By Kate Ennals
People surged along the lanes. A rolling wave of legs, arms, colour, hats, clothes. Funnily enough, the wave seemed to be going all in one direction – towards the Spanish Arch. Cate wondered why. She was sitting at Sonny’s drinking white wine. Cate hadn’t talked to anyone in days, other than passing the time of day with shop keepers. Tomorrow she would start a Gaelic course at the University but she had come early. Everyone said Galway was buzzing this year. Cate was looking forward to the course now. She was feeling lonely after exploring Galway alone. It would be good to talk, even in her meagre, soon to be improved, gaelic. Cate stretched out her legs. It was a rare warmish afternoon. One had to take these little indulgences when one could. White wine, sitting outside, watching the world go by was good.
Cate watched a gang of school boys jostling, pushing and shoving each other, like a pride of lion cubs, each vying for status. Their shirt tails hung out from under grey school jumpers. They munched on burgers or hot dogs held in greasy hands. They shouted at and aped each other. They moved along, calling and jeering. Then Cate’s glance fell on what she imagined must be American tourists. A couple, both wearing checked shirts and white pants. They had stopped to take photographs of Faller’s Sweater Shop. It had a pretty frontage, red painted surround, hanging baskets of geraniums, white and green aran jumpers in the window. The passing crowds streamed their way around the halted couple, as water would an underwater rock, barely any ripples. She heard the woman say
“That is so quaint. Make sure you get it all in, Bert.”
Three girls, all walking with linked arms, caught her attention. Not easy to walk three abreast in this crush. They were striking. One had a pile of orange hair piled on her head. The other was a blonde with rat tail hair down to her ass and the third was tiny, a bird like face under black bobbed hair. Despite looking so different, they seemed to meld into each other. They all wore tiny shorts over black tights with big baggy tops. They must be students. Cate heard French and looked around. It was a smart looking couple. They were speaking rapidly and their words reverberated and hovered in the fray. Strange accents, didn’t sound exactly French. The woman was tall, blonde, French pleat, red trousers, white blouse. He looked classic French, dark, debonair, wearing shorts, with very hairy legs.
This current was fast, Cate thought. Aha, a contra flow! A thin, officious looking man, short red hair, in a suit, flaccid, pale skin, round glasses, carrying a clip board was walking towards Eyre Square. She wondered what his job was. He dodged a couple pushing a twin buggy loaded with babies and shopping. Were they mad, she wondered. A double buggy in these crowds! An older woman with long, black dyed hair, wearing a floral flowing chiffon scarf and a long green cardigan, passed by. She had an air of singularity about her. A large man, with a pony tail, wearing a patterned short sleeved shirt, followed her. Then a couple, both wearing identical straw hats with ribbons. They must be tourists. They had rucksacks. A sexy woman wearing black leggings, silver t shirt, and eating chocolate ice-cream. Was she sexy or was it the way she was licking the ice cream? Cate wondered whether she might go get herself one. Oh God, that young boy looked bored, trudging after his parents, dragging his feet a metre behind them. On holiday? How come Africans always look so sleek and regal, Cate wondered, as a tall, black shiny skinned man, wearing a Haiwian shirt almost shimmied past. Long floral, chiffon is most definitely in fashion for the 40 somethings. My God, that woman was fat. She was seriously waddling. It was uncomfortable to watch. Where were they all going? Cate sighed. It seemed like they all had somewhere to go, people to see. She felt conspicuous in her isolation. Enough of this, she decided, and got up to go. Go where?
A man dressed in a green military jacket wearing a green hat with a fancy feather hurried past. He reminded Cate of the Deerstalker in Fenimore Cooper’s Pioneers. He seemed to have intent in his step. Cate followed him, keeping the bouncing brown and black feather poking from his hat in her sights. He headed down Quay St towards Spanish Arch. Cate wondered where he was going dressed like that? And what was she going to do now? She had no plans. She decided to follow him, just to see. Deerstalker turned right past Jury’s Hotel and crossed the bridge. He was heading out along the Prom. Cate ran a few steps to keep him in view. The crowds dissipated by the water.
Deerstalker slowed down as he passed the boats tied, bobbing in the water, to the harbour wall. He paused by the swans and gulls that were flocking to the bread being tossed by a small girl in a leaning out of a stroller. The air was a flap with wings and squawks. The bay was awash with a mini armada of brown and white feathered ducks and snowy orange beaked, orange eyed swans. Cate stopped alongside him. He looked at her. His face was weather beaten. Brown eyes, and bushy wild brows were prominent beneath the hat. Their eyes met and Cate smiled. She nodded and walked on slowly, hoping he would catch up and pass her so that she could continue her tail of him. She felt proud of her tailing techniques.
