By Raymond Ojakol Omerio
Namitambo College’s reputation was a result of things both incontestable and contestable. It was incontestable that it was the first college in the country. It was the foundation of higher learning in the country and justified every usage of the anchor as the school emblem. To other schools this position of birth was unassailable; akin to the bone structure of one flawlessly beautiful; and was thus regarded with resigned and reluctant envy. Beauty must however not stand alone; it must be helped by other factors. For a body to appeal most effectively, it must have the fortifications of a good spirit. The qualities of kindness, bravery, intelligence are hence often quoted, even amongst the physically inept, to have gradually if not instantly propelled beings into the high estimation of others. The right of birth thus having been unequivocally settled, Namitambo College was required to make regular remissions as far their personality- an aspect in which they might be vulnerable to usurpation- was concerned.
The College had to validate itself yearly by producing the best students in the National Examinations and in the National Inter-sports competitions. They were currently the Champions in Rugby, Chess, Table Tennis, Basketball, Boxing and leading challengers on many other sports turfs. Yet while “higher school learning” was an incomplete phrase if Namitambo College was not thereby annexed, the topic of high school Rugby was completely useless if not quickly justified with the mention of the same College. Rugby in the college was an institution of its own. They had been the reigning school Champions for the last 27 years, a berth they had held since the inauguration of the tournament. Assimilation of new students in the school culture was crowned with the Form One or Form Five teams facing off with the third tier teams of Form Two and Form Six respectively. Even the Form 5s and Form 6s who contrived to a show of dignity, while they kept from the coarser aspects synonymous with the school culture, took part in a fair share of matches. Weekends at the College were marked with Inter-form rugby jousts packing at least four fixtures on the two-day menu. In these meetings allegiances to one’s form fellows were re-affirmed through spectacular displays against other forms. When the Inter-College competitions approached, the inter-form rivalries were temporarily squashed as all united against their common foe. These were the same players who mainly fed the National Rugby team which thrived due to the chemistry developed from their long years of association.
The College’s prowess on the Rugby pitch thrived mainly on one factor- decentralized rivalry. Every grade had at least three teams in order of superiority. Competition for the available slots in the first team was as fierce as that for those in the second and third teams, for a new member or one in a lower tier team might displace one in a higher. These same members fed the School team regardless of seniority. As such there was pressure on the senior members to maintain their respective positions. On the other hand, members of lesser seniority equally sought the highest prestige in the school social structure- membership to the School Rugby team.
With this structure thus enacted, competition was highest when the major teams in each grade faced off against their corresponding counterparts. On these days the college compound slanted like an angled slab pouring the lump sum of the college into the valley where the pitches lay. Here the supporters from the sparring teams clung in hoods on either side of the pitch, complete with bugles and drums. Songs commending the strength of their respective teams and others, replete with veiled oaths against opponents and specially composed for these occasions were chanted; yet others were improvised as the moment allowed. Here every one found an area of expertise in which to contribute to the electricity of the moment. The drummers were effectively employed; the trumpeters aptly applied; and at the head, the conductor, a maestro in the art of spitting and allotting oaths presided. Beyond the referee’s rules, school rules were of no consequence here; only non-violence on the pitch (differentiated from the authentic transactions of the sport) and off it, were the non-violable regulation. On the pitch grudges were effectively settled, each team striving to give a fair account of itself, for self-sacrifice and self-denial were dominant themes indeed. Losses were not a result of a lack in method or courage but of the nemesis’s superior endowment in these respective fields.
A win was the only desirable end and all was at stake in these sparrings. This principle was no less applied when the announcement for the Form 3 A-team to face the Form 4 A was made, the date set for 3 weeks and four days later. The notice was dispatched with a most sensational poster designed by the college’s supreme cartoonist- Form 4’s Pinto. It showed a Form 3 player suspended mid-flight, the perpetrator -a Form 4 positioned most oddly, lashing out with his palm which made a large splash and a dramatic smattering of stars where it made contact with the victim’s head. The stage was set.
The Form 3 rugby team meeting which had been planned for later in the week was immediately called to deliberate upon these new developments. It is true that they were rowing against the tide of history, the school records having it that in the long history of rugby at the College a team from a lower grade had never triumphed over the A-team of a subsequent grade. It was a question on which legend could only commend a measly two honourable mentions citing the past glorious teams of Leroy ‘Top Dog’ Kamuntu and- much later -Soggy Sigiri for despite their much heralded exploits these had only merited a close losing run.
