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LIFE BY LOUIS: Of nostalgic high-school love letters

Monday February 11 2019

I remember we had one boy who seemed to have been born chewing on a dictionary. His services came in handy when it came to interpreting the love letters.

I remember we had one boy who seemed to have been born chewing on a dictionary. His services came in handy when it came to interpreting the love letters. ILLUSTRATION| IGAH 

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High school was the main campus for learning matters of the heart.

During the form one induction period that lasted almost the whole of first term, several bigger boys from the upper classes trooped into our classrooms to recruit us into school recreational and extra curriculum clubs.

These were high powered delegations of boys who held titles of esteem like Drama Club Chairman and Agriculture Club Organising Secretary.

One of the key selling points for a club was the number of trips they made to neighbouring girls’ schools or to other conventions in Nairobi where girls from big national schools were in attendance.

This prospect seemed to thrill us, considering the fact that we now felt mature enough to graduate from our village girlfriends to real high school lovers who spoke English and used hand and body lotion.

The most lucrative club was the Young Christian Students. Being a catholic school, this club had the full backing of the headmaster who was also a priest.


The reason I could not join YCS is because I could not understand how you could just walk into a girls’ school one day and talk to a random girl you had not met before.

I could not connect with the magic involved that got the two of you talking and she becomes your dame and you become her chali.


It was beyond my imagination how the two of you would soon start exchanging love letters and telling each other how you could not sleep while thinking about your love for each other.

Where would I even start?

Sometimes late at night when I lay awake after being ruffled from the sleep by some ambitious bedbugs that visited us at night, I would do a mock rehearsal of the opening lines.

“Hey there, my name is Muiruri and I am from Matimbei and I am in form two. My hobbies are watching butterflies and collecting postage stamps. I know music by Mariah Carey and Michael Bolton. I also read James Hadley Chase and Mills & Boon novels. I am feeling butterflies in my appendix when I look at you and I would therefore like you to be my dame.”

After some self-assessment and evaluation, I would be frustrated to find that my bland pickup lines could not even lure a lazy cat from her sleep.

There were boys who were so gifted in the art of tuning dames as we called it. In one visit alone they would come out with about three girlfriends from different schools. In the few weeks that followed they would receive an avalanche of love letters from their new catches.

The letters were called out during dinner time in the dining hall, and while the rest of us never expected a single letter, some boys would receive as many as ten per week.

They would proudly walk to the front to receive the letters like they were going to pick their Noble prizes.


Such letter would be circulated in the dormitory at night to be read by all boys. Sometimes if a letter came from a girl’s national school and the writer had used some vocabulary that the receiver could not understand, the letter was read out aloud.

We stayed put with our big Oxford dictionaries trying to decipher what the writer meant by such terms as bombastic, boisterous and beguiled.

Our blood and hormones would run wild because the letters talked of very deep romantic stuff like ‘Kiss and never tell anyone’.

Hearts and arrows were drawn on the envelope in red and the flap scripted with the words ‘Open with a smile’ which was so deep.

Such letter required collective efforts when it came to replying. I remember we had one boy who seemed to have been born chewing on a dictionary.

His tongue oozed of heavy vocabulary, although it was a well-known fact that while the rest of us were busy trying to crack the dichotomous key in biology, he was holed up in a secret room with a fat dictionary trying to cram more complex English words.

His services came in handy when it came to interpreting the love letters. For a quarter loaf of bread and a drink called cold power, you could hire his services to craft for you a reply.

He would retreat to his secret reading area and consult his dictionary heavily to ensure that the girl on the other end was also heavily bombarded with tough words.

I have not met him since we cleared high school, but I hope he opened a busy consultancy firm that assists young men to interpret and reply to love letters.