Gordon Ferris is a Dublin writer living in Ballyshannon, Co Donegal for the past thirty-six years.
He is a member of the Dublin Writers Forum and has had poetry and short stories published in A New Ulster, The Galway Review, and poetry in Hidden Channel.
By Gordon Ferris
Getting off the bus and turning on to my street after what was an uneventful journey across the city on two buses. One from the southside suburb of Tallaght to the city centre, then walking down O Connell street to Abbey Street where I got the 40A bus out to Finglas West, an area I discovered later you couldn’t use when applying for a job.
On the latter part of the journey, I distracted myself with thoughts of past times and new beginnings I had yet to experience, having just finished school.
I thought of the changes I had seen from childhood to the eve of manhood. The fields where, as a child I was explorer and knight fighting the dark-clad imagined foes of my fantasy world, the Silver Spoon stream I waded across in my bare feet, afraid to get my shoes wet, that being a major offence in my Mother’s eyes. Then there was the orchard at the back of Dunsink Observatory I raided, being dared by the bigger lads to be the first to jump down off the wall. Fool that I was, I always did and would end up being chased off when we were spotted. We would go home than with muck hardened on our skin, apples and pears stuffed in our jumpers. Fruit would be turned into tarts and pies, later generously covered with custard for a rare treat.
Looking down past the top of my road you could see the full length of Cardiffbridge Road and the straight line of houses edging on-to the playing fields which sided the farmland divided by a road we used to call The Back road. Slowly all the green of my childhood was disappearing, being taken over by the grey of concrete.
Nearing the house, I wondered who was at home, my Mother would more than likely be home, unless she was two doors down in a neighbour’s house. Sometimes I would get home from school before my mother, who worked in Unidare, Mrs Dillon used to keep an eye on me, I would sit in her house, her two daughters thought it funny to get me to play with their dolls, then they could tell all their friends that I was playing with dolls and make a show of me.
I wondered if my older brother Chris was home yet, I wanted to see him and thank him for getting bullies off my back. These older lads had been hassling me after my best mate and I had got the better of them.
The whole incident started after some friends and I eventually found the courage to stand up to them. We had been getting tormented by these scumbags led by a lad named Kinger, living in fear, we thought we had prevented it getting out of hand by playing along with them and keeping out of their way, but gradually it got too much having to watch over our shoulders all the time, getting into trouble with our parents because they would watch out for us going to the shops and rob our money.
It came to a head-on one of the odd Saturday afternoons I had decided to take part in a road football league on the green at the top of the street. All it amounted to was five or six lads from each street, as many as we could get, but usually five or six and we would play each other up to ten, whoever got to ten goals’ first was the winner.
Where we played was a raised green at the top of our street, the street was a cul-de-sac, which meant that at the end of the street it widened out to allow cars to turn around and exit the street again. It was at this widening of the road that the green we played was positioned, it was raised about six inches of the ground edged with concrete and bordered with footpaths between green and houses on our street with extra-long gardens at the end houses, one open and walled to the right and the other to the left was surrounded by high hedging and was inaccessible. The other end of our street was the avenue, running horizontal to our road, to the left another green going as far as Cappagh road which led to everywhere. The house at the end on the right bordering on the Avenue had another long garden surrounded by a very high overgrown hedge making its interior invisible
I never knew much about the onto the games, or when there was going to be another one, it wasn’t an organized thing, it just happened unexpectedly any day there were lads available, usually all-day Saturday or evenings during the week. The first I would hear of the upcoming game would be a knock on the door with two or three lads I vaguely knew, looking for me to play for them, it was the last resort for them, they must have been short of a player.
The games could go on for several hours, most of us dripping with sweat and some barely able to walk from exhaustion. There was fierce competition and both teams had captains who hated to lose, roaring and shouting commands and abuse if you made a mistake or showed signs of tiring. The last game we had played was one of bad feeling, it ended with blood being spilt.
The main cause was an unwelcome slightly older lad from another street, who just happened to be Kinger, he was a bit of a wild hard man, overweight and much bigger than all of us, most afraid of him. He liked to throw his weight around calling us all names and passing comments to us in a belittling manner, trying to be in control, trying to be the main man on the pitch, the captain, of both teams.
In reality, he had two left feet and no matter how hard he tried, he looked slow and awkward. Most of us could run rings around him, we just had to make sure he didn’t get a hold of us. If he did catch you, he liked to sit his considerable weight on his victim’s belly, move his arse about and fart explosively in your face. It happened to me once before, and believe me, it would have been far better if he had beaten the crap out of me with a stick. It reminded me of my Dad at Christmas time cleaning out the turkey.
It was the second half with the game precariously poised at nil-nil, at any minute one of the teams could have conceded a goal. Kinger, getting tired and fed up with nobody reacting to his intimidation, the mood getting a little on the nervous side. Everyone was trying to keep away from Kinger, or just saying yes to everything he said, it was no longer a game, slowly the lads had enough and were starting to drift off, suddenly Kinger pushed Jimmy Kerr, who was trying to get past him with the ball. The push knocked Kerr off balance and sent him flying off the green and into the hedge at the side of the path. This was the last straw, Desi Ellis, my best pal on the street, went up and grabbed the ball out of Kinger’s hand, who was pushing it now by trying to claim a free kick,
” you’re getting no free-kick, not takin this crap from you anymore, you just fuck off back to your own street and pester them over there, weer not takin this crap from this tub a lard.”
Desi said nervously, his tone lowering at the end.
I stepped forward, shaking inside but trying to hide it and said.
