, they said teachers should not have undisciplined children. They called Peanut a discipline-deprived child and added theirdonation of cane. For close to a week, Peanut was not able to sit.

 

But his mum was also strange. She cooled nice mealsand heated water forhim to wash and excused him from chores that week. Although  her tongue wassharp, she was kind to him. Then shepreached about the need to have good manners, be polite,disciplined and to avoid bad influence.

 

Perhaps that is why Peanut does not feel badly today about the caning he received as a young boy. If it were not for his mother’s strict discipline, he believes he’d have turned out like someof the brats he uswd to play with when he was a child. Today ,some of those who had ‘soft’ parents  have become loiterers,sluggards,complainers of life, and drunkards. Peanut believes the cane straightened him.