Happy Birthday: Life is Long!

I wake to the sound of an alarm. I press snooze in the hope that Monday fucks off for itself. It doesn’t. Monday doesn’t care if you partied hard at the weekend. Nor does it sympathise with you about the fact you feel a little cheated; all week the weekend seemed like a book full of clean blank pages waiting to be filled with wonderful things. Now that book is bounced off your dehydrated head and lands open on a page baring the cold facts; you got drunk and did a few chores; it’s over now and a pressing list of demands awaits. I get outta bed. It’s my birthday. 34 and feeling every bit of it.

It’s a bright cool morning.

I have to catch the train to Bilbao 4 times a week, which means four times a week I am running through the cobbled streets of Portugalete, bag bouncing on my back. Each time I tell myself that I need to leave my house 5 minutes earlier but I’ve been telling myself that four times a week for three weeks now. Still, I haven’t missed a train yet.

On the train everyone silently agrees not to get on each other’s nerves by shutting up and staring at their phones. I check Facebook. There’s a lot of people saying happy birthday. Facebook has prompted them to do so. I do the same when prompted. Everyone must be getting tired of everyone’s birthday.

In Spanish class I start to think that Saturday’s partying has left me brain-damaged. It takes me ages to construct a sentence. I am a little disgusted with myself. Will I ever learn this fucking language? I need to slow down on the weekend boozing. Mind you, I’ve been saying that every Monday for about five years now.

Afterwards my classmates and I go for coffee and cigarettes. None of us are particularly enthused about having to teach kids later on.

‘I don’t know how I’m gonna be all singing and dancing today,’ deadpans Aaron in a droll Newcastle voice, the imprint of a hangover on his face.

‘I hate when you have to tell-off a kid just before you do a song and you’re really angry, but you have to force a fake smile and say ‘Come on everyone! Let’s sing ‘We’re going on a Safari!’ James says.

‘My kids don’t even like songs! And they’re six! I’m there dancing and singing and their eyes are boring through me. I’m 33…34 and I have a hangover. What the fuck is your excuse young fella?’

I drain my coffee and run for the train.

Later, in class, I’m asking my teenagers what they did at the weekend.

‘I hang out with my friends and studied,’ is the standard answer.

They stubbornly refuse to let the conversation go anywhere. Maybe they’re just bored that they are doing the same shit over and over. Life is short, they say. Nay, life is long; Long enough for us all to get into ruts. Long enough for us to get bored. Ashley Madison has it the wrong way round. Life is short. Have an affair. If life really was short would people get bored of their partners and seek out affairs on the internet?

Life is long. Have an affair.

Life is long. Get drunk.

Life is long. Give up alcohol for six months.

Life is long. Live in another country.

Life is long. Take up a new hobby.

Life is long. You may as well have kids.

Life is long. Do something you wouldn’t normally do.

‘Did anyone do anything different?’

‘I went to Bilbao,’ says one pretty girl.

‘Oh really! What did you do there?’

‘Take photos.’

‘Took photos.’

‘Yes.’

‘Of what?’

She looks at me like she doesn’t understand.

‘Of buildings like the Guggenheim? Of homeless people who possess a tragic wrecked beauty?’ I suggest.

‘No…of each other.  For instagram.’

Now I’m the one who doesn’t understand.

In my next class I have my six year olds doing exercises.

‘Running, running, running, running, jumping, jumping, jumping, jumping, eating, eating, eating, eating, swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming.’

Their enthusiasm and big wide smiles are a pleasant contrast to the guarded, sullen teenagers.

The adults file in. I smile and greet them all. They take their seats – everyone always sits in the same seat. As they settle I notice Martha isn’t here. Odd because she never misses a class. Then there is a knock on the door. Nerea jumps, opens the door and switches off the light. A low flickering candle enters the room. A low chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ begins. My name’s on the cake and all. It’s a pleasant surprise.

Happy Trails

Something Similar: A Black Star on the last Day of School

Something Different: Squat Diddly

Hello, what’s this?

I’m outside the Molly Malone Bar when I see them, the pair of them in Charlie Chaplin costumes. They’re not pulling faces or doing funny walks – just enjoying their fags. I ask James for some tobacco, quickly assemble a cigarette and walk over to them. Six steps.

‘Tienes mechero?’ I ask, with my thumb working an imaginary device.

‘Si,’ says the taller Chaplin, opening her hand to reveal a lighter. I light up, take a drag and ask what’s with the Charlie Chaplin costume.

