Fiction Inspirational Sad

An official-looking letter arrived in the letterbox, nestled among junk mail advertising the Christmas season specials. Inside Shupi found a summons to attend the reading of a will at a well-known local solicitors’ office in town.

“Do you have any idea of who your benefactor is?”

“Your guess is as good as mine Bill. I don’t know anyone who has died recently in our family. Certainly not anyone who would want to mention me in their will.”

The meeting was in an imposing historic red brick building owned by Cookson and Mupane Solicitors. Bill remained in the reception area while Shupi met Mr Cookson, a mature silver-haired man sitting behind a solid oak desk, in a sombre suit. He did not waste time with formalities, and after confirming Shupi’s identity, he proceeded to outline the terms and conditions of the will.

Shupi was out in less than an hour, with a warm glow on her face.

“You must have had a good meeting. Are you going to share the news?”

“Patience, patience, Bill. I am still trying to internalise the fact that I am now a woman of means. I’ll tell you the full story once we are in the flat, after a stiff drink!”

Shupi narrated the contents of the meeting, “Mr Cookson told me that I have or had a distant aunt from my father’s side who took a shine to me. Please don’t ask me why, something about having followed my career and achievements on LinkedIn and believing that we shared the same values about international development. This Aunty Agatha emigrated years ago and took up British citizenship. She never returned to this country and as a result, became estranged from the rest of the family. No one seems to talk about her much. It’s as if she never existed. According to the solicitor, when she passed away recently, she sent instructions that I should be found since I am the only beneficiary to her quite substantial estate, at least by our standards.”

“Wow, lucky for some. I am obviously in the right place at the right time! With your inheritance, you can help me pay off my bills and throw in a new car. This flat could also do with some sprucing up.”

“Be serious Bill. I’ll read you her letter; then pinch me afterwards because I honestly am both intrigued and surprised by the terms of her will.

Dear Shupi

I am sorry that we never met under better circumstances. If you are reading this letter, it means that my solicitor has contacted you, and I have passed on after suffering from cervical cancer. I left Zimbabwe a long time ago, even before you were born and became one of those people in the diaspora who lost touch with their roots. I am a distant cousin to your father, and we were very close as children. I have followed your career closely and based on your online profile, it's clear we share an interest in the same causes, and I have read a number of your eloquent publications on the global ageing phenomena. I was especially impressed by your articles on long term care and creating age-friendly environments. I know that you have reached the pinnacle of your profession and am very proud of your achievements. In your way, you have become an international advocate on issues of older people; a neglected demographic group. Yet it is increasing in numbers globally. 

I, therefore, hope that you can spare time to make the dreams of a dying woman come true. I never married and have no children, so I hope that I am not burdening you with my requests. I have been very fortunate and saved money for my planned retirement back home. But my medical situation means I can no longer travel at this late stage in my illness.

Mr Cookson, my solicitor who I have known for years, will have explained that I have a substantial residential property in the northern suburbs, which I hope you will partly rent out. I would like you after a year, to convert it to a day centre for older people; a project close to my heart. I do not need to tell you that most people back home are retiring without a plan, sometimes not even a pension and loneliness has become a significant problem. If only there were more dedicated persons or local charities to help improve their quality of life. That is where you come in.

      While the cottage of the town property is being rented, you can utilise the income to refurbish the main building, according to the Department of Social Service’s specifications. To promote sustainability, Mr Cookson will help you set up a trust so that the organisation functions into perpetuity. 

The second part of my request is that you get first-hand experience of the issues affecting older people, by living for two months in an older people’s home, which I have been supporting in the rural areas. It is in dire straits and caters for vulnerable people who have been rejected by society and are suffering from the consequences of ageism. In my will, I have left the responsible authority some funds, on condition that you join the Board overseeing the development of the older people’s home.

      I know this is a tall order, but I am sure I have made the right decision in choosing you to ensure my wishes come to fruition. While you are spending two months there, it will be an ideal opportunity to come up with ideas on how the planned day-care centre can operate and make the lives of the urban older people, worth living.

If however, you are unable to fulfil all my requirements, the sum of approximately five hundred thousand pounds (500K), set aside for you in tranches; will be donated to two charities of my choice. I trust that this will not happen.

I wish you well in the future and again am sorry that we never met.

Your loving aunt,


“This is what you call a windfall, and it sounds like she was a very strong-minded but empathetic woman. Now I know where you inherited those traits from!” 

“You can see why I am in a state of delayed shock, Bill. I had other plans for my future, and nothing like this crossed my mind.”

“You can do this Shupi, even though I can see potential problems, while you are working to grant the old woman’s wishes. She is certainly going to make sure you work for your money! I don’t begrudge your wonderful career and success; however, she got one thing wrong in her assessment of you. You are not exactly someone who takes to life without its luxuries. Even the idea of camping sends you into a tailspin! She has got you there!”

