It was an hour or so before dusk when Florian came to our door and Susan gave him a seat in the living room and called for me. It was too dark in the house for me to see his face and so I said let's go outside and go for a walk the two of us.
So, what do you want young man?
Mzee Vinton, I want to study at the college. Before I could even say anything, he was promising me that he would study hard, that he would never miss a day of class, that he wanted to be my best student. It all just bubbled out of his mouth that if I just gave him the chance to study that he would never, ever shame me, that he just wanted the chance.
I turned away so he wouldn't see how watery my eyes had so suddenly gotten.
He had walked and hitched rides from his village and then hitched a ride from Redford on one of our trucks. Redford was in the Mbeya region far to the west, having taken a truckload of doors and windows and construction supplies for the school we're building at Shangwale. Florian had waved Redford down and couldn't believe his good fortune that the truck was going not just to the Iringa region, but actually all the way to Madisi, the place he had been told to head for. He had hoped to get here by Sunday and indeed it was now Sunday.
When did you finish secondary school kijana?
He suddenly looked frightened as if telling this truth would mean no to getting admitted.
Everyone says everywhere that you say that this is the college for all of us who never dreamed we would get to go to college. Please don't refuse me. I promise you I'll study hard. I won't disappoint you. I will be your best student. I will prove to you that it won't be a mistake. I will work harder than anyone else. I promise you.
It seemed like he stopped talking so he could catch his breath.
He about jumped for joy when I said you're in.
He relaxed now and it was time for small talk, so I could find out who was the latest of our new students coming to join our college. Where are you from? Kipeta. Kipeta in Rukwa? Yes sir. A flood of memories came back to me. Do you know that Kipeta was one of the schools that I started way back in 2001 soon after I came from Congo? Oh yes, everyone in the village knows that -- they still talk about it even today.
I told Florian that I have the picture in that village of Kipeta from when then President Mkapa had come all the way there. I told him what a very kind man his President was. That he came all the way to that village, that he came to the school that we were working to build with everyone there in the village, that all he had was kind words and praise and encouragement. It was the first of several times over the course of his ten years in office that I would get to meet that man, but I still remember how kind he was to me when he didn't even know me, when I was no one to him other than a name someone had told him about. All I remember the President saying when he shook my hand was that what you are doing here at Kipeta is a very wonderful thing and it will bear a lot of fruit in the lives of the children of this village. And then he asked me if that was my son in the middle of the crowds of people -- and I said yes -- and here the President of the country called for Josh to come -- Josh couldn't have been more than 7 or 8 at the time, and the President greeted him, shook his hand and had his picture taken with him.
I had almost forgotten about that village, almost forgotten about that school, almost forgotten about all that had happened there so many years ago.
Florian showed up to study at Kipeta Secondary School years after I was long gone, after Susan and I had moved far away to the Iringa region, after we had worked with Godfrey and Emmanueli and the rest of the gang to launch Village Schools. I hadn't heard a word about that little school in that very remote village way down in the Rukwa valley.
Susan and I had such a nice quiet dinner, a nice quiet evening. I was in the mood to be pensive. I felt all good and warm inside. Even the things long forgotten continue to create ripples, ripples like Florian showing up today to study at the college. I was ready for a good night full of peaceful sleep.
It was late at night when I got the message from Yotham out at the college that a kid from Rukwa had shown up, that he let him sleep in the dorms and gave him something to eat. Here I thought Florian would hang around here at Madisi, find a place to sleep with the students here, and then show up again at the door and ask for a ride when I went out to the college in the morning. Not that kid. He had hitched rides all across the country. And now he decided to walk the last hour to the college.
I hope to remind him of that fact the day he graduates.
And tomorrow I get to teach Florian math. I can't wait.