Mr Jakende’s Book
The boy strode forward, kicking at loose pebbles as he walked along the dusty track. The pebbles fell among scrub bushes that lined the side of the track, disturbing arid soil which had not seen rain for two months. Three scrawny chickens pecked at loose corn. The boy knew he was close to the village now.
He’d started from home an hour ago. The village was just half-a-mile away, beyond the three bushwillows and over the ridge. He sang as he walked, his high-pitched voice competing with the wail of squawking kestrels as they searched out lizards for breakfast. Eager to reach school, the boy began to run. A book, crudely attached to his belt by a piece of string, thumped against his spindly thigh. He looked skywards beyond the ridge and saw a plume of smoke.
As he reached the three bushwillows, he noticed a man sitting cross-legged by the side of the track. He was wearing a soldier’s uniform, a rifle slung across his shoulder, a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. The boy halted his run but his foot-steps had disturbed the soldier’s reverie.
The soldier leapt to his feet, discarded the cigarette and pointed his rifle at the boy. “What you doing, boy?”
“I’m going to school,” replied the boy, his outstretched arm pointing over the ridge.
The soldier looked over his shoulder. “No-one ain’t going nowhere today.”
“But why not?” The boy enjoyed school. The reading, the writing, the companionship of the other boys. And kind Mr Jakende, his teacher.
“Because the Captain says so. The Captain says no-one goes to the village. If they try, I shoots them. That’s what the Captain says. Understand?”
The boy looked down at the floor and kicked at the dusty track. For a moment there was silence.
“What’s that?” The soldier pointed to the book hanging from the boy’s belt.
“This? It’s a book of poetry.”
The soldier beckoned the boy with a cupped hand, took the book and opened it. The boy watched the soldier’s face as it moved from left to right and back again. With a grunt, he thrust the book into the boy’s chest. “Books. Huh! Off you go, boy. Take your book with you.”
“But it’s not mine. I borrowed it from Mr Jakende. I’ve got to give it back.”
“Then Mr Jakende will have to do without it. Anyways, who’s Mr Jakende?”
“Mr Jakende? He’s my teacher. At the school.”
The soldier stared down at the boy. “Mr Jakende? You mean he’s the teacher-man?” And he let out a laugh so loud that the swirling kestrels above took fright. “Well boy, Mr Jakende won’t have no need of that book no more. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not any day. Keep it, boy. It’s yours now.”
The soldier pointed the muzzle of his rifle down the track from where the boy had come. The boy did not understand the soldier’s words but he understood he would not be able to go to school today.
With Mr Jakende’s book grasped in his hand, the boy turned to begin the long journey home.