Old man, his Bench and a bottle of Scotch

The night outside is dark as it can be. The air moist and cold probably from the showers witnessed earlier on. The weatherman looked foolish enough for what he had said. A few people walk up and about and mostly in pairs. A couple giggles and wraps hands around each other, lips touch perhaps. Pair of teenagers is coughing in another corner, evidence of their drug experimentation. In the alley closer to the building is a city council bench. One of those installed in a city beautification attempt. The position of this bench is quite strategic in that while it’s unlikely to receive guests during the day, it received a fair share after dusk. It would remain occupied till a few hours to dawn and in lucky occasions to the early hours past dawn. Today a couple of university students in their late teens and early twenties are sharing stories in an urban slang that has become famous with the likes over a couple of cheap liquor and smoke. The air feels of illegality and indecency and crate is dragged on the hard concrete every now and then. A few are seated on the bench, in pairs and threes while others find themselves on the pavement out in the open. They form a circle within which a couple of skateboard stunts are done and some health threatening head spins. Hoodies and marvins are exchanged in tune with the Jamaican voice who sings something to do with “puff puff pass.” A number of shameful scenes are witnessed in form of dance. Well, this is what Nairobi has become at night. While the society laments the behavioural filth on Koinange street, every other street has an ever increasing share of moral decadence. And who is the moral cop, not one yet but a few loud mouths in city hall who stare in cameras and promise to make a change every election year.

Across the street on another bench is Ofis who has just caught his break in life. This very spot where the teenagers now make merry and more sin has been his home since the council installed it. In the circles of homeless people, this is his permanent residence and he has guarded it jealously like it was his life source. Tonight while he watches a generation that has thrown caution to the wind he wishes he had the chance to do it all over again. Maybe he would have made different choices but after all the grass is always greener on the other side. He probably would be more lost now that there was loud music, loud speakers and indecent dressing and language to boot. He chuckles at that thought and sips from his bottle. His days have grown long since the day he met that teenager who only drank scotch. He wasn’t very rich but his character wasn’t poor either. He’s the only one he’d call a friend in a long time. He was consistent in his word and was never late. Tonight was one of those nights he was supposed to come along.

Three months ago he was just a lonely and homeless man who slept in this bench. Three months ago his happy days were spent on the streets making up stories about every person who dropped a coin in his metallic cup. His earnings not so meagre ensured he had a hot meal in the evening for unlike normal people his spot would earn him more the next day despite the depression. If there was one thing he had come to believe, it is that man even in all the unfamiliarity would never leave a begging hand empty, at least a hand a day. Then one day when he came in the wee hours of the morning to his bench he ran into that teenager. Pea, he said his name was and the only man who unlike all the other violent men who lay claims that the bench wasn’t his, apologised and started to walk away. He was touched that night and called him back and soon they were talking like old friends. He wasn’t anything he would call attractive. In fact he’s the man who still had to talk his way into the heart of an overdrunk slut. His face was too long, his skin a little too dark, his beard a teensy bit bushy and his lips a tonne thick. He had earphones drapped in his ears and no piercing whatsoever. He spoke much and listened as little but when he spoke wisdom emanated like he was a thousand years older. It’s a no wonder he liked him.

So the old man told him everything he had learnt and promised to tell him more only if he came back for more. It was days since they last met and the old man had given up hope of ever seeing this young man. Soon he would be resigned to the idea that he was just alone in this world and that no friendship would ever last, at least not for him. He sips from bottle again as he hugs this realization in his mind. His feet are cold, his anger on the rise and his mind second guesses the idea of walking over to the teenagers to ask them to walk a way but something hold him back.

“Can I share your seat?”

“Well, it isn’t mine, help yourself out”

“Missed me?”

“Not at all, I was hanging out with myself the entire time.”

The old man is surprised he came back and turns over to give him a hug. Well most nights they just sit together without talking. They used to, the earlier days after that night they met but that changed after the old man had told William Jay Smith’s famous poem of the wise owl in an oak tree. It went something like this,

The wise old owl sat in an oak

the more he saw the less he spoke

the less he spoke the more he heard

why can’t we be like that wise owl bird?

Pea would bring a scotch and Ofis his life insights. Such was a friendship forged on the bench and fermented by scotch.



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