Deerstalker looked at the woman walking ahead of him. She was dressed in black, black jeans, black t shirt, black jacket, black trainers. She must be in her 30s. She had long brown hair which swung in rhythm with her body. He wondered where she was going. Was she meeting someone? What was so interesting about the swans? Well, they were an attraction, he supposed. So many birds on the pier. They were eye catching. He wondered if this was something he could work on. Deerstalker decided to walk to the end of Nimmo’s Pier and then head back into town. He picked up his pace, and passed the woman all in black. She had now stopped and was studying the flowing water. He wondered what was so interesting. A sudden gust of wind came in off the Atlantic. He pulled his jacket tighter around him and tugged down his hat. He didn’t want to lose that. He picked up speed. He’d grab a sandwich on the way back and take it into his meeting. He looked out to sea. Clouds were gathering. He knew that sun wouldn’t last. It never did in Galway.
Cate watched him head towards the pier. Was he going to turn along the Prom to Salthill. She hoped not. It was suddenly a little chilly. She didn’t feel like a long walk but she was determined to follow him. Why? There was a word for it, she thought, what was it? Stalking…She was stalking the Deerstalker. She smiled and decided to sit on the bench until she saw what direction he was taking. If he turned along the prom she could cut across the playing fields. Why was she doing this? What had attracted her? The hat. He was tall. Cate had liked his face too. She just wanted to know what he was doing. Anyway, she had nothing better to do.
Cate wondered who he might be. She decided he was Irish. He was out for his daily walk. He was a fisherman. No, not with that jacket. What about the hat? It meant he had character. Maybe he was an artist. Girlfriend? No, she thought. Was that what she was hoping? Maybe he was an architect. Professional, though why would he wear such a ridiculous hat?
Deerstalker ignored the stile to the prom and kept heading towards the end of the pier. Good, thought Cate. He was on a short walk. Did he work? Cate couldn’t see him in a nine to five job. She was relieved she hadn’t followed him along the pier. She didn’t want him to think she was following him. Why would he think that? Loads of people walked the pier. Maybe she should head back up towards town and let him catch up with her, overtake her. She’d walk slowly.
Deerstalker saw the woman in black stand up and start walking slowly back towards town. He wondered where she was going. She didn’t look like she belonged to Galway. All that black. Not fashionable any more. Was she English maybe or American? He thought about following her, just for the craic. No, he had to get back to that meeting at two. If she was around, no doubt he’d see her again.
Deerstalker picked up his pace. He headed back along the pier, up to Spanish Arch. A salsa band was playing outside the Town House. He stopped to watch couples dancing. They were good. The girls were almost riding the legs of their male partners and could certainly flick their pelvis. The tables were full of people, drinking, chatting. The breeze had died down here. He turned up past McDonaghs. The fish smelt good. Here too were crowds, finishing lunch, enjoying the oscillating sun. Gemmells, Fat Freddies, all full. Good business. He turned down Cross St towards Middle St and headed up to the Institute of Mechanics.
Cate struggled to keep Deerstalker in view as soon when he turned into the lanes. She ran into the couple with the double buggy and shopping and had to help them retrieve fallen bags. When Cate finished apologising, she couldn’t see him. She felt her heart miss a beat. Where was he? Now she felt disorientated by the throng of people around her. How could he disappear so quickly? She stopped and carefully scanned the crowd. They surged passed her, as if she was invisible. There was no sign of him. She stood still, trying to anchor herself. What was she doing? She suddenly felt anxious. This was absurd. Why? What to do now? How could he simply vanish? She meandered up past the restaurants into Shop St. Everywhere, there were people. Flags were billowing in the breeze. Every pub pumped out traditional music. Flowers baskets were hanging from shop fronts. People looked happy. Cate felt bereft, ridiculously disappointed. She saw the American couple, again stopped, taking pictures of the Woodencraft shop, a pretty shop, grey brick with red windows, its displays full of crafted wooded trains, puppets. The miserable looking boy attached to his parents had his hands full of goodies from that sweet shop, Aunt Nellie’s, was it? He was smiling. She’d go to McCambridges for coffee and then back to her apartment.
At McCambridges, all the tables were full of people and their shopping bags. But after getting a coffee inside and standing for a while at the door, Cate was able to share a table with two other women who were discussing the up-coming sea festival taking place in town, describing it as a gathering of sorts. Cate had looked at the programme but hadn’t found much to attract her. General seaside activity. Maybe that was why the city was so crowded. As she sipped her coffee she watched the smiling Orange Buddha, apparently hovering three feet in the in air without support. When she had first noticed him last week, she had stopped to watch him. How did he do it? You couldn’t sit three feet off the ground. There was nothing beneath him but a stick in front of him which he held. Then the following day she had seen him set up. He surrounded himself with a huge tent and obviously beneath his orange drapes was a seat attached to his stick. Nothing was as it seemed in this town.
