Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o's In the House of the Interpreter, published last year, follows on from his first memoir, Dreams in a Time of War, and recounts his school days in the 1950s, against the backdrop of Kenya’s fight for independence.
In the following extract shared by Biographile, wa Thiong’o describes how he returned home from his first term at boarding school (the first high school in British-ruled Kenya) to find his village razed and moved closer to the guard post:
A Tale of Home and School
It’s the end of my first term at boarding school, and I’m going home. It’s April. When I first left Limuru for Alliance High School in January, it was in the last car of a goods train into which I had been smuggled, my sole company then being workmen’s tools and clothes. Now I travel third class, with schoolmate Kenneth Wanjai. It’s very crowded, standing room only, and our school uniform of khaki shirts, shorts, and blue ties marks us as different from the general passengers, all black Africans, their clothes in different stages of wear and tear. Their haggard faces belie the animated voices and occasional laughter. On getting off at Limuru railway station, I linger on the platform and look around me to savor the moment of my return. The goods shed, the tea kiosk, the waiting room, and the outside toilets marked for Europeans only, Asians only, and Africans, minus the qualifying only, still stand, silent weather-beaten witnesses of time that has passed since the station first opened in 1898.
Wanjai and I part company for our different destinations, he in his father’s car, and I alone, on foot. Then it hits me: I’m going home to my mother. Soon, very soon, I’ll be with my sisters and younger brother. I have news to share with them: I was among the top of my class. No doubt my mother will ask me if that was the best I could have done, or her variation, were you number one, and I will have to confess that another boy, Henry Chasia, was ahead of me. As long as you tried your best, she will surely tell me with pride. I am going to bask in her sunny smile, which always carries warmth and depth of care. I enjoy her reaction in advance.
- In the House of the Interpreter by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
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