‘We are not dressed as Charlie Chaplin. We are Dupont y Dupond.’

‘Who?’ I ask.

‘Thompson and Thomson,’ says the smaller Chaplin.

‘Who are they?’

‘They are from Tintin.’

‘Fuck yeah! The detectives.’

They nod enthusiastically, relieved I get it.

‘Billions of blue blistering barnacles!’

They look at me.

‘Do you know him? The sailor captain fella…from Tintin?’

They nod, but I don’t think they know what I’m on about.

‘So, why are you dressed as Thompson and Thomson?’

‘It is our cousin’s Detective Themed Birthday party,’ says smaller Thompson.

‘And everyone thinks they are twins but they are not even brothers,’ says taller Thomson.

‘But we are sisters,’ says smaller Thompson.

‘But not twins,’ adds taller Thomson.

James comes over and we end up going through the conversation again; this time in Spanish. Then, we pair off. I’m talking to the taller Thomson. She is studying engineering in Santander. She lives in Sestao. Her sister’s name is Vane. Her name is Jessica. No it isn’t a typical Basque name but there was a trend for English names around the year she was born. As she talks I nod and nod. It’s not that I strongly agree with trendy English names; it’s more that I am in accord with how she comes across. There’s something about her – and it’s not the moustache.

She asks about me. She listens.

I become aware that James and Vane’s conversation has dried up. The cigarettes are finished and feet are shuffling, eager to move on to the next moment. For James and I that’s finding somewhere to eat. For Jessica and Vane – back inside to be enveloped by their friends and the general tomfoolery that costumes engender.

But I don’t want to let Jessica go just yet.

‘Let’s get a photo!’ I say.

Jessica and Vane agree.

I give my phone to some guy. The four of us stand together. The photo gets taken. We separate. James walks over to our friends. Vane starts to walk inside. I walk with Jessica towards the door.

‘Where are you going later?’ I ask.

‘I don’t know. My cousin will decide. What about you?’

‘I don’t know. Café Antxokia maybe. Do you know it?’

‘Yes, yes. I like it.’

‘I might see you later then.’

‘Okay.’

‘Okay.’

And then we are at the door. There is nothing left for her to do but walk through it and she duly does. It’s unlikely I’ll see her later, or ever again for that matter. Bilbao, with its 1million inhabitants, is a big and small place at the same time. Some people you bump into. Others, well; different circles, same fishbowl.

‘Jessica!’

It’s said before I have time to think myself into inaction.

She stops in the doorway and turns around. The two of us move to the side so we are not getting in people’s way; this creates an odd sense of privacy that emboldens me.

‘Are you single?’ I ask.

‘Yes.’

‘Maybe, sometime, like next weekend, we can meet for a beer?’

‘Okay.’

A pang of joy!

‘So I’ll take your number then.’

‘Okay.’

Another!

I produce my phone. She begins to call out her number but James, who is hungry and oblivious to the delicate matter at hand, comes over and presses me about going for some food. I fear the interruption will give Jessica a chance to review the situation and change her mind.

‘I’ll be over in a minute,’ I say to James. Whether it’s through my words, my tone or the look in my eyes I don’t know but, thankfully, my message is received and he ghosts away.

I look at Jessica. She nods and continues to call out her number. Joy and relief! I carefully type it in. I enter her name but my finger slips and I spell it Jessicq. No matter, it’s there now.

‘Okay. Great. I’ll call you now so you have my number,’ I say.

She takes out her phone, looks at it and shows me the screen. There it is, my number.

‘So. I’ll text you to arrange a drink or something.’

‘Okay.’

‘Okay.’

I put my phone in my pocket. She drops hers into her bag zips it shut. I lean in and kiss her on both cheeks. She goes into the pub. I go back to the lads. I have trouble keeping the smile off my face.

Six steps; a light, a chat, a feeling, a photo, a question, a number. The start, maybe, of something.

happy trails

Something similar? A Bit of Romance

Something different? The Karaoke Delusion

Bilbao Metro 4am

I turn the corner and look up. Sure enough, there is a tall pole with the lit red symbol atop. It’s a welcome sight. I walk towards it. I go down a flight of stairs, down a steep escalator, then down another steep escalator. It’s hot. Anymore feckin’ escalators and we’d be at the earth’s core. A train screeches up the track. I quicken my pace and slip my card out of my wallet. I hope it has credit. I see the roof of the train by the platform below. The doors open. A beeping sound warns people to get their asses inside quickly. I run. I swipe my card. The gates open. I take the stairs, sidestepping as fast as I can. But, as I arrive on the platform the train moves off. It screeches in a kind of sneering manner, which I appreciate none-too-much.

