A Country For Old Men
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
This morning my son came to visit me.
This is such a rare thing nowadays that I knew right away
that something must be wrong. He only comes to me when he has, as he says,
problems to sort out.
I was sitting in my wheelchair tending to the plants in the
border along the outside path. I donít really need the wheelchair, of course,
not yet Ė I can get along on my own, more or less Ė but itís still a
convenience. When you get to my age you appreciate anything that could save you
effort, because the simplest job of yesteryear becomes as difficult as climbing
Iíd just finished trimming a camellia bush when I felt
someone was there, and with a touch of the button on the arm-rest I swung the
wheelchair around. Sure enough, he was leaning against the wall of the house,
looking at me.
"Dad," he said without preamble, "I want to talk to you
about this...this choice...youíve made." He made a face as he uttered
the word, as though it tasted bad in his mouth.
"I thought weíd gone through that years ago," I said, taking
off my gloves and dropping the shears into the bag at my side. Obviously, there
wasnít going to be any further gardening done today, now that he was here. "I
explained my decision at the time, as you remember, right when the thing
"This...Dad," he said, coming towards me, "you have to think
it over again. You know how many have changed their minds. You could, too."
"Why should I?" I steered the wheelchair round him Ė it was
tricky in that confined space, but I managed it all right Ė and through the
kitchen door. "I donít see any reason I should."
"Bee and I both think..." he broke off, looking around the
kitchen with disgust. All right, I know Iím not the neatest of people, but Iím
neat enough to suit me and besides we old folk donít have the energy to keep
"Bee and you think?" I prompted him. Bee is his nickname for
his wife, a ludicrously twee name for a bossy little woman I canít stand and
whoís never hidden her distaste for me. "What do Bee and you think?"
"Itís the children," he said in an almost apologetic tone.
He and his wife actually have children, a rare thing in this day and age. "Itís
an embarrassment for them in school, you know." He was squirming with
discomfort, hoping I would make it easy for him.
"What is?" I answered, as though I didnít know. "Why donít
you sit down and tell me whatís troubling your children?"
He sat, gingerly, on the one chair at my kitchen table. I
was, of course, still in the wheelchair. "Itís like this, Dad," he said in a
rush, "Bee says itís a blot on the family, having a, a, you know..."
"A...?" I asked, with malicious pleasure. "Come on, tell
"Someone who hasnít agreed to the transfer," my son
temporised. "The kids get teased in school by the other children, they say,
that their grandpa is crazy. And Bee, I mean, she said it might hurt our and
the kidsí careers if this situation persists, so you need to agree to the
"Hold it!" I said. "In the first place, each person has a
right to agree to the transfer process or not, as you know. Itís entirely a
personal decision, and the law says nobody can discriminate on that basis."
"The law, yes." He leaned across the table earnestly. "But
you know as well as I do that the law isnít everything."
"And itís not even as though itís you or your children who
made the decision," I pointed out. "Itís only I, and Iím of the old lot, the
very oldest. Your familyís free to make its own decisions."
"Nobody thinks logically, do they? Not always. Dad, at least
can you tell me...why?"
"Why?" I struggled out of the chair to make some coffee.
Coffee is one of my few real pleasures in life, and I buy some of the best.
"You ask why?"
I glanced at him over my shoulder, and saw that he really
wanted to know. For a moment I had a sudden stab of pity for him. A successful
professional in a business suit, he is these days, but at that moment he was
still the small boy who came running to me with a hundred questions, eager for
information. "A better question would be, why not?"
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