Much has been said in other blogs about that bane of yesteryear’s Kenyan primary school student, the cane. It is my turn to weigh in with a couple of yarns from my own brief time in primary school about just what used to happen during a caning. The following tale is adapted from a real life occurrence that took place in 1993, with changes made to protect identities and to entertain the reader.
The scene is a primary school situated in what is called one of Nairobi’s leafy suburbs. Our story revolves around a young student we shall call Benson. Benson was a long, thin fellow with large eyes and a face that was capable of assuming a most lugubrious attitude in the face of Authority. He was, for the most part, a thoroughly agreeable fellow. But the chief characteristic of Benson’s character was its duality. Benson was riotous when Authority was absent and was transformed into a docile, timid schoolboy the minute a teacher walked in. His changeability was a source of great puzzlement for me when he joined the class in Standard Seven. But as I have since discovered, there is (or has been) a bit of the Benson in all of us. I digress.
One day the long arm of the law caught up with young Benson, as it inevitably does with almost all schoolboys (and a markedly smaller percentage of schoolgirls). A short teacher by the name of Mr. W walked in one morning and Benson was a shade too slow in effecting the marvelous Mr. Hyde-to-Dr. Jekyll variant of his transformations. Alas! The poor lad was taken in the very act of “talking in class”. Perhaps the size of the teacher was the unhappy circumstance that impeded Benson’s reflexes, and things would have gone differently had a more visible instructor chanced to walk in. How small are the things upon which the catastrophes of life may hinge!
Now, emotions in the class were a pretty mix at this juncture I can tell you. Chief among them at this early stage was a feeling of relief that one had not himself (or herself) been caught. But this emotion was being superseded with each passing second by a feeling of anticipation – nay, let me be honest – eagerness at the spectacle that was about to unfold. Witness the hapless culprit slouching to the front of class, hunched of shoulder, large of eye and doleful of mien! Behold his shuffling, hesitant step! Cast your eye upon the brief instructor, now involved in relieving his upper body of the encumbrances of his coat, and his upper arms of the encumbrances of his shirtsleeves! There may have been no drum-rolls, no eerie, chilling music. But for us 12-13 year olds, it was edge-of-the-seat stuff. The tension in the air was palpable.
Benson arrived at the front of the class in the longest time he could have taken without incurring the further wrath of the teacher. The mournful look on his face would have softened me, had I been the dispenser of justice. The boy’s face oozed penitence and regret from every pore. But Mr. W, apparently, was made of sterner stuff. Availing himself of a stout hosepipe reinforced within by a thick piece of (what I believe to be) broomstick, he commanded Benson to touch his toes.
By now the watching class was in a state of excitement that was bordering on the manic. It is just as well that no-one lost his self-awareness and voiced his anticipation out loud. Small mental hands were rubbing themselves together in young minds all over the room. One was not often commanded to touch one’s toes during caning. This directive, indifferently delivered by the teacher, received with delicious awe by the class, and regarded with disbelief, trepidation and finally horror by the sorry student was another fact to carefully file away and embellish the story with when telling it at the lunch-break.
It is at this point that the story takes a rather bizarre turn. The aforementioned instructor now commenced to rub his cane upon the area of the unfortunate student’s exposed posterior with sure, circular strokes. What horrible, awful feelings of expectation this must have induced in Benson only he (Benson) can relate. It must have been torture. The teacher’s reasons for doing this cannot be accurately related either. Perhaps he was doing it in much the same way that a carpenter will give a nail a few practice taps with his hammer, thus ensuring his aim is true before he delivers the final blows. I cannot say. As for us, where before our breathing had been feverish, it now ceased altogether. Where we had been sitting on the edge of our seats, some of us now stood up. We would of course discover this later when we found to our surprise that we had to sit down as Benson made his way to his seat.
The cane ascended. Benson must have known that the end (or, more accurately, the beginning) was near. There was a short pause, a sudden rush of air and then a sharp crack! reverberated round the class. The effect on poor Benson was electric. I am yet to see the student that can remain touching his toes when he has recently received a smart cane to the backside. Benson’s figure, previously in the shape of a 7, now rapidly reached the vertical and described a 1 and indeed even passed the perpendicular and assumed the shape of a bow, with he himself on tiptoe and his hands clutching his rear while his fingers alternately dug into and massaged his bottom. This went on for some time as he attempted to assuage his aroused nerve endings. Then down would come the cane. Up would come Benson, with jack-in-the-box regularity. It was a lesson in cause and effect, even if we were too young to understand it at the time.
Perhaps the reader would expect that as a class, we commiserated with our dear brother in his pain. We should have at least been feeling relieved that we were not the ones receiving this punishment. But I am ashamed to say that we were not. In fact, hardly could reality be further from the truth. I am ashamed to say that faces averted (or hidden behind textbooks), we laughed as long and as hard as we were silently able. Just when one would stop laughing, one would catch another’s eye and the silent guffaws would begin again. I have on more than one occasion watched a friend of mine laugh until the tears came to his eyes at the goings-on at the front of class.
Suffice it to say that Benson received a grand total of three strokes, by which time the teacher felt justice had been done, and the error punished. And so another story passed into the folklore of our Standard Seven class…