Silverbeck Academy moved around a few times before it found a permanent home. One of its earlier locations was a few blocks from Gikambura’s commercial center next to the proprietor’s house. On my way back from school I’d find a pebble or a tin can and kick it all the way home. Well, as close to home as I dared since that kind of soccer exercise could ruin my school shoes making my parents not too happy. Having worked up enough of a tear in my shoe, usually my right one, I’d be sent off to the cobbler. He had lost one leg just above the knee. I suppose I was never particularly alarmed by his disability because I do not remember asking what happened to his leg. He was a good cobbler; after mending my shoe he’d warn me against kicking stones and tin cans because that ruined my shoes. I don’t think he had any fear of me taking his advice since that would have surely dried up some of his business.
Gikambura, had a main street arranged around a market. Shops surrounded the rectangular retail space, leaving a one-way traffic lane all around. My grandmother once ran a charcoal business here. I’d visit – after school and weekends presumably – and sit with her. The venture didn’t last very long but, my first memory of Congolese music is from that shop. I don’t think she played music there but there must have been other Lingala enthusiasts around her, all willingly and obnoxiously sharing their taste in music. Mbilia Bel’ “Nadina” sank into the depths of my young mind, in much the same way coal dust wafted up my nose making me sneeze.
It was also in one of these back alleys that I first experimented with being a hobo. I’m not quite sure where I was coming from but I do remember I was hungry. As I walked home I turned a corner and oh my! What did I see on the ground other than a couple of pancakes. They were stale and somewhat dry but they looked good enough to me. With some hesitation I picked several up and began chewing. I was so afraid I’d get sick I figured that if I only ate about half of each I would be safe. And that’s what I did; I took several bites from each before tossing it back on the ground. I don’t actually remember getting sick so my plan must have worked!
The first home I can actually remember my family living in holds several memories for me. In one, I recall our house help, Wanjiru M. For the most part she was a responsible adult taking care of a toddler; other times not so much. Accurately or not, I have memories of lying on a couch and waiting apprehensively as she went to pick a tree vine to whip my young behind. I have no idea what I had done to elicit the proverbial rod, and if there had been a lesson mingled in that corporal punishment I forget.
Wanjiru also served as mom’s “bird.” Let me explain. Mom would come home from work after spending the day in the city. Then, inexplicably to me, she would ask me about the naughty things I had been up to all day. If I asked how she knew I had been out on the main road, a location I was warnd to avoid due to reckless drivers, she would answer a “bird” told her. Well, it didn’t take me long to figure out the bird was right there with me. Talk about sleeping with the enemy!
One day I came home from school to find a brand new chicken coop. It smelled of newly-cut wood and the sawdust placed in it. Wonderful! In minutes I was inside the structure, tall enough for me to stand, and I could look out through the wire mesh. Obviously, I also had to explore the roof and so up I went, and inevitably bent some of the tin roofing. Whatever the case, I suspect I could not have been happier if that hen house had been transported into my bedroom. Can you imagine what a cool bed it would have made! I think my fascination with structures, carpentry, and building began then.