By Habiba Wakio
Taabu sat on the stool and poured herself a cup of black tea. It’s been five months since she last had milk tea with bread or anything else. She was not complaining. She understood her mother’s situation- a single mother raising five children. Her father had deserted them when he found someone, he thought was a better fit for him- a lady twenty years younger than her mother. Taabu, being the firstborn, understood that she had a huge role to play.
It was important for her to study and take care of her siblings. Meanwhile, she helped her mother sell mandazi during weekends and holiday breaks. Whenever she was sent home for fees, she missed classes for months. When she received a bursary, she would jump in ecstasy as she prepared to return to school. She always emerged position one in her exams, though she often missed them whenever she was sent home for fees.
Lately, she has been attending all her classes and couldn’t be happier. Sipping the last drop of her tea, she looked around the room her family stayed in. On one corner were all their clothes, arranged neatly. Next to the pile of clothes were several sacks spread on the floor, on which her siblings were sleeping. Her mother was seated in another corner making mandazi. There were two buckets next to her. One carried a utensil, while the other was full of water. Taabu rinsed her cup and kept it aside. Then she put on her bag and walked light-footed towards the door.
Taabu’s mother wiped her forehead with the back of her hand, powdering herself with some flour in the process. Though the money she earned was only enough to help them get by each day, every penny counted. Her daughters depended on her. Therefore, she wouldn’t let them down. Looking at the bag she carried and the old pair of uniform covering her body, Taabu smiled thinly. Her mother could not afford either, but the Almighty had made a miracle happen. She had inherited those things from her neighbour’s daughter, who had just finished high school.
“Mom, I am leaving,” she whispered when she got to the door.
Her mother turned to face her, signalling for her to go to where she was seated. Taabu tiptoed towards her mother, careful not to wake up her youngest sibling of one year. Her mother wrapped some mandazis with a newspaper and asked her to put it in the bag.
“No need, mom. It’s better if you sell these as well.”
“No, dear. Please have them.” Her mother pushed the contents into her hands. “You’ll be hungry by the time you get to school.”
Now teary-eyed, Taabu embraced her mother tightly. “Thank you, Mom.”
“It’s okay, my dear. Go on before you get late to school. Remember, you need to…”
“Study hard to make my future better,” Taabu finished for her mother. “I know, mom. I shall make you proud.”
Her mother smiled. “That’s my good girl. Take care of yourself, okay?”
She smiled back. “I will.”
The journey to school was quite long, but the good thing was that Taabu had friends from her area to keep her company. Most were two classes ahead of her. They chit-chatted until they arrived at school a few minutes before the bell. There were several teachers at the gate doing an impromptu morning inspection. Taabu tensed, contemplating on going back the way she had come. As she took a step back, one of the teachers pointed at her.
“You! Come over here!”
The school had five streams for each of the four classes. The teacher who had just pointed at her taught a different stream. Taabu swallowed hard. Her stomach was in knots, her legs felt heavy, and her palms clammy with sweat despite the morning breeze. Her heart pounded faster as she made her way to the teacher who had called her. She extended her bag with a smile, hoping it could conceal the emotions running through her. The teacher checked her bag and returned it to her with a smile. Taabu let out a sigh of relief and began walking away.
“Wait,” the teacher stopped her. She froze, her mind racing.
“I have to check your body as well,” she said and got to work. She slowly pulled up Taabu’s sweater and raised her eyebrows.
“Why are you wearing two sweaters?” She asked.
Taabu’s face cringed. “It’s t-too cold,” she stuttered.
The teacher studied her and shook her head. “Take it off,” she instructed.
Heart thumping, Taabu took out her sweater, praying silently. A packet fell from beneath the sweater. The teacher picked it up and looked at the contents.
“Drugs!” She exclaimed.
The two teachers close to the scene rushed over. They could not believe it.
Their bright student could not resort to something like that, they argued, but the evidence was before their eyes: A packet full of rolls of bhang.
Taabu was taken to the disciplinary committee while the school called her mother. They learnt that Taabu had been selling drugs to pay for her school fees. Her mother felt betrayed.
“Am truly sorry, Mom,” Taabu cried as the police took her away.
Two days later, the scouts of several schools in the sub-county marked Scout Day chanting, “Say No To Drugs!” As per the instructions issued by the Sub- County Scout Commissioner, the scouts came up with songs, poems, and dramas that advocated against Drug Abuse.
Once she is released, Taabu would use the skills she has acquired in prison to earn some money to help her mother out. Luckily, one of her teachers has volunteered to sponsor her education. She made a vow not to be associated with drugs.