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Spyglass: Just For A Few More Years 

By Azore Opio

He scratched his scrawny neck, squinted through the thick sheets of rain pouring down hard. Part of his problem was his eyes. At 76, even with his thick lenses, he could hardly see. Just thinking about his eyes caused his gnarled arthritic hands to tremor. Thank God, his ears still worked.

Pa Mbom was born in 1934 in the village of Njinikijimjim. Despite his family’s lowly station, Mbom’s right hand touched his ear when he passed it over his head and was sent to school to read and write. He did learn to read and write. Then recruitment into the police force was advertised. Mbom enrolled. He worked hard for twenty years with some change. He was so mean he could steal a coin from a dead man’s eye, but he could ignore the huge jewel on the dead man’s finger.

Retirement loomed. Mbom ran to a lawyer and brought forward his birthday, adding ten more years to what the good Almighty Lord had assigned to him. Then hairs grey, beards once a jet black moss now burned to coarse silver tufts, shoulders sagging and feet grown heavy, Mbom had to shuttle between K-Town and Buea to work.

He would snore through the trip, yet the trip usually sapped him. It took two constables to bear Mbom up the stairs to his office where one of the constables would help him raise his frail arm to salute his boss. Mbom was half dead; one foot in the grave, the other in the police force. Bitterness overlaid his past with a harsh brush, paling the vitality of his youth. Yet he had to complete the balance of the years he had signed twice with the police.

The Cameroonian civil servant who has cut his age makes an interesting case study for first year management and, why not anthropology students. Ma Becky, 69 and half, arrives for work at 10 or 11 in the a.m and spends the first hour and half wiping her conjunctive eyes as she fumbles and fidgets with files on her table. She tries to put a swagger in her steps when she crosses to the canteen, but her arthritic feet have grown cold and heavy. She is a decaying monument.

Pa Ngandjo is still gate-keeping but for all the world, he is also a decaying monument to where he has worked for the last forty years. He takes one long minute to lift the blanket he keeps permanently in the guard house from his chest, another long painful minute to crawl to the gate and another longer, even more agonizing minute to pop the lock and trundle with the gate wings. He too cut his age in order to continue working.

In the same line of duty, is an aged General who naps in security meetings. He changed not only his age, but he also keeps on draining his bloodstreams and filling the veins with fresh children’s blood, forgetting to change the old, clogging, collapsing veins! So whenever, they say “attention!” he has to wait an aching minute for the veins to open, the blood to rise upwards before he can lift his feet off the ground to take a salute.

My good neighbour, who loves himself more than me, dyes his hair weekly and tries to look young, tries to kick his wobbly legs and wiggle his puny buttocks like a teenager. He even tries to talk dirty, using the abominable four-letter words like sh*t, f%#k and all the other bullshit words. He even has tied the hour hand of his clock to 1990 forgetting that my clock ticks accurately.

Often, the youths are the innocent victims of this vicious age-cutting scheme as they continue to graduate in their numbers only to do the hardest job looking for work and grow old waiting for the age cutters to die in their offices to be replaced by other age cutters. They endure misery and poverty, eventually dying a lot earlier than the age cutters.

The rule of adjusting one’s age in Cameroon has never been put in writing, but it is probably fair to say the parliament sat in session and agreed that membership into the age cutting society is for life and that members die in office with interest only in one scheme; the continuance in office of oneself and the maintenance of the office in its current status; physically and economically, to turn public business into private industry.

These people who cut their ages withstand any narrowing of life; anything that tends to reduce their lives; hoping, against hope, that their lives might be prolonged. But then, the death often, inevitably, sweeps them off their feet when they least expect it. They die standing, so to speak.

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