When we were Kings
BASIL TULESI and PETER NDORIA explore the tribulations of retired men who die quickly — despised by children and abandoned by their wives
Mzee Njoroge stretches out, rubbing and mumbling something to Nguno who replies with an unconcerned huff before licking the salt on the manger.
Njoroge is giving her foliage. The dairy cow is the only company he has since Miriam, his wife of 35 years, flew to Denmark to be with their daughter, her husband and their ‘new-born’ granddaughter seven months ago.
In what has become a daily ritual, he will feed his cow and then head to the shopping centre — a row of shops much smaller than what he was used to in his glory days when he worked with a prominent bank in the city — to indulge in his favourite drink, equally far removed from the finer whiskies he used to partake.
There’s nothing in Mzee Njoroge’s life to suggest that he once straddled Nairobi like a colossus, sampling its social and nightlife. In between, he brought up three daughters and a son — who have long stopped communicating with him except when they must. Only his wife enjoys the privilege and the invites for city and overseas visits.
Njoroge’s tribulations are an illustration of why many men approaching retirement age feel apprehensive, and with good reason.
“My Dad never survived three years after retiring to a home he had built in Ngong’ on the outskirts of Nairobi,” says Antony.
His old man had been a senior civil servant from the generation that went to university when a tertiary education equalled the good life. After his undergraduate studies at Makerere, he landed a government scholarship that took him to Europe for post-graduate studies. When he came back, a job in the higher echelons of the civil service and the good perks of life awaited him.
“He used to hang out with the ‘who’s who’ of the time. I remember going with him to Nairobi West where he would chat with his buddies over a glass of his favourite Glenfiddich Solera Reserve whisky,” recalls Antony.
He had bought some prime land in Ngong’ town and built a three-bedroomed house. But life changed — drastically — when he retired. The stimulating company of his peers was no more, their place now taken by farmhands and the township’s layabouts. The Special Reserve whisky was gone, too, replaced by potent brews that he consumed daily.
Antony remembers going to visit his dad and wondering what had happened to the intellectual he once revered. His conversation was mundane. He looked shabby and despite several warnings from his doctor, he still drunk himself into a daily stupor. In three years, he was gone.
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