My grandfather passed on at the age of 88. I was angry at him for dying. I felt that if he wanted to, he would have lived longer. See, he was strong and had all he needed if not all he wanted. He was strong, at the age of 86 he had an operation and got back up like nothing had happened. He stood at 5’8, broad shoulders and a narrow waist. Not pot, and fit as hell. He was so light that when he had flu, his nose would turn red.
When he was younger he shaved his beard every morning and trimmed his hair to the scalp. But in his last days, his beard was snow white and reached his chest and his hair flowed to the back of his neck. He would stroke his mane with so much pride you would think he had worked to earn it when all he had done was grow old. He took pride in little things, that way it would be possible to appreciate personal achievements.
My grandfather was a chef; he was a chef when only white men had chefs. He was a chef when most African men had never seen the inside of a kitchen. He cooked in restaurants frequented by white men and at their parties. That means he spoke flawless English, wore elegantly cut suits and had a taste for fine whiskey. He picked up manners from the English too; he pulled chairs, stood to shake hands and used words like ‘thank you’ and ‘please’. From the English, he took up reading too; he read anything he could lay his hands on; recipes, newspapers, books and even publications that would get him into trouble. That way as he grew older his mind became encyclopedic. He had a place for art; he had an eye for good sketches and would sketch too. He would write us letters and at the back of the page he would sketch, a face, a farm setting or anything to make his grandchildren smile.
He told stories of his life so that we wouldn’t have to learn about him from an obituary in the newspaper. He told them all; the good and the bad, of his victories and his defeats, of his bravery and his cowardice. He flipped the coin both sides probably to get us through times ahead. Am not sure he believed in religion but he did believe in God and tried to be in good times with him. On Sundays he wore a tie and went to church.
When my grandfather retired, he choose to run his farm complete with a small ranch. He would go round the ranch ensuring animals were feed, watered and the sick ones isolated. He would go round ensuring the fence was in place and carried a pair of pliers to tighten loose ends. He did some of the work himself. At sunset he would stand looking out to the horizon as if looking out to see the future. At sunset he would stand in the open grassland his ranch stood in and feel the wind blow past him. He would listen to the purr of the wind like it was music. He would let it cause the tails of his long coat to fly behind him. The mild heat at sunset would cause sweat droplets on his forehead and the wind would blow them away. In those days the wind blew soothingly and calmly not like today when it slaps. He would let a slight drizzle pour on him without bowing his head.
My grandfather would return to the restaurants he had worked in, this time, he would be in imported suits and his wife in tow. He wanted to sit and eat where he had worked. He would order mostly off the menu and wait to see how much it took them. He became a critic of sorts. He would ask questions, why his soup was unnecessarily thick, why someone diced his onions angrily, why there was no fly in his soup, okay I lie. He always asked these calmly and gave credit where it was due. My grandmother probably thought it was extravagant but the old man saw it as a stage of life.
Later on, his thirst for life seemed to start dying out. He made less trips around the ranch and cared less about his cattle, he let his hair and beard grow out, he quit buying suits, ate out less and watched the sunset only when he had guests. It’s like he was tired of living, tired of life, tired of adventure, tired of expensive suits and fine dining. He was dying slowly. He was still warm and jovial as always. He probably felt he’d seen all there was for him to see and lived ever moment he could.
Some old men want to quit while they are still ahead. They want to die when they are alive and kicking. They are afraid to grow old and be nursed like toddlers. They are afraid to get their diapers changed. They are afraid of spending all day in bed waiting and begging to die peacefully. But it is hard for their families and minders to let them die when they please. So it is human to hold on to them and keep them alive anyway we know how. Even when we cannot save them we put in all we got. Even when they are beyond speech, beyond hearing and sight, even when their lips are blue and their tongues grey, we want to stroke them and tell them to get back up. Isn’t it best to let them be?
Soundtrack: Angels On the Moon – Thriving Ivory