Deerstalker arrived at the Institute of Mechanics and went into the empty bar. It was a lovely old Georgian building with huge windows overlooking Middle St. Two grand dusty chandeliers hung from the yellowing ceiling, the walls were wood panelled, and the room was scattered with old, red leather armchairs. The last time he was here, he had enjoyed listening to a violin quartet. Today there was a meeting about the Galway Gathering. Every town, village in Ireland was trying to entice Irish emigrants back to the ‘old country’. With austerity, tourism had collapsed adding to the appalling recession that the banking crisis had created in Ireland. The country had fallen in behind the Gathering initiative. Festivals, commemorations were being held by village parishes all across the land and friends and family from abroad being asked to come back. Each event had to register their visitors, and Failte, the Irish tourist board, promised the most successful village, town, city with a prize of €100,000. An emergency planning group in Galway had come together to discuss creative ways of contributing to the Gathering Initiative. Deerstalker was the chair person of this group. He was its creative artistic director.
As Deerstalker waited for his colleagues to arrive, Cate sipped her coffee, wondering how Deerstalker had disappeared so suddenly. Maybe he worked in a building near here. A thin dark woman wearing a tight fitting red dress which clung to her skinny hips and legs tripped past in high red heels. How could she walk in those heels? A dishevelled old man, beard, blue eyes was sitting on the ground opposite, leaning against the wall, legs outstretched. He called out greetings to passersby. Two bald old men, big bellies, flowery shirts and shorts ambled past, chatting. Twins? You don’t often see old twins. A bunch of women, dressed in pink shorts, t shirts, hats and carrying pink balloons; there must be 20 of them. A hen party? Everyone seemed to be having such a good time. Maybe she should come next year and bring her sisters.
Cate then saw the black shiny man wearing his Haiwain shirt again. What was he doing? He was followed by the man she had noticed earlier with the clip board. God, did people just wander up and down the lanes all day? Strange! And there was the American couple. They were taking a photograph of the McCambridge’s now. Cate smiled. She thought she was in it. The French woman with the pleat passed by, chatting to her partner. She was talking about the abortion bill, in French. This was bizarre. It was also strange that Cate understood. She normally didn’t follow French speakers. They spoke too quickly. Cate sat up and began to study the people passing more closely. Oh my God, there were the three girls wearing mini skirts, again and the school boys still eating burgers. The twenty strong hens were now dancing in a circle.
“We’ve recruited 200 plus people,” said Deerstalker. He was talking to three other people in the room. The singular, dark haired woman Cate had noticed earlier was taking notes. The other two were suited middle aged gentlemen.
“I’m pleased with the response. We’ve organised photographers too, so we’ll have photographic evidence. Are your staff ready to get out there, Caoimhan?” Deerstalker asked.
“Yep,” replied Caoimhan, the man with the clipboard. “The museum and arts centre staff are changing into the costumes you designed. The Gay boys’ outfits were in great demand. Less so the homeless. I must say, Charlie, this idea of yours is great. It really adds to the buzz of the city… it’s certain to attract visitors.”
“Yes. I suppose you could call it a pyramid venture of sorts.”
“How do you mean?” Asked the second of suited gents, a thin man with a greasy lank hair and penetrating blue eyes.
“You remember, Eamon, the pyramid schemes during the boom. One person would contribute €25 Euro and sell it on, thereby getting a lump sum themselves. It’s kinda similar.”
“Well, I hope not. That sort of description would not do my political reputation any favours.”
“Maybe it’s more accurately described as a flash mob. Our people out there are doing it for the craic; dressing up and acting like tourists. You know, this buzz will attract people. Success breeds success. Ireland’s a small country. Everyone will hear about it and come and see what the story in Galway is.
“Even if there isn’t a story?”
“Sure, the moving statues worked.”
“Eamon, don’t tell me you believed in the moving statues!”
“Well…I’ll believe in anything if it’s of a profitable nature.”
“Yep, if we pull this off, and create that feel good factor, it’ll work well for your popular votes too, I’d say.”
“Careful what you minute, Arlene,” Eamon told the young woman. “Don’t want to be giving too many Galway secrets away. Well, gentlemen, will we join the fray and see how it’s going?”
At the door on Middle St, they shook hands and headed off in opposite directions. Deerstalker ambled around the lanes to see how it was all going. Some people recognised him and waved. He made a mental note to warn people not to do this. It could ruin the performance. As he turned left into Shop St from Abbeygate Street, he was pleased with how crowded it was. But people were all going in the same direction. He made another mental note. As he passed McCambridge’s, he noticed the woman he had seen earlier. He’d go for coffee.
Cate couldn’t believe it. There was Deerstalker. She smiled at him.
“I like your hat.”
“Didn’t I see you on the pier? Are you alone? Can I buy you coffee?” he asked.
“I’m people watching. It’s seems to be the latest trend in Galway.”