The train is like a sideways parting curtain that slowly reveals the other platform and there, casually waiting, are the Bilbao folk that have it sussed. I didn’t miss the train. I’m on the wrong bloody platform. Dumb luck. Anyway, why was I rushing? Even if I had missed the right train there’d be another along in ten minutes. It’s not like I haven’t time to spare; I’ve just wiled away hours drinking in bars.

It’s not the same atmosphere of waiting you get during the day; voices are raised and every now and then someone bursts out laughing. I scan the crowd. Gangs crowd around benches. Well, groups. Gangs sound intimidating. Guys and girls. More guys than girls. There’s one woman who stands alone. It looks like there’s a uniform under her cardigan. A cleaner maybe, mid-fifties on her way home. Her thin lips give her an impatient expression. Two good-looking girls come down the steps and stand in front of an advertisement for an English Academy. Tight jeans and leather jackets.  I consider walking over and striking up a conversation, you know, to practise my Spanish. In the last bar I pushed myself to approach a girl and say ‘Hola. Que tal?’ She rolled her eyes and walked away. I was left standing there like a dick. Thankfully, the lads didn’t see it ( although I could feel some fella in some corner laughing at me). Anyway, I decide not to talk to the two pretty girls on the platform. Well I don’t really decide anything. I just stand there near the bottom of the stairs, waiting like everyone else.

A breeze blows through the station. I look down the tunnel and see a huge square can rattling up the track. People stand and survey the carriages sliding by. There’s a gasp and a screech as the train settles. The doors open. We inch inside, disperse, and find a place to park ours bums. Those already seated gather themselves. I sit on one of the flip down chairs near the door. The cleaner sits on the seat opposite, her two hands clasping the strap of her handbag, her back erect and her eyes alert. She’s primed to bolt at a moment’s notice. The two pretty girls find a space halfway down the carriage, sit down and busy their thumbs with their mobile phones. The train moves on. As we enter the tunnel the engine screeches like a banshee.

I can taste the alcohol in my mouth. I try to figure out how much I had. I lose count after six and conclude that it’s enough to secure a hangover, but also enough to engender the current mood of insouciance. I look at my phone for something to do. I go on Facebook. Photos, videos and comments slide by. If I have time for this it’s a lie to say I don’t have time. I feel an aching dissatisfaction slowly rising. I slip my phone away.

A couple of stops later the cleaning lady leaves and a drunk guy staggers on. It’s like the changing of scenes in an unscripted play. He sits where the lady was and instantly falls asleep; head tilted, mouth open and Adam’s apple protruding. As the train gathers speed his head moves side to side slightly. As it slows again he inches forward. When the doors beep he awakes. Confused, he looks around. His eyes meet mine and narrow in suspicion, as if he’s woken up in some hellish nightmare and I’m to blame. I look away. Eventually he gets his bearings and repositions himself in his chair. People let themselves out, people let themselves in.

The drunk guy keeps himself awake by telling himself a story that seems to both amuse and surprise him. He staggers away at Barakaldo.

‘I have no idea how I got home,’ he will tell his friend’s tomorrow.

The train pushes on. There are now just a few people scattered around the carriage. Everyone’s quiet and tired. On the way in we were nicely presented and curious to see what Saturday night had in store. Now, that curiosity has been spent. I wonder if we’re one step closer to, or one step further away from where we wanna be. Neither, I suppose. Saturday night is more a necessary side-step.

 ‘Portugalete’ announces the electronic voice. People stand and gather by the door. We exit the train and ascend the two flights of stairs and escalator.  A few people grimace as the early morning Autumn chill hits them at the exit.

After five seconds the crowd have vanished. I’m alone on a quiet street surrounded by tall buildings. It’s just a matter of getting to bed. Sleep awaits me there.

nocktoebenaugto

Something Similar; It gets off to a bad start…

Something Different; A Black Star on the last Day of School

 

 

Insomnia

Last night I was tilting back glasses of yellow, smoking cigarettes and talking like a man who had a handle on things. The bar was crowded with smiling faces, the dance-floor a blur of bright dresses and dark suits.

Now though, I’m alone in my bedroom. My body hums in rejection to the whole idea of sleep. Thoughts race through my mind. I keep expecting these thoughts to arrive at a conclusion, whereupon I turn over, drift off into a satisfying slumber, wake up refreshed and go forth into the rest of my life with a brand new attitude. But, it ain’t happening.

