|The Play Ground Thief|
In the land of Kazimingi the parents, teachers and children were gathered at Werevu School; the only school in the land. So large was this meeting that even the President was in attendance. There was one major problem in the land; the children had over the years ceased to behave like children and it was getting worse by the day. They did not jump, run around, climb trees or even hide from each other in the cheeky manner that little children do. They had lost their magical ability to be creative and full of life. All day, they just stayed indoors and played with their silly little contraptions.
This caused the trees, flowers and the sun such sadness that they couldn’t help but tell the rest of the elements about this tragedy. The trees and flowers whispered the sad news to the wind, who in turn rushed through the forests, savannah, deserts and even the seven seas to spread the news. None of them could understand the existence of a land that no longer allowed its children to play. They actually wept for the land of Kazimingi.
Consequently, they all engaged in discussions to establish what could be done to change this situation. They decided that they would engage in a ‘go slow’ so that the people of Kazimingi would realize their mistake and correct it. The sun was dull, the flowers stayed at half bloom, the animals were sluggish; the trees hung down in sadness and the stars refused to dazzle.
As the days went by, the people of Kazimingi were so busy working or hiding from the sun and all of nature inside the walls they had built that they did not even notice that their food crops were not growing as they should. The children begun to get really ill-mannered, lazy, sad and unhealthy. In turn, their parents and teachers were so unhappy that they had to get together and chart a way forward at the Werevu School meeting.
The adults gave all sorts of solutions. Some suggested giving more homework so that the children were busy all day. “More punishment for the children to tame their laziness!” another exclaimed. Others said that they needed more hospitals to cater for their unhealthy children.
They came up with such astonishing ideas-until one of the elders finally said something worthwhile. “Do you remember the days when children had playgrounds and spent time in the sun playing all sorts of games? You could hear their cheer from long distances as they ran around in joy and laughter. Back then, they were rarely ill and the weather was usually nice and bright. It was paradise!” Mr. Maneno Chache said. The only solution, he continued, was as simple as the richest man in the village-Mr. Mlafi. “He should give back the children’s vast play grounds he grabbed so he could build more offices for us adults.”
Everyone seemed to remember those days. It was then that they realized what horror had befallen them; they had slowly but surely trampled on the rights of their children. The parents demanded that Mr. Mlafi immediately give back the children’s playground. On hearing this, Mr. Mlafi sprung up to his defense, insisting that he had acquired the land fair and squire and would not give it up!
Upon hearing this, the President stood up and demanded that Mr. Mlafi give the playground back to the children or risk being jailed for grabbing public property. Everyone was happy with this decision.
The next day, the children’s playground was officially opened. They all rushed in to run around the grass, through the flower gardens; up the trees and even under the bushes. You could hear their laughter from afar. Soon, the flowers were fresher, the sun shone brighter and the birds sung more melodiously. Even the parents joined in once in a while.
In the shadows, Mr. Mlafi was busy scheming on how to re-acquire the children’s playground. All day, he sat on his balcony overlooking the playground, always eating something. You should have seen the grim look on his face. Mr. Mlafi had over the years acquired so much wealth illegally that he had become so rich and yet so greedy. It was no wonder that he was so obese and unhappy. He soon realized that it would be next to impossible to just grab the playground again. He decided to publicly declare that he was going to renovate the playground.
He had a huge swimming pool with water slides and diving boards constructed, brought in clowns and magicians, toy stores, swings and rides, even a rollercoaster! He had turned the playground into a theme park, which he called ‘The Mlafi Park’. On opening day, all the children rushed in to play. They had so much fun they did not want to go home.
That night, the parents expressed their surprise at the wonderful park Mr. Mlafi had created. The next day, all the children of Werevu School were counting down to the end of the day; longing to get back into the park to play. When the bell finally rung, they burst through the school gates and rushed straight to the park. To their surprise, there stood a huge man demanding that the children pay a small fee to gain access to the fun inside. The man also cautioned the children from telling their parents as this would result in the park being shut down!
The children, without a thought, got some of their pocket money and paid. They got in and played, loving every moment. It did not occur to them that their playground had been successfully grabbed by Mr. Mlafi again and in a very conniving manner. This went on for a while.
One day, when some of the children’s pocket-money had ran out, they went and told one of their teachers how sad they were because they could not access the park. “We are not even supposed to tell anyone because the park could be shut down,” they offered. A very shocked teacher rushed to the principal’s office to report the matter. The principal requested all parents to come to the school the very next day.
Both the President and Mr. Mlafi were present. The only agenda was to discuss Mr. Mlafi’s disgusting behavior. They all listened as the children retold the horror story. Everyone was appalled by this news. Mr. Mlafi quickly stood up and explained that he had used his own money to create the park hence he had a right to charge for the facilities’ use. The now infuriated President said he had never heard of such a shameful act in his life; a grown man extorting money from children?!
“Mr. Mlafi, you have really crossed the line this time. Bullying helpless children and threatening them? Arrest this man and put him in jail right now,” the President ordered. Additionally, he declared that from that day on ‘The Mlafi Park’ would be known as ‘The Michezo Park’ and would be open to all and sundry at no cost. All the maintenance would be done by the President’s funds and fines paid by the greedy Mr. Mlafi.
Within no time, all the people, plants, animals and elements of Kazimingi lived a life full of play-time, joy, good health and laughter.
Words by Christine Nderitu. Artwork by Joseph Barasa
First published in BINGWA Magazine Issue 12 2014.