Wednesday, 24 April 2013


This is the first story in my collection Love. When I wrote it years ago, it was a playful homage to the mediaeval love stories based on the model brought back from the Middle East. I never knew it would prove so prophetic.

ELSEWHEN, the sky darkened over Fatima Mansions. Friday night, the call of a muezzin mixed with the Angelus bell and the handbrake turns of a stolen BMW. Joy spoke from the concreted yards.
The Omurchu caravan was coming into town, the camels tired and cranky as they trudged down Christ Church Hill. Tomáisín saw a door open, glimpsed in the blue paraffin light a family saying the Rosary, detailed as a Mansur miniature: grandmother, wives, daughters, faces lifted to the statue of the Virgin. 
The door closed, Tomáisín and the lead camel swinging forward to guide the line of beasts through the evening traffic jam.
A Guard held up his white-gloved hand as the Angelus rang, sounding its eighteen notes from the cathedral high behind them, the notes echoed and tolled by mosques here and there in the city. 
The traffic drew to a halt, drivers bowing their heads as the bell-notes struck on car radios. A one-handed man begging for a cigarette stopped with his mark, both faced east.
As the notes faded the spell of stillness fell away. Tomáisín's camel was bitten and lashed back. The ex-thief's cigarette was lit, the prosperous mark cupping the flame of the petrol lighter. The Guard repossessed his anger, stormed over, saw Tomáisín's Omurchu features -
"Is it yourself, Mr O. Go on ahead, so."
Tomáisín steered the camel train around, into the square, kicked up a leg and slid from the camel he rode. "Hang on a tick, I just want to check the bookings," he said to his overseer, Pangur. Pangur led the string of beasts in and parked them by the wall.
 As Tomáisín called the hotel, the Perspex door of the kiosk framed a picture, another picture for Tomáisín. Two women with buckets of disinfectant and floppy mops washed blood from the cobbles. A tipper truck full of boulders backed into position, directed by a porter from the bank. By the fountain an old lady stood, her eyes above her veil fixed on the barred truck from Mountjoy Gaol.
Tomáisín felt a shudder run down his back at this ordinary scene. He turned away.
The booking cleared, he remounted and led the caravan along the one-way system and across the bridge to Capel Street market. 
"You go on, Tom," said Pangur in his high voice, "I can clear up here." His broad Welsh face turned, checking the loads against the bills he held. 
"Are you sure?
"Sure, why not. I'll settle the lads in their hotels and join you after. Get this lot stabled. Go on and have a few pints."
Tomáisín Omurchu walked away, the sound of his shoes sharp, echoing through the streets following the dying echo of the bells back across the city, into the valley where Fatima Mansions rises, and where Ayishe is waking from her sleep.
I awake from sleep, the photograph of death, and go immediately to check my image in the mirror. The face is the same: had I expected it to change? I put on my grandmother's chador, consider, does it look as well with my red hair as it did with hers? My eyes stare back, Celtic grey, Moorish downward slant. Their expression does not reflect my thoughts. The stranger in the mirror is there again. "Ayishe, come to serve the food," calls my co-wife, and I go. Is the pictured person the mirror shows me a representation of creation?
I look out from the top flat, looking over at Christ Church and the river. My husband, like my family, is a thief, a super thief as he boasts, and an elderly one who has never lost so much as a finger. He sends me to work for him, setting up the men. 
We sit and watch television. First an American programme, guns and heroics, then a veiled Irish newsreader, her eyes furtive. We are laughing at the news when the call comes: I am sent over to the hotel by Capel Street Market. 
Tomáisín turned on the television. A newsreader. Little news. Stock market report: Omurchu up 4. 
"Can I get you anything, sir?"
Plausible face, blank, serviceable. "A pipe? Newspapers?" The face watched him. "A woman?"
"Why not?"
"Any preference, sir?"
"Not really. Clean."
So in she came and turned on the bath. "I want the tap end, mind."
"Hey — you're supposed to pamper me, make me feel like a master, not squabble over the bath."
"Oh yeah? And risk my life too?"
I climb out of my shalwar and dress and shake off pants and vest, sit on the edge of the bath and put the toes of one foot into the steamy water.
"Is it very bad at the moment?"
"You have to be joking. The Legion of Mary are everywhere, handing out immaculate medals and brown scapulars. Again you get a pint in your hand it's whup out and you're handed a Pioneer total abstinence pin. Girls being stoned to death wholesale in Dame Street. Bad? Are y'in earnest?"
She was in the bath, blue lights showing in her red hair as she fanned it behind her, careful to keep it out of the water. One strand escaped and he lifted it clear, wrung it out like a washerwoman.
"So what do you want me to do? Tell you stories?"
"Some men like that." His skin is smooth, dark and gold. His wrists are full of grace, widening to where the muscles run under the sleeves of his T-shirt. "Diarmuid and Gráinne. That's a racy one." My voice doesn't break but it roughens. What is this?
Tomáisín sat on the edge of the bath and looked at the woman. The rich flesh of her belly appeared and disappeared shyly as the water moved. Her nipples were small, unusually so. He could have covered them with a finger, a forefinger pressing each button. Her lips pressed out, a warm rose. 
I take the soap and begin to lather myself. I can feel my heart beat, even with my fingertips. Is he going to get on with it? In the way of business they sometimes need encouraging. Why is my heart beating so. I must have a fever coming on. Have I frightened him with all that old chat about executions? Of course he could buy himself out, no bother, but sometimes it's the rich fellows who are the most cautious.
"Did you come far, today?"
Is he not getting in the bath, or what?
"You must have been fairly shifting."
"The old camels can cover the ground, all right."
She kicked out the plug, wrapped herself in a yellow towel and sat on the edge of the bath, steaming, the steam rising gently into a cloud around her. Abruptly she dropped to her knees and caught his foot as he tapped it.
"Shoe the little horse,
 "Shoe the little mare,
 "But let the little colt go
 "Bare, bare, bare." 
She looked up at him, her lip caught between her teeth as she smiled. "What age are you?" She stood and walked to the bed, the towel falling until it trailed from one shoulder and she was a collection of shadows: her shoulder blades, her neck, her waist, the hollow which put a stop to the line from back to bottom. "Turn up the light." Her voice trembled.
He turns to the globe, but instead of pumping the pressure up he opens the valve and with a brief hiss the light turns from blue to yellow and shadows shoot up the wall as the light fades. 
"What's your name," he whispers, and when I tell him, he whispers, "Ayishe."
He crosses his hands and strips up the black T-shirt, falls beside me.
They lie together. Downstairs the porter is calling the Guards. Yes! He is a member of the Pádraig Pearse Youth. 
I look at him, Tomáisín. His eyes are very black, big and glossy. We have finished making love, he licks my lip with the tip of his tongue and my mouth floods with fresh water. 
"Love," he whispers, "Oh, love."
"Oh love," I whisper, "where did I find you?"
"Sweet one, I'm here."
Yes, they have found each other, and they lie together, these two strangers, his tears running into her eyes and her fingers holding the soft hair beside his ear.
When the knocking comes on the door I am safe in his arms.
"Open up. Open up. I am a Garda." The door shakes as the men kick it and hit it.
How sweet his kisses are.

No comments: