THE DOPPELGANGER

Thirikwa Nyingi

September 2020

When I drove into the school compound in my beat-up grey Datsun that chilly and wet Monday morning I had little idea what awaited me in that venerated public institution. I brought the car to a slow stop under the mighty oak tree where I usually parked it. Nevertheless the car still bumped into the tree. I cursed softly at its faulty brakes. The car was a legacy from my grandfather who had given up the ghost the year before. According to the legend, he had been gifted the car at the dawn of independence by his erstwhile girlfriend whose father had been a grumpy British settler for whom he worked as a cook. The teary girlfriend, beside herself with grief for being forbidden to marry her sweetheart and flying him back to England, had left him the car, against her father’s wishes, as a memento of their short-lived romantic dalliance.


I pushed the rickety door open and stepped into the freezing morning air which cut like a razor into the skin. I slammed the door twice before it could shut properly. My teeth rattled in the cold. I thrust my hands deep into the pockets of my old duffel coat to warm my numb fingers. I walked stiffly in my mud boots towards the buildings before I was brought up short by shouts and screams. I broke into a run in the direction of the classrooms where the noise was coming from. I rounded a corner in a skid and found myself in the middle of a pandemonium. Pupils were engaged in all manner of antics. I ducked as a lump of mud came flying at me and landed on the wall behind me with a soft thud. A shrieking girl shot out of nowhere chased by another and ran smack into me almost knocking me over. I got hold of her and glared down at her muddy face. “Oh, sorry,” she mumbled and fled to the classroom in fear.


Everybody disappeared into their classrooms like rabbits into their rabbit holes as soon as they spotted me. However I noticed a group of pupils huddled outside the door of their classroom casting wary glances at me. I stomped off towards them. “What’s going on here?” I growled when I came to them. Silence. “Cat got your tongue?” I said looking from one face to the other, “Why aren’t you in your classroom?” I barked at them making the more timid ones to jump in fright. “Excuse me, sir,” a thin fearful voice came from the back. “Yes!” I snapped. It was the class monitor, “The teacher’s table has been messed,” he said. “Messed? How?” I asked. He avoided my eyes. “Badly, sir.” He replied hesitantly.


I narrowed my eyes at him as I cautiously approached the door, pushed it open and peered inside. “You won’t like it, sir,” he warned.  But it was too late. My eyes were met by the most obnoxious sight I had ever laid my eyes on. Someone had answered mother nature’s call on the table, right in the middle of it. Then he had gone on to do a poor caricature of me on the blackboard squatted, with my pants down, relieving myself on top of another table. He had scrawled next to it ‘Mr. Marangi, Master of Pooping’ I was knocked back by an odious stench that drifted from the table. I staggered outside gasping for fresh air. I stood there in a state of utter bewilderment, my mouth agape and unable to make sense of this ugly incident. I kept glancing at the door as if the smelly pile behind the door was a time bomb that could explode at any moment. I finally recovered my senses and saw to the cleaning of the mess. I briefed the shocked teachers about the horrible scene and most sympathised with me but a few could hardly keep a straight face. Much later in the day, as I patrolled the school grounds, I had in mind one boy who was capable of pulling such a dirty stunt and he was walking towards me in the opposite direction, right at that moment, along a pavement lined on both sides with colourful bougainvillea bushes. His name was Jack. He was a short mean-faced boy from grade 8. We had had several run-ins with him in the past and the most recent one was during the annual prize-giving day a few weeks earlier. Everybody had been seated at the school lawn. It was a beautiful day and not a cloud could be seen anywhere in the wide blue sky. There had been a downpour the previous night and a lovely smell of wet earth pervaded the air. The teachers trooped in one by one taking their seats in front of the gathering. Mrs. Muchiri came in last to find all the seats taken. Being the nearest person she could send, she beckoned to Jack and whispered some words to him. He dashed off towards the staffroom and walked back with another chair which he proceeded to set down neatly for Mrs. Muchiri. She thanked him and Jack bowed theatrically before her causing a slight ripple of laughter to run through the crowd. The rascal!


Mrs. Muchiri, a heavyset woman, was in the act of smoothing her wide prim skirt with one hand while the other pulled the chair close so she could sit when I suddenly realised with horror that the chair had a broken leg. “No, don’t!” I shouted a warning as I half-rose to stop the inevitable, rather too late as it turned out, for as she got hold of the back of the chair, in one fluid movement, she lowered her enormous backside into the doomed chair. A collective gasp rose from the crowd as people learnt with shock what was about to happen. With a loud splintering noise the chair gave way under her immense weight and she crashed to the ground with a force that shook the whole ground.


