Monday, January 20, 2014


photo credit

Faith could see Nairobi from the school yard.  Across the soccer field lay another field; one that stretched for many  kilometers with grass that was matted down and light green.  Today was a clear day, and  Nairobi didn’t have its awful cloud cover of brown and grey fog.  Today it looked pure and clean and she marveled at the outline of its majestic buildings.

“We can see Nairobi from here,” Headmaster Collins smiled, walking up behind her.  “But we can’t smell it or hear it.” 

“Yes, headmaster.”

“I suppose you’d better come with me, then.”

“Yes, headmaster.”

The tall white man led the way, Faith following close behind and her uniform following her, flapping at the back of her knees.

Her shoes were worn, but polished to look presentable.  The headmasters' clacked against the pavement as they made their way to his office.  Faith noticed that his shoes were made of  thick leather with small tassels that were at his toes.  The headmaster certainly wore different shoes to work than her father did, at the cement factory.

They rounded the corner to his office and Faith looked up to greet Miss Geist, who was on the phone.  She smiled politely but did not speak.  Faith followed the Headmaster into his office and stood in front of his desk at attention.

“Please, sit down.”  The Headmaster smiled politely and motioned to the padded straight-backed chair.  His office was filled with books, trophies and pictures and Faith tried to catch glimpses of everything while still maintaining eye contact. 

“Thank you.”  The girl sat up straight, though her feet did not touch the ground. 

“Well then,” the Headmaster cocked his head and smiled at her.  “It has come to my attention that you have been offered a bursary to the school of the arts in Nairobi.”

“Yes, Headmaster.”

“Congratulations.  Well done!”

“Thank you, Headmaster.”

“It has also come to my attention that they have extended an invitation for you to live on campus.”

“They have, Headmaster.”

“Are you excited at this prospect?”

The girl smiled with her whole body and nodded her head.  “I am, Headmaster.”

“Yes, Yes.  ‘Tis very exciting.  This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”  The Headmaster beheld the delightful student before him.  Even though she was only a fourth grader, Faith represented the school as well as any upperclassman on campus.  She was kind, respectful, disciplined in her studies and had a voice like an angel.

There was silence as the Headmaster examined her file, in front of him.  “It says here that your Mother has…” the Headmaster looked over his glasses and sought the correct words for the fourth-grade girl.  “She has gone to heaven.”

This statement was the only thing that seemed to darken the countenance of the girl, who tried to answer politely, though the memory was so fresh in her heart.  Mama had only left this world last year; Father had never been the same. 


The review of the rest of the girl’s file was done in silence, and now and then the Headmaster looked up at the girl and nodded in approval.  She tried to sit still, but could not help swinging her feet beneath her chair.  Suddenly, the Headmaster shut the file and sat up, brightly.

“Well, well.  Everything seems to be in order.  As you know, we are to write a letter of recommendation, assuring the school of the arts that you are up to speed in all of your subjects, which I know you are even without looking at this.”

Faith beamed with appreciation.  The Headmaster was known for taking special care of the school’s honor students, and she knew he remembered pinning the honor roll ribbons on her semester after semester. 

“I have only one concern, Faith,” he leaned forward, over his desk and raised his eyebrows.  “You have never lived away from home.  How do you think you will cope?”

It was a question requiring a great deal of wisdom to answer, but Faith seemed to know that it was coming.

“I will try my best to stay focused, Headmaster. I'm sure I will miss home, but I will do my best not to lose focus."

"Yes."  The Headmaster wasn't prepared for an articulate answer such as this.  "How will your Father cope without you, do you think? Will he miss you, especially now that your Mother is... gone?"

Faith nodded carefully.  The same question had plagued her and she didn't know how to approach it with her own father, a man who was her whole world.  

"I'm hoping that he will be pleased that I write him letters.  I’m certain that my Father will miss me but he’s always been able to manage in any situation.”

The Headmaster listened intently and smiled.  “You’ve talked about this already?”

“Not really, Headmaster.”

"Perhaps you will soon?"

Faith nodded and smiled.  She wanted to ask the Headmaster how to approach this subject with her Father without seeming cheeky. Instead, she said nothing.  