I’m scared too. Of what? I don’t know. Something I forgot or did or said, or something I should be doing, apart from sleeping.

I throw off the cover and let the air at my legs. It’s 3am and I have work tomorrow. Fuck, today. I envision the pre-work routine; getting the bus, a quick coffee, the stale air of the classroom, devising plans, photocopying, checking my tired, weary red eyes in the mirror. I picture the students coming through the classroom door; The kids loud and boisterous, the teens slow and unenthused, the adults chirpy. How am I gonna do it?

Outside, a distant dog yaps. A car passes.

My mind jumps from past to present to future.

I think of last night’s sing-song. The choruses were belted out, loud and assured. The verses were fragile things, often solo efforts with muddled lyrics. We leaned in and willed on the one charged with taking us to the good parts. My cousin was confident with ‘Streams of Whiskey’ though. He galloped through the verses.

‘I have cursed, bled and sworn/Jumped bail and ended up in jail/Life has tried to stretch me/But the rope always was slack…’

I can’t think of the rest. The lines hang there, dissatisfied, like their journey has come to an abrupt and unwanted ending. I guess that’s what makes Shane McGowan such an amazing song-writer. When he puts words together, they belong to each other. I contemplate turning on my phone to check the lyrics but then I think of Paula and how I should never have given her such power. I don’t know what’s bringing my thoughts to her but I can’t control the bastards. The last few weeks were shit. I knew it was gonna happen but I clung on anyway. Let her do it, I thought. Still though, if I had more self-respect I would have split. How could I let someone waste my precious time like that, worrying over whatsapps?

I think of girls I have dumped. I’m haunted by the look in their eyes. What gave me the right to cause such hurt?

You can’t win.

I get out of bed. I get the pack of cigarettes from my shelf, open the window, sit on the bed and spark up a fag. The escalators are still. There isn’t a soul around. I see the ‘Hanging Bridge’ looming over the buildings. I like that bridge. So do the locals. There is a photo of it in every café in town. Portugalete and its famous hanging bridge.

‘How did you end up in Portugalete?’ Paula had asked, mystified.

‘Well, before I moved here, I was worried about two things more than anything else; not having any job and not having any friends. Dee promised me both, in Portugalete.’

And Dee had delivered. She was unhesitant and unrelenting in her help. Recently, she was told to move out of her apartment. There were two rooms available in my apartment.

‘Do you mind if I move in?’

She saw the look on my face, my shrug.

‘I understand if you don’t like the idea,’ she added.

‘It’s just we work together and socialise together and to live together too…’

‘Okay. I get it.’

What the fuck was I protecting? My solitude? I should have been a better friend.

The difference a day makes. Yesterday I felt like things were tidy, that behind the scenes things were somehow working in my favour. Today, the opposite. The tide was in, now its out.

I stub out the fag and close the windows. I lay down and look up at the ceiling. I try to concentrate on my breathing. I hear birds tweeting. Please.

What can’t be more than thirty minutes later a too loud alarm goes off. My bones, tongue and eyes are heavy. They have been touched by sleep and yearn for more. I force myself to sit up. Sleep has arrived and is ready to carry me away. I have to push it off and get outta bed.

nocktoebenaughto

Something Similar? A Post-Holiday Whatsapp Crisis

Something Different? A Trip to Quirky Salamanca

Cans on the Bench

Every time I see the date on my phone I feel a jolt, like I’ve just woken up and realised I’ve overslept. September 7th – I should be back at work. Then I remember I’m midway through my two year career break.

My hometown is making the transition from summer to autumn. The amusement park has closed. The Topsy Turvey and The Sizzler are being packed up. Lorries wait to ferry them away. The kids have substituted the bright summer outfits for uniforms. The tan tourists are no longer vying for the attention of the pretty barmaids. The men they leaned across are still there though, the ever-present pint before them. They pine for the barmaid – her pretty smile and perfect ass were a wonderful distraction. But she’s gone too and now it’s just the usual ugly bastards.   

A mist hangs over the town in mourning for the passing of summer. Neil and I have been walking through it for five minutes.

‘It’s like a ghosttown,’ he says.

‘Yeah. Here, where we going anyway?’

‘Lets see where our feet take us,’ Neil says.

I have a good idea where our feet are gonna take us. Twenty minutes later we are settling down on a bench overlooking the bay with a bag of cans and a packet of fags.

