Posted on: January 22, 2012

P and I were sitting at the tables by the hotel pool, doing some work before our meeting at the Nairobi office, when out of nowhere this old Indian uncle shows up and asks if he can join us. P’s also an Indian girl and both of us have been raised to be respectful to our elders, so of course we said yes. We also didn’t say anything when he started to smoke at our table – but the hostess saved us by asking him to put out his cigarette.

He just started talking to us about how much he loves being on the internet and plays bridge on-line and how he downloads so much music, especially AR Rahman. And then he blurted out he does all this because his wife of 32 years left him. Neither P nor I knew what to say… we just looked at him. He was an old man, with white hair, a big tummy and a classic ‘Indian Uncle’ look to him.

So we just chatted with him, and he apologized for telling us she’d left him. But as I told him, sometimes it’s easier to talk to strangers than it is friends. Then he told us he has to go to court this coming Wednesday to try to get visitation rights to see his grandchildren. It turned out that his son died 4 years back in an awful car accident and after that,  his daughter-in-law wouldn’t let him see his grandchildren anymore (even more tragic, the daughter-in-law was pregnant with their son, who was born one month after his father’s death. AND her brother was also in a crash that night and he died from his injuries a week later. So to recap for this poor woman: Husband dies, brother dies a week later, she gives birth to her son a few weeks after that, and already has a young daughter to take care of. I cannot even imagine her life…).

He was so excited about going to court on Wednesday because she had been ordered to bring the grandchildren. He hadn’t seen them in years.  In the meantime, he’d been paying for their schooling, hoping that would help him, but it hadn’t. She still hadn’t let him visit, and eventually quit taking the money for school. He was so proud of how they were growing up though, and the way she’d raised them. He said nothing but good things about his (ex)daughter-in-law.

He started singing that old Stevie Wonder song “You are the sunshine of my life” – he said he’d been practicing it so he could sing it to the kids when he saw them. P and I were both near tears at this point.

He also told us about his daughter: “She’s 30. It’s high time she got married.”  Hahaha. Yes… of course it is.

We talked for a little bit longer until his friend came for lunch. He said his goodbyes and started to walk away, but then turned around and said one more thing to us: “By the way, I’m celibate. By choice.”  P and I were both stunned speechless and started to giggle – maybe not the most appropriate response, but we didn’t know what to say. And he continued: “I just want some TLC. Someone to take care of me. I don’t even need the rest.” So I responded, “I think that’s what most people are looking for, actually.” And he said his final goodbye and left for lunch.

32 years of marriage gone. A son that died in a preventable car accident (he had been drinking and driving). Grandkids he hadn’t seen in 4 years. A daughter that he doesn’t see very often as she lives with her mom. You could see the pain in his eyes.

We obviously didn’t get the full story on why his wife left him (and is apparently so angry with him) or why the daughter-in-law wouldn’t let him see the kids. I’m sure there’s plenty of blame to go around. I think just releasing all of that information to total strangers was cathartic – he apologized multiple times for telling us such personal stories – but I think he just had to get it out.

I hope he finds happiness, some way, soon


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