THE ECONOMY OF SPOONS by Kevin Rigathi
Stanley Kipkoech Yegon, known to his friends as Sky, was in deep trouble. He’d always had a knack for getting into sticky situations but this…this was a new low for him. There were many mistakes a student in his position could have made but he was convinced that he had stumbled his way into the worst possible one, given the circumstances. He looked down at the golden spoon in his hand and swallowed hard. He had no idea what to do with it.
To understand Sky’s predicament one must understand the place and the rules that defined his existence. He was a student at the Kenyan Umbrella High School. Parents around the country considered it a great school, which is parent-speak for ‘churns out a lot of good grades’. Among its student body, however, there was a popular long running theory that the school was in fact a government experiment designed to study the effects of psychological torture. While students are known to exaggerate their plight to no end, anyone who’d been there for more than a day would have had to agree that there was something not quite right about the place.
When a student was first admitted to the school, they were given a spoon along with all other necessary items. This seemed like an innocuous act by itself until someone inevitably lost the spoon. At this point, they would come to the realization that not only did the school not offer replacements, the canteen didn’t sell spoons either. No parental visits were allowed and at the beginning of each term as students made their way through the gate they were searched; having more than a single spoon was prohibited for some vaguely explained reason. In short, if you lost yours, there was no legal way to get another one for the rest of the term.
In the Kenyan Umbrella High School, not having a spoon was not just a minor inconvenience. It was torture. Every single meal seemed somehow designed to require a spoon. The food was either drowned in soup, detestably sticky or a sickly combination of both. Even breakfast was porridge so thick it didn’t flow, so one couldn’t even drink it by tipping the plate. Eating with your hands took the joy out of meals already joyless enough to begin with until you couldn’t take it any more. That’s when even the holiest students decided that God would give them a pass on that whole “thou shall not steal” thing. That was when the spoon wars started.
A spoon war is a hard thing to describe for the uninitiated. It can best be likened to a game of musical chairs with higher stakes, far too many people and a provision for violence from eliminated players. It always started small: just a couple of spoons missing and a couple of people stealing to replace them. All in all, a relatively stable state of affairs. This lasted until spoons started to leave the general supply; when someone inevitably had the bright idea to start hoarding spoons so they would have backups in case they lost one. This was when things descended into anarchy.
Desks were kicked open, drawers broken into, everyone tried to carry their spoons with them or hide them in unexpected places. Bullies bullied, locks were picked, blackmail was employed and some boys tried to impress the pretty girls who had lost their spoons by offering theirs. The girls, not averse to the double benefit of gaining a spoon and eliminating a fool from their potential dating pool, gladly accepted. Everything that happened just meant more stealing and more bullying took place. It was a system that fed on itself and grew larger and more monstrous with every passing day. The prefects were part of it and the teachers somehow failed to notice every single term.
All of this brings us back to Sky’s predicament. Sky was a Form One, and a lowly one at that. He was not rich, no girl had shown any interest in him, he had no elder brother to protect him, he wasn’t strong and he had no marketable skills. For someone like Sky, if you lost a spoon this late in the war when everyone was already paranoid you were out of luck. But, luckily for him, he had a plan.
As Sky skulked through the school corridor he fancied himself something of a blend between a secret agent and a ninja. While sneaking into the chemistry lab was not particularly majestic, it was the kind of plan that had required sketches and calculations before it could get started. This, as far as he was concerned, was the kind of plan everyone secretly wanted to be part of.
Sky had realized that contrary to popular belief, there was a hidden stash of spoons within the school. Somewhere in the chemistry lab lay more spoons than he could possibly ever make use of. Not ordinary spoons, of course, but those little ones they put over Bunsen burner flames for reasons he hadn’t really paid attention to. Sure, they weren’t ideal for taking meals with but he was not exactly in a position to be picky about it. They would have to do. Problem was, getting into the lab was harder than it seemed.
There were 24 classes in the school and they each took a lesson or two in the lab every week. This meant that so long as the lab was open there was either an ongoing chemistry lesson or a lab technician preparing for one. Finding an empty slot had not been easy. It had taken a lot of information gathering, deduction and plain old peeking through windows for Sky to discover what he had. Wednesday morning, just before breakfast, was the sweet spot. Technically, it wasn’t supposed to be empty but the lab technician on duty that day always opened the lab, prepared things early and then took off for his self-awarded smoking break. And so there was Sky sneaking around, slightly late but with more than enough time for what he needed to do.