Pupils, never ones to miss a hilarious moment, roared with laughter. I moved with lightning speed to pull her to her feet. She grabbed my extended hand and pulled. But she was a little too heavy for me and I yielded under her weight. I flailed my arms like a windmill to keep from falling but it was an exercise in futility as I landed on top of her with my chin buried in her massive bosom. The laughter rose to a deafening crescendo. “Oops! Sorry!” was all I could manage to utter as I rolled away from her in embarrassment. She turned over slowly and painfully came to her feet. She excused herself and limped away to the staffroom in the company of two lady teachers. 


The noise had gradually died down and a semblance of order returned as the ceremony went on without another incident. I searched the crowd for Jack and I spotted him at the back with his face set in a serious expression even as laughter contorted the faces of his friends around him. Later I summoned him to my discipline master’s office and questioned him about it but he roundly protested his innocence. Still, I was not going to let him get away with it.  I handed him a hoe and sent him away to dig on a wild patch of land that was overgrown with bushes in the farthest reaches of the school compound as punishment. He gave me a hostile look and left with an angry click of the tongue.


There he was now walking up the path nonchalantly, hands in the pocket of his shorts with an impish grin on his face. He had not seen me yet and then he looked up. A startled look came over his face and he hesitated for a brief moment before walking on as I stood in the middle of the path. “I will get you one way or another,” I growled at him as he brushed past. The boy just snorted at me and walked away pompously. I stood there looking after the little receding figure in impotent anger.


Things returned to normalcy except that I was now drawing funny stares wherever I went. One day I was passing a group of chattering women at the shopping centre when they suddenly went mute when they saw me. As soon as I walked past they were bent double in laughter. I shot them a withering look and went about my business. On Sunday, in the little church nestled in a wooded glen, the congregation listened in mild amusement as the priest delivered a fiery sermon about the vice of making mockery of ‘our teachers’. I felt the stare of a hundred eyes on me. I shifted nervously in my seat in discomfort at being the focus of attention. I tried hard to concentrate my gaze on the preacher who was now foaming at the corners of his mouth from the exerted effort of expostulation. I broke into a sweat and cleared my throat once or twice as I willed the church service to come to a quick end. In a thunderous voice that resonated through the packed church he suddenly launched into a lengthy feverish prayer to the ethereal powers ‘to forgive them for they know not what they do. For though their sins be as scarlet they will be washed as white as snow.’ A drawn-out ‘Amen’ at the end of the prayer brought the service to an abrupt end. “Thank you Jesus,” I said inwardly with gratitude. However, I was perturbed to find that someone had traced with a finger the words, ‘Mr. Poop’ on the dusty surface of the rear windscreen of my car outside the church. I got an old rag and dusted them off before driving off in an agitated mood. 


Very soon it was the end of the term and preparations for the end of the year school closing ceremony the following day were in top gear. Everybody, as expected, was in a festive mood in anticipation of the holiday ahead. The headmaster sent me on an errand in town to pick some school supplies and other items that would be needed the next day. “Get a few boys to accompany you as there is some heavy stuff there,” he told me. A group of four boys from grade eight, with Jack among them happened to be passing by as I came out of the office. Here was a wonderful chance to spite the little devil, I thought. I called them over and went ahead to pick three of them while maliciously leaving out Jack in favour of another boy who was just arriving. “Get into the car,” I said, “we are going for a ride in town.”  The overly excited boys thanked me and shouted in joy as they raced each other to the car. A visit to town was every boy’s dream in these parts and they could hardly believe their luck. Jack watched in dismay as his friends piled into the car one after the other. He looked at me pleadingly. “I’m sorry Jack,” I said sarcastically, “I hate to leave you behind but you might poop in my car and we can’t have that, can we?” And then I laughed uproariously. He scowled hard at me and walked away seething in anger. “Serves you right boy.” I said after him. If only I knew what was to follow I should have gone slow on him.  


The following day broke clear and sunny and there was a celebratory mood in the air. I drove into the compound and parked my old Datsun at its usual place. A humming noise sounded somewhere and I looked up. A large swarm of bees had built its hive on one of the overhanging branches, perilously close to the car. I stepped away cautiously lest I disturb them.  It was not uncommon to find a swarm of bees there taking a rest in their long flight to a more hospitable environment so I was not unduly worried. I walked to the school lawn to find that teachers had already seen to the putting up of the guests’ tent and laying out of the chairs and desks. I assisted in setting up the public address system. An hour or so later the invited guests and parents started arriving to the accompaniment of gospel music that blared out of the speakers. I was the designated master of ceremonies. At around noon everybody was assembled and I took the mike to announce the start of the ceremony.


