I don’t know when he approached my counter; I must have had my eyes elsewhere. The mall is quite big, you see, and we were warned to look around us. For that pick pocket that feels today is his lucky day. Or that little child that moves away from his minder, unobtrusively, and tries to pick a ‘sweet’ or chocolate bar when we were not looking. Or both could be happening at the same time- my brother, is that not what our two eyes are for? To look at different directions at the same time. Okay, it is impossible, but I used to convince myself many, many years ago, that it was possible. I was 5 or 6 then you see.
So I don’t know when he approached my counter. But his still small, weak voice drew me from my thoughts. ‘Can I pay for these items’, he said, rather weakly. I looked up; he could not be more than 70, I said to myself. His starched brown suit glistered under the bright mall lights. He was not as tall as myself, I noticed. Perhaps he was taller back then when he was younger, before the slight bend he had on his back developed. His hands, hairy and small, grabbed the groceries, which he now placed on my counter. He smiled at me. It was then I noticed the tears in his eyes, slowly climbing down his pale face. It appeared that he had been crying- at least it seemed to me.
‘Is anything the matter Sir?’, I asked. You see, I wasn’t trying to be helpful- I was always helpful. It is an African thing to help, you see. I remember once getting scolded by my grandmother when an old woman walked into our courtyard in the village with a heavy load on her shoulders. ‘Gini mere ijiro soro ya buo ibu ya?’, Why didn’t you help carry the heavy load? she scolded me. It happened during one of my infrequent Christmas visits. My grandmother; she never understands why we, Christian city kids hold on to village superstitions as if we were silent but active chief priests. We loved the church, but we still revered traditions and listened in awe of superstitions and village tales, you see. If superstitions did not exist, then why did my mother, threaten me with the cane when I swept the sitting room late at night, one day? ‘You want to sweep away the next day’s blessings, eh?’, she shouted. But I have learnt. So I asked the man again what was the matter, as I tried to help.
Slowly he told me, his voice shaking while he spoke. As he spoke, I trembled slightly, unprepared for the words that flowed. His story was touching, you see. He was 93, still strong and sturdy, and not 80. And not 70, that I thought. He had a wife, one from his youth. They had been married for a long, long time. Had kids, trained the kids, bought a home in England, had a small garden, went for holidays in Europe- it was lovely. Until tragedy- one of the points in which our individual humanity intersect- until tragedy came over him. ‘Anne died two weeks ago’, he said. And he sobbed more. It was too obvious, the tears. I immediately wished I had minded my business. ‘She died of cancer, the doctors said she wouldn’t die so quick…’, his voice broke off. ‘I wished I had gone with her, I couldn’t get her favourite coat…’. I did not hear the rest of his words. Tears, just tears.
He couldn’t get his late wife her favourite coat, that was why he cried. He couldn’t ever get it anyway, that was why he cried. The regret at the once possible, now impossible, that was why he cried. His companion was gone, his wife of many years was no more, that was why he cried. I wondered which loss was more at this time- the regret or the loss? I concluded, the regret was more. Cancer had come to his wife and held the inevitable. Isn’t it said somewhere, in the book of the African elders, that death comes to a house and brings with it its own stool? Perhaps that was inevitable. But the regret- more painfully so at the looming thought of eternal noncompliance- that was a man’s handwork. The responsibility of regret is ours, ultimately.
So as I comforted the man and walked him off the mall, I said to myself to try on some certain things. Aha, before you criticise me, it is not a new year resolution, but a commitment to try. To try and extend a hand of friendship so I don’t regret not doing so. To smile and take each day as it comes, so I wave away regrets. To love, pray and hope, as it is the very antithesis of regret. To drive away procrastination because it leads to regret. To work at what I love, do what I love, work on those aspirations formed in the closet of pedestrian desire; it drives away regret. A continuum of thoughts flowed, as I helped him outside, with the sun smiling on us. On his face and on mine and everyone in view, perhaps a confirmation from the heavens on the lesson that a full life is one which is lived without regrets.
P.S: Exam preparation is taking most of my time presently. I will make sure that one post is uploaded weekly. Thanks for your patience and understanding. Stay blessed!