Finally, The Hawk made a final speech, and as some said later, performed his final act which, had it happened a month back when his nephew had the lot of them running scared for their lives, would probably have caused the end of the institution. The students and teachers had resumed near normal life and expectations in the college grounds. Even The Hawk seemed closer to human species than ever before. Alice had stopped running for her life and fainting with fear. The only speculation lingering to date was the unknown fate of two students who were supposed to graduate this day, but no one in the college knew their whereabouts. Except for The Hawk, of course. At least, no one else had a worry left about the college for now.
He stood now, and peered intensely at the students and graduates like Lilliputians. But then, they were used to the peering and boring scrutiny by his two dark, depthless eyes which some felt could see inside the brains of his subjects. He took in a deep breath and straightened up his broad shoulders. “I shall now announce the end of my tenure at Kiani Technology Institute beginning tomorrow morning at 6:00 hours.”
There was a very profound silence, so quiet that one could have heard a pin drop on the dull concrete floor. It did not quickly sink in either, amongst the teachers and the students. It took almost a minute, before a soft and slow mummer finally rose, and the teachers and students turned to look at each other, as if to say, ‘did I hear what he said right’. The Hawk was still talking. “Upon my immediate retirement, I appoint in my office, Paul Gitonga to be the new principal of Kiani Institute of Technology. He shall use his discretion and prerogative to choose and appoint his own deputy principal. The Board of Directors concurs with my recommendations and decisions.”
The quietness persisted and then a student rose and yelled, “No! No! That is not acceptable!” Other shouts followed and students and teachers rose and joined the dissent. The Hawk just peered around, turned to look at the teachers behind him, as if surprised that they could, in fact, make intelligible utterances. Then he slowly raised his simian hands and sudden quiet returned. Everyone sat down and waited.
“You see,” The Hawk said, “a man has to leave a little time on his lifespan after retirement in which to rest…”
“Excuse me, Mr. Principal,” a courageous junior student interrupted, standing up. “Why do you retire so early? We don’t mind you being our principal.”
“Thank you, young man,” The Hawk said. “I was just coming to that point. You see, the Bible says in Genesis, a man’s life shall only be a hundred and twenty years. Out of that I only have six months left for my retirement life.”
Most of what The Hawk had just said did not click. A questioning mummer went through the crowd.
“You see,” The Hawk continued, “my one hundred and twentieth birthday comes on May the 30th, next year. I want to retire for my last six months on earth. That’s all I ask.”
The mummer rose and became a boisterous, confused discussion and argument. It was too ridiculous, too unimaginable. Totally unheard of. Why? How? Who…. Even the teachers were arguing and gesticulating animatedly. What a phenomena! Was he lying? A hundred and twenty years old? No! Yes! That’s why he’s so strange. I told you he wasn’t human. He’s a space alien! He’s not even dying. He’s going back to another planet. I have always suspected, and so on.
Paul just sat stunned, riveted by his boss’s revelation, and although he had so many questions, he sat still and gazed sideways at The Hawk questioningly as if to say, ‘you might have told me and not made a sucker out of us all’. But he held his peace. The Hawk was saying something.
“Excuse me,” he said. “Excuse me.” The crowd was quiet again, waiting for the next bomb. “Before I hand over the ceremony to Paul Gitonga, I want to properly introduce someone to you who is very dear to me.” The Hawk turned slowly like a gorilla and stared behind him. Everyone was now riveted and stunned. He beckoned and Alice stood up slowly from between Gladys and Mr. Malee, her eyes wild and her mouth open. She stepped forward, her great earrings sounding louder than ever in the very quiet hall.
The Hawk took her little hand and brought her to stand close beside him on his right. He then propped a great big arm around her little shoulders. Alice, unprepared and unwarned, just looked straight up at The Hawk’s face and nervously eyed the crowd before her. The crowd was as silent as a mausoleum full of mummies, most riveted on the edges of their seats.
“I want to proudly introduce my only daughter, Alice Ngima Muthigani, now seventy four years old!”
The crowd went berserk. Chairs grated. People stood and yelled. Girls screamed and some jumped around flapping their hands hysterically, crying and hugging one another, unable to take any more unspeakable surprises. The teachers were standing again as if in protest, ready to demand answers and explanations. This was more than they could take.
Alice stood there looking around nervously. The Hawk looked down at her, both cheeks rapidly vibrating like pistons. As the first deluge of hysteria died down, The Hawk looked up toward the far end of the back roof as if he was staring into distant space, then a slow rumbling quaking started in his lungs like someone trying to suppress a terribly irritating cough. The rumbling sounds slowly began to emanate from his vocal cords. Paul stood, now bewildered, beside The Hawk. He said later that he thought the man had changed countenance to look like Shrek the ogre.
The rumbling finally spewed forth like locomotive train wheels, and, as The Hawk’s quaking intensified, laughter, deep and hollow, rumbled in his lungs, then became louder and reverberated in the building. The Hawk’s body rocked and swayed as he laughed, his wheezing gasps for breathe sounding like giant rusty door hinges.
Alice fainted. She just keeled over and collapsed at his feet.
The students, now scared out of their wits, began to run out of the hall in a panic. The stampede caused some to crash into each other and furniture. Chairs overturned and scattered. One table turned over as a student got up with it. A girl fainted and was left under a table. Some were injured. The place emptied quickly. Some of the students, now on the outside, peeped from the safety of open windows and around door frames. But the teachers stood bolted behind The Hawk, totally unnerved and petrified. Gladys was shaking like banana leaves in a hurricane.
Ann had fled to the back of the stage and tried the side stage door, but it was locked. She wrapped herself with the long, heavy burgundy stage curtains and stood there peering one-eyed at the havoc unfolding before her. She wished the back door was not locked. They wouldn’t see her for the dust.
No one tried to help Alice. They were all immobilized by shock and fear, as The Hawk continued bellowing and thundering.
He stepped ponderously around the table, still thundering loudly and shaking, and took the steps slowly down to the main floor, his big frame still swaying with laughter, then walked staggering like a drunken monster out of the side door and away. The teachers stayed bolted to their spots, as if unsure whether they were on earth or already in another planet with real space aliens, and afraid to do the wrong thing. They heard for a long time the echoes of The Hawk’s laughter gradually fade in the distance.
And that was the last time they ever saw him.
Florence was sitting on the floor of the kitchen, wailing like an air raid siren, wringing her hands and alternately flapping them, her once immaculate white caterers’ frock spread on the wet kitchen floor in disarray. Dinner had been all set to serve. The cooks had fled through the back again, abandoning her.