” That’s enough, you’ve gone too far this time, if he had fallen on the cement there he could have broken his arm, no more, I’m not taking it either”
Two more of the lads stepped forward. Kinger red-faced with anger looked from face to face and said. “And who is going to stop me, you Ellis,”
he said with a push on Ellis.
” Or you, ya little cunt”
To me he said, walking menacingly in my direction, slapping me on the face with a wide swing of his arm connecting, it was the shock of being hit that affected me more than the impact, it felt warm and heavy, nothing like what I expected, I thought a punch from Kinger would knock me out and be very painful but it just about turned my head. With this Desi and I went for him, we had no choice, if we didn’t stand up to him, he would have battered us, there would have been no end to the fight. Desi got him with a kick to his knee and I threw several punches at his head aiming for his nose. My Dad, in one of his lectures about not fighting on the street, told me the best way to stop a bigger fellow in a fight was to
“aim for the nose, there’ll be blood everywhere, and ya might even break his nose and if that doesn’t work, kick him in the balls”
Da told me this in one if his pacifist speeches. Typical Da, teaching me not to fight on the street by hitting someone.
Anyway, one of the punches connected and Desi also connected with a kick to the goolies. This once and for all took the mindless smirk off his face and had Kinger heading away with his tail between his legs. Hopefully, I thought, that will be the end of him throwing his weight around here anymore.
Hopefully, I thought to myself in the house later, that’s to be the end of one of our childhood fears. Those fears I, as a kid had, just didn’t turn out how I imagined they would. What did I expect Kinger was going to do us? He’s hardly going to kill all of us and bury the bodies in the fields around here, is he?
It’s like the aggressive dog at the end of the street, you imagine it’s going to savage you, maybe it is just saying hello. Anyway, if you at run at the dog and shout, he’s off like a frightened bitch.
It didn’t turn out the way I expected it would with Kinger, our fightback made him mad for revenge, every time he happened to come across any one of us in the street, he was out for revenge, out to hurt us, not just rob us. He would try guess where we would be, wait in places he knew we would have to pass and catch up with us.
It was nervous times for a while afterwards, still always looking over our shoulder as we went on our errands to the van shop around the corner. In my case to get loose cigs for my ma, or two eggs for the tea, or a big five bar for Chris. Frightening times. Always having to look up and down the street before going out.
He did eventually get a hold of me when I was on my way to the van shop on one of those occasions when my Ma needed more loose fag’s. I was ambling up the street, one of the rare times in this dangerous spell when I allowed myself to drift away into my own dream world, suddenly, he and his brother Jimmy came out from hiding behind the hedge in one of the gardens. One on either side of me so I couldn’t getaway. I tried moving to one side, Kinger, or Tommy, as he was christened, stepped in my way,
“Where de ya think yur goin” he said with a snarl, “not so brave now are ya, without yur little gang behind ya, wha.” He added. I could feel the blood drain from me with fear, and wondered what I had in front of me, strange the things that go through your mind when you’re in danger, I found myself looking at Tommie’s hands, wondering what it would be like to be hit by him, big fat ham like hands twice the size of mine, imagine, he’s only two years older than me, I thought. I was shaking with fear as this unfolded.
Then I looked at his brother Jimmy’s hands, tiny effeminate hands, made for flower arranging or sewing, yes, I thought, Jimmy’s hands, much rather be hit by them. A bit of advice for any young man caught in a threatening situation, keep your mouth shut, avoid the temptation to pass spontaneous sarcastic remarks, thinking that a bit of humour might lighten the mood, Doesn’t work, especially if ,out of nerves, you say the first thing comes to mind and it has something to do with your, opponents girlie hands. Remember, a silent tongue never broke a tooth.
Kinger kept pushing, short, sharp jabs into the chest, I was waiting for the haymaker, it didn’t come, instead the sly brother Jimmy hit me with something which I found out later was a hurley stick, right into my side and into part of the stomach, I went down and they kicked and lashed out with all they had, I just curled up in a ball, what else could I do. It was all over in a minute, it’s not like it is in the movies, fights don’t go on for several minutes, and it doesn’t happen in slow motion, pity it didn’t happen that way, maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much. A small crowd started to form now, two of the women came out of there house and chased the two brothers away one hitting Kinger with the end of her tea towel which she had in her hand, a regular part of her attire. She wiped the blood off my hands and head and led me down the street.
Home now my mother came to the door and turned all colours when she caught sight of me. “Oh my God, what happened to him” My Mother said to Mrs Hindsight, who replied in her Donegal accent “I saw him from the parlour window getting beaten up by ‘those two brothers’ from the avenue, “My Mom thanked Mrs Hindsight profusely and they both exchanged remarks condemning those two, as Mrs Hindsight said, “Wee pups, coming round our street causing trouble, being as quiet as mice then on their own road.”
Mrs Hindsight went out the gate waving, my mom closed the door, led me into the kitchen where she sat me down on a bench pulled out from under the kitchen table. She got the biscuit tin filled with every oddment of the day including medicinal items and plasters, our first aid kit. She cleaned my hand and head, dabbing me with this purple called iodine, tincture of iodine it was called, it stung like hell and stained the skin for a few days after.
Chris suddenly appeared from nowhere wanting to know what happened and insisted I tell him who did it, after being told by my Mam, away he went like a bull and that was that.
Later I did come across Kinger several times, he didn’t have much to say, seemed to be avoiding me for some reason. To this day I have no idea what was said or done by my brother Chris, and therefore as I approached the house I wondered if Chris would be there.