Mathew Kimani was our course senior. Well… A course senior is a soldier – in this case a recruit who is the senior most in the room/ squad/ platoon/ company/ division or even in a troop car or a convoy or whichever the context that might be. Remember the week we sat on the tarmac waiting to be enlisted? Rather, that whole week during the enlistment process. This is where they tested us afresh for diseases, pregnancy and madness and all those other things that you wouldn’t want to have in an institution with high pressure training. Our military is serious when it comes to picking the best of the best. Once verified as clean, sane and qualified, we were issued with unique numbers. Just a quick one. Where do you think the name Huduma Namba – Service Number came from? The military system of-course!!! The military issues a “Service number” to every new recruit, This is the number that is ‘attached’ to everything that recruit is involved in. Issues, promotions, transfers, payroll… everything relates to that number. It superseded our names and ID numbers at that point. So it is this ‘Huduma namba’ that determined who was the senior most and who was the junior most depending on the series. Meaning your number could also determine if your time for promotion was due or not. That is how 75007 Recruit Kimani became our course senior at Platoon 2x.
If you have been following the story since chapter 1, you remember there was a week where idleness was our primary role. We were just eating, getting rained on, lying and being lied to, and running around the camp waiting to be issued with our service numbers. In that week while on the stands with my friends Ben, Ray and Gus, there were other recruits alongside us. Among these was a lady by the name Grace Wambui. She had a warm smile and she couldn’t pull a serious face. You know those ones who will insult you as she smiles, shoot your kneecaps while singing “If you’re happy and you know clap your hands”. For as long as the conversation lasted, she never frowned. She had a permanent smile on her face. I was by this time having ideas with this one. I probably had ideas with everyone who wouldn’t beat me… But then again it turned out Wambui was a martial arts empress. Yes, you read right. She told us that she had enlisted as a sports woman and she was representing the military on that front. Kicking people as a sport would now become a kicking people for survival – *Chokes* by the time the military picks a martial arts star to represent them, it means she was really good at what she did. I met Grace at the initial days of our stay at the recruits training school. I never thought much about it but every time we spoke that first week, I used to refer to her as “wa karate”. That was enough for me to stick to my lane.
75007 recruit Kimani was another cartoon. This one would make jokes with everyone – I mean everyone including the instructors who looked like they would bury you alive – upside down. It is like those kids who had lived in barracks. I later came to learn that their boldness and carefree attitude was because they had grown familiar to the soldiers and so they saw them as nothing but ordinary people. I, on the other hand whose nearest barracks was a 3-hour drive away from home saw them as killers. Very easy for me to sneeze and find myself in a body bag. However, recruit Kimani here was easy with our platoon commander and every other commander in the company. We became friends with him over time. More so for the fact that I used to sleep at the snap of a finger. Recruit Kimani was the man, I mean – Soldier behind the nickname SMG – Sleeping Machine Gun. I could sleep anywhere, and I mean anywhere. We were also friends with him because I was a friend to Recruit Liam (Chapter 16) who in his own rights was a recruit of interest – if you get what I mean. Then later I would become the secretary of the platoon. Though few recognized it, I considered myself the platoon adjutant of platoon 2x.
Due to the unfair ratios, the women’s barracks were almost a kilometer away from us. Every morning, they would wake up earlier than the men, prepare their barracks and then they would march towards the men’s because these were the “default barracks.” We would assemble outside our barracks and they would join us. Once they left their premises, they wouldn’t return till evening. As days went by, relationships developed whereby a lady would have a guy who they would share a “locker”, someone who would protect their things and the like. This grew to the point where by on those few minutes we had, or hours over the weekend a bed could be shared because they wouldn’t go to their block in the middle of the day for a nap. A good example of this is while waiting for the free haircut on Saturdays and Sundays. As evolution would have it, what was a bed to sit on would become a bed to lie on and would later become a bed to take full-scale naps on. In addition, within the ‘21st century’ of our 9 month stay, this would be an open-air cuddle pod.
That is how the martial arts empress, recruit Wambui “Wa Karate” popped into my radar again. She was not even from our platoon. She was from a platoon that was not even in our company. But every day, as the rules started being flexible – or the instructors got tired of chasing us around, she would report to recruit Kimani’s zone, have a chit chat, share a few snacks, when snacks were there, have food together, share an orange once in a while and on cold dawns and random weekend afternoons, take the moment to snuggle together in that bed and help each other refresh a few martial arts moves on that lower decker, right in the middle of the barrack block. Remember, all the threats we were given at the beginning of the enlistment seemed not to work at this particular point. Initially I couldn’t understand how a recruit – a recruit! would have the guts to bring a lady to the men’s barrack and go ahead and in a move of steel balls bring her right into his bed. WHAT!!! This was not a unique thing to Kimani and Wakarate, only that due to the odd ratios, being the one chosen to share a bed with a lady was something more of a scene from a National geographic – you know how those birds break an arm and a leg for a 5 second stint with a partner… and besides, others chose to enjoy the breeze & shade in the tall grass away from the main barracks. They probably loved nature more than the rest of us. Kingdom animalia I say…
That continued for the rest of the training and this friendship or whatever I thought it was. Including the most hyped one month in the bush, way out in Baringo. 9 months ended. Safely, no expulsions, no break ups no enmity, no babies, no drama. We all graduated. Our friendship continued with private Kimani after our graduation to this day. He is a pilot now. Unlike most of the other temporary symbiotic relationships created in recruits training school for survival purposes, this one lasted. Some accepted Jesus – There were recruits who got saved a few weeks into the training (When men cried louder than babies in a clinic) and after a few months on the real job they backslid to lower influences of wine and women. They just needed Jesus for the rough terrain during training.
A few months after graduating, Private Kimani invites me to his home in Embakasi. He took me on a tour of the college that I would later come to join – Kenya Armed Forces Technical College back then, and then we headed off to his house. I am looking around the house portraits and I cannot believe my eyes. I point to a picture on the wall and I ask him if the lady in the picture is private Wambui. After a laugh, he says yes, “Wambu ni bibi yangu!” I asked him when they got married and he said – before we even enlisted in the military… and nobody knew that fact the entire training period.
What are the odds of you and your sibling being recruited in the same intake? Incredible right? I have been trying to think of how I can have twins get enlisted to the military in the same intake but my mind cannot cook that up. My mind almost blows fuses trying to come to terms with their existence. Like triplets enlisting and each joining a service. One is sent to the Air-force, the other to the army and the other to the Navy.
2019: Kimani and Wambui ‘Wa Karate’ are still together… and I am still shocked.