My mother, my big sister and I live in a quiet gated community off the Tema Motorway. Our estate is the kind of community where young singles, middle aged people, retirees, as well as a healthy number of young couples live with their small children. The streets are safe enough for morning joggers, evening strolls and for children to ride their bicycles and play whilst their parents and nannies keep a sharp eye out for the occasional over speeding driver or the garbage collecting trucks, which often can be smelt from a mile away.
Now, this is not my story, but I’m telling it for my sister who told it to me and asked me to write it down because she says I have a way with words; so here I am... preparing to regal you with her story.
So over the last three or so months, she tells me, she's been giving a ride to an elderly man every morning or afternoon on her way into town. In the community we live in, there's nothing odd about giving a neighbour a ride to the main estate gate in order for them to get transportation to where ever their destination maybe. I myself have picked up and dropped off quite a few people either at the estate gate or taken them into the city if they happen to be heading in the same direction as I am.
Awo had been giving a ride to an elderly veteran soldier who had been to Burma, and who answered to the name 'Old soldier', for which he always replied ' Old soldier never die' followed by a mock salute.
Old Soldier would stand a little way from his house on the side of the street, walking stick firmly gripped in his hands, looking out eagerly for anyone driving out of the estate. When he saw a vehicle he recognised approaching, he would pull off his coolie-hi hat which I’m sure he had been wearing since 1945 and rapidly and desperately flag down his quarry with his sinewy weathered arms until you stopped. Come to think of it, it was near impossible not to slow down and give him a lift, he just looked frail and pitiful standing there all bent over, and anyone with half a heart would just stop if they pictured their own grandfather standing at the side of the street.
After picking him up, and making the respectful greetings and such, the next thing was always to ask him where he was going and his answer was always the same, him stuttering ….
‘Me si! Me si! Me si wo gate!' * 'I'll get down! I'll get down! I'll get down at the gate'.*
…..whilst making fast sporadic movements with his two skinny arms indicating his fore fingers in a downward motion.
Now mind you, Awo can be a humanitarian at heart, although she will never admit it to your face, she will always go the extra mile to do something for someone especially if she feels the person is in need of it.
So at moments like this, she always pushed and cajoled Old Soldier a little; she would ask her elderly companion where exactly he was going so that if it was on her way she could drop him off there and save a fraction of some of his pension money.
Old soldier always gave her either one of two destinations; that he was either going to the pharmacy in front of the estate or he was going to the Chiropractic Clinic across the main road. A couple of instances when he was going to the Chiropractic Clinic, Awo said she firmly insisted and dropped him off at the clinic's gate since she was going that way anyway and since Old Soldier did not seem to know where the entrance to the clinic was.
One Sunday morning, my sister started getting a bit worried and alarmed about the health of this Veteran soldier who had fought bravely in Burma eons ago when our own mother had not even been thought about by our grandparents.
She met Old soldier at his usual place, frantically flagging down her car with his coolie-hi hat and walking stick as if his very life depended on it. So like she always did Awo slowed down and picked him up, did the usual pleasantries and then inquired where he was heading off to. That day it was the pharmacy, but it was also 9am in the morning, and the pharmacy would not be open for business until 1pm.
She said she said to Old Soldier in Twi
‘Da, please its Sunday, the pharmacy won't be open until the afternoon’
To which he responded quickly in Twi with his distinct halting stutter whilst motioning rapidly in a downward motion with his two fore fingers
‘Mm33 tw3n! Mm33 tw3n!’ * ‘I’ll wait for them! I'll wait for them!’
His response was strange and my sister began to wonder about his mental health and specifically what manner of illness the poor old fellow was suffering from, which had him visiting the pharmacist seven days a week to purchase his medications. What kind of illness made him decide to wait almost 4 hours until the pharmacy opened, and why didn’t he not just buy his medications in bulk in order to avoid the daily to and fro journey. She began to feel sorry for him and made up her mind that next time round she gave him a lift, she would give him a little money to help him out a bit.
Now barely a week after this incident, Awo had her hair braided at home by our hairdresser Mabel, whom we always called when we wanted to get our hair braided or twisted. Normally when she was done with our hair, we’d drop her off at the station to get transportation home, and on this occasion, my sister decided to take her to the trotro station at Chayass Junction in Community 18, from where Mabel could get a loading car straight to 37 station, from which she could get another loading car home to Nsawam.
Like clockwork, Old soldier was standing in his usual spot on the street, coolie-hi hat and walking stick in hand, desperately flagging her car down as if there was no tomorrow.
So Awo, slowed down and she said sadly to Mabel
‘This poor old man is going to the pharmacy again oo!’
To which the Mabel the hairdresser responded with an unconvinced scoff of
Old soldier clambered into the backseat of the car, the usual pleasantries and greetings were exchanged, and then he was dropped at the estate gate as usual, where he said his usual profuse thanks whilst waving with his two hands, before he placed his walking stick back to the ground and shuffled away on his skinny weather beaten legs, his baggy mid calf khaki shorts unable to conceal his thin frame.
That’s when Mabel the hair dresser started talking about Old Soldier, whilst my sister, mouth agape, listened in shock.
According to Mabel, she had gone to braid another customer’s hair just a little further down the street from our house and close to Old Soldier’s house. The customer in question owned a wine and spirits shop where she retailed a bevy of drinks to all and sundry. That late afternoon, around dusk as she was putting in some finishing touches to the braids, the old soldier had shuffled by with his usual gait, coolie-hi hat in place on his head and walking stick firmly gripped in his knobbed fingers. Shortly after he had passed her customer had exclaimed
‘Humph! This old drunkard is going out to drink again!’
Then without further preamble her customer narrated how she used to sell alcohol to him at first, but had seen how bad his drinking habits were and decided that she would never ever sell to him again!
However despite her refusal to sell to him, the sly old foggy had found an alternative watering hole across the main road from the estate, where he shuffled to daily in order to get plastered. After he had had his fill and too roaring drunk to stagger the short walk back home, he always hailed a taxi to transport him back home.
My sister was aghast! Heartbroken! Angry! A Molotov cocktail of mixed emotions! She felt her trust had been betrayed! All along, Old Soldier had preyed on her pity, and had tricked her into enabling him to feed his habit! She immediately vowed never ever to give the old soldier a ride again and threatened to confront him and embarrass him next time round she spotted him flagging her down for a lift.
I couldn’t stop howling with laughter, and the only sympathetic yet ironic thing I could say to her was
‘S3 nsa no y3 aduro!’ * But the alcohol is medicine!’*
After all, with all that daily dose of booze, most certainly Old Soldier never die!