There was never a team since the revelatory days of Soggy Sigiri that had so threatened to bring a halt to this obstinate tread of history as this current Form 3 A-team. They had begun their initial instalment into rugby lore when in Form 1 and barely two weeks old in the institution they beat the Form 2 C-team. They had followed this with the trouncing of the Form 2 B-team a fortnight later. Since then, they had established a firm dominance over all the B teams in all the respective classes. In their last encounter with the Form 4 A-team they were forced into a draw and for the entire match had had the opposite fans chewing their nails to the rhythm of the clock. Most startling was that the Form 3s already had 3 of their players starting for the School A-team and 2 others on the bench, a thing unprecedented at this level. There were however many ways to win matches and most were won even before the initial deliberations on the pitch.
“Guys, you have seen the poster. What other tricks might they have?” Kagolo Chris the Form 3 Captain and assisting full-back of the School A-team opened for submissions. With nothing sparkling or disagreeable, Chris Kagolo’s countenance gave nothing away; one might fail to sight him through a pressing throng of students. That was till you were struck by the object of his chest; two discus discs sat side by side riding along his carriage which itself evoked memories of a puffed turkey. They were meeting in the Form 3 dormitory Common Room. The team sat on chairs forming a circle in the centre of the room and the other members stretched out to the walls.
“The entire junior prefectorate is theirs. My prediction is that we are going to be slashing the compound and cleaning the Mess more often.” This was Kasirye ‘Crocky’ Paul a chunky light skinned mirthful chap whose honourable associations with the Mess had nothing to do with cleaning. He played as well as he ate and as such started for the school team as a prop. His great propensity for swallowing had rewarded him with the alias Crocky even long before it was noticed that on the pitch he anticipated a ball passed to him with a gaping mouth as one awaiting manna might.
“Capi, they will try to get us through time keeping. We have to complete our training within the permitted time. We have to be in time for supper, or we might find the saucepans have been wheeled away. We have to be in time for evening prep. We have to be in time for everything.” Tony Aboke couldn’t have emphasized anything more. He had hunched forward as he did his speaking and propped his brows, a gesture that added an extra ounce of power to his appeal. His facial disposition was well angled, he was tall and of lean build. His on-pitch trademark gimmick was to feign hurt from a rather measly, unspectacular tackle from the opposition and while the school stood quiet, the sickbay prefects bustling in the frenzied commotion of administering first-aid, he would suddenly spring up, to the wild and roaring applause of the school stand. The trick had made him something of a celebrity in the College. A month earlier however, in what seemed like an enaction of this very gimmick, he failed to stand up, the tackle being genuinely brutal this time. As a result he was struggling to make a comeback at this much anticipated encounter with the Form 4s. He was also the School Team’s starting Flanker. “Let us not be got on the question of insubordination.” Tony Aboke then reclined.
“Unless it isn’t I speaking, at tomorrow’s assembly Opeto will announce a thousand compound chores for the Form 3s.” The speaker was Davis Ssemindi the Form 3 Chief Cheerer, a thin fellow with a looping profile of mal-grown sugarcane, referring to the Form 4 and School team Dead Winger who also served as the presiding abuser in the portfolio of Junior Compound Prefect.
“Now that you say so Mindi, Wambutu you must be more careful,” the Captain Kagolo Chris said. The subject of his address was Onesimus Wambutu, the Form 3 Dead Winger. He was also the School Team’s substitute in the same position which put him in constant contention with Opeto resulting into one of the fiercest rivalries when these two teams met. Onesimus Wambutu was slightly on the elderly side compared to his classmates. He hailed from the rural regions of Sironko district where responsibility dawned much earlier. He was a large balding fellow with a head like a bulb and the calm air of a peasant. His eyes were pensive, withdrawn, and almost pitiable. Yet there was a thing about his hands and feet: brutal and battered, they announced the dignity and pride of those who menially earn their keep. He ran a trade in the dormitory in the retailing of chapattis which were supplied from the trading centre of Kagezi to supplement his upkeep. It was to this trade that this caution was directed. To him therefore the matter in contention had escalated to something akin to a village grudge over the filling of granaries. “Who knows how far they are willing to push this?” Kagolo Chris followed up.
