I’m sitting at the computer in my brother’s house when Nini wanders in.

‘Hey!!!There you are,’ she says, as if I’ve been hiding from her.


‘I got you a present!’ She says beaming. She thrusts forth a bottle of lemon cordial.

‘Oh. Thank you. I love it!’ I say admiring the bottle.

‘I’m glad you like it.What are you doing?’

‘I’m printing out tickets for my flight. Tomorrow I’m flying back to Spain.’

‘Oh,’ she says with downcast eyes. ‘I was hoping the present would make you stay, but I guess it didn’t work.’

‘ I’ll be back in the summer!’

 ‘What’s this?’ she asks, picking up my passport.

‘I need that for travelling.’

‘Is that you?’

‘Yeah. Some head on me isn’t there?’

‘You don’t look very good in photos,’ she says giggling. ‘But I think you have a nice face,’ she reassures.

‘Awh thanks.’

My brother appears and tells Nini its time for bed. She protests. He tells her that her uncle will read her a story if she goes to the toilet and washes her teeth. There’s silence as she contemplates this. Then she gives in and goes to the toilet.

‘You don’t mind do you?’

‘No man. It’s a pleasure,’ I say as the printer releases my ticket. I take it from the tray, examine it and then fold it away in my jacket pocket.

Nini climbs into bed.

‘You have a very big bed!’ I say sitting down next to her while she scooches over.

‘It used to be my sister’s bed but now it’s mine.’

‘Your bed is bigger than my bed!’

She says nothing but her eyes widen to absorb the fact. I open the book my brother has given me. It’s a book about Irish history.

‘Oh look at her! She’s a woman pirate!’ I say. ‘Would you like to be a pirate?’

‘I don’t really know. I don’t really know what a pirate does really.’

‘Well they go around on boats and sometimes they steal from other boats.’

‘Are pirates bad?’

‘Well..some are.’

‘Is she a bad pirate?’ Nini says pointing at the book.

‘Well..that’s Grainnemhaol. She was an Irish pirate.’

‘And she was a girl.’

‘Yes. Will I read about her?’


I lay back. Nini rests her head on my shoulder so she can see the book.

Grainne mhaol is Irish for bald Grainne. When she was a little girl she asked her father, who was a merchant, if she could join him on the boat. Her father said no, that her long hair would only be getting in the way. So what did Grainne do? She only grabbed a scissors and cut all her hair off. And that’s how she became known as Grainnemhaol.

‘So she was bald?’

‘Yeah like me.’

‘But you’re not all bald: you have some hair here and and around here.’

‘Well, yeah.’

‘But how come she’s not bald in the picture?’

‘Well her hair is very short. I guess it grew back a little. Will I read on?’


I read on but Nini’s mind is elsewhere.

‘When are you going to Spain?’ she interrupts.

‘Tomorrow morning.’

‘Early? Will I see you tomorrow?’

‘No. You’ll be asleep -all snoring and farting.’

‘I don’t snore!’

‘But you fart.’

‘No I don’t. Not like my Daddy does.’

‘Yeah. Well thank goodness for that.’

‘I wish you weren’t going.’

‘I’ll be back in the summer.’

‘But that’s so long.’

‘No it isn’t. You’ll be so busy in school and having a great time that it’ll be really quick.’

Nini lets out a sigh. I don’t know what to say.

‘Will I read more about Grainne this mad , bald woman pirate?’


I read about Grainne’s swash buckling adventures. Nini’s comments begin to taper off and pretty soon I realise I’m reading to myself. I set the book down and gently remove her head from my chest. Her face has a soft sleepy look.

‘Bye bye gorgeous.’

I turn the light off on my way out.


Something Similar? Hanging with the Kids (Now 33% Better)

Something Different? Bilbao Metro 4am


23 Hours

0500 Home. Rise. Face in the mirror looks tired. Eyes look cross.

0620 Parnell Street. I hug my Mom and Dad and board the bus.

0710 Bus. Impressive sunrise dazzles between the trees.

0720 Bus. Empty chairs around me rattle and whine. It’s like they are having a conversation with one another.

0900 Bus. I wish the chairs would shut up.

12:45 Gate 409, Dublin Airport. I am surrounded by six ladies in their fifties who are flying to Bilbao to walk the Camino de Santiago for a week.

13:15 Gate 409, Dublin Airport.Whatsapp from Oscar, my Air BndB host; I will stay at airport. I am a tall man with a black t-shirt of the rolling stone.

1317 Gate 409, Dublin Airport. Whatsapp to Oscar; Cool I am wearing glasses and jeans . I have 3 bags – each bag has a blue and white ribbon.

1345 Plane. I enjoy a cup of Barry’s tea and a bag of Tayto; Irish readers will understand that this is a last supper of sorts.

1615 Bilbao Airport. Waiting for a tall man in a black Rolling Stone’s t-shirt. My three bags are at my feet like obedient dogs.

1656 Oscar’s van. We talk Spanglish all the way to Erandio – more ‘glish than Span.’ Just how difficult this language barrier is going to be sinks in as I look out at uninspiring landscape.

1715 Erandio, Bilbao. There are a lot of ladies in the living-room; Barbie dolls, mannequins, posters, stickers. The mannequin’s private parts are covered with duct tape. Oscar must be into fashion, or something. My en-suite room is nice.

1818 Erandio. I have a look around the local cafes but it seems I’m a little early for dinner. One place rustles me up a bocadillo con lomo y queso.

2200 Subway to Abando. The train is packed. People are either wearing blue and white (Aste Nagusia festival colours), or red and white (Athletic Bilbo colours).


2245 Bilbao Centre; The streetlights are dimmed. Cars have been banished. Redundant traffic lights are telling everyone to stop. Thousands of people gather at the bridge. Everyone speaks in hushed tones. I squeeze through the crowd. There is a sense of anticipation as eyes look to the hill. A star surges upwards into the darkness with a strident sense of purpose, finds it spot and explodes- spawning smaller stars that shower down on us. Two more follow a similar arc. They are warning shots. Then it all kicks off. Fireworks whistle, whisper, scream, pitter- patter pop and bang. Sometimes the explosion is so loud you feel it in your chest. It’s too much for some children who retreat with their hands over their ears. We are dazzled for twenty minutes, after which the crowd bursts into rapturous applause. It’s an impressive way to welcome my arrival in the city.

2305 Bilbao centre;  The music starts up. A giddy crowd dithers over where to go; the samba drummers on the street corner? The rock band on-stage? Or the DJs in the tents?

2310 Bilbao centre;The pop- bars are a curiosity. I am inspired to explore them thoroughly. Each bar has its own artwork and slogans; the gist is anti-capitalist, pro-independence, pro-gay-rights. I’ll drink to that. The Basque region bohemian hairstyle is prevalent among male and female bar-staff; tight on the sides, large Mohawk, maybe a dread-lock or two.

0230 Bilbao Centre; Locals not availing of the bar services have brought booze in bottles.Tobacco is tipped out of cigarettes and replaced with grass.

0320 Bilbao centre; Wait! It’s what time? I walk back through the streets. Lads are pissing against walls. Gals are crouching between dumpsters. The aroma of weed is battling the whiff of urine. Thankfully, during the festival Aste Nagusia, the subway runs non-stop for 24 hours. The party rages on but I make my way towards my sanctuary in Erandio.

0400 Erandio. Bed. Fall.