I amble half-asleep into the kitchen when my niece surprises me with a big hug.
‘Oh my God you’ve gotten so big!’ I say, about three times. She rolls her eyes and I realise I sound just like my Uncles did when I was little. She has sure stretched in the 8 months I’ve been away. We get reacquainted over breakfast.
‘What’s your favourite colour?’
‘Well, it’s turquoise or light blue.’
‘It’s not red anymore?’
‘NO. It was red when I was little. I’m going into Senior Infants now.’
‘Oh excuse me, I didn’t realise you were so grown up.’
‘Well I am 5 and ¾’s, ya know.’
My nephew circles the kitchen, reacquainting himself with my presence. As I drain a glass of water, he runs up and plants a fist in my thigh, ‘na-naas’ and runs away while checking over his shoulder to see if I am in pursuit. I give chase. He takes small, quick steps up the hallway. My steps (in role as a cool, calculated villain) are long and slow. The 5 doors of the hallway shut out light and create a gloom. He comes to a dead-end. I slap the soles of my flip-flops off the wooden floor as I bear down on him. He squeals and howls in anticipation of the impending tickles.
He laughs with unbridled joy, then breaks free from my clutches, lets out a triumphant roar, runs down to the sitting room and hides behind the curtain.
‘I wonder where Toto is!’ I declare, like a pantomime gobshite.
After more high jinks we sit down in front of the TV. I summon cartoons with the zapper and flick through the channels.
‘No, no,no, no,’ Nini says as colourful images blink past. ‘Wait!’ she commands as a princess appears. ‘No.’
So many channels.
‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ she says eventually.
‘Yeeeahhhh,’ Toto agrees.
Twenty minutes of a cartoon. Welcome relief. Nini and Toto stare at the TV, mouths wide with wonder. My mother comes in and plants Jim-jim down on the floor in front of his favourite toy. His chubby hands explore the colourful chunk of plastic that twirls, breathes, bobs and jingles; ‘dododo doodleydo dodododo dooo do.’ I pick up the Sport Supplement on the couch. Kilkenny manager Brian Cody says he has a full complement to choose from for Sunday’s semi-final. He goes on to say ‘dododo doodleydo dodododo dooo do.’ I throw the newspaper aside.
The ads come on.
‘I want that for my birthday,’ Nini says.
‘An’ I want That for my burpday,’ Toto says.
I spring to my feet and zap the TV. They look to me.
‘Let’s go outside and play,’ I say.
‘Play what?’ Nini inquires.
‘Whatever you want,’ I say.
She considers this.
‘Okay,’ she says and slides off the couch.
Toto is looking at the blank screen, his face clouding with concern. I tell him we’re going outside. He buries his head into the cushion and sticks his bum in the air. He howls in protest. His anguish is as sincere as his laughter earlier. Jim-jim stops whacking his toy and watches the tantrum curiously. Eventually, I put the TV back on. Toto readjusts himself. The baby coos and gurgles and slaps the chunk of plastic ‘dododo doodelydo dodododo dooo do.’
Out on the green, Nini has a game.The name of the game is ‘Big/Small Hit the Ball.’ There’s a long, convoluted set of rules, one of which states that you have to be either 5 ¾’s or 33 years of age to play (thankfully, we both make the cut). I’m not sure I follow all the rules but once we start I realise she’s the goalkeeper and I’m taking shots. Nini pulls off some great saves.
After, she lays down on the grass and looks up at the sky.
‘You can be anything you want when you’re older can’t cha?’
‘You can be a princess, a fairy, or a camogie player….’
‘Can I be a fairy?’
‘No you can be a prince or a knight.’
‘But I decided to become a teacher instead.’
‘But you don’t have to be anything if you don’t want to be, don’t cha?’
‘I have some friends that aren’t anything.’
Nini considers for a few moments.
‘Did you keep your dream?’ she asks.
‘Well. When I was your age I wanted to be a footballer.’
‘But you have to keep your dream secret.’
‘Because, if you tell someone, it won’t come true.’
Nini gets back to her feet and insists on showing me a series of manoeuvres she calls gymnastics.
‘Wow,’ I say.
A toddler waddles across the green followed by a man on his mobile phone. He looks incredibly bored. We raise our eyebrows in salutation.
Later, I can’t wait to get out of the house.I put on my football gear and head for the door with my bag on my back.
‘Hey.Where are ya going?’ Nini asks.
‘I’m going to play football.’
Her eyes light up.
‘You kept your dream!’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You said you wanted to be a footballer when you were little.’
She comes up and gives me a big hug, like I’m some sort of hero.
Something similar? A Day at the Beach
Something different? Second Date