MY EVERYDAY LIFE: DAY 3: BE
After he said hi and smiled at me that day, we met again maybe once or twice during the first few weeks. I got back to seeing him as just another random guy in the hostel. And random he was, because we had not gotten to know each other past hand waves and head nods. I just saw him as the cool, old, European guy, that walked around in his vest, shorts and barefeet. One morning however, I seated on one of the benches where there was a fan, because Lord knows the heat would kill you if there wasn’t a form of cooling system, the ‘random guy’ came to where I was and asked if he could sit with me. I didn’t even know why he asked. Being this very African person that I was, having been convinced that elderly people were some sort of mortal gods,because parents want you to do literally everything for them, including waking up to pass them the remote that is a hand stretch away, I felt like I should have been the one to ask if it was okay to stick around.
“Sure, sure,” I said pointing to the empty space on the bench. I still felt like I should ask him if he wanted an extra cushion or something. How does it work when your parents aren’t around to scold you?
“ Do you want some tea?” He asked. I looked behind me to make sure there wasn’t someone else there.
“Uhm… sure. Yes please.” I don’t know why I felt the word ‘sure’ made me more European friendly.
He then stood up, disappeared behind the aesthetic plants just a few steps ahead, and then reappeared on the balcony of his room that was directly opposite to where I was seated. He went in. Came out a few minutes later with two cups and came back to his seat.
‘Here you go. Enjoy.”
I still do not understand what is happening. Why this guy chose to come sit here of all the tables and benches there were around. And furthermore he was offering me tea. Did it have something in it? Is it one of those things where after you finish drinking what is in the cup, you wake up in a different country, naked, bleeding and with no sort of recollection as to what had happened? I take the first sip. It was sweet. Green tea, he had mentioned. “Lord don’t let me die.”
“My name is Ben. I am from Holland. I am a little over 60 years old. I have worked with Nestle as a production engineer since 1986, and within this time I have been to 26 different countries. I stayed in each country for one and half years and then it was time to move on to the next. I have been to all the continents. But because of this moving factor, I was not able to have a family. No one wants that kind of instability you know? And then if kids ever came into the picture, it would have been even harder. They wouldn’t get to see their dad. This is not good.” He takes two sips of his tea.
“This was my last country to work in. I have been here for three years. After my one and a half years, I finally retired. I didn’t go back home because I honestly don’t like the weather there. It’s too cold. Actually I haven’t been there since 1986, and I don’t think I will ever go back. I really hate the cold. I love it here. This heat, it makes me happy.”
I chuckle at how different, yet similar we are. I would gladly take the cold any day. You see, when it is cold, you can put on more and more layers of clothes until you are warm enough. But when it’s hot, you will remove everything on your body but you will still suffer. You cannot remove your skin or your insides. How I wish you could. Especially when it came to sleeping at night. Argh this heat! But I would gladly live this my life behind and never ever come back to it. Gladly.
“Do you have any family? Siblings? Parents?”
“Ah yes. My dad died a while back. When I was way younger. My mother died a few years ago. She was 96. But she had alzheimer’s. Just before she died I had gone to see her and I was introduced to her like a stranger. She was told I was her son. And she smiled and welcomed me. But after five minutes she asked my brother, whom she lived with, who I was. It was really interesting.”
He stares into space. I can see an almost ounce of regret, maybe pain. But this is quickly overshadowed by a realization that seemed to say ‘so is life.’
“Anyway, where are you from?” He asked taking five more sips.
I tell him my history. There is really nothing much to tell. I am a recent graduate, who hasn’t been able to get a job in the last six months, but was lucky enough to get this opportunity. I have 6 siblings. I am the last. No family of my own of course. Sadly, I have not been to any other continent though I bet the Universe is sick and tired of the pleas I make to it to allow me to go. Far and wide. But never back.
“So what have you been doing during this one and a half years of retirement? And why do you choose to stay in the hostel instead of renting an apartment, now that it seems your heart has finally found a home?”
“If I was in a hostel we wouldn’t have met, would we?” I smile.
“I was staying here before because this was the accommodation my job had provided. I chose to continue staying here because I loved the variety of people it has allowed me to meet. I have made so many friends and connections here and in a way, gotten the family I never had. I also just like a simple life. A place to sleep is all I need.”
The depth of his words sink deep into my guts. ‘A place to sleep is all I need.’ Here I was chasing the world and all that is in it, yet all I needed was a place to sleep. And food of course. And somewhere to write. And maybe a dog. Or ten. I always wanted to have a 60 year old friend. My mind goes back to the poem I wrote about this. ‘So the Universe does listen? Huh!’
“What have you been doing for the one and a half years of your retirement?”
“I do commercials,” he says like it was nothing. Okay. Well, I don’t know how it works here, but where I am from, a single appearance on T.V makes you a celebrity for life. Imagine working on T.V on a daily basis. I sit upright now. All my attention is caught.
“I was walking on the streets one day and a guy stopped me and asked if I wanted to be on a commercial. Of course I thought he was trying to dupe me so I didn’t pay him any attention. But he kept following me for a while, I decided to give him my ear. He said they needed a person that looked exactly like me in the next shoot they were doing and I should really accept the chance. I told him I would call him. He gave me his card. The following day I called and I guess the rest is history.” He laughs heartily.
“I have done over 200 commercials. Maybe more. I have appeared on some movies as an extra. A friend of mine from Germany called me once and asked what the hell I was doing on TV. I just laughed and said I was trying out new things. I like it actually. And the pay is good. 1000 pounds a day because I speak French and German. 1500 if I spoke Dutch. But I am not doing for the money. No. I just need something to keep me busy. Something that isn’t so demanding and hard. And here I am.”
I speak all the admiration and envy I have of him. I tell him that he is one of the most interesting people I have ever met. He smiles. I guess he has heard that many times. Perhaps he thought I was one of those girls that say nice things to older white men so that they can make their way into their will. No, I am not judging. We sit there for five minutes without speaking. I guess this made him uncomfortable. I was deep in thought of the kind of person I would be when I get to my 60’s. I wonder if I will be half as intriguing.
“Well, I have a shoot to get to in the next thirty minutes so I have to go. It was really nice talking to you. Maybe we will see each other again. I hope you enjoyed your tea?”
I nod vigorously.
“Great! Have a nice day. Take care.” He smiles, winks and walks away.
Mahn! Could he get any cooler? Ben. The guy that said hi, smiled at me, and offered me tea. For sure I hope to see him again!