This American life: Coming of (old) age
by Ikhide R. Ikheloa
I have always wanted to be an old man. Growing up in Nigeria, childhood seemed to be an overrated experience. We were not poor, but my parents were spartan in affairs that mattered to me a lot. I was always hungry but it always seemed that the best meals were reserved for elders, certainly the choicest parts of meat and fish. The elders of my childhood had problems with their teeth, I think because they ate too much meat. I had problems with my teeth because I hissed a lot at their greed and I did not get enough meat to keep them busy and fit. Old men also did not do any chores. I never quite understood what old people did, outside of supervising women and children nonstop and demanding things meant solely for their comfort. They rarely strayed from their favorite chairs after returning from work. And everything they said seemed to make sense even when it didn’t make sense. In any case, any child or woman who dared question the inanity of their alleged wisdom would find a suddenly spry “old man” connecting painfully with sensitive parts of their body or heart.
For me, as a child, all parents were old people, especially the men. My dad enjoyed being an old man. Everything I loved was reserved for him. I loved chicken gizzards, that was for him. I loved chicken legs, that was reserved for him. I loved to do nothing but supervise other people as they cleaned the yard. That was his responsibility as I cleaned the yard. When he bought his car, becoming an old man became even more attractive and sexy. He would get up and go and come as he pleased and return demanding things. I started going to church every Sunday praying to God that he spare my life so I could become an old man with the necessary benefits that accrue to old people. God answered my prayers, but in the wrong country. It is great to be a man in Nigeria. It is even greater to be an old man in Nigeria. I live in America now, I came here as a young man, I am now an aging er old man. In America. Trust me, you don’t want to be a man in America. You are not in charge, never will be. You certainly do not want to be an old man in America. Your children cannot wait to take you to an old people’s retirement home where if you are lucky you would spend your days staring out of a fake window as a nurse forces you to down pureed pounded yam and egusi.
It is not always a bad thing. There are some good days. Saturday morning. I feel great. Feeling really great is a rarity at my age. Energy comes in limpid spurts, the mind adjusts, learning to be super-efficient with time and energy. The older you get, the scarcer they are as commodities, I mean, time and energy. Hurry up children, hurry up, daddy is feeling great today. Daddy has energy today, let’s do all our chores before daddy has to take a nap! The kids are happy to see the return of my energy and my sense of responsibility as a father. We are going to the optician to finally get those eye-glasses for Netter_Shoks, we are going to the shopping malls, Ominira has some gift cards she must spend or I will lose my mind from the constant asking to go to the shops because Ominira has gift cards that must be spent, we are going to the shops to rescue things we don’t need from bankrupt stores, we are going to the barbershop, me and the boys. Why, I feel do great, I have already played two rounds of cards with my son, Fearless Fang. He has this card trick he plays endlessly, starting with the chant, Daddy, pick a card, any card! It is a card trick that doesn’t even annoy me, even after a hundred chants of Daddy, pick a card, any card! Life is good today, life is really good. I wish my wife was at home with us today, life would be really great. But she is the real breadwinner of the house, she is out making money and I am here at home doing baby nurse! America get as e be sha! America is no respecter of age. But life is great today, life is really great. Maybe I’ll have a drink to celebrate a golden day. And ruin a golden day.
Drink! Man, I was young once, and I could really down a few Gulders. And a few bottles of Odeku Stout. And some ogogoro. Yep, I used to be able to drink up a storm. Not anymore. At my age, a decision to down a single shot of cognac (yes, VSOP, my favorite life’s nurse) is not made lightly. The timing of the indulgence has to be just right, the calibration (of the number of drinks) has to be just right. Too late at night and I am groaning all night and groaning all morning. More than one drink and I am groaning all night and all morning (WHO has just ONE drink?).
My eyes are going bad on me, they are not usually the first to go, but they are a close second, or third, or fourth, many things begin to abandon you in the twilight of your journey. The problem is that they abscond at exactly the time you need them the most. Try reading without your eyes. My eyes are so bad these days, I have to take off my eye glasses just so I can read,
I remember Wole Soyinka’s ruminations on his first white hairs. I only remember it now, because I didn’t understand it then and I don’t understand it now. Here, see if you can understand it.
To my first white hairs
Hirsute hell chimney-spouts, black thunderthroes
confluence of coarse cloudfleeces – my head sir! – scourbrush
in bitumen, past fossil beyond fingers of light – until …!
Sudden sprung as corn stalk after rain, watered milk weak;
as lightning shrunk to ant’s antenna, shrivelled
off the febrile sight of crickets in the sun –
THREE WHITE HAIRS! frail invaders of the undergrowth
interpret time. I view them, wired wisps, vibrant coiled
beneath a magnifying glass, milk-thread presages
Of the hoary phase. Weave then, weave o quickly weave
your sham veneration. Knit me webs of winter sagehood,
nightcap, and the fungoid sequins of a crown.
My objective, indepth review: Very nice poem. Very nice. But wetin di man say? End of review of head-breaking poem by olodo (moi!). I don’t remember my first strand of white hair.; I remember a wave, a mean army of amebos outing my mortality before pretty damsels. That is the other thing, all the beautiful women start coming out of everywhere once your white hair starts sprouting all over your ancient body. Maybe, your eyes are so bad, every woman looks beautiful. But either way, life is unfair. While my father’s white hairs came out in steady dignified spurts, mine simply overwhelmed my vanities and I just knew there was no need trying to cover them up with hair dye. America does not pay me enough to buy the amount of dye I would need to recover my youth.
Life is a cycle. I am at a certain age now, and my children treat me like their son. I know now why old folks look so calm, wise and all-knowing – they have no energy to do anything else. Everything has to be rationed, I mean everything – emotions, food, booze, because there are consequences for overindulgence. I was a warrior once, jumping off rooftops, beer in hand, walking around fertile markets with my manhood as the weapon of choice. Now I watch today’s warriors, fools, jumping off rooftops, beer in hand, walking around markets pregnant with mischief, wagging their manhood at the unimpressed. They are unimpressed, right?
Old age is not that bad, my stomach is still trim. Well it is not bulging yet, but I see the beginnings of a paunch… My passions have aged, mellowed. I give advice to the young and they pretend to be awed by my inanities. America. I am in the wrong place and time. The old don’t get much respect in America and I miss Nigeria. In my time in Nigeria, the toothless ate all the best pieces of meat and the children simply looked on and prayed to get old enough to own their own piece of meat. In America, my doctor says I should avoid red meat, because, get this, I am aging! Na my turn form five dey wear knicker!
I am officially an old person in America. The mail came some moons ago and I got my membership card to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). With your AARP card, you get pretend-perks like airfare and hotel room discounts. Big deal. At my age, in my village in Nigeria, you get a chieftaincy title. In America I got a piece of paper screaming “old man!” Old age robs you of memory also. Anything that is not inside Amebo my iPhone might as well not exist. I have to write everything down or else I forget. My doctor says not to worry, as long as I know that I am forgetting something I am fine. He says when you forget that you forgot then you are in real trouble. Sigh!