It was a routine Monday morning. I met my senior colleague, Kofi Bliss, descending the stairs as I was climbing. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and I was about to continue when he suddenly broke down in tears.
Baffled, I consoled him and enquired who had died. His response was even more baffling: “I am the dead one, they have asked me to go home, they say my retirement is due next month,” he said amid more sobs. That day was his last day at work after 35 years of service to the company.
He lamented about how ungrateful the organisation had been to some of them after they had served it so diligently over the years. As he continued his descent, it was obvious he was not only descending the stairway but also descending into a life of despondency and uncertainty. I was later informed that he had declined the company’s offer of a party in his honour as had been the tradition.
Not long after that week, another colleague, Winifred, announced to all that we would not be seeing her again in any official capacity, and that she was putting down her tools after 30 years’ service.
At her exit party, she was so excited moving from table to table that curiosity got the better part of me and I approached her to let me in on her secret. Her response was: “Planning, planning and planning.” She added that the reality of retirement had dawned on her in the early stages of her career and she started planning towards it. With the support of her husband, they had been able to put up a modest house and opened a bookshop to serve the numerous schools in the neighbourhood. Her children had all been educated up to the tertiary level and were in various employment positions. She had even trained as a lay preacher in order to be more beneficial to the church.
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As I drove home after the party, my encounter with Kofi Bliss kept recurring and I began to reflect on his life and why retirement had become a bitter pill for him and several others to swallow.
Considering the stressful nature of work, one would have thought that the last working days of Kofi Bliss would have been a happy one for him. I had also thought that with his benefits from the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) and provident fund, he had very little to worry about. His physical looks also made it seem that he was far older than his official age in spite of his generous use of hair dye. And so why the tears?
The two workers had chosen their retirement paths long ago and were now enjoying the fruits of their choices. Bless was noted for being dedicated and hardworking, and got his due in terms of promotions. But he was also noted for his love for the bottle and anything in skirt. He had children with several mistresses and would always tease that as a Christian soldier, he was always marching on.
It is true that leaving a place where one has virtually spent all his adult life will evoke some emotions that can lead to tears, but the kind of tears I saw was more than that. It was a question of: How do I live the rest of my life outside the office? Where will I lay my head and who will keep me company? How will I continue to feed myself since some of the freebies I get at work will cease? Building a house was never part of his plans. To him, retirement was only a word meant for others.
From the lives of my two senior colleagues, I have learnt that once you have a letter of employment, you will definitely get a letter notifying you of retirement. I have also learnt that planning towards that day is key since that will result in whether you go home as a Kofi Bliss or a Winifred.
As would be expected, Kofi Bliss’s miserable retirement life was cut short by death a few years later. As I write, Winifred is still around and occasionally passes by the office to say hello to colleagues.
Even God rested after creation and so after our work, we will definitely lay down our tools. How we do it is a choice left to us alone.