“Now about the training,” Kagolo Chris ventured. “To avoid confrontation over training space, I suggest we use Bukebe (one of rarely engaged football pitches at the extreme end of the college). For kicking practice Kalule and Mutasa (the team kickers) will have to report earlier to use the main Rugby pitch before Form 4s arrive. We shall arise for hill work every morning at 5:30 AM. Do we all agree to this?” The consent was unanimous.
The meeting of the Form 4s happened three days later. The Form 4 Common Room was packed as they stood in clumps, each discoursing on the topic of the upcoming match.
“Members…,” Allan Muguwa called for attention. But there was heightened talking as some new members arrived; at the head of this renewed clamour was a curious-looking fellow with a forehead as flat as a slab and a mouth projecting forth like a snout. Allan Muguwa waited as the fresh entrant sat himself at the front and splayed his limbs dramatically.
“Members, they are talking about history. But they know what? We are going…,” Allan Muguwa was picking steady movement at the head of the convocation. “…to shut them up by the end of this match. We…”
“Only if they make it to the match,” the unsolicited disclaimer was from slab forehead Okello ‘Oxie’ Derrick, but it was considered necessary for it was favoured with ripples of laughter and murmurs from the gathering. Oxie was the flanker on the Form 4 team and by far its most feared villain. He doubled as a mis-manager in the office of Junior Mess prefect. His features where hardy and stiff enough to telegraph imminent danger to any opponent. Yet it was his facials that told the complete story. Upon these sat a look infinite of loathe, from the depth of the pupils it emanated and possessed his entire countenance. And it was not for a lack of capacity in forming smiles, yet even these where marred; the structure albeit not lacking, its effect was as chilling and overpowering as the smile of a serpent.
Oxie was most recently involved in an incident that sent shudders through the general populace of the college. Deep in the second half of a Form 4 A and Form 2 A encounter, Oxie was involved in a tussle for the ball with one of his opponents. As it is with such moments, the rest of the team went about forming inclined offence positions awaiting the ball that might be won by one of their own. Truth is, the entire business seemed mis-matched, and Oxie seemed favoured to wrench the ball from the tussle. Yet for all this, the affair seemed to be taking much longer, and so legitimate it seemed, these two players wiggling and wrenching to a wild cheer from the fans of both sides. None of these fans could have suspected what was actually happening. Oxie had fed his shirt into the mouth of his opponent to stall his breathing, and the latter’s attempt to release the ball were futile. So was his struggle for breath which the spectators interpreted as the genuine tussle of the game. Suddenly, Oxie lifted his opponent high and proceeded to bring him down with a thud, ball and all and with it gave him a fractured radius.
“We hear Aboke will be fit for the match,” said Opeto. Aboke and Oxie played similar roles on the opposing teams; theirs was bound to be as exhilarating a rivalry as Opeto and Onesimus Wambutu’s.
“Ha ha, only if they make the match,” Oxie reiterated.
Save to serve as a chest-thumping exercise convoked to acknowledge the coming match, it was hardly a meeting. Everybody waxed on their exploits while allaying queries on the nature of the rivalries that faced them. There was no discussion on potential strategy and it ended as it had started with general murmuring, and everybody eventually left one at a time.
But if one must reverse the tide of history, one must do so by unprecedented means. The preparation regime adopted by the Form 3 team sought to propel the lads to the surmounting of these unscaled heights. Their existence for a moment was lean and scant, only stretching its boundaries within the confines of the oval ball.
Their day was ushered in by a wakeup call, at the premature hour of 5:30 AM, an hour before the appointed school waking hour. The chant ‘GET OUT OF BED!’ was progressively carried by the Captain Kagolo Chris from one end of the dormitory to the other. It was supplemented with the wrenching of blankets off the sleeping forms of his teammates. Startled at first by the abrupt action and still grasping for its meaning in their half-sleepy state, the nature of the penalty for delay (3 extra laps around the pitch) sunk into the minds of the players. Rugby attire was promptly donned and in a uniform mass, an exit was made towards the school gate.
While dawn made its rediscovery of the hilly landscape, their feet prodded and re-marked the familiar terrain. Meanwhile, in the neighbouring hills nature reclined quietly amidst veils of mist and birds projected fervid announcements of the morning. As they gained ground, terraces stretched across the hills where various figures imprinted their toil upon the land. Some hunched, others stretched, and most hoed the land, all in the industry of making fruit of it.