“Alright then.  I’ll walk you back to your classroom.”  He was on his feet and walking quickly out the door before Faith was out of her chair.  Nevertheless, she hopped down and stretched her legs to catch up, 
waving to Miss Geist (who was still on the phone) on her way out.

She followed him, the beloved Headmaster as he walked to room E-4, still in session but getting ready for afternoon prayers and then dismissal. 

Instead of dropping her at the door, the Headmaster came in and greeted Mrs. Williams and asked permission to address the class.  Mrs. Williams smiled and agreed; the children were already standing at attention. 

“Class Four- E, I bring you very good news today.  This pupil here before me has been offered a very distinguished bursary to the School of the Arts in Nairobi and will be leaving us next week.  I know this is sad news for all of her friends because we shall miss her, but it is very happy news, so let’s hear it for Faith!”

“HIP, HIP,” Mrs. Willians cheered.

“HOORAY!” the class yelled with gusto.





The boys tossed their jerseys in the air, the girls rushed to the front of the class to touch the arms of their friend.  Under all of the celebration, Faith felt her face warm and broke into uncontrollable giggling which the girls took delight in joining.

When Mrs. Williams calmed the class down, Faith noticed that the Headmaster was gone from the room.  She made her way to her desk, unable to stop smiling. 

 Mrs. Williams winked at her in happiness before calling the kids to order for prayer.  “Grace after school.”

The class bowed their heads and prayed in unison.  “Dear Lord, Thank you that you promise us that when two or more come together in Your name You are with us.  Thank you Lord that you have been with us throughout this lesson and that you are with us right now.  Inspire us as we leave this place to love and serve You always.”

Mrs. Williams spoke gently, “In the name of Jesus,”


There was heavy silence, pregnant with the tension of most classes that are ready to go home. 

“Class dismissed.”

The children spilled out of the doorways with fervor, a few staying close to Faith to pat her head and touch her arms more. 

“Mister Rifiki!” Faith could hear Mrs. Williams calling to her father, who was waiting for her by the gate. 

Rafiki looked up at the teacher with a weary, hope-filled face, dusty from work at the cement factory.  The tall man seemed dignified and noble, even though his clothing and shoes were poor, held together by strong laces where they were coming apart. 

“Mister Rafiki,” Miss Williams came up to the gate and greeted Faith’s father with a slight curtsy.  “You must be so proud!”

Rafiki’s face became even more noble, and in that moment Faith could see her Father’s eyes catch the light they used to have.  “I am very proud of my daughter, Miss Williams, thank you.”

“We are all very proud of her,” she repeated, and then bowed. 

“Yes, thank you.”

Teacher and Father regarded each other with respect before bowing slightly and saying goodbye.  Faith reached up and took her Father’s hand and they made their way to the bus, waiting down the street.

“So today is the day the Headmaster reviewed your file?”  Rafiki asked his daughter, smiling. 

Faith could barely contain herself and the details of the day burst out of her, spilling over her Father in excited delirium.  He could not stop laughing amidst all of her delight and the bus ride back to Mavoko .

Once they stepped off the bus, Rafiki looked into the settlement to see his home, nothing more than a shack made of hammered barrels and windows he had bought from the company store.  He had been working at the cement factory for ten years and still had not saved enough for a house with a floor.  Before his wife’s death, things looked like they might change, but the awful sickness took them all by surprise.  He might have done himself a harm had it not been for his child who counted on his strength. 

“What else did the Headmaster say?” Rafiki asked Faith.  He meant it to be a thing spoken so that she would know he was interested.  Instead, she looked at her father solemnly.

“He asked me if you will be alright without me…”  The child looked up at him with such tenderness that for a moment it looked like she might cry. 

"Ha, you must not worry about me, my child," Rafiki smiled at her.  “Not only will I be alright, but I will be the proudest father in Mavoko.”

Faith now leapt toward her home, bouncing in front of it impatiently as her Father fumbled with his keys. 

“Patience, Faith.  Please have patience.”

“I have no patience, Father, I am a child!”

He laughed again and unlocked the door, opening it to let the sunshine spill in.  Particles of dust and light swirled around the room as Faith  bounded in and began to change into play clothes.  Rafiki  sank into his chair, grateful for the end of his workday.  He was grateful for the promise of a future for his daughter.