(Short story by Memory Chirere)
The boy with big ears and a small head ranted and raved, “My lunch box! Someone took my lunch box from here. In it were two sandwiches! My mother, oh, I will have to tell her when I get back home!”
Teacher Chirara turned from the board and the arithmetic statements he was putting up. “Stop talking,” he said. “George, sit down. George Mrehwa!”
But George lifted his hands in what looked like both a plea and surrender, “But how will I go on today without my sandwiches?”
“George!” Teacher Chirara called again and then sang very gradually and proudly too, “Shut-your-bacol-cavity, George.”
But George spun round again. He had big ears, a small head and a wide mouth. “This is the second time that such a thing is happening to me. My lunch box is missing from my drawer here. Come and see for yourself, sir. Come and see if you think that I am lying.” He folded his arms and Teacher Chirara was almost sure that the boy was through and would eventually settle down. Instead the boy went on and on.
“What colour was your lunch box, George?” Idah the class monitor asked.
“Eh, how will that help, Idah?” Teacher Chirara said.
But George cried out, “My sandwiches! The big one and the small one! Oh! Oh! Oh!”
“Get out, George! Out, you!” Teacher Chirara gesticulated at the door less doorway into the patchy school grounds where a board which read: ‘Our rockery, the heart of Gondo School’ stood in the middle of a flowerless rockery.
George ran out of the classroom, protesting and you did not know where he would go when he went past the classroom door steps into the midmorning winter sun. Inside there was silence and Teacher Chirara went back to the board and the class started again to take down the work from the board.
“Sir, why don’t we conduct a search?” Idah again. “Because we all only went out for a P. E. session (she meant physical education session) in the grounds and when we come back, the sandwiches are missing.”
“Do you know something about it, Idah?” the teacher asked.
“Sir, let us search everybody,” Idah’s eyes roamed the schoolroom.
“Fine.” Teacher Chirara said. “Begin from over that side, Idah and I will begin from here. Let us meet in the middle. Let us search everyone. If we catch the culprit, he will be sorry.”
So Idah and the teacher started: Take out every item from a desk. Return them one after the other and be on the lookout for the lunchbox with the sandwiches. Pat every boy and girl’s pockets (in order to be sure) before you move on to the next. Ask those who have been searched to remain apart from those who are yet to be searched. Be wary of the fellows close to the windows, they might throw their booty out of the school room.
But then George came back hollering, with the headmaster himself in tow.
“What is this, Mr. Chirara?” the headmaster said.
“That is why we are searching, sir,” Teacher Chirara said.
“Stop! Everybody!” the headmaster cried. “Now, where is George’s lunch box? Everybody, come on, tell me?”
“We all went out for P.E. and when we came back George said he could not see his lunch box with the two sandwiches,” Idah said.
“Idah!” the teacher cried, “I speak first, you hear?”
“I see,” said the headmaster. “Mr. Chirara, come here please.”
The teacher stood there with the piece of chalk. He wanted to put it down on the blackboard rail but he put it into his pocket and looked out into the school grounds and brought out the piece of chalk from his pocket and threw it out threw the window rather playfully.
“I said, come!” the headmaster said.
The teacher looked round the schoolroom and clicked his tongue in what sounded to the pupils like disgust. The two men got out and went up the path between the school rooms.
“Tell me everything, Bernard Chirara, because the boy told me everything,” the elder said.
The teacher remained quiet. He folded his hands behind him and continued to say nothing. That is when the elder had the first honest look at the new teacher in the three weeks that they had known each other: Red eyes. A brown shirt with a threadbare collar. A thick broad black tie, the old type. An oversize yellow floppy pair of belly-bottom trousers. Big brown/black boots whose front tips pointed menacingly into the winter sky.
“Tell me everything, Bernard? Although you are replacing Bakasa who went for shopping into South Africa and never retuned, are you not getting your fair share of a bar of soap, cooking oil, beans and mealie meal from each of the pupils’ parents every weekend?”
While they were still at it, there was commotion back in Grade 6A and the elder hurried back in that direction, leaving his teacher standing in the desolate schoolgrounds.
“Sir” Idah began when the headmaster walked in, “after we searched every desk, there was only one place left. We tried the teacher’s desk and the lunch box was in there with one of the sandwiches already eaten! Ha- ha-a-a! We must have been out at P. E. when the teacher must have done it because he came back earlier after ordering me to conduct the exercises. Ha-ha-a-a-a!”
The elder raised his hands to his head because all around him was laughter. They climbed onto their desks and wriggled and hollered until tears of joy stood in their eyes, except George. They fell to the floor and hiccupped and shook with mirth, except George who gaped at the remaining sandwich.
“My God,” was only the headmaster could say when the children were through. When he peeped out, his teacher was gone! He went up to his office and there was no sign of Teacher Bernard Chirara! He went down to the gate and the freshest markings of boots on the ground must have been the culprit’s. He knew from experience that instead of two new teachers he now needed three. And the problem was that he needed to do that every God’s week for three years in a row now.
He came back to 6A with his arms on his back. The way one walks after burying a beloved one, his grandfather would say. “Everybody, back to your place!” he ordered and the boys and girls went back to their places.
He looked at them long and hard and said, prayerfully, “It is not easy for me, children. It is not easy for you. Children, this is what sanctions can do. No fun.”
“My father says it is not the sanctions to blame at all!” Idah blurted out. The elder only glared at her.
It-t-t-t is the sanctions, y-y-you fool.” a new boy, the only one in complete uniform said. He stood up and started to reason, only he was a stammerer, “ It-t-t. It is be-beb-e cause…”
“Whatever you want to call it,” the elder cut in and the new boy sat down with a bump. “We are going through hard times” the elder blazed on, “If Mr. Chirara does not come back, and then boy, we are done for! He was only trying to help and all he received was two trillion Zimbabwean dollars per month and when he changes that, he has only five US dollars. Is that fair, children? Is that fair?” He opened his arms and somewhere deep in himself a screw unwounded and he shed a brilliant silver tear that ran down his left cheek and he shuffled out of the room.
Going to his office in a rage, he did not know what he wanted from this place and this life and what to want first, if the chance of a choice was given.