On the road the troop of joggers plodded seemingly oblivious, minding a different kind of toil. Time and again one absentmindedly snatched at the shirt which clung to his body with sweat and with this very shirt dabbed at a hot face while puffing steams of breath. At the steep ascent of the hill, they scaled the road which here was largely marked with pebbles, and which at a collective interaction with their feet gave the uniform sound of a large stream emptying into a lake. The path got narrower at the eastern length of the college and they had to skip over sluices of running drains. They soon engaged the footpath at the back of the college which communicated between the main road and tiny gate that led directly to the sprawling acreage of the school’s sports pitches. They made stretches working in intimate teams of two, unbending their knees and elbows in various postures.
“Line”, Chris Kagolo commanded. The entire team had finished the hill-road jog and at the command promptly fell into a long line that stretched from one length of the pitch to the other.
“Crocky will begin,” Crocky strode to the front and facing the team, took them through a drill of stretching exercises. There were hand stretches to the opposite shoulder, toe touches and hands-clasped behind legs to the heel stretches. He wound up his routine with frog jumps from one end of the pitch to the other. He was then followed by the captain Kagolo Chris whose routine required the team to do the gruelling physicals of 100 push-ups in four instalments punctuated by hand stretches. These were followed by 100 sit-ups done in twin partnerships. Next was Mutasa with the sprinting drills. Meanwhile Aboke prowled the length of the field blowing shrilly on his whistle if there was someone he judged to be shirking, urging and even threatening a penalty of extra drills.
Team members were then divided in the respective formations of scrum line and backline who in isolation sharpened their offence and improved their defence. Strategies were devised, defences mounted and offences countered. At some point the activity was stopped as the merits of the routines were verbally contested and others approved. All this lasted till the clock demanded at the minute of 6:30 that the morning practice for the day be adjourned. Then one last lap around the pitch was made by the team before they proceeded to the showers, then for breakfast and the conventional school routine.
Yet every facet of this same school routine was permeated by the subject of the upcoming match. The evening practice being an application practice, a game of rugby without the drills, it attracted more spectators. These in turn carried the lump sum of field anecdotes to the mess and mixed them with the shovellings at the dinner table, “Did you see that spoon tackle?” “But that guy can hand-off!”
The preying Form 4 prefectorate, beating the sentry patrol along the Form 3 classroom block, effectively benefitted from this as they were certainly wont to find these very culprits transacting their talk during the evening prep. They promptly put them to various compound chores as punishment. The notice boards were constantly covered with the names of these insubordinates and their respective allotments on the compound and the school farm.
The school culture momentarily went through a spin in its structure. Seniority was disregarded as the Form 3s were now made to get their meals after the Form 2s and Form 1s. Yet further, even in the Entertainment Hall, the entire Form 4 connived to mark the Form 3 sitting area for themselves, which they later gave to the junior forms.
Yet all this active policing was not gainful until projected towards counteracting the more effective foe; and while they punished the larger part of the Form 3 class including subjecting the entire class to regular and legitimate school chores, the team was the one whose spirit needed breaking.
Sooner opportunity was to avail itself a week to the match when deep in practice the siren signalling the end of sports time and the start of supper was sounded. At that very minute, seemingly out of nowhere materialised the Junior Head Prefect Gastervus Kato. Suddenly everybody seemed to have disappeared. Yet this had afforded opportunity for an even bigger harvest for the result was that the entire team was vicariously rounded up as all denied having been on pitch and there was naturally no name to name, there being no identified namer.
Two acres were thus readily allotted to the team in the school farm for clearing and weeding at Sports time. All anticipation for energetic and much needed practice was dispelled, at least to the perpetrating mind of this most venerable Form 4. It explains his reaction when deep into sports time, taking a leisurely walk along the plain to which the pitch was valley, he sighted these very miscreants in their usual practice session; he launched himself into the pitch and with foaming fury commanded the game to a halt.
“I am confiscating your ball, till you finish my punishment, and then I will give you more for tomorrow. Let us go.”
“But we’ve finished to…”
“We’ve finished you can come see yourself.”