“I know! I am all for supporting older people while I sit working on policies in air-conditioned offices. But living in a strange community for two months is not my idea of fun; much as I would love to inherit the 500K windfall. After I heard that clause, I asked Mr Cookson whether I couldn’t be creative and find someone to take my place while I go back and forth to the older people’s home, gathering the data to set up the town day-care centre. He said his instructions were explicit and Aunty Agatha was quite adamant about the terms of inheritance. The more I hear about her, the some I think that she was a rather forthright woman.”

“Like Aunty, like niece! So what’s the plan and how much time do you have to make up your mind?” said Bill.

A week later, Shupi and Bill visited the older people’s home, which Aunty Agatha had been supporting for many years. They decided that they would not announce their connection with Aunty. After travelling over 100 kilometres, part of it along a dust track off the main tarred road; they arrived at a white washed-brick complex in different stages of disrepair and showing few signs of life apart from goats lying in the shade of giant gum trees.

The place soon slowly came to life as faces peered out of different corners, curious to establish who the visitors were. It didn’t take long before Shupi and Bill were taken on a guided tour of the home. The more they asked questions about its history and administration, the more despondency seeped in.  

On their way back to town, Shupi resumed the conversation,

“What am I letting myself in for? The state of the place! I’m just trying to imagine how those poor people stay there in such dismal conditions. It’s a great relief that Aunty Agatha’s estate will continue to pay the monthly utility bills and salaries. That is such a major commitment. Otherwise, the place would fall apart.”

“Yes, talking about donations from well-wishers, did you see the sleeping quarters while I was being shown the livestock and storerooms?”

“The place is depressing Bill. I honestly don’t know whether I can go through with the terms of this bequest. I was on the verge of tears after hearing the residents’ stories. Some of them have been there for years and become so institutionalised, they no longer think for themselves. Others have died there, and no relatives came to claim them. It’s heart-breaking to think that we have come to this as a society. What has happened to our tradition of caring for our old people?”

“If we keep harping on about the negatives, you will never be convinced to go and stay there for two months,” said Bill continuing, “ At least there isn’t a problem of running water, and the electricity is constant, except for power-cuts. To some extent, they are living better lives than those in the village. A promise of three meals a day and transport to get them to medical facilities is at least something in the home’s favour. Although I was concerned that most of the residents appeared idle. Was there any evidence of recreational facilities?”

“You aren’t the one who is going to have to stay there, Bill. I went into one of the corrugated iron-roofed cottages where the women stay, and it was like a dark hovel. I know some older people are very protective about their living space and don’t allow people in to help and probably some of them are serious hoarders as well; hence the state of some of their cottages. If I stay there, even in my own space, I have visions of sleeping with mice scurrying about at night; never mind bed lice and all sorts of other creepy crawlies. There are no inside toilets, and I also heard that its cold showers every morning!”

“Shupi, this pessimistic view is so unlike you! I know you have never roughed it in your life. However, underneath all that negativity, you have an ingrained passion for helping older people. You can overcome the issues you are complaining about if you put your mind to it. You now have the means and a large 500K carrot dangling in front of you,” said Bill.

It took under a week before Shupi egged on by Bill, came up with a plan. Back at the solicitor’s office, she once again met with Mr Cookson.

“Thank you for seeing me. I am still in shock about my inheritance. After I visited the older people’s home out of town, I have given the terms of the will some serious thought. My response to my aunt’s wishes is not driven just by the money I will inherit, although I won’t pretend it will not change my life. With so much potential, I can now see why the older people’s home was close to my aunt’s heart, and I also understand her vision of a day-care centre in town. I believe that my interventions will help my aunt’ soul rest in peace. Two months out of my life is nothing, compared to the changes I can make with the resources at my disposal. I have visited aged care homes abroad, and we cannot hope to reach the high standards as found in some Asia- Pacific countries. They also probably have many issues to contend with. I can, however, make a difference here. Sorry I am now rambling on.”

“No! No, Shupi. Feel free to share your thoughts. I have to admit that when I first read the will and then met you, I wasn’t one hundred per cent convinced your aunt had made the right decision about her considerable estate. I wondered whether she had put too much confidence in you, based on what she had read on the internet. I also had some misconceptions about you, after hearing from your aunt that you have lived as an expatriate abroad. In my business, I come across beneficiaries who follow out terms of a will, just for the money. I wrongly assumed you were one of them. However, based on the action plan in front of me, it’s clear you want to comply with the terms of your inheritance. Rest assured, I am always here to help,” said Mr Cookson escorting Shupi out of his office.

Bill, waiting in the car, quizzed Shupi as she opened the door, “You took your time. So, how did the meeting go?”

“I am not entirely sure that your concern is all about the welfare of old people Bill, but thanks for asking. We had a frank discussion, and it’s now full speed ahead!”

Bill, with a mischievous grin, replied: “Now that’s settled, how about helping with my few bills, doing up our flat and possibly getting a new car…?”

December 16, 2020 02:19

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