From my bed, I could see the ceiling trap door. It was located on roof of the opposite cubicle, right above one of the top decker beds. The door gave access to the attic of the Aberdares dormitory. The dormitory was a long single story building, housing about seventy students. It was divided into two rows of six cubicles on each side of a long corridor running down the center. My cubicle was the last ones located end of dormitory.
One Sunday afternoon, I decided I had to go up that trap door to discover the attic. Call it curiosity. It may have killed a cat, but not a fifteen-year old. At least not that I had heard of. May be there was something up there? The pigeons that disappeared through the apex of the building may have their chicks up there. May be there were bats, hanging upside down on the rafters all day long? I had to find out. I climbed up to top bunker bed, pushed the trap door up, pulled myself up and gently replaced the door. It took a minute to adjust to the darkness.
A little light from the sun seeped through between wall and the roof edges. It was enough to make out the row of rafters and the network of joists which held the ceiling boards. I walked the length of the roof, being careful to step on the wood. I was disappointed when I got to the end of the building. No bats, no pigeons and no ghosts either. Just some abandoned nests and scattered bird poop.
I recounted the adventure to a few girls. I do not recall encouraging them to make the trip, but they must have liked it because they joined me on my next expedition to the attic. Four girls, all in Form 1. I was the only Form 2 and should have known better than to lead innocent Form 1s (aka monos) into sin. It was another Sunday afternoon. I should have been in the Christian Union fellowship, but the devil has never given up since the Garden of Eden. He tempted me to stay in the dormitory instead. And as I lay on my bed, the trap door beckoned, just like that fruit had done to Eve in the Garden.
So here we were, five girls ready to explore the Aberdares Dorm attic. I gave a briefing to the four apprentices: be sure to step on the rafters and the joists only. The rafters were closely spaced at about two feet apart so it was not difficult to avoid the ceiling boards. We got to the end of the dormitory. Nothing to see, other than old abandoned nests and bird poop. I turned around and started walking back. I assumed my four friends were following me. That is what they do in jungle expeditions, right? Follow the leader.
I got to the trap door. Before descending, I turned round to check that my friends were behind me. They were not. They were still on the other end of the attic. At about the same time, they turned towards my direction and they realized that I had walked back and was about the descend. They must have assumed that something was wrong and that that’s why I had left. They panicked. And ran. On the ceiling. The devil is a liar!
It was like a slow motion scene in a movie. One after another, they disappeared as the ceiling gave way under them. They grabbed onto the rafters with their hands and they dangled down. I recall getting down from the trap door to see four girls, dangling down from four big holes on the ceiling, legs kicking looking for a foothold.
The pandemonium that ensued in the dormitory as each of them landed on the floor is a story for another day.
Our headmistress was a no nonsense woman on any given day. What we had done was unpardonable. I was sure that we were looking at the ultimate punishment – expulsion from the school. What would I ever tell my parents? Being the older of the other four and the expedition leader, I was branded the ring leader. That was an infamous title to carry in high school. I was older and should have known better. Never mind that I did not make a hole through the ceiling. I was more guilty than the others.
Caning was legal in schools back then. Mrs. Kamwaro, the Headie, was good at it. She was away from the school on the material Sunday. I prayed that somehow, God in His abundant mercy would intervene and deliver us from this mess that the devil had dragged us into. We were summoned to the headmistress’s office on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening. One by one, starting with my friends, she gave the lecture, followed by the caning. When my turn came, she kept me waiting for a long time. School day was over and the receptionist left for the day. I waited outside the headmistress’ door. What was she plotting? I prayed on. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”. I clearly identified with King David at that moment.
The Headie finally opened the door and summoned me inside. She gave me the lecture. How disappointed she was in me. How I should have been a good example to the younger girls. And how I was instead a rotten potato in a bag, which ends up making all the others rotten. I took it all in. Not only had the devil tempted me, he had turned me into a tempter! I did not have anything to say in my defense. I was guilty as charged.
When she was done with the lecture, she gave me a pile of books that she had on her table and asked me to take them to her house. I had never been to the headmistress’s house before. It was within the school compound but it was out of bounds for students. That was worrying. She had not canned me yet. Was she going to do it in her house? What did that mean? I walked ahead of her, keeping a safe distance from her. I waited at the front door. When she got there, she opened the door, got inside to drop her purse and other stuff. I remained planted outside. I was not eager to walk to my death. She came back to the door took the books from me and dismissed me.
I half walked, half ran all the way to the dormitory. God had heard my prayers after all. I had escaped the caning.
We were subsequently sent home to bring our parents. That was as bad as it can get in boarding school, just a step removed from the ultimate sentence of expulsion. Each of us were also to bring an 8ft by 4ft ceiling board, nails and paint.
I guess that was our parents’ punishment – for having undisciplined kids.