An inspection of the said plot on the farm revealed a well levelled land which, moreover, standing next to the larger unkempt lot, stood out. The pasture there was uniform and the leafy herbage that sprouted on the lot had been plucked. He was enraged for he knew the fool’s veil was hereby being pulled over his head. The truth is, while he’d lounged with the satisfaction that the culprits were carrying out their prescribed labour, the entire Form 3 class in a mass had made for the farm and there, hacking and chopping had proceeded in a short while to level the said plot. A work planned for no more than a handful of 20 had been dispatched of by over 100 students. The entire class must have colluded to make the thing possible, the Junior Head Prefect guessed. But how could the thing be proven? If only he had been there to supervise the activity… And with the farm forming its own solitary existence in a detached valley at the extreme end of the college, there had been no possibility of anyone monitoring the activity from a distance.
It soon became apparent that the Form 4 prefectorate would adopt anything in their power to sabotage the Form 3s’ focus at their rugby practice sessions. Regular mandatory compound chores were a failed solution, for the other members in the class who didn’t belong to the team connived to make sure that their allotted duties were done. They hence directed their entire propensity for sabotage on the isolated members of the team. They were also aided by the fact that the members kept an intimate association with each other at most times. A slight movement, a little step onto a forbidden lawn procured the entire lot the heavy punishment of chopping hedges for the length of Sports time. The same punishment might be given if the group was seen to step over litter on the college compound. Punctuality was closely policed and the siren usually found at least two prefects by the Form 3 class entrance jotting down the names of their victims for punishment.
Yet because the possibility of missing out on practice hung imminent upon the team in all their waking hours, they gave their best while at it. Their evening training sessions were advertisements of self-sacrifice and utmost self-denial. Spirited runs were cut off with crunching tackles that revealed these lads as ploughs, cold and resolute. Yet the games were not without ingenuity; the backline played with such ease and a prong of options that always left the stand-in opponents, the Form 3 B-side at least three moves behind every consummated try. The training sessions were packed too, the scale assuming that of a rugby weekend. Outside the practice meetings the team were involved in regular meetings every end of night prep. The level of sabotage from their opponents had heightened and even the Captain Kagolo Chris’ repeated exhortations that they feign indifference at these machinations were slowly losing their assertive appeal. Reactionary talk was beginning to spread, the lot getting more and more restless.
Then on the eve of the match itself, the training hard and strong had necessarily run into lunch time which itself wasn’t criminal, Saturdays being free days in the school routine; they however adjourned for lunch right before the serving was scheduled to stop at 2pm. Even then, they managed to get their meal. The problem was, they were immediately charged for not evacuating the Mess to allow for the commencement of the after lunch cleaning. The mal-administrator of this office Okello ‘Oxie’ Derrick was upon them instantly. The rugby team was assigned brushes and mops and such cleaning apparatus and bade to clean the Mess before the commencement of supper. “Clean! You must be able to eat food off it!”This venerable person directed.
Now, a matter of a 250 by 150 foot hall shouldn’t be a problem for a bunch of energetic and hardy lads in the proud insolence of not giving their tormenter the benefit of noting their broken spirits, yet there was a problem. The school hadn’t had piped water for a week, something about the mal-functioning of the pump that sent water from a stream about a kilometre or so from the valley. The water for the most basic of necessities was availed through the making of this arduous and tiresome journey. The task at hand might require, even for these hardy lads, 4-5 journeys each and yet they only had three hours. The thing was impossible.
Outside the mess, right there they sat, muted, their heads bowed and heavy yet devoid of new logic. On failure to comply with the punishment, they would face the disciplinary Committee for insubordination; the least they could face was a rugby suspension for failing to perform the task within the prescribed time. Perhaps they could appeal to the senior school prefectorate- the Form 6s were neutral, they might be impartial; may be report to the College administration before hand, cite abuse of power. Yet what were the odds with this? This would just serve to reveal them as targets. The elders, not wanting to undermine the power of the junior prefectorate, might advise them to submit to the latter making them more vulnerable to foul play. They mulled it over for close to an hour. The thing was impossible.
“We figured we might come to the rescue again. You bunch of chaps who’ll let others take care of your house!” It was Kizza the burly genial-faced Form 3 football team goal keeper who’d just rounded the corner ferrying a bucket of water. A look around the bend revealed a long coil of Form 3s wending their way with basins and pails filled with water. Their labour was not to be had for free; they recouped their pay, stringing jokes and slights at the rugby team’s expense.
“Girls, that’s what you are, a bunch of weeping pretty girls.”
“Eunuchs, non functional, all of you!”
Kasozi the cricket captain said, “We heard they’d said the punishment was for cleaning the mess, there was no mention of water. We thought we might do that bit if you chaps would man up for once and do the rest.”
