No 120 - 1990
A Trip To Dublin
(For the two Neils)
He took a taxi from the airport to the school and spent an hour with the head. He wasn’t sure why she’d wanted him to come but the department had been very keen.
‘Contacts with the Irish…and then you can go to that study day in the afternoon’.
But the head didn’t really seem to know why he’d come either and she had to go off to a meeting. There was the usual showing around - talk about this and that.
‘We really want you to talk to Jim - does the interfacing for the children.’
‘Where is Jim?’
‘Back after lunch.’
The head reappeared and took him to lunch - rather nice steamed pudding after rather nasty dried up fish. He kept being offered glasses of water. He never drank water except when he had school dinners. Two staff to talk to. Been there years. He tried not to think ‘institutionalized’. The head took him to the staff room for coffee.
‘You’ll wait and see Jim, I have to teach.’
Half past one he was alone there. No Jim but there was his own coat, there was his usual heavy bag. He grabbed them, shot out of the front door, ran into the street. And ran fifty yards. Then he pulled up... How was he to get away. He didn’t really know where he was. He only knew the centre bit of Dublin and the walk to the bus terminal or the airport. But the meeting was near there. A bus? He saw a bus stop and stood at it. And - glory of glories - a taxi driving down the almost trafficless suburban street.
The conference centre was in some new development. He got into a complex of new shops, English many of them, and a ‘French Connection’. He went into one and tried on a jacket or two. But he had enough jackets. There was an escalator up to the second floor and then a carpeted floor. A notice ‘All Ireland Childhood Disability Conference’. There were two girls sitting at a table. One had bright red hair and what he called a clear skin. No freckles. She jumped up, came round the table and shook his hand. She was wearing faded jeans. Very tight into her crotch.
‘How nice you came. It’s lovely to see you again.’
He’d never seen her before but he shook her hand. She had a lovely Irish lilt to her voice.
‘It’s Doctor…’ she said to her colleague. She gave him a label and one of those silly plastic folders.
‘They’re only just started - the afternoon session’. The entry door - silly - was at the front so he had to slink into the second row. What was the meeting about anyway. He opened the folder and slid out the programme. It was a two day meeting. Was today Thursday or Friday? He finally worked out the speaker’s name. He never knew what he was really talking about. Sometime later it was tea. Various people knew him and came up. He nodded and hand shook a bit. He’d ‘been’ - perhaps he could go now? He wandered back into the conference room. There was his chair with his coat and his plastic folder on it. But where was his briefcase? He thought he’d tucked it behind his legs but it wasn’t there…He went out to the front table. The red-haired girl was gone but the mousy-haired one was sitting there.
‘Your brief case’, she said. ‘Did you have it when you came? Nothing’s been handed in.’ He couldn’t remember.
‘Maybe you left it in the taxi’, she said. Perhaps he had. His briefcase. Everything was in it, his diary, all that urgent work for the plane. His notes on liability. His dictaphone full of messages to himself.
‘We could ring the taxi company’, she suggested.
‘Yes, yes’ he said. She picked up the ‘phone.
‘Engaged. They’re always engaged. You could go out there’.
‘To the taxi terminal. It’s not far.’
‘How will I get there?’
‘There’s always a line of cars on the front outside.’
He hurried down, and, yes, there was a row of cars, not taxis; nevertheless the first one pushed the passenger door open and a hand beckoned. He got in and before he could say where he wanted to go they shot off, pulling firmly out into the traffic.
‘I want the taxi terminal’, he said. He got his legs settled straight under the dashboard and then turned to look at this determined driver. To his astonishment he found it was the red haired girl.
‘Hullo’ he said. ‘It’s you.’
‘I know it’s me’, she said.
‘I’ve lost my briefcase’, he said.
‘I know.’ How did she know, he thought; but perhaps it would be rude to ask. He contented himself with saying ‘I want to go to the taxi terminal.’
‘I know’, she said.
There was a lot of traffic. They edged forward but then the lights went red on them. He turned to say it was kind of her to drive him but she turned more vigorously, took his head in both her hands and kissed him hard on the mouth. Then turned swiftly back to her driving. Should he ask where they had met before? It seemed somehow rude with the level of intimacy that was being offered.
‘Won’t they need you at the conference?’
‘They’ve all come now and Angela can cope.’ But what was her name? They were driving now through what seemed a poor part of the city. Late forties single storied houses. Then the road actually ceased to be made up and they came to a square or more nearly a circle of what was intended to be grass but was mostly earth. On the far side he could see a small hut, around it a bevy of taxis was parked. They pulled up by what seemed to be a half-built hall of some sort. There was a breeze block wall up to about eight feet but above that there was just canvas. The effect was rather like a big top at the circus only smaller and more scruffy. Loud music emanated from inside.
They got out and stood in front of the entrance which was simply a canvas flap you could push aside. In front of it there was a table with a notice ‘Disco. Entrance £2.50’. A youth stood jingling some money; he didn’t seem very interested in them. Suddenly his girl bounced through the flap without any attempt at payment. He ran through after her.
She was crouched down looking around her. There might be about thirty people there so the space was by no means full. But it was only mid-afternoon. The group were on a dais in front with coloured lights flooded over them and then round to the audience. Along the right hand wall were tables with glasses; above them a sign saying ‘drinks’. Two desultory barmen were half listening to the group.