He looked around one last time to make sure no one saw him go in and then he slipped into the lab, where he ran right into a girl, almost knocking her over. There was a shared look of surprise, which the girl recovered from first. She was part of the cool crowd and thus a master in the art of not looking bothered by anything no matter how strange it actually was. Sky on the other hand, kept staring in what could only be described as dread.
“Um…” He said.
“Niaje?” she said. Hello.
“So you know about this too, huh?”
“Um…” he said again, quite aware that he was a making a fool of himself but not knowing quite how to stop now that he was on a roll.
“You don’t say much…do you??” She said.
“Uh…” this time he managed to stop himself and instead said, “I do. I say…stuff.”
“Oh?” She gave a weak smile, “A liar too?”
To this he said nothing. He knew who she was in the same way she knew nothing about him; it was the order of things. Shiku was one of the hottest girls in the school (the very hottest as far as Sky was concerned) and she was dating Tim Ng’eno, the school’s most powerful bully. So really, in Sky’s mind at least, his tongue-tied state wasn’t shyness— it was just self-preservation. Knowing Tim Ng’eno, he wasn’t certain he was even allowed to be talking to her. Best not to say anything that could result in broken limbs down the line.
“Well,” she said finally, “I’ll leave you to whatever sketchy business brings you here now. Be quick, though. He’ll be back soon.”
With that, she winked at him and brushed past him. Sky’s brain, unable to handle the combination of a conversation, a wink and physical contact from the hottest girl he knew of, shut down to facilitate cooling down to operational levels. Though Sky would have denied it to his dying breath, he spent the better part of five minutes standing there and grinning like an idiot. When he had somewhat recovered enough to think again, he considered the fact that she had looked a little off, kind of like she’d been crying or something. But that was ridiculous. Girls like her had nothing to cry about, did they?
He considered this for another couple of seconds before he remembered why he was there and rushed forward to make up for lost time.
“Unafanya nini hapa?” Said a voice. What are you doing here?
Sky turned to see the Lab Technician standing at the door.
“I…” his hand ran over the table behind him in a desperate attempt to find something.
“Unafanya nini hapa?” repeated the lab technician.
“Looking for something,” he said and against all odds, he felt an object. It was… yes, it was a spoon. He could feel it, “I thought I left my book, but it’s not here.”
The Lab technician eyed him suspiciously.
“I’ll be going now,” said Sky, covertly slipping the spoon into the back pocket.
“Hutapata chenye unatafuta,” said the Technician. You won’t find what you’re looking for.
“Wewe si wa kwanza kuchora hii mpango. Hutapata kitu.” You’re not the first to think of it, you know. You won’t find them.
“I…” Sky hesitated, “I just wanted my book.”
“Haya basi. Haina mambo,” said the Technician, rolling his eyes and stepping aside. If you say so.
Sky left the room marveling at how lucky he had just been. He hadn’t really been caught and he’d found the spoon without looking for it. How fortunate that one had been left out on the table where he’d been blindly groping, especially now that he knew they usually hid them. How absolutely lucky. As he made his way to the dining hall for breakfast, his smile was radiant. It would take him a while to remember the defining fact of his life. He was never lucky.
Sky looked at the spoon and nearly choked. What he had in his hand was a golden spoon. Not just a golden spoon— the golden spoon. There was only one and it belonged to Tim Ng’eno. The bully of all bullies. Tim was the kind of person that proved advantages in life were handed out undeservedly and without care. He was tall, strong and charismatic, and his father was a politician with ties to the school. He could do whatever the hell he wanted and expect no consequences. If Tim decided he would have the only golden spoon in school so no one could ever steal it without calling attention to themselves, then it happened. Tim’s will be done.
Sky put the spoon back in his pocket and hoped that no one had noticed it. He almost jumped when he heard a voice next to him.
“You know what I call them?” said Anil.
Anil was Sky’s best friend. Or perhaps best friend was a bit of a stretch. Anil was his friend because they could discuss comic books, but their friendship didn’t extend to Anil handing him a spoon he could easily have acquired. Anil was rich. His parents didn’t give him much money but he was an entrepreneur. His mother had bought him an electric toothbrush for his birthday and as soon as he saw what it looked like, Anil’s brilliant mind had noted the potential for profit. A phallic vibrating object, whose presence was easy to explain away, in a school with hundreds of teenage girls… Anil was rich.
“Hey Sky! You know what I call them?” Anil said again.
“Call who?” asked Sky.
“The girls! The girls getting the spoons.”
“I call them,” Anil paused dramatically, “silverware diggers.”
Anil watched Sky for a few seconds and his face fell at the lack of a reaction.
