Keeri who loved humans

Keeri who loved humans
Something to say?

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Loneliness and the Old

Jeremy Hunt talking about family. Well, his family, including Bottomley propped him up nicely. So he can't complain.

   He was talking about the elderly and loneliness. I have lived alone in remote places, without water and lights some times, and the books and the music have kept loneliness at bay. If I ever thought about it. I was of course much younger, just fifty.

   I remember the nights in Makeni where the campus generator went off at nine. I would light three candles behind my bed and read by its flickering benediction. It was actually a contended time. The bed cool and snug, the book at the end of a long and hard work-day, the music on the transistor ( I remember listening to Billy Joel on it - in 1985, while the cockroaches came out for their nightly game of 'find-the-bread' in the kitchen.)- what was there to make me feel isolated? All around me was the campus, the evening chorus of families putting children to sleep, washing them in scarce half-buckets of cool water at the pump, Philip Kargbo shouting at his wife...

   In Makeni I was not lonely. I built a small comfortable cocoon in what had been a Catholic monk's cell once upon a time, and the world around me was friendly, if not near me.

   Freetown was another story altogether. Now I had lights and water 24-7. On the British High Commission compound the generator, big as a house, hummed its way right through the night. Air conditioners came on even in flats where the occupants had gone on furlough a month back. Nobody complained and the British tax payer paid.

   But I was lonely. In that expatriate island, nobody looked my way. I didn't hear the domestic voices from the houses set far apart from each other on that diplomatic compound. It was eerie. I now lived in a huge house and I walked the hallways and thought about being alone. I had the books, the music and the comforts, but no one human being near me. And, in that luxurious compound, I was, for the first time aware of being on my own. 

   When the British Council tried to persuade me to stay for another two years I refused. A gentleman boss visiting from London threatened me: 'You will be unemployed back home, you know.' 'No,' I said proudly. 'I am after all a Maths teacher and there's always some school that needs a Maths teacher.' I thought he was a very silly man and a bully.

   Here in England I do see many old people dragging their shopping home in plastic bags, listing to one side. I think, where are the children, the friends, the neighbours? In India, some one would run to the rescue. Here also, this happens - occasionally. Once I was on an escalator in the Underground, looking down on the steps in front of me, and feeling giddy. 'Are you OK?' A young man asked from behind me. 'A little woozy,' I answered. 'Here, let me,' he said. He came down to the step in front of me shielding me from the long descent. 'Here, have a toffee,' he offered. 'Makes you feel better.' I took one. 'Keep the packet,' he said. 'You may need it going back.' He smiled as he left the escalator at the bottom. So there are people who will help the old; it is just that it is so rare.

   Not to talk to another adult for a whole week is a kind of incarceration, of dying. 'This life seems pointless,' an old man on TV said. Alone in his little front-room full of cushions and rugs. Then again, you don't have to be old to be lonely.

   Jeremy Hunt praised the Asians for the way they look after their old. This is true; there is more respect and more care in China, in India , in similar countries in Asia.. But this social fabric is slowly disintegrating with the young going to far-away countries to work. From the United States they come home for two weeks leave in a year. They rush around from one relative to another like a video on fast forward. The parents watch their goings and comings and after two weeks they wait for the phone calls again.

   I live with my children and consider myself lucky.They could have been in Australia or Canada. In my father's life, I was always far away when he needed me, seeing him rarely, not managing to travel to India often on my meagre teacher's salary. He was in a bad place, I think.

   Here, the closed front door makes it impossible to sit on the stoop and be part of the world outside. The television is no substitute for real people even if they are only acquaintances. A group of old men have solved this problem by forming an old people's club, where they meet and enjoy the presence of others from the human race. Perhaps the women should do the same.

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