There was general laughter at these quips. For the team, they had never felt more pleasure at school chores and the Mess benefitted too; it had never been as clean as they eventually left it. Every table and bench, pane and sill, floor and ceiling was spick-and-span. The Form 3 team slept that night, or rather lay, for it is true that there were moments of anxiety- but it was a sated anxiety. They lay with a confidence etched on their faculties as derived from anticipating a good result against prior to dire odds.
Meanwhile their Form 4 counterparts were perturbed; if this match must take place they surely had something hitherto unprecedented on their hands. Desperate measures must be broached here; they must postpone the match! But how would this reflect on their collective attitude? It would be harped on by the lower formers, it would give them substantial capital to deride and despise them. “Cowards, eunuchs!” They heard the collective chorus of insults. Either way they must find a way around the match. In the desperation of scouring for an honourable scapegoat a small clandestine convocation was organised amongst the chief accomplices- Allan Muguwa, Opeto Jackson and Okello ‘Oxie’ Derrick. Allan Muguwa who, for all his genuine flaws, was eloquent on the matter of authentic fears started-
“Have you seen them now? They are very hard in the scrum and also they flow in the back-line. They are much much better.”
“To praise how good they are will not make us better now,” Opeto said. “We need a plan.”
“First wait…,” Oxie replied, he pondered, and then rasped out rapidly. “How about? I’ll talk to Ssenyama- the school cook- tomorrow. It will work very very well. Anti it is meat tomorrow. We shall put a little ‘appetiser’ in their food. They will come for lunch hurrying after their practice. After that, they will learn; they will leave the match alone. They’ll be hurrying for the toilet and diarrhoeating on themselves for the next twenty four hours.” The round of laughter and good nature that followed showed that the others thought the idea very fine and couldn’t await its implementation the next day.
The following day, the said lunch seemed to go on as planned, at least to the best of both teams’ expectations. The atmosphere was abuzz with talk of the impending fixture. The traffic in the mess seemed to be more intense than it always was even for Sundays. As it was, the Form 3s, were the last to be served yet if they minded, they never showed it. They thrust their plates as usual into the slot on the tinted screen that separated the server from the servee and good humouredly followed it to the end of the panel where it was promptly delivered heaped with food. They might even have smiled with good nature at Okello ‘Oxie’ Derrick, that venerable mis-manager and tormentor of this very hall; however, that person had abruptly disappeared.
Unknown to them- they couldn’t possibly see him- this most honourable chap had been behind the very tinted counter screen they had previously passed. He was wedged between the cooking pots and to the cook Ssenyama pointed out whose plate was to be given an extra serving from a certain distinguished pot. Just to be certain he peeked around the bend when he was sure the entire Form 3 team had received their stipend. At the extreme end where they sat there was a good deal of activity but he couldn’t quite make out was going on… Ah yes, he could now see Crocky, and then the rest of the team. They were all eagerly forking the food into their mouths.
Yet it was 20 minutes to the match that the actual news came. The Form 3s, it was reported, were clamouring at the latrines. There was commotion and high tumult; all latrines were occupied and others waited outside, their faces distorted and made pale by the internal exertions of impatient bowels. Slowly it was distilled that most of the rugby team was affected and this immediately amended to the fact that only the rugby team was affected. Aha, now the match had to be cancelled. Oxie to all this smiled in self-congratulation. That is if you can call the wealth of wicked light that spread upon his face a smile, his teeth-a set of maize grains, making their appearance. The thing was cold and still, unmoving and untwitching and lasted an entire minute.
Then the most peculiar thing happened. The match was not cancelled. It was to go on. The only difference was that the Form 3s would front their B-team; they’d rather lose than throw in the towel, they seemed to insinuate. The Form 4s laughed even louder at the news. What? They should give them the most dramatic and historical of beatings. With that in mind, they made their way to the pitch for this most spectacular of showdowns.