‘So how’s San Francisco?’ I say cracking open a can.

‘It’s wonderful. I really like my life there. The people there aren’t afraid to be true to what they want to do and I respect that.’

Some people can’t tell you how great their life abroad is without shitting all over Ireland . Neil is one such person. I ignore what’s implied because I don’t wanna get into an argument. He offers me a box and I draw a cigarette. We share a light. We smoke and contemplate the sea and the orange lights illuminating the deserted promenade.

‘ I hear you’ve extended your career break,’ he says.

‘Uno mas por favour!’

‘What do you want out of it?’

‘Em…well if I can come home with a good level of Spanish that’d be something.’

‘So, you’re not just pissing around.’

‘Well, some people may beg to differ.’

‘You looking forward to getting back out there?’

‘I am now yeah.  It has the potential to be a great year, now I have a certain standard of Spanish, a group of friends and work experience. ’

‘It’s gonna fly.’

‘I know yeah.’

We slug from our cans.

‘You could be there for a few more years yet,’ Neil says.

‘Well, she’d have to be pretty special…Nah.I wanna settle here eventually. My family are here, my friends too. Except for you ; you’re not my friend.’

‘Haw-hawww.’

‘You still single?’ I ask.

‘Yeah. A few false starts but nothing that lasted. Ah, I’m enjoying the single life. There’s a good social scene out in San Fran; a lot of thirty-somethings that don’t wanna grow up yet, so it suits me.’

‘ So when are you going to grow up?’ I ask.

‘What? Settle down and have kids and stuff?’

‘Well – you went to college, you got a job…It’s the next stage isn’t it?’

‘Well,’ he says taking a final drag from his ciggy. ‘If I don’t do it soon people here might start thinking I’m weird. Or worse, gay.’

 ‘Do you want kids even?’ I ask.

‘I’m thinking of it a little more these days.’

‘I was over at Willy and Roisín’s the other day, to see their little fella. Jesus – even walking out the door was an operation; have we got this? Have we got that? It’s tough. There’s a dramatic loss of independence. And there’s  the cost of child-minding, the sleepless nights and all that. But, when they talk about it, you know they wouldn’t change a thing.’

‘Yeah. I saw them too. I remember Roisín telling me – ‘There is no love in the world as strong as a mother’s love for her child.’ I was like ‘Well what happened to my Mom?’ Neil sparks up another cigarette. ‘Not everyone’s supposed to be a parent, I suppose.’

I don’t know what to say to that so there’s a spell of silence. Then I start thinking about a kid I once coached.

 ‘A few years back, I was coaching a football team. There was one kid; a scrawny little fella. He never missed training and had all the gear and stuff. He had a nice stroke of the ball but he was a coward. Anyway, we put him in the full forward line. He was hanging back out of the melee, as usual, but at one point, the ball bounced over his man and nestled into his arms. He turned. It was just him and the goalkeeper. Me and the other coach were holding on to each other. He took three steps and with a sweet strike, delivered the ball to the back of the net. We were buzzing. That kid had a glow about him for the rest of the day, as had we. And we fucking lost that day and all. The thing is, how happy we felt for him. And we were just the coaches.’

‘Imagine how his Dad felt.’

‘Exactly.’

We drink in silence another bit.

‘ I might never come home,’ Neil says, playing with his ring pull.

‘Really?’

‘Maybe. I dunno. It doesn’t have to be wife, kids and mortgage next.’

‘True. I was in the park the other day with my niece. All the kids were swinging, climbing and spinning saying; ‘Look at me!’ and all the adults were bored off their tits. They’d love to be doing what we’re doing.’

‘What? Drinking cans on a bench?’

‘Yeah!’ I laugh.

‘There are many ways to live a life.’

‘Sure are,’ I say.

We bump our cans together.

‘Lucky,’ he says.

‘Yeah.’

‘One short year in Spain. And then what?’ Neil asks.

‘Ah, I’ll just follow my feet.’

 ‘Is it wise, the way we are?’ he asks.

‘Whattya mean?’

‘Just making it up as we go along? Not having any set plans?’

‘Well. We have two more cans. How’s that for a plan?’

‘Perfect.’

nocktoebenaughto

Something Similar? Hanging with the Kids

Something Different? A Bit of Romance

Hanging with the Kids

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?’

‘Yeah.’

‘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.’

‘Why?’

