290x230-old-man-tea

-Photo courtesy: Theresilient.

“I want peace too,” said the old man as some kids shouted “peace, peace” outside his window. It was World Peace Day but he was not sure if these were peace activists or just neighbourhood kids who wanted to tease him.

The old man put some cotton in his ears and went back to bed. But before he could sleep, he heard a knock.

“Who is there?” he asked.

“The milkman,” said a voice. “You have not paid your dues since last month. Pay now or you get no milk.”

“Go away,” shouted the old man. “Today is World Peace Day.”

“OK, no milk on World Peace Day,” said the milkman and walked away.

The newspaper hawker came next. “Newspapers? I want no newspaper on World Peace Day,” said the old man. “Go home.”

Another knock and it was a waiter from the nearby roadside restaurant. The old man opened the door. The waiter put a tray on his table and said: “This is the last tray I bring for you. The owner says no more free food. Clear your bills first.”

“Get out,” shouted the old man.

“OK, OK,” said the waiter. “Who wants to come here, anyway. You never tip me and shout at me too.”

The old man went back to his bed. On one side, he had pictures of his two sons, both settled in America. The last time they visited home was six years ago. They do send $150 each every month. But they are not regular. Sometimes two or three months in a stretch go without any money transfer to his account. The old man is forced to live on whatever he saved from previous months.

It’s not that they do not want to send him money. They do but they cannot always afford to. Both his sons were doing odd jobs in Chicago, one at a grocery store and the other at a gas station. They were struggling but he did not want them to return home.

As long as they were in America, there was hope. Back home, they would be jobless or at the best become clerks like their father.

The old man could have lived comfortably, even on his pension, if he had stayed where he was. But his sons, who grew up in that working class neighbourhood, moved him to a ‘better area.’ “What will our friends and relatives say? Both your sons live in America and you are still living in a poor neighbourhood,” they argued.

So they forced him to rent this one-bed apartment in a middle class neighbourhood, promising to bear all the expenses. But the money they sent was hardly enough for the rent. He had to pay the bills – electric, water, gas – and also for his food and clothes from his pension. So he was often broke.

It was hot and stuffy. The old man looked at the fan. There was no electricity. He had not seen an air-conditioner since his retirement eight years ago. His meagre pension did not allow him such luxuries.

“Luxury?” he said to himself, “fan is a luxury too.”

So is electricity in a country where rolling blackouts are a norm. These days they live without electricity for 8 hours a day and it is an improvement. It used to be 12 hours.

The noise outside was fading. The kids who were chanting slogans had moved away.

But as the day progressed, the heat increased. The sun invaded his privacy from all the slits and crevices in the room – and there were plenty. He was too old to repair anything and had no money for the handyman.

“Ooooooooooo,” he shouted and covered his eyes with an old handkerchief his wife made for him before she died, a year after his retirement. His sons could not come to their mother’s funeral because they had not yet received their green cards.

They came a year after her death, stayed for a month and spent most of their time at her grave. It was during this visit that they moved him to this apartment, which was new but could not prevent the cruel sun from invading his privacy.

“No, no sun on World Peace Day, please,” he said. But the sun ignored him and the heat increased. The first few drops of perspiration appeared on his forehead. Then some entered his eyes from the eyebrows. Few fell on his lips. He could taste his body salt.

He got up, went to the sink – this being a middle class apartment, he had a sink in the living room too.

The old man washed his face. Brushed his teeth. Poured a glass of water from the pitcher. It was not cold but quenched his thirst.

“If only we had electricity,” said he, looking at the silent refrigerator. “But this is good too.”

He headed to the stoves. “Although it is hot, a nice cup of team will be fine,” he said to himself. He reached out to a shelf above the stoves. There was tea but the sugar and dry-milk pots were empty.

He turned on the stove. Luckily, it worked. He looked at his watch, the gas shutdown starts in an hour.

The old man boiled water, threw some tea leaves in it. Placed his half-broken chair near a rickety table. Put the tea-mug near the tray the waiter had brought. And looked at the tray: two pieces of naan bread and a plate of lentils. This was his brunch.

He sighed, put a piece of naan in his mouth and tried to swallow it with the help of the tea. It burned his tongue.

“Ooooo,” he shouted again.

He then tasted the lentil and was about to start his brunch when a fly appeared, buzzed over his head and settled on his shoulder. He brushed it away. It came back.

The old man dipped the bread in the lentil and tried to put it in his mouth when another fly appeared and both jumped on the food he was about to put in his mouth.

He threw away the bread piece, felt his tongue to make sure he had not swallowed flies.

He took another piece. Dipping it in the lentil, tried to eat it but saw something crawling in the plate. Ants!

He looked down and noticed an army of ants from his table to a hole in the nearby wall. They smelled the food and had come for their share.

He quickly picked the bread and the plate of lentils from the table. Took a large clay pot. Poured some water in it, put his food in a smaller pot and put it inside the water. Half of the pot sank in the water.

“Now the ants cannot reach it,” he said to himself.” I will eat it later.”

The old man pulled the chair close to the window, opened the window, holding the tea in one hand. “Good. No milk or sugar. I can drink it in peace. This tea is no good for flies or ants.”

But before he could take another sip, a stone came flying in and broke the mug. He almost fell from the open window. A kid was standing in the street below, holding stones.