The awaited moment arrived. Every stand was as packed as a box full of matches. From one end to the other colours stretched upon the entire stand. Stretching on the eastern stand the Form 4s, a hundred-strong, clung together in clumps. Most of the school however- the neutral Form 5s, Form 6s and Form 1s stood on the Form 3 side at the Western Stand. Only the Form 2s, whose rivalry with the Form 3s made it impossible for them to sympathise with the now underlined underdog, were aligned with the Form 4s on the Eastern Stand. Predictably the Form 4 stand was more lively and from there issued a thunderous roar that rent the ground when their team ran onto the pitch. Their Chief Cheerer, a short, stout and foul fellow named Tonku, enacted some sort of spirited jungle dance. Hands curved with back bent, he ran around the front in a circle like a cock sizing its foe. A heated volley of oaths left his mouth and with it flakes of saliva. He pointed at and taunted the Form 3s who stood dejected and crestfallen at the Western Stand. He spoke of unkempt pubes, abortions and used sanitaries. He then conducted his cheerers into a vile chorus so loud and uncoordinated, it sounded like a thousand sick-smelling gutters and sewers emptying into a lake of bog.
Meanwhile the Form 6 referee- Kizito Lawrence, the most conscientious the college could provide, paced back and forth. Time and again he checked his watch. The Form 3 team was yet to arrive. On pitch, the Form 4s contrived to accomplish a few stretches. Oxie stretched and flexed his arms, even attempted a few push-ups but he seemed non-committal to the entire business and he stood up after a measly two push-ups. He then favoured the opposite stand with one of his trademark looks. In that very stand Davis Ssemindi the Form 3 Chief Cheerer stood seemingly forlorn and distant. Then he was engaged in what seemed like an urgent conference with his fellow cheerers.
And then it happened.
The cheering stand of the Form 3s suddenly fell apart like two severed flanks of a collapsing building. Then first came Chris Kagolo jutting forth like a cannonball, behind him was Mutasa, then Kalule, Crocky, Wambutu, Madde, Mbuzi… the team! The cheerers went wild. They milled about excitedly like clamouring white ants exiting the anthill. Here and there a small riot was enacted and the din rocked the entire hill.
Then patches of the opposite stand suddenly caught it. Something infectious clearly propelled them. In the front of the western stand Tony Aboke had suddenly emerged. He was stripped to the waist clad in boots and rugby trunks. The sun lashed upon his frame giving the impression of health; his profile was ample but lean and all muscle. He launched into a drill of push-ups to which the cheerers accompanied in the count.1, 2, 3 …23, 24. He then sprang up to wild cheers from the now-frenzied crowd and put on his shirt passed him by Davis Ssemindi before running onto the pitch to join his teammates.
The Form 4s were in a state of confusion. How might that be possible? Most confused was Oxie whose countenance was made even more repulsing, adopting a waxing liquid glow in the eye. How was this possible? He never seemed to know how.
Maybe if he had known that the Form 3 dead winger Onesimus Wambutu being of rural descent had the capacity of forming easy liaisons with the menial labourers of the college. Maybe if he had known that this very Onesimus Wambutu was particularly friendly with the cook Ssenyama. Maybe if he had known that Ssenyama also served as Wambutu’s middleman for the chapattis that the latter vended in the Form 3 dormitory. Maybe if he had known that that very morning Ssenyama had tipped Wambutu off on his, Oxie’s, plan to violate the team’s lunch. Maybe if he had known that the commotion surrounding the team’s seating at lunch was actually them dumping their collected lunch into a bin and then eating that sacrificed by their classmates. May be if he had known…But all these things he didn’t know and might never know.
Meanwhile tumult reigned; amidst the resounding sound of bugles and drums from the Form 3 stand was the chanting of songs on the individual exploits of their personnel. And maybe deservedly so, for put yourself in the shoes of these young lads. It is true that their primary aim in school was to study; something which by the way most of the team were most scrupulous about, yet school was more than study. They were also there to learn among other things unity, courage, loyalty, resilience and dedication to their causes. And their fans too, who stood with them because they admired, believed and held those very attributes. That is what sports gave them, an initial glance at manhood. Who hence had the right to begrudge them that? Who had the right to castigate them for that? Whoever did, denied them the ultimate human need- to enforce the right to human character!
The sun made its slow descent into the western sky already gaining some of the glorious lustre that would accompany its swansong. Streaks of orange, at once lurid and fiery received and covered her partly. Most of the eastern stand stood quiet and mute in the canopy of trees that shaded it. On the pitch, the referee’s whistle blared calling the two captains to parley before the start of the proceedings. The two teams made their respective formations. The Form 4s were kicking and the Form 3s receiving. The sun lit onto the Form 3 side, hard profiles and countenances showed through, resplendent and resolute. On the Form 4 side they were unmarked and in a shadow. Dark, dark shadow.
——— END ———