by Myles Abroad
Adjusting to retirement
Word Count: 1205
Surplus to Requirements
It's an awful thing to be considered 'surplus to requirements', but there you have it. It's what I have become and yet I don't feel irrelevant.
Maybe to my family I am. The children have made their own way in the world, so much so, that I never see them or hear from them. My wife has long since been involved in her own things, to the extent that we only extend cursory greetings as she passes by me in her busy schedule.
I had looked forward to retirement as an end to the drudgery, and yet I dreaded the absence of it. In the end, I never made it to that landmark day. Instead, I was laid off two years shy of it. My manager had looked at me with feigned sympathy as he delivered the verdict. I was slow and my ideas were antiquated; I was holding up progress. The young buck had leaned back in his chair with a smug smile under hooded eyes, the patents of my designs adorning the wall behind him.
"Enjoy your retirement, Tommy," he said. "You deserve it. You've given us a great twenty-five years."
I went quietly, not wanting to inconvenience them by dying on the job. I packed up my personal belongings and left the office, passing hushed groups of my former colleagues. They gave forced expressions of goodwill barely containing the relief they must have felt.
At first, I had rolled around an empty house trying to avoid a wife that resented my presence. The grind of work was replaced by the boredom of being home. Day after day I stared blankly at a television screen, wondering what the hell I was going to do with the remaining years of my life. Unexpectedly, I hit on an idea that changed everything for me.
On a rare day, my daughter, perhaps motivated by a sense of pity, asked me to join her and her four children for a day out at Dublin Zoo. They were members and I insisted on paying my way. I might be old, but I was not ready to become a charity case. As we approached the entrance, my four-year-old grandson tripped and fell, scraping up his knees. I attended to him as he wailed while my daughter flashed her membership card. I picked him up and walked with them into the grounds of the zoo. Eventually, he stopped crying and ran off to join his siblings.
My daughter clasped my arm as we walked. "Thanks for comforting Paul," she said, and then abruptly stopped, putting her hand to her mouth. "Dad, you never paid."
I realized then I hadn't. "You go on ahead with the children. I'll catch up."
As I approached the ticket booth, I paused.
'Why should I pay? I'm old and invisible to everyone. Why not take advantage of that.'
I stuffed my wallet back in my pocket and re-joined my daughter with a new spring in my step.
That evening I met up with Billy, a fellow retiree. We sat in the pub and I told him about what had happened. He laughed at my audacity.
"Billy. Why don't we take advantage of our doddering? We both have our wits about us but everyone expects us to be senile, helpless or on the verge of dying."
"You mean we should sneak into the zoo ourselves, Tommy?"
"We could do that, but I bet there are all kinds of other things we can do."
Billy looked at me as though I was starting to develop Alzheimer's. "This is madness, Tommy. We're sure to get caught."
I smiled. "That's the thrill of it, though. Besides, if we get caught we just have to act confused and there'll be no fuss."
Billy took a sip of his pint. "I don't know Tommy. I'd just like a quiet life."
I could understand his reasoning and maybe he wasn't as frustrated as I was. I had done everything right in life. I was a family man. I worked hard, paid my taxes and never caused anyone any trouble. It was like I was carried along by the crowd of voices in my head, always dictating the right thing to do. The end result, though, was anti-climactic. I was now expected to quietly die in some corner with a minimum of fuss.
"Look, Billy, I have an idea we can try. I promise we won't get in any trouble."
Billy looked at me narrowly as he sat his pint back on the table. "Go on."
"Ireland are playing Denmark this Saturday. Why don't we sneak into the service entrance and watch the game from the side-lines."
Billy's eyes popped open. "Are you mad?"
I knew Billy's interest was piqued, though. He loved football. "It's been done before. We just have to act like we belong."
Tommy watched Billy stare carefully at his pint. We had laughed at the nerve of an Irish fan who had done something similar at a qualifying match in Latvia a number of years before. He finally looked up, a grin spreading across his face.
"We both have our FAI jackets," he said.
I nodded, watching the enthusiasm take hold of him.
That Saturday evening had been a revelation to us. Both with our FAI jackets on, we made our way to the service entrance. I had picked up a netted bundle of footballs while Billy carried a clipboard. As I approached the guard at the door, my hands full, I simply called out,
"Could you get that door for us, like a good lad?"
He obligingly opened the door and let us in. We dumped our props and made our way up to the pitch where we watched the game. It was one of the best nights I had experienced in years and I knew Billy felt the same way. It wasn't just the football match, though. It was the thrill of getting away with it, that rush of adrenaline when the moment of success or failure is on its tipping edge.
After our initial triumph, we met regularly to dare each other and plan our next coups. We crashed weddings and parties, went to concerts, plays or the cinema. We were anonymous, uninvited and never had to pay for anything. There were times when we got caught, but acting confused, people would take pity on us and help us find where we were meant to be. Eventually, our group grew.
We now meet weekly, fourteen doddering old fools with a new lease on life. We troll the internet looking for events to attend. We split up into groups, plan our deeds, carry them out and then laugh about our experiences at the next meeting. The evidence of our accomplishment is a selfie of ourselves at the event.
Looking at some of the photos of our own deeds I still laugh at the picture of Billy ginning while hugging Martin O'Neil, a grumpy Roy Keane standing in the background.
We may all be 'surplus to requirements' now, a burden on society, but why not take advantage of that and enjoy the rest of our lives at everyone else's expense. After all, we deserve it.