I have always believed the notion that life after retirement can be a complicated time, but surprises come in ways we never expect. Since I retired, I have found pleasure in the quietude of early morning walks to the nearby convenience store, the church or just within the community because it brightens up my mood and keeps my laziness at bay throughout the day. Besides the fact that walking is generally an ideal wellness exercise, I have come to realise that it spurred a rather spontaneous interest in my natural curiosity in the daily comings and goings of the different personalities who have lived in this middle-class community, and were it not for this exciting and stimulating exercise, I wouldn't be telling you the story of how I came to appreciate this sort of activity.

The air of the New Year is so mesmerising that I didn’t realise I had been walking for almost an hour when I happened to notice two children standing on the pavement. They were brother and sister, I think, judging by the similarities in their physical appearance and mannerisms. The little boy, about ten, stood there, idly swinging and thrusting the dried leaves off the pavement and then stifled a yawn. He glanced briefly at me and looked away, pretending to check his watch under his messy head of hair and then yawned again. He was probably embarrassed, conscious that I was observing him. The girl, on the other hand, gawked at me while smoothing down her wrinkled skirt. Strands of hair stuck out untidily from her braid. She leaned casually against the rusty lamppost that stood next to her, unaware of the impression it might leave on her immaculate white blouse. Waking early can have such an effect in children, especially during vacation when they think of sleeping in. There’s something about the holiday season that magically turns children into living zombies. I’m just saying, as holidays could really bring out the best and worst in people.  

Striding at a steady pace, I turned right until I reached the curb. I couldn't help but wonder about the children’s parents, though, and several excuses played in my mind which was interrupted when, without warning, a car sped up from behind as I was treading over the dust-covered street, leaving me jumping at the pavement and gasping for air. Whatever happened to courteousness on the road, I thought. Moments later as I pulled myself together, I looked around this depressingly dull side of the community; cars parked on the roadside and dogs barking everywhere, garbage containers overflowing with milk cartons and honey jars waiting to be collected, bags of food strewn along the way, and fallen, crushed, guava fruits that have dried out scattered looking like polka dot dog faeces, you wouldn’t know which is which. I had to hop and skip, carefully avoiding surprises in this heavily mined area.

Along the way, the rays of early sunlight filtered through the umbrella trees that lined the street revealing a flamboyant display of bright red-orange leaves, that harmonised with flickering yellow lights under the eaves, the sight of it gave me the chills. Then I had imagined a spotlight for the next program, so to speak, until a beam of sunlight shone on the only house on the block that appeared like it needed repairing. I looked around as I wended my way up the street, and thought I must have made a wrong turn, for I knew that I had already passed the bleak street. Further down, I had spotted a mailbox at the entrance of the property and on it read: Mr and Mrs Butanding. Shortly, a stout woman dressed in a luminous yellow outfit probably in her fifties stepped out of the gate. She smiled at me as we greeted each other in unison, then engaged me in some small talk.

"Happy New Year! Happy New Year!”

"Doing your round of New Year’s exercise, I see." she said, smiling. 

“We all have to keep fit after pigging out during Christmas merrymaking,” I said marching in place refusing to interrupt my pacing.

 “By the way, we’re having Social Bingo tonight at seven, care to come? It’ll be good for you, you know, the more the merrier!”

"Oh, you mean a bingo social? Is there anything I can bring?” I said promptly.

“It’s Social Bingo, and you don’t have to bring anything. It’s all been played for. You’ll see, tonight. Are you in?” she said at once.

“Well, ok I guess. I’ll have to play as an observer, first, just to be sure,” I said. Being a new retiree gives you that immediate sense of proportion, weighing your options.

“Wonderful,” she replied as she began indiscriminately clearing up her front yard from piles of leaves and litter from the firecrackers strewn all over, “Don’t be late.”

I wondered, though why she needed to dress so—brightly. Moments later, Mr. Butanding came striding into the driveway in half-naked glory sporting nothing but a pair of flimsy cotton boxers which exposed his large protruding belly, in his handphone over a heated exchange. 

"I have invested more money than any of you, in that piggery business and I’m not about to give up— No! Let’s decide after the holidays, goodbye!"

I winced at the revolting sight of his jelly-like belly which he shamelessly flaunted and reasoned to myself, what kind of person can afford to dress shamelessly on New Year’s Day? Well, thought I, this pigsty I mean— pig farm business suits him just fine! But then again, the holidays just make you want to forgive and forget, I thought to behave with a bit of savoir faire.

Half an hour of brisk walking had passed and I hastened with longer strides until I passed a large acacia tree on the corner. A gentle wind carried the sweet smell of perfume and tickled my nostrils. My eyes popped to see such colourful flower beds everywhere! Mesmerised, I pulled my hair from my face and circled it in a bun to get a good view of this part of the neighbourhood. The deep red and blue houses provided a backdrop for shades of pink, mauve, and crimson with a pop of bright green and orange and formed a delightful blend of whimsy and caprice. It was like walking through a children's storybook; charming and attractively unusual. I briefly glanced at the name of the street— Asteria Drive! What magical wonder this is so soothing to the eyes and peaceful to the restless soul. I was smiling from ear to ear when suddenly my short reverie was disrupted by a shrill sound that blasted out of nowhere.

“You watch your words, young lady! Where’re your manners? Hello—Hello!" 

Oh, well, there goes my peace and serenity I thought, still focused on my strides. These early morning walks I’ve had since, had given me different experiences each time, and so far, they’ve all been interesting.

I walked further down and up the leaf-strewn path, stopping in between to catch my breath, and smiling and greeting anyone who happened to pass by. At one point, I closed my eyes to block out the dissonant sound of barking dogs, a beeping car, and the annoying roar of a motorcycle, and without delay continued in the direction of my street. I gazed at the passerines, perched on the telephone lines, squawking in apparent conversation amongst themselves. I've never felt more exhausted! But their chirrups made for a lively carol, and somehow, it felt relaxing. I moved along in quicksteps eager to reach the end of the block, and along the way, I caught a couple of old-maidish females dressed in pink and white uniforms. The household help who were engaged in tittle-tattle, about what? Your guess is as good as mine—although, had I known earlier, I would have thought that they participated in Social Bingo, and this was another social activity at stake. Anyway, I was immediately reminded why I preferred living by myself.

Ah, finally I had almost reached the end of my physical activity, and I was already dragging both feet when a quaint-looking circular house grew at the end of the street. Light glinted from the galvanised rooftop and dazzled my eyes. As I neared it, I couldn’t help but notice the inside garden fenced by white wooden railings. It was teeming with several kinds of orchids, colourful Dendrobiums, Cattleyas, Vandas and Dancing Ladies, in full bloom. As I was almost near the end of the road, I felt grateful. I couldn’t have asked for a more fortifying way to spend the early hours of New Year’s Day, after having slept through the eve of New Year, than an early morning walk, and what an interestingly stimulating round of new experiences!

That was a year ago.

Indeed, the New Year is the season for new beginnings, hope and a renewed appreciation for things that aren’t in the tradition of the holidays but unusual as it sounds, can be enjoyed. Well, I’ve gotta be ready for the Social Bingo at seven. It’s been tradition, you see, and I’m not playing as an observer this time. I wonder what social activity I might end up with in tonight’s game, though. 

January 02, 2020 05:54

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