“Sorry sir, I was trying to get those mangoes,” the kid pointed at a nearby mango-tree.

“Mango, you …,” he cursed the kid, and withdrew into his room, cursing himself. He tried to get back to his bed but slipped and banged his head against the table.

He remained motionless on the ground for 10-15 minutes, thinking he had fainted. He had not.

So he put both his hands on the floor and pulled himself up. That’s when he heard the shouts again: “Peace for all, long live World Peace Day.”

“World Peace Day, do they have this World Peace Day in America too,” he said to himself and burst into tears.


80x80-Anwar-Iqbal

The author is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Anwar Iqbal is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.


Comments are closed.

Comments (19)

aijaz
July 3, 2012 8:00 am
Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, social values deteroirated retired persons will live a difficult life like reflected best in the relevant write up.
Mubashir Cheema
June 30, 2012 3:36 pm
If there is a message or a story in this article, it is lost on me. And I agree with the other poster. Why drag America into this? What does America have to do with this man, other than providing employment for his sons who would fare far worse at home?
Skeptic
June 30, 2012 7:29 pm
Would anyone have bothered to read it if the editors had not misled us with the implied slight to America? This has nothing to do with America... The Beatles captured it well in Elenore Rigby - 'All the lonely people..."
Iqbal Hussain
July 2, 2012 6:13 pm
World peace day can be celebrated anywhere – does not matter whether it is America or any country. The writer is not raising finger for any specific country rather he has highlighted the day of world peace celebration. Poverty can be anywhere, dependency on the son can be anywhere, retired person can live anywhere, class conflict exists everywhere and an old-man can live in any country, parents always depends on their son/ daughter. So be cool and yes it is America where mix categories are living. The problem is not in developing countries even the G22 also has class conflict - poverty are there - millions of elderly people are living in poverty - there are effective strategy to fight poverty - there are continuous efforts to alleviate poverty and raising living standard - 20% of the population now living below poverty line. It’s a well written story and has been painted well in a very effective touchy way. This is the age where we realize that whole the life we remained busy in gold and glory, for the betterment and advancement of our children but could not think & save for our retired life and that’s the story says that the old man who is relying on the remittance of his son which is even not regular.
Mian Zahid
June 30, 2012 9:29 pm
I guess the end is only conveying the father's desire to be with his sons in America. It is not criticizing America. He is only hoping that unlike where he is now, nobody will disturb him if he is with his. And since his sons are in America, he too wants to be there.
S Shastri
June 30, 2012 1:58 pm
@Raika45 A good story makes you wonder, and so stays in your mind. Going from specific to something universal is another aspect of a good story. The old man's needs are at subsistence level, he hopes for peace & quiet, his sons chase a dream that they want kept alive through unaffordable imagery, yet his society tells the old man that all evils are due to America, which he may or may not believe, but hopes that his sons have what he doesn't – the eternal wish of an old parent. All else is irrelevant to the old man.
Rahul
June 30, 2012 1:29 pm
I agree. The title is a bit misplaced. The story is nice and reflective, but has nothing to do with politics, I think.
Agha Ata
June 30, 2012 1:17 pm
All of his problems were the result of his own follies to begin with. He shouldn't have moved to that expensive area in the first place.
raika45
July 1, 2012 1:31 pm
I got attracted to this story because it to some extent touches my life.I am single 67 years old with an only child, a son.The only difference here is that my son who is working elsewhere has set me up real well. A decent house and an ATM bank card that I use to withdraw money when ever I need it.Of course I do not spend much,but life is good.This is what every parent hopes for.
raika45
June 30, 2012 12:34 pm
Your last sentence does not make sense. What has this man's misery got to do with America? His son's indifference to their father is a different point all together.
No need to know
July 2, 2012 6:57 am
awesome
Aus
July 2, 2012 4:46 am
I really dont understand the relation between world peace day and the treatment his sons are giving to him ??
BRR
July 2, 2012 1:59 am
If you ignore the particulars, of US vs Pakistan, the story will ring true for any two disparate locations, separated by some distance. It could a father in rural KP with a son in Karachi who sends money home infrequently. The issue being old age and its problems coupled with no one to help in times of need and children located in remote places off to lead their own lives. This is the story of our age, nuclear families. This is the future.
Baba Sidni
July 2, 2012 1:17 am
Hahaha, the comments are more amusing than the story. Guys it is not a real life thing, it is just an allegory, the writer wants to convey the dream chasers and consequences. I hope someone gets the message.
No Mad
July 2, 2012 1:30 am
@shastri: brilliant analysis
M Faisal
July 1, 2012 10:25 am
bitter truth of our society
@nisarj
July 3, 2012 10:49 pm
Story draws our attention towards the bitter truth of present times. nicely written.
Joe in USA
July 7, 2012 3:30 am
I think your reply has good insight and merit. He is thinking beyond his walls, beyond his street, to his sons in another place... I hadn't thought of that when reading the article. Your reply adds a stronger dimension to it.
ahmadali86
July 7, 2012 10:33 pm
The story is nice but I second with the posts on top, why you dragged America and secondly if he was living in a flat where the mango trees comes from? But the story is nice, we forget the value and respect and run after money and career. There's a lot to say but who cares, guys will come read it and that't it..
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