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Time to Think

Time to think
Sprawled over the lounger on the verandah like one of Henry Moore’s gargantuan sculptures,
my visitor, who obviously considered his taciturn company sufficient reward for three sugar-laden
cups of tea, five cup cakes and my increasingly laboured efforts to entertain, farted softly.
As I could think of no suitable reply, the already lengthy silence lengthened further and I began
to wonder if his essential self had slipped away when with a grunt and a shudder he yawned himself
back to the present, hauled up his shirt, scratched sluggishly at an alarmingly distended, hairy white
belly and declared, ‘You’re lucky to be retired.’
‘Why?’ I sighed, wondering if the great lump was ever going to go.
‘All that time to yourself. Doing whatever you want. No deadlines. No pressure to conform. No
false expectations...’
‘Mmm.’
How long have you been retired?’
‘Ten years.’
‘And you’re...what? Sixty?
‘Sixty-nine.’
‘You see? It shows. You look much younger. It’s all that freedom from stress. Having time to
keep yourself slim and fit.
‘Perhaps.’
‘No need to sound so enthusiastic.’
‘OK.’
‘It can’t be all that bad.’
‘You reckon? The trouble with being free of those things you mentioned, is that I’m also free to
think.’
‘So?’
‘Thinking too much is counter productive; one eventually enters a metaphysical maze of
insoluble questions such as: Who am I? What am I? Why am I?’
‘Serious stuff,’ he acknowledged with a ponderous nod.
As that was the extent of his contribution and the sound of my own voice seemed preferable to
another prolonged silence, I decided to elaborate on my newfound theory. ‘While actively engaged
in my career,’ I began solemnly, ‘pitting my wits against competitors, interacting, planning,
preparing and anticipating, I knew exactly who and what I was by observing other people’s
reactions to me. The why was equally straightforward—to get a better car and house, take holidays,
pay off loans and so on. However, now I no longer go to work the ‘mirror’ of other people’s
reactions is no longer available. I'm forced to seek inside myself for proof of my existence.’
‘You’ve got Jon—surely he’s your ‘mirror’, as you call it?’
‘He should be, but after forty-four years our reactions to each other are more predictable than
our reactions to ourselves. We’ve reflected each other for so long that sometimes I’m not sure
whether I’m talking to Jon or myself. Don’t you find that with your wife? You do have a wife I
suppose?’
A protracted sigh. ‘Twenty-one years. It seems longer. We don’t talk much. Sometimes we
hardly see each other from one week’s end to the next. Margaret’s always out doing something or
other. Or I am. We’re social butterflies,’ he added with a smirk.’
I suppressed a smile. Hippopotamus? Yes. Butterfly? No. ‘Anyway,’ I continued when the
desire to laugh had abated, ‘thinking has led me to some extremely depressing conclusions.’
‘Such as?’
‘Well… I imagined that as I grew older I would eventually become the sum of my past actions.
If I achieved a string of successes, did the requisite number of good works and produced a few
things of worth, then in my dotage I could relax—swathed in the splendid ‘garment’ of my
 
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