She bounced again over to the bar. As she moved something caught his eye as it fell from her back pocket. He bent forward to pick up a little bundle of green punts wrapped round some coins. He put them in his pocket and looked to join her at the bar but she moved again and stood in front of the group looking and maybe listening. He came beside and she took his hand. It was too noisy to talk - and it wasn’t his sort of music.
They squeezed hands together. She was looking at the group, he was looking at her. Then she turned and smiled and pulled him firmly over to the left hand wall pushing him back against the wall, took his head again in firm hands and tongue kissed him hard. His hands were on her buttocks in those good tight jeans. He slid them round to her front and felt for her zip and she stood firmly as he slipped his hand through the gap. She was bare and he immediately felt her fur and longed to know if it was the same colour as her hair. It was the middle of the afternoon, practically broad daylight too, for god’s sake.
Suddenly she bounced again. She stopped for a moment in the middle of the floor seemingly glancing again at the hand but in reality perhaps sliding up that zip. Then she was gone through the ‘door’ they had not paid to come in through.
She was standing by the car when he got out and she smiled at him as if surprised that he’d followed her. He put his hand in his pocket and brought out her money.
‘You dropped your cash’, he said, giving it to her. She took it but laughed, ‘It doesn’t matter. I ripped the bar take.’ She pulled out a sheaf of punts from her pocket.
‘The bar take?’ he asked.
‘Yes I took the till, here - have half,’ and she thrust about a dozen notes into his hand. He stood looking at her bewildered but she patted his cheek.
‘Go on, put them in your pocket. We’re going back to my place.’
She got in the car and he walked round and joined her. He glanced over at the taxi shed but there seemed no point in going over now. His bag was gone. He was totally lost too, but they seemed to be moving into a better part of the city. He wondered if they were near the school he’d been at in the morning. The houses were bigger, the gardens well kept with trim hedges just about eye height so you couldn’t look in.
He began to think about what was going to happen when they got to wherever they were going. He was embarrassed by his bladder. All that water at lunch and that early tea break. There was nothing for it; he’d have to ask straight away. He thought she’d live in a flat but they stopped at a sizeable house and walked between the hedge to stand in a porch while she found keys. He laughed in what he hoped was a self-deprecatory manner.
‘I’m desperate for a pee.’ She held the door open for him. ‘Straight up the stairs on the left.’
He found a biggish bathroom - shower, bath and bidet. It looked like there was money here. He peed, washed himself and stood in front of the mirror for a moment and practised a smile which he thought would be an appropriate way to look when he got downstairs. She was just shutting the front door when he got downstairs. Standing in the hail where she’d just placed it was his briefcase.
‘My bag’, he said.
‘Yes, I had it in the boot of the car. Can you manage a second tea?’
He followed her into the sitting room or rather he should say a drawing room. There was a coal fire brightly blazing. There were armchairs, a sofa covered in a flowered material with a creamy background - was that what you called chintzy? Sitting in one of the chairs before a small table with a tea tray on it was a well preserved grey haired lady. It was clearly her mother.
He was introduced as one of her colleagues.
‘He’s quite famous really, at least he’s very well known.’
They seemed to have been expected because there were three cups on the tea tray and a little pile of crumpets on a brass stand in front of the fire. Her mother reminded him of his mother. She rattled on; how nice it was to meet her daughter’s colleagues. Of course in her day one didn’t really have colleagues because of course she hadn’t really ever expected to work. She had the same Irish lilt in her voice but with an imperious quality to it. She was on now about the big house they’d owned in the west of the country; she described its location minutely, assuming he knew the area intimately whereas he’d never been in Ireland before.
He commented on the crumpets, thinking they were an essentially English tea-time delicacy. That led her onto teas in the old days. There would be maids bringing in the scones and the cakes. Her daughter removed their more modest tray. She had hardly said a word since they’d come into the room.
There was an almost awkward silence after the tea things had gone, and then her mother remembered her well-bred manners and began to ask her guest a little about himself.
‘Are you staying long in Dublin?’ He looked at his watch.
‘Actually, I have a ticket for the 7 o’clock ‘plane to London but I might...’
‘You’ve plenty of time to catch it. You’ll drive him to the airport won’t you?’ Her daughter nodded and they both got up and he made his thanks for the tea.
He picked up the bag and followed her out to the car. He put the bag where he always put it in front of the passenger seat and swung his long legs over it. He said what a charming old lady her mother was, and the girl suddenly revealed a similar capacity to chatter. She told how the old lady hardly went out now her husband was dead and how she worried about her being lonely. How nice it was for her mother to have visitors.
They got to the airport and she parked the car and came in with him. She stood by him while his ticket was checked and came with him to the ultimate gate through which the passenger alone passes. She turned towards him, took his head in her hands again and kissed him pushing her tongue between his lips. Then she spun him round and half pushed him through the barrier which lay beyond her. They had to walk across the tarmac to the ‘plane. He walked quickly across to the plane, one hand swinging his briefcase, and the other in his pocket handling a little bundle of Irish Punts.
He was the first to mount the steps to the plane. He turned and paused at the top looking back at the airport buildings to see if she was still there. But it was getting dark and there were only dim shapes standing at the windows. It seemed foolish to wave at them. The next passenger on the step below was glaring up at him. He turned round and ducked into the ‘plane. It had all the reality of a dream.
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