This story is by Ernest and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It was a time of great anger and tribulations. It was a time of great mourning. It was 1956, a time of war. The war for independence had been raging on for six years with short breaks in between sometimes extending to six months as the warring factions re-organized and re-strategized to defeat the enemy. There was no hope of an end to the war. On several occasions the deadlock seemed to come to an end, only for the attacks to resume, more vicious than ever. The British government with all its might and resources was determined to crush the dissidents while the locals with their disorganization, lack of skills and resources were determined to end the occupation.
By 1850s, the explorers and missionaries were arriving in the continent to discover local populations that were living in their own primitive ways in villages. Their arrival heralded the coming of the settlers which followed establishment of industries, learning and governance institutions. In England and other parts of the world the demand for raw materials was insatiable. The colonies provided rich expansive lands for mining and agriculture and cheap labor.
As years went by, the locals started agitating for civil rights due to many ills they claimed were meted unto them by the occupying force. They were displaced from their community lands to create space for farming and placed in concentration camps. Slave labor, beating and injury were rampant. Hunger and disease were rife in the camps. And they lived in the extremes of poverty.
In the early days of war, a young lady, daughter of a community elder was raped and found murdered in the forest. She was said to be last seen alive while working at her White master’s home. The locals claimed it was the occupiers who had committed the murder. The occupiers promised to investigate the matter. The locals would hear none of it. What appeared to a dormant crime, is said to have been the trigger of the war. News of the murder spread all over the colony and riots erupted. Soon it would be hot war which nobody predicted would last this long. Young men from the villages were conscripted to the forest and the battle fields, many died from enemy attacks and disease.
Kamau was a Math and English teacher in a local primary school. He was handsome and charismatic. He was touted to inherit the school leadership from the white headmaster, Mr. Cunningham. He was one of very few black person who had studied to the college level to become a teacher in the colonial times. He was young at only twenty five, intelligent, ambitious and respected. He had been teaching for a year having completed his studies and hired during the war time. As the deputy head, Mr. Cunningham, often invited Kamau to his parties. Mr. Cunningham was a highly influential figure in the colonial administration and was known in the highest ranks of government.
One of Mr Cunningham’s favorite friends was Sergeant Smith. Smith had come to the colony as a young soldier, and had quickly risen through the ranks to become a top security officer by thirty five. Their friendship had begun in Yorkshire, England, where they were both born and attended school. Years after arriving to the colony with his wife, Maggie and daughter, Elizabeth, Smith invited his best friend who was to discover his passion of developing education systems of marginalized communities.
Months of recess from war had passed and everybody thought that there would be no more war. Negotiations for independence between the leaders of the resistance movement and the British government were at the peak. Rumors flowed that negotiations were advanced with a hope for a permanent solution to the war and independence.
One cold Sunday afternoon in July, travelling in a lorry was a group of government soldiers. They were headed to the north of the colony having been recently deployed from Britain. The lorry was moving fast downhill through forest when the driver hit a soft ground and rolled several times. A ditch had been dug across the road and covered with soil placed on soft fisher boards to conceal the deep underlying trench. The militias from the forest sprang into action ambushing the travelers and killing all eight White and twenty two local soldiers.
The government responded viciously by rounding up many men and women from the villages who were then sent to remand. Trials were initiated as soon as the arrests came and if found guilty of participating in war, aiding the militias or possessing outlawed weaponry sentences would range from imprisonment with hard labor to death penalty. The colonial government was quick to arrest, sentence and execute death row inmates.
Ten days before the atrocity, Mr Cunningham had left for Britain. Mr Kamau was in-charge at the school. He was not spared of the arrest. As the security situation accelerated to dire, schools were closed. Ms Elizabeth had come to visit the school from the city to find an empty compound. She enquired on the whereabouts of Kamau to discover that he had been arrested the previous two nights. She had a bad feeling. Immediately left for the city to look for her father, Sergeant Smith.
Ms Elizabeth had completed her studies at Cambridge University. She had majored in languages. She had come to the colony when she five only to go back to Britain for studies. And now she was back as a teacher in the city, in a Whites only school. As time moved, she discovered her passion for bringing education to the less privileged. Her heart was of a missionary, yet she was brave and adventurous like her father, and Mr Cunningham was a perfect mentor, and a friend. She often visited Mr Cunningham to learn more about the African education. It was during these meetings that she had met Kamau who was the only English teacher in the school.
On arriving to the city, she quickly learnt that Kamau had been tried the previous day with the group that was arrested recently and transferred to a remote jail at night. Elizabeth finally met her father, who had just arrived from a remote part of the colony to assess the security situation.
“I was just from visiting Mr Cunningham only to find that the school has been closed and the deputy was arrested,” said Elizabeth to her father.
“I am afraid the security situation has become so bad,” said Sergeant Smith. “You may have to relocate to Britain.”
Elizabeth never liked to argue with her father. He was stern and assertive and never changed his mind. She sensed his agenda. He wanted her to go back to Britain but she was not ready to abandon her destiny. Hardships were rife in the colony yet she was always hopeful that the situation would improve. In a dinner at Mr. Cunningham’s house some months before, Sergeant Smith had caught his daughter staring at Kamau and found it weird. Despite having been in the colony for almost twenty years, he was always suspicious of the locals and did not liked his daughter to interact with locals. When she said she wanted to teach in the colony, he had secured her a job in a Whites only school in the city. Besides the security situation in the city was better and he would never want any harm to his daughter.
“I would like you to help secure the release of the teacher,” Elizabeth said. “He is one of the most promising black people around and he has a very bright future. If they hang such people a lot of children will suffer.”
Sergeant Smith looked at her suspiciously. “The teacher was caught spying for the militias. Some guns were found in the school compound.”
After much discussion Smith assured his daughter that he would do his best to secure Kamau’s release. But it was on condition that she relocate to Britain. She had to accept.
It was a month after arriving in Britain, when she heard the news. Most of the inmates who had been arrested during that period had been executed. She cried uncontrollably for a whole night. By morning her eyes were swollen and red. She hated her father.
One morning while she was in class, Elizabeth received a letter. It was from the colony. A deal that would see more inclusion of locals into government had been agreed upon and the war would cease. She would quickly resign from her job, pack her bags and fly back to the colony. She arrived at the airport. In the waiting bay was a happy smiling gentleman.
“I knew you would come back,” said Kamau.
“I am glad they did not hang you,” she said as they held each other in arms.
She was five months pregnant.