Age ain’t nothing but a possibility

On some level I have the spirit of a much older woman in me.

For real. Cosmically speaking, or something like that, I’ve definitely been through my share of a life longer than my 23 years. It hasn’t always been apparent to me but perhaps it should have.

I should have realised that I’m an aunty when my high school cupboard boasted about 10 cardigans in 10 different colours.

Or maybe when I was 14 and putting up all-caps Facebook statuses lamenting the noise people were making in my boarding house. Anyway, it was pretty much solidified when one of my closest friends nicknamed me Nkhono Fifi.

That’s probably the starting point for why I, unlike my peers, have so many friendships with older people. That and the fact that I’m an only child who has always been surrounded by adults.

Sure, cousins abounded, but cousins also went home and left me with my three adult friends — also known as my mother, my father and our helper Nkhono Malerato.

I distinctly remember being about 10 years old and saying, much to her shock: “Ke tsofetse, Nkhono Malerato, ha ke sa khona ho etsa lintho tse joalo” (I’m old, Granny Malerato, I can’t do such things anymore), because I’d heard her make similar statements.

It must have been one of the things I picked up from happily hanging around her and the other neighbourhood domestic workers when they’d sit and chat in the garden, enjoying their snuff.

I also recall being about four or five playing next to my grandmother and one of her friends and inquiring about what they were laughing at. This was an apparently hilarious incident I have yet to live down.

Even though I knew I was a child, I never wanted to be left out of their jokes, I always wanted in on the action, for heaven’s sake.

I guess it should come as no surprise then that in my adult life I have forged so many friendships with people who are older than me. Without even trying. And for whatever reason, not having very much in common in terms of life experience has not been a stumbling block to these friendships.

My one friend is about 40 years old and married with no children. She was my instructor for a part-time course I did and we later worked together at a small English language school. We just hit it off. We bonded over our love of tea, baking and our grammar-Nazi tendencies and it became evident that we could be friends outside of work.

Another older friend and I also met through work and connected over our similar approaches to teaching. She was deeply spiritual and taught me about reiki. We could talk for hours about the moon, stars, energies, the universe and loss.

We bonded over loved ones we had lost through death. She’d lost a husband and I’d lost a father. It didn’t matter that she was my mother’s age and that her oldest son was my age — though it was a little trippy the day I realised she was sporting the exact same colourful woven straw bag that my mother owned.

One of my oldest friends (read: in age, not duration) is a Swiss-Italian lady who happened to be my neighbour. She’s well into her 60s and both her daughters are much older than me.

I’m sure the fact that they both live overseas lends itself to the mother-daughter or grandmother-granddaughter dynamic we share.

She used to be a skin hygienist and always gives me tips and tricks to clear my acne. The free beauty treatments and fancy skin products don’t hurt either. We usually bond over them and discuss anything from geopolitics and why she likes Julius Malema so much to how she doesn’t like my heavily filled-in eyebrows (when she was young, thin was in) and what she misses about Switzerland.

She also never forgets to ask how my boyfriend is treating me and reminds me that I should cut him off if I’m not happy. It also helps that I understand some German and can understand her cute little anecdotes.

The oldest person I have forged friendship with was an old Jewish man who was my neighbour at some point. Definitely my grandfather’s peer.

He lived by himself and would always take walks up to the shopping centre near our complex. Sometimes we’d find ourselves leaving the complex or walking back from the shopping centre at the same time so we’d sommer just walk together.

I’ve always had an interest in Judaism and Judaica and he’d explain the various Jewish traditions and teach me interesting Hebrew expressions.

I always thought it was nice that he could teach me interesting things and I could provide him with some temporary company. Alas, that relationship came to a screeching halt when he made a romantically suggestive comment that made me too uncomfortable to continue the friendship.

Hey, I guess sometimes age doesn’t always come with wisdom. 

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Refiloe Seiboko
Subeditor at Mail & Guardian

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