I was six years old when I experienced my fist lock-down. Every morning, we would walk a short distance to the street where our school bus would pick us up for the half hour ride to school. We had made our own short cut (or panya route in common parlance), through the grass as we didn’t want to follow the slightly longer paved path. For the uninitiated, a panya route is a foot-trodden path similar to a narrow hiking trail. Our panya route was partially obscured by overgrown grass, but the dewy grass wasn’t enough of a deterrent to motivate us to use the proper path. Taking the panya route had consequences. The most obvious being that our shiny polished brown leather school shoes would acquire debris from the unpaved path, leading to a panicked emergency shoe-shining session when we finally got to school. The shoe shining was facilitated by using the sock-clad opposite foot to quickly shine each shoe, restoring it to its former glory. The second consequence, as you can guess, was that the bottom of our socks now carried the panya route debris and pocked the soles of our feet all day, but hey, our shoes shone and met the school’s rigorous shoe cleanliness standards set by a long departed colonialist. Had I had an entrepreneurial bone in my body, I would have come up with a shoe-shining business. I would have trademarked “Panya Route’s Shoe Shining”. Business would’ve been booming, I would have been a tycoon at the tender age of 6, retired at thirteen, but alas, my entrepreneurial bones were yet to be formed.
It is common for some Kenyan families to keep guard dogs, usually German Shepherd Dogs. I love GSDs. They are highly intelligent, beautiful and loyal. They are very gentle with babies, but extremely fierce against adversaries. They are your ride or die canine.
One of our neighbors had a GSD named Tyson. Now, Tyson was no ordinary dog. He was a dog among dogs. He was a huge dog whose reputation preceded him. He was the kind of dog all female dogs wanted to mate with, because that superior gene pool had to be passed onto little Tysons. He was extremely ferocious and because of that, he was kept under lock and key during the day and left to roam at night. But since we were always indoors at night, we never encountered Tyson.
In Kenya, if one was found wandering outside late at night, the Kenyan police would typically ask one to confirm if they were:
- A dog
- A prostitute
- A thief
- A policeman
The unseen option above, written in invisible ink, was an offer you could not refuse, to spend the night in a jail cell, offering you a space to cool your heels until dawn. This courtesy was funded by the very generous Kenyan taxpayer and supplemented by you because you had to bribe your way out of the jail cell. You would be motivated to do so because of the company in the cell, which comprised of actual prostitutes, thieves, and a very odorous bucket that served the purpose of a toilet.
Anyway, all was well in my little academia suburb until one day, Tyson went missing. To say that we were gripped with fear is an understatement. The thought of running into Tyson’s gigantic teeth kept us inside. Even indoors, any sudden noises caused immense anxiety. I have always had a vivid imagination, and in my mind, Tyson may have snuck into our house when we opened one of the doors. I was a dyed in the wool mischievous tomboy, but the specter of Tyson’s bark and bite kept me indoors. My partners in crime and I were under no illusion about what would happen to us if we ran into him.
The fear of Tyson transformed us into the most paved-route-abiding children known to man and woman. Call us Dini ya Pavement (Religion of the Pavement). Like new converts to Christianity, we left our heathen panya route ways behind us, walking in groups, eyes peeled for any tell-tale signs of the missing canine terror. Conversation was kept to a minimum, lest Tyson hear us badmouthing him and pounce upon us, and in my overactive imagination, tearing our limbs apart, leaving our parents bereft. I am not sure if there is an afterlife for newly reformed Panya route users, but I imagine we would gain entry due to the Damascene conversion we had just experienced.
The Panya route was completely abandoned, seeing as the sand colored grass may have been harboring a sand colored Tyson. I imagine that the grasshoppers and ants who had to run (and hop) for their lives upon our arrival on the panya route each morning must have had a block party, dancing the night away into the morning with no fear of being trodden upon by scofflaw school children. They must have remarked upon the beauty of the dewed grass and gotten to know each other better, perhaps even planned for the permanent liberation of the panya route from marauding feet. I should say that I also recognize that Tyson’s disappearance would have marked the demise of my imaginary yet flourishing Panya Route’s Shoe Shining enterprise.
After school, we again coalesced into the newly formed Dini Ya Pavement. We went straight home from school, meaning, my mischievous tom-boy self could not play in the mud and climb trees freely, lest I meet Tyson on a tree branch. Yes, we believed that Tyson could climb trees, swim, fly, squeeze under doors and materialize out of thin air.
Two long days later, to the jubilation of all, a nonchalant Tyson wandered back to his home, unaware of the terror his disappearance had caused. Where had Tyson been? What had he seen? Had he eloped with a lush GSD female only to realize that life on the run was not for him? We will never know. But since Tyson did not speak human and we didn’t speak bark, he took that secret to his grave. Also, we valued our lives so we were not going to approach him.
In case you are wondering, we quickly backslid to our panya route ways, Dini Ya Panya route abandoned.