(In loving memory of David Wekesa. Thanks to you, Mathematics is no longer a pain in my ass.)
I do not know about you, but I was terrible in Mathematics in high school. By terrible, I mean it was bad, so bad to the extent I would get a 40% and be excited. So bad that one time in form 4, my mathematics teacher had the courage to tell me, ‘Your Mathematics score does not match your index number’. So bad to the extent I stopped trying at all, and spent the Maths lessons in the computer lab, under the disguise of ‘finishing up the project’.
Looking back, I realize that if I had managed to even score a 60, 70, or 80, I would constantly be at the top of my class. But then again, things were that way, and there wasn’t anything I could do.
If you think this was hard on my part, think about my mum, having to stare at my report card, and wonder what the hell happened to her daughter, who used to score nothing short of 96% while in Primary school. Who used to complete the exam in less than an hour, then sit and stare as people struggle with the seemingly easy questions.
My favorite memory, though, about mathematics in high school, was me scoring a 6%, and the whole class bursting into laughter. Why? Everyone else had scored between 0 and 10, the highest scoring I think 12. Out of about 300 students, only one managed a 12% .
From the outside, maybe it was one of the lowest moments for the school, seeing that we had to sit for a different exam. But that was the turning point for me in the history of Maths.
It was the first time I had a one on one talk with the you, as he was widely known. Your words remain clear in my head to date.
The paper was not hard. If you take a second look at it, you will realize it is the small details you people missed. You are so accustomed to the hard questions, to the extent that when one sets the easy ones, you make them hard, and then fail.
That was a first of many more conversations we had. Some candid, some careless. Some fruitful. Some as a way of passing time. You were more of a friend than a teacher to me, seeing that Maths was your favorite, and my worst.
You were the one teacher who allowed most of us to use your cell phone. I remember you talking to my mother on phone, before saying; “You talk exactly like your mother, only that she is bubblier.” And when you finally got to see her, you couldn’t stop shaking your head at the similarity.
We laughed. We talked. We created moments. We lived for more of those days.
I do not remember much after we cleared school, other than my younger sister coming from school one day and saying, ”Tumeletewa mwalimu mwingine wa Maths. He is super intelligent, and makes Maths so easy.” __
I did not know that was you until months later when we met and you mentioned it. I remember you wondering how I was managing in engineering school now that I hated Maths. I remember the wideness in your eyes as I told you I had grown to love it. Or tolerate it. Or get used to it, because there were very few units without Maths, and those were the hardest.
Fast forward to a couple of years later, I am scrolling across Facebook and I come across a post that you are sick. No, you are battling for your life. I struggle to read through the enormous comments, sifting through to know what really is wrong, only to realize it is cancer. It has been here for quite some time. But now it has affected your spine. You cannot walk, so funds are being raised to cater for the surgery.
I log out, and stay offline for the longest time in the history of my staying offline. During that time, I talk less. I question my choices. I question my circles. I question my ingenuity and carelessness. I question my friendships. Still, I stay silent, so silent to the point my person asks ”Kwani kuna kitu nimefanya na sijui? Mbona huniongeleshi?”
Two days later, I log in and you are no more. You are gone, just like that, even before I click the link to join the Fundraiser WhatsApp group. You breathed your last in so much physical pain, and left an equivalent measure of emotional pain on your people.
I remember the entire backlash you received posthumously. Ah, people choosing to remember you in ways they chose to. Bitterness. Anger. Name-calling. Celebrations. I remember a section of us, who identified with the beautiful side of you, being called all sorts of names, to the extent I found it hard to mourn.
I remember calling my mum and the moment I said you had passed on, all she said was, “You need to go for the funeral.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because he was good to you. He helped you when no one else did.”
“But no one there even knows me.”
“It doesn’t matter. It is enough that you now him. And he knows you, even in death.”
Today, I choose to relive all the words, escapades, laughter and memories we shared. I choose to write about you, unafraid of the entire backlash I might receive because of conflicting opinions. I choose to celebrate your voice of hope, and encouragement, when I needed it the most. I choose to celebrate your immense belief in my abilities and prowess, and pushing me beyond my comfort zone.
Like that time in final year when you lowered the cut off mark, just so I could get a change to participate in the mathematics contest.
Why? Because it is a rarity; finding a stranger who chooses you over and over again, and doesn’t give up even when their efforts seem to bear little or no fruits.
Why? Because it is heavenly; finding that one person who gives you a glimpse of the real world, even when you are still too blind to see it.
Why? Because even as much as you are no longer here, Mathematics is now part of me, and I can never be grateful enough.
Today, I choose to celebrate all the efforts that go unseen. All the souls whose intentions are washed away by words and carelessness. All the bodies whose only remembrance is the marks of pain.
Wherever you are, I hope Mathematics still oozes from the edges of your skin. I hope you are free from the pain. I hope someday, you look down and find closure in the wonders that Maths has done for me.
Rest well, my person. Rest well.