“Silverware diggers. You know, like gold diggers but now… Come on, you know it’s funny.”
“Yeah. Funny,” Sky said distractedly.
“What’s going on with you today? Spoon problems again?”
“You have no idea.” Sky paused for moment and then added, “Look Anil, If I did something…stupid, would you help me get out of it?”
“What did you do?”
“You’ve got to promise you’re not going to sell me out.”
“Stop being a drama queen and just tell me. What did you do?”
“I…” Sky sighed “I have Tim’s spoon in my pocket right now.”
“Tim as in Tim. Tim-Tim. The Tim? Golden spoon Tim?”
Sky gave him an exasperated look.
“You’re dead,” said Anil.
“You think I don’t know that?”
“Nah man. There’s dead and then there’s dead,” Anil differentiated the levels of dead by putting his hand at neck length and then over his head, “Shiku just broke up with him yesterday. He’s in a foul mood.”
“Yeah, she did. She told me.”
“You talk to Shiku?”
“I talk to everyone,” Anil smiled mischievously, “She even got the toothbrush from me so you know the break up is serious.”
“Yeah. I don’t think he deals well with rejection either.”
“Shit. Shit shit shit. What am I going to do?”
“You get rid of it. Quick.”
“Just throw it in the bushes when no one’s looking and… wait.”
“Wait?” asked Sky. The look Anil was giving him was starting to worry him, “Wait for what?”
“Just wait, let me think.”
“We can use this. We can totally use this. Whoa – Sky, come with me.”
“What are you…?”
But Anil was already up and walking. At this point Sky, was willing to try anything and between the two of them, Anil was usually the idea man, so he followed.
“What are we doing Anil?”
“It’s going to be brilliant,” Anil chuckled, “Oh, why have I never thought of this.”
“Thought of what?”
“The best idea I’ve ever had Sky. The Best! Hands down.”
“Alright,” Sky stopped irritated, “tell me what’s going on or I swear I’m going to walk away right now.”
“Don’t you see?” Anil stopped and looked at him. “This is it. This is our break. This is how we’re going to get to the top.”
“How?” Sky tried not to shout.
“We’re going to…” Anil broke out in a giddy smile and placed his hands on Sky’s shoulders, “Oh, this is so good. We’re going to use that spoon to play Tim Ng’eno. We’re going to use it to make him give us what we want.”
Sky thought about this. He processed the information, calmly mulled over it for a bit, let the idea cycle through his mind a few times and then he tried to run for his life. Sky had heard of the fight or flight response but, in his experience, he had never felt the urge to fight. In his estimation, that just meant his instinct for flight was twice as powerful as the average person’s, a lesson Anil learnt when he almost broke his wrists trying restrain Sky. In the end, Anil almost had to fight him down.
“Sky, will you calm down!”
“You’re out of your mind,” Sky slapped at Anil’s hands. “You’re going to get us killed!”
“Stop making a scene man. Settle down.”
“If you don’t settle down I’ll just walk over there and tell them you have the spoon.”
“What!” Sky paused, “You wouldn’t do that.”
“Don’t be a dick.”
“Look, I’m your friend but I’m not going to let you screw this up for both of us. You just need to trust me on this.”
“The only thing you’re going to do is get us killed.”
“Think about it Sky, really think! Tim must be panicking right now. He’s peeing his pants. If he has to eat with a normal spoon, he’s in trouble. It tells everyone that there’s someone here, in this school, who’s not afraid of him. As long as that person has his spoon, his status is under threat.”
“That person is me! And you know what? I AM afraid of him.”
“He doesn’t know that! Look, we go there we tell him that we heard rumors about the spoon. Tell him we can help him find it. We spin a story and eventually we frame some bullying idiot for the crime. We can even plant it on them. There’s a little war and when the dust settles, guess who the two new members in Tim’s gang are? That’s right man, we’ll be living easy.”
“Or he beats the information out of us and finds out that the thing is in my pocket. Have you thought about that?”
“He won’t do that because I’m going to tell the story right. This is my thing.”
“Is it? Because if this is you convincing me to do this, you’re not very good at it!”
“Just trust me on this.”
“It’s not trust if you’ll hand me over if I say no.”
“It’s for your own good. Tough love. So are you coming or not?”
Sky and Anil stood somewhere near Tim’s table. Before you saw Tim you had to get past his bodyguard, the aggressively bald and ever angry-looking Dennis Too. Dennis Too, always referred to by both names for some reason, was a bully of the good-at-hitting things variety. His expression was always that of someone whose mother had just been deeply insulted. Sky doubted the boy had ever smiled in his life.