‘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.

nocktoebenaughto

Something similar? A Day at the Beach

Something different? Second Date

 

Second Date

I text my cousin to say the date’s going well and I’ll be late. One hour. No probs, he says.

We are not going anywhere, Maria and I. I’m returning to Spain mid-September and she’s returning to Mexico in April. Still, here we are, snogging on our second date. It’s a long, slow one. We part and smile at each other. Our dancing eyes seem to ask the question; where can we go?

‘We should get a hotel together,’ I say.

‘When? Tonight!?’

‘Uh, next weekend; Saturday.’

‘Okay.I would like to see more Ireland.’

‘Wicklow maybe?’

‘Okay.’

‘The following weekend I am returning to Spain.’

‘I know. It is sad. Can I visit you?’

‘Uh, yeah. I mean it is expensive and there are no direct flights after October, but yeah.’

‘Okay.’

We kiss on the lips, drain our drinks and stand. Tonight we are going separate ways. I’m sleeping on my cousin’s couch. She shares a bedroom with a Brazilian housemate.

We walk down Dame Lane. It’s Friday night and the place is buzzing. She links my arm. I consider crooking my elbow but don’t want to look like Lord of the Shire, so I hold her hand, loosely. Ahead I notice another couple holding hands. The man looks at ease but I feel like an inadequate actor playing a role. I’m also anxious we will bump into someone I know. I mean here we are on a second date acting like an engaged couple in Paris in Spring time.  Kissing and staying in hotels is one thing but holding hands? It feels like we’ve jumped a few levels here.

None of us take the reins and we end up squaring up to the couple. After awkward laughter Maria and I walk around them. I tell her how, in many African countries, a man and woman holding hands is frowned upon, as it is seen as an inappropriate display of affection. I use both hands to tell her this piece of trivia.

We arrive at the bike stand. She points out her bike. It’s a crock with tiny wheels. I tell her off for cycling with no lights or helmet on the topsy-turvy streets of Dublin city. She laughs off my concern and reassures me everything will be alright. Again, it feels like I’m playing a role alongside a more convincing co-star. We say our goodbyes.

In the taxi I send a message to my cousin telling him I’m on my way. Then I begin to wonder if a hotel is such a good idea. Sure, the plush, cosiness would help take things to the next level, but is it financially viable? On the two dates I had paid for everything and not once did she present me with an opportunity to brush aside an offer to pay. It’s a Mexican thing, apparently. Finance aside, I feel that, once I go to Spain that will be the end of our courting. She might have the impression that a weekend away is the beginning of something. It would be unfair to indulge this notion.

I’m not sure.The fact that she’s nice doesn’t help. I’ll let it sit in my gut for a couple of days and see how I feel.

I pay the taxi man. I ring my cousin to let him know I’m outside. There’s no answer. He hasn’t read my last message. I ring again. Nothing. I find the apartment buzzer and give it a little push. I listen for the clunk of a key from the bowels of the building but all I hear is a TV with the volume up. I give the buzzer a longer, angrier push. Then I try the phone several times. Ring, voice, beep. Ring, voice, beep. My battery is dying. Time for a new plan.

I walk out onto the street and hail a taxi. The taxi man puts a bit of juice in my phone. He takes me to Smithfield.

‘Any beds available?’ I ask the man on the door.

‘It’s 1 o’clock in the morning on a Friday night in Dublin,’ he deadpans.

On the quay we stop at another hostel. The taxi waits while I run in. Full.

‘Jaysus, course. It’s fuckin’ All Ireland weekend an’ all,’ says the taxi driver.

Next we go to Gardiner street.

‘If ya don’t get one here ya may as well through yourself in the Liffey. There’s loads of hostels. Start at the bottom, work your way up.’

I give him a tip and he turns the taxi back towards the heart of the city. The first hostel is full. My phone burps a message. It’s Maria! She’s still up. My phone then gives another squeak to remind me of the battery situation. Better do this before it’s too late.

A sleepy hello.

‘Maria! Hi! Okay, this is very unusual but my cousin did not answer the door. He is asleep. I am looking for a place to stay. I’ve tried three hostels but they are all full. I am going to try more hostels but if they are also full, is it possible for me to stay in your place? Just on the couch for a couple of hours?’

A pause.

‘I am asking now because my battery is dying. If the other hostels are full I am stuck.’

‘But it is not possible.’

I wait for an explanation; something regarding her complicated living arrangements and housemates.

‘You cannot because I am falling asleep.’

‘Okay. I’ll let you go. Thanks anyway Maria. Goodnight.’