I was in Standard Seven or so at Kanjedza Primary School in Limbe, Blantyre when Papias had just started out in Standard One. But boy, Papias was a genius — a true mathematics whiz kid!
Papias, a short, plump boy with perpetually unkempt hair, was in a class of his own.
Imagine, just a Standard One chap, he could ‘process’ math problems with untold ease and shoot out answers in as short a time as it takes one to pronounce ‘Amen.’
And true of a greedy kind that is some people, Papias’ presence anywhere on the school grounds was a chance to make money. So, older boys would bet on the young boy’s ability.
It then became a norm that spotting Papias out on the school grounds, fellow learners would mob the young mind in a wide circle and overwhelm him with questions.
Then one would bet say 20 tambala—a big amount at our age in those years— Papias ‘the calculator’ getting at random a math problem right.
Instantly another would bet the same amount on the genius getting it wrong. ‘Battle’ lines were that quickly and easily drawn.
With the money on the hard and dusty floor, the one betting on Papias getting it wrong would enjoy the privilege of ‘throwing’ a math question at the genius. This would be any wild multiplication or division, hoping to ground the whiz kid.
It was never to be. Each time, there was a precise answer instantly but timidly flying out of Papias’ thickset lips.
It would only be many moments later that someone would be ready with an answer to verify Papias’ reply. You would never go wrong with Papias!
Inside this week, I remembered Papias when I came across some other ‘genius’ somewhere in Lilongwe’s populous Kawale.
The guy was promising to be a bit more than Papias, at least by how he was blowing his own trumpet.
He was challenging people to a contest on ‘reciting’ capital cities of the world and other geographical talking points such as lakes, rivers, mountains, all added to the ingenuity in mathematics.
I went closer to check [in case it was Papias?]
It was just a shabby young cheating equally dumb people. He was busy boasting to have represented his secondary school during quiz competitions in his ‘hey days.’
But ask me what a mess he was.
I still hope, deep down me, that destiny has been kind to Papias and that one day we will meet.
Back in the days, we all envied Papias’ ability and drew all sorts of predictions on how big his world would pop out his cleverness. He deserved the attention that seemed not to come.
I am now dying to learn what became of his ingenuity.
Until then, I ponder timelessly; where is Papias the mathematics genius in this country that does so little to build on people’s strengths?
I would be so happy to bestow upon him the honour that is ‘My favourite boyhood superman. ’ n