“Where do you tink you’re going?” Dennis Too always pronounced words with a ‘th’ sound as if it was just a hard T.
“We’re here to help,” said Anil.
“To help?” Dennis Too looked like he was about to strike Anil, and it was a pretty real possibility that he would.
“We…” Anil dropped his voice to a whisper, “we think we know where the spoon is.”
Something strange happened to Dennis Too then. He was confused and intrigued and his face didn’t know how to convey that without letting go of the familiar angry expression. It was quite a sight. There was twitching and, possibly, a one-of-a-kind never–before–seen expression.
“What?” He finally said.
“We need to see Tim,” said Anil.
“No,” said Dennis Too, “I don’t tink so. Niambie chenye unataka kusema.” You tell me what you have to say.
“Hi Tim,” Anil said loudly, looking past Dennis Too and waving.
It was a dangerous thing to do and there was a frightening moment where it seemed as if Tim hadn’t heard or was ignoring him. If Tim didn’t acknowledge him, Dennis Too was going to drag them away and teach them both a lesson in the amazing level of punishment the human body was capable of taking. Sky prepared to run but, luckily for them, Tim looked up.
“Dennis Too, Ladies man anadai aje?” What does Ladies’ man want?
Anil was often called Ladies’ Man. His toothbrush business was not common knowledge among the school’s male population. He kept it quiet lest the business be stolen from him and the girls had several reasons not to mention it to anyone who didn’t already know. So, to most people, Anil was just inexplicably popular with girls. It wasn’t a bad reputation to have. Bullies tended to be relatively nice to people who could introduce them to girls.
Dennis Too eyed them both, infuriated, but when you always looked angry it didn’t leave much room for upping the intensity. He waved them towards Tim.
“Ladies man,” said Tim stretching out his hands, “What do you have for me? Umeniletea mazuri gani?”
Tim’s entourage eyed them with suspicion. They, in typical sycophant fashion, feared Tim showing any kind of friendliness to other people. They all knew they were replaceable; Tim made sure of that.
“I have news for you. News about…”Anil trailed off.
“What? Si uongee!”
“The spoon,” Anil said with false casualness.
Everyone at the table shifted uncomfortably. It became painfully obvious to Sky that Tim didn’t have a plate in front of him. His misgivings about the entire idea intensified.
Tim didn’t say anything to this. He leaned backwards, rocking his chair, a dangerous edge creeping into his demeanor. Anil hesitated. It was in that silence that Sky had an epiphany. For an instant, everything about the situation became startlingly clear to him. He knew where the spoon had come from and he knew what he had to do next. There was only one thing he could do if he wanted to walk away intact.
Sky pulled the spoon from his pocket, walked over to Tim and placed it on the table right in front of him. Then, very slowly, he walked back to where he had been standing. He was not sure who seemed more shocked, Tim or Anil.
“Hii ni nini buda?” Tim asked. What is the meaning of this?
No one said anything.
“You can talk,” Tim stood up and placed his fists on the table, “Hii ni nini?”
“Well…” started Anil before realizing his brain could not come up with anything intelligible to say and snapped his mouth shut.
“He was going to lie to you,” said Sky.
“Anil,” said Sky. “He was about to lie to you.”
“That’s not…” started Anil.
“Shut up!” said Tim.
Anil wisely stopped talking and took an involuntary step back.
“Weh,” Tim turned to Sky, “Ebu jitambulishe?” What’s your name?
“Maparo zako waliangalia juu wakaona tu wakuite Sky?” Your parents looked up and named you that?
“My name is Stanley.”
“Sawa Stano…kama unajipenda anza kuongea.” Alright Stanley, if you have any love for yourself, start talking.
“Anil here stole your spoon.”
“Ladies Man?” Tim looked incredulously at Anil who was shaking his head in refusal, “Why?”
“Your…” Sky paused for a moment, “your ex. Anil talked to Shiku and she stole it for him. She was mad at you and he told her to get it before you broke up.”
“Sasa huyu fala anataka kijiko yangu afanye nini nayo?” Why would this idiot want my spoon?
“He wanted to impress her. He told her he’d use it to get you into a war with other bull… other boys. Something that might get you beaten.”
“Nani abeatike? Mimi sasa? Una upuzi wewe,” said Tim raising a fist.
“He thought you would,” Sky said quickly, “It’s what he wanted.”
“Enhe,” Tim lowered his hand back to the table “Na wewe je? Hii story yote inakuhusu aje? Kijiko yangu ilikuwa inado nini kwa mfuko yako?” And you? How are you involved? Why was my spoon in your pocket?”
