Story links: Intro | part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5 | part 7
Walking down this road I wonder once again how I could be silly enough to forget to charge my iPod the night before. It goes everywhere with me, certain songs like old friends, certain lyrics companions and evocations of memories I’ve been using to shield myself from the world. I’m consoled by the knowledge I’ll be there soon, that I’ll see her, that we can spend some real time together. The way I’ve been feeling recently healthwise is difficult to explain to anyone – part of me is afraid it’s all in my own head, that there’s nothing wrong with me.
It was partly this that caused the distance between us, both physical and emotional. She wanted to help. I didn’t know how she could so I didn't let her try. I was surprised she put up with me, for all my words of emotion, of connection, of being intrigued and enthralled. I was delighted to get a reply from her when she came back from her holidays that seemed to indicate she was excited about seeing me. That’s what tonight would be about. I hoped we’d be able to spend some quality time. I’d missed doing that.
I’ve always liked walking around different parts of Dublin, especially places I rarely get to. Thomas Street, the Liberties, The Coombe, Kilmainham, on towards Inchicore, Rialto or Crumlin have always been places of fascination – a glimpse of old Dublin overlaid with the multicultural city I’ve chosen to make my home.
I always tend to compare it with London, a city I’d move to in a heartbeat given the right circumstances. Even streets like this one, old style houses a stone's throw away from the hustle and bustle, the cafés, the Luas line and the madness hold their own charm, despite it being just an ordinary council estate, a short-cut to her house.
In the absence of music I listen to the sounds of the streets, the traffic, the TVs blaring, the conversations over fences. Here’s a part of Dublin that hasn’t lost all its focus on people – mothers chatting to the neighbours, old folk having a natter on the corner and children playing on the road. It reminds me of home and contrasts sharply with the anonymous neighbourhood I now live in.
Someone is calling up a stairs in the house I pass. “Are you okay up there?” a voice enquires, followed a few seconds later by a faint “Yeah, I'm fine”. My own mother’s yell up our stairs would have pierced soundproof lead-lined bunkers. No matter how loud I had music on, no matter how deeply asleep or engrossed in a book I’d be or how far into the computer game; when that woman wanted my attention, she knew how to get it. Before I appreciated the lifestyle she led, almost housebound due to mobility and illness issues, alienated from friends and neighbours due to small town politics, backbiting and bitchiness, I resented these intrusions. I was in my room, my control centre, my haven. Why bother me for something as mundane as going to the shop for milk? I was saving the world up here – or at least saving Roland On The Ropes.
The older I got though, the more I realised her reliance on me was a mark of respect, of trust and I became happy to help, no matter how captivating the book or high the level. I realised I missed her. I always do in the evenings. I smiled, looking up at the house that had prompted the good feeling inside me, wondering if, behind the net curtains was someone as happy as I was right then.
The sun had started its decline behind the trees of the Phoenix Park in the distance. I checked my watch, quickening my pace. I didn’t want to be late this time. I’d brought a bottle of wine in my bag, spending ages choosing a nice label, one that showed I’d put a bit of effort in. I’d decided not to do the whole shirt and trousers thing either – based on her feedback I was in jeans and the innocent t-shirt she liked. It felt peculiar – I’m not very fashion conscious but I do like my appearance to convey a certain image or representation of me. Even on the days I don’t work, I’m happier with a shirt on. I'm rarely aware of what’s cool, hip or trendy so I just dress in what I know, rather than what apparently suits me. My shopping habits continued to be variations of the same style except for the rare occasion someone would come with me. Gifts of clothes were always appreciated, though I’d look at some of the things Aoife would pick out and say “Really, you’re serious?” She always was and they tended to always suit. I’m never in the mood for clothes shopping – in and out of Penneys with shirt, trousers, socks, boxers, top. Sorted, and usually under 60 euro. Me mammy would be proud. Herself less so, though she’d never said it outright. I liked that about her.
I liked a lot about her to be honest. I’d missed her while she was away. I didn’t think I would – I never gave her a proper, concrete impression. Wrapped up in worries about illness, afraid of committal, engrossed in others more than her or myself, I’d managed to give her an idea that I didn’t like her, that I didn’t want to spend time with her, that she didn’t matter to me, when, in fact, she mattered so much that it was scary. I thought by not moving in any discernible direction I was doing the best thing for all concerned, when I was only making things worse and solving nothing.
No matter what else I knew that my friends would want to see me happy. I was delighted by how easily she was accepted into the circle, how much they liked her and were happy for me. We looked good together. Fine, there were issues, but sure aren’t there always? Nothing I wasn’t prepared to overlook, to overcome, to work through. I liked her, she liked me. I wanted to keep it that simple.
It really was hometime now. Cars were pulling into driveways, porch lights being switched on in anticipation, the Centra on the corner full of people grabbing the Herald, the milk, the cigarettes or pizza for the evening. I wondered what she’d cook. She’d been flirting with the idea of veganism, her commitment to the environment and to conservation becoming a bigger part of her life. I had a hankering for pasta and pesto, as long as it wasn’t the red stuff. There are certain things that even the best vegetable mix can’t mask and that for me is one of them. The taste rose in my throat. I fished for and found the mint tic-tacs I’d stocked up on in Lidl last week. Feck it, if nothing else at least my breath would be okay.
The last few yards found me slowing down. I was early enough to be considerate. I stood in on the pavement, allowing people to pass. Children ran around with bonfire materials, cyclists whizzed by, car radios could be heard through windows. Catching an echo of U2’s 'One' caused a smile. I gave myself the once over, checking the clothes were okay, wiping the shoes in the grass, tossing the hair a little, swallowing a couple more tic-tacs.
It had been ages. We’d arranged this meeting by text and SMS is always a tricky medium to judge. Meanings can be lost, messages misjudged, motives questioned unnecessarily. Was it too late for me to tell her I wanted her in my life and not just as a friend? Was that what she wanted to hear? Had time, distance and new surroundings changed her outlook, given her new priorities and ideas? Had she met someone else? As I walked up the steps to her front door, I resolved to accept whatever she’d say, but to hug her when I saw her tightly, as if that would make her know how I felt and say what my words probably wouldn’t convey.
I rang the doorbell. Someone came down the hallway.
Sunday, October 05, 2008
Story links: Intro | part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5 | part 7