Things were moving on well when somebody passed me a note with a message that I had a visitor waiting by my car. I had not been expecting any visitor and I was a little puzzled. However I excused myself and walked to the car. There was nobody in view. I stood there perplexed. A stirring in the adjacent bushes made me turn that way as a little masked figure popped out and took a shot at me with a slingshot. I screamed in alarm as the missile flew above my head and struck at the overhanging branch which snapped and fell on the car’s bonnet with a dull thud. My eyes widened in terror as the wild buzzing of the furious bees came to my ears. I raced down the field, with the enraged bees in hot pursuit, where a startled herd of cows that had been calmly munching away at the lush grass stopped to watch me as I barrelled down towards them, unaware of the danger that lurked behind. I overtook them as they galloped away in fright into the outlying maize field where we all took cover from the ferocious bees. A while later I emerged from the maize field and charged up the hill to where the meeting was still going on unaware of my latest tribulations. I must have looked a sight in my muddied clothes and dishevelled hair. My face was so grotesquely swollen people started when they saw me. 


I walked up to the school inspector who had been addressing the gathering before she stopped to stare at me wide-eyed. I grabbed the mike from her, “Jack Mugo!” I yelled down the mike, “I’m going to kill you, idiot!” I dropped the mike which struck the ground with a loud amplified thump. I rushed into the crowd as I vaulted over chairs and desks. “Stop him! He has gone mad!” someone exclaimed. And then a little figure shot out of the crowd towards the school gate. I gave chase but someone tripped me and I tumbled in the grass where a dozen hands held me down as I screamed in frustration. I ran out of steam eventually and calmed down. I was taken to the local dispensary mumbling to myself and the doctor prescribed medicinal oil for the bee stings and some sedatives to calm my frayed nerves.


Months later after this episode, I was seated a hundred miles away in a tiny mud-walled hut that leaned dangerously to one side with a sign above a creaky door that read ‘headmaster’s office’. The said headmaster was now studying my posting letter with a slight frown. He was a tall lanky bespectacled fellow. He shook his white-haired head slowly and looked up at me with keen interest. “I don’t want to sound intrusive but what made you leave such a good place and travel all the way to this godforsaken land?” he asked. I looked back at him for a while as I pondered his question. I was not about to tell a stranger about how my further interactions with a mere schoolboy could have led to my ruination, physically and mentally. “Teaching is a noble profession,” I told him philosophically “and somebody got to educate these folks anyway.” It was true in a sense but what really mattered was that I was very far away from that little scoundrel Jack and his diabolic schemes. He smiled at me as a boy came in and handed him a sheaf of papers. “Taabu,” he said to the boy, “show Mr. Marangi to your class. He will be your new Mathematics teacher.” The boy turned to look at me. I sat transfixed in my chair as I stared back in dread at the face of Jack. How was it possible? “But this is Jack from my former school,” I wailed pointing a shaking finger at him. Both looked at me in puzzlement. “No, this is Taabu,” the man informed me, “and he has been with us from the beginning.” I remained there like somebody hypnotised looking at the boy. “Excuse me, sir,” the boy said after a while, “this way.” I followed the boy in a daze, out in the scorching sun with an overwhelming sense of impending doom. 


In the distance, a thin column of whirlwind was fast making its way across the dusty plain towards us. Before I knew it I was enveloped in a suffocating blanket of dust and debris. I stumbled and fell as I ran blindly. I screamed in panic as a screeching noise like that of a thousand demons pounded my ears as billions of dust particles bombarded me and tried to force their way into my body through the mouth, ears and eyes. And then it was gone, as sudden as it had come. The boy stood there with an amused look staring down at my dishevelled figure as I lay there spread-eagled in the dust. I stared back in amazement. Not a hair out of place, his immaculate green uniform remained intact while his polished black shoes still gleamed in the blazing sun. He waited patiently as I struggled to my feet before resuming his assigned task of showing me to class. I felt like a condemned man walking to face his executioner.



Thirikwa Nyingi

Thirikwa Nyingi is a teacher by profession. He lives in Nyeri county, Kenya. He likes reading and playing chess in his free time.

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