“He wanted me to help him. We hang out and he knows you bullied me once…”
“He’s lying,” said Anil unable to maintain his silence any longer.
Tim picked up somebody’s plate and tossed it in Anil’s direction. Anil managed to duck in time but a large glob of porridge landed on his head. Sky could see tears of fear in Anil’s eyes. He ignored them.
“Shut up!,” roared Tim, “Weh! Ongea.” You! Keep talking.
“He knew you bullied me once. He thought I’d want revenge.”
“Boss! I know my place. I wouldn’t try to screw you over.”
Tim looked at Sky for a long time. Eventually, he walked right up to him.
“Sky?” He asked.
“Sawa. Sky, umedu poa,” Tim tapped him twice on the cheek, “Nitafute Friday tumalize hii maneno.”” Find me on Friday and we’ll discuss this further.
Sky recognized the dismissal for what it was and so he turned around and walked away. He couldn’t help looking back and seeing Anil being pulled out of the building by Dennis Too, Tim following closely behind. The entire dining room pretended they couldn’t hear his desperate screaming.
A week later Sky was sitting under a tree thinking about his newly elevated status. He wasn’t exactly in Tim’s gang, but he was affiliated with them, which was good enough for a Form One. It meant that most bullies wouldn’t touch him, he could skip some Form One chores and, best of all, not only did he have a spoon, he had a back up. Things were looking up for him in the world. He’d made the right call.
In those last moments, something important had occurred to Sky. He’d realized that his friend Anil was, in his own way, like how the physics teacher had described. He explored every path available to him but, in the end, he always, always put his greatest effort behind the path of least resistance. He never did more work than he had to. And, no matter how you looked at it, turning in Sky had been his best bet. To bring him right to Tim with the spoon in his pocket was in every way the easiest way for Anil to get into Tim’s gang, And Sky had no illusions about Anil’s loyalty. Anil would have screwed him over, so he’d needed strike preemptively.
Things had not gone well for Anil. Last Sky had seen him, his face had been swollen all over. The teachers had been told it was an allergic reaction to a bee sting and they had accepted this state of affairs without comment. Sky didn’t feel particularly sorry for him, though. He probably still had his business after all, and as far as these things went, Anil’s life was still pretty good. The one thing Sky did find himself thinking about a lot was Shiku, Tim’s ex. He imagined Tim confronting her and her thinking he was talking about the toothbrush and as such, suspiciously not saying anything. It always seemed incredibly funny in his head and he wished he’d seen it.
“Hello,” said a voice.
Sky opened his eyes. As if summoned by his thoughts, it was Shiku.
“Hello…” he said after what was probably too long a pause.
“You’re Sky, right?” she smiled brightly. “Nice name.”
“Thank you.” She knew his name? This was… good.
“I know what you did.”
“I know what you did,” she repeated, “Don’t try deny it, I know and no, I won’t tell Tim.”
“Wait… I won’t tell Tim as long as you do what I tell you.”
“W…” Sky was at a loss. “What do you want?”
“I want a lot of things. But to start with, batteries.”
“For the toothbrush. Since your buddy, Anil, fell out of grace, I figured I don’t have to give it back. In fact, I can take over the business. I’m in a better position to do it anyway. But it’s dead now and I need you to find out where your friend used to get batteries.”
“You don’t say much, do you?” She eyed him amused, “I thought good liars are supposed to be talkers?”
“Look Shiku I don’t want trouble…”
“Nobody wants trouble. It comes by anyway.”
“Ok, just give me time. I’ll get you your batteries.”
“You have two days.”
“Two days… that’s not possible.”
“It isn’t? I didn’t know that. If two days really is impossible, I’ll be reasonable and change it. One day then.”
“I… what!?” Sky knew he should protest further but words had betrayed him before and would not come to his aid now.
“Back to not saying much?” she smiled at him, ““Batteries. You have one or two days, whichever is possible. By then, I’ll know what to do with you next. I’ll be around. I’m sure you’ll know where to find me. Ta!”
With that she was gone. As Sky watched her sashay away, he could only summon a single, depressed thought.
Kevin Rigathi is a software developer (that’s what they actually pay him to do), a writer (that’s what he hopes a mysterious they will pay him for) and an artist (that’s what even more mysterious theys occasionally pay him for). Basically, he is a guy who sits in front a computer and creates things.
He has written for storymoja, penned the article “What Crazy Looks Like” in the second brainstorm.co.ke ebook and is a writer at, and the co-creator of, willthisbeaproblem.com.
His catchphrase is “how the hell did I get myself into this!?”