Gordon Ferris is a Ballyshannon poet and writer, originally from Dublin but has lived in Donegal for thirty-eight years. He has had poetry and short stories published in A New Ulster, the Galway Review, Impspired Magazine, and Hidden Channel ezine.
Growing up. Part 2.
By Gordon Ferris
Standing under the clock at Cleary’s Desi and I were franticly looking up and down O Connell St to see if there was any sign of Anna and her pals. They were extremely late, and we wear beginning to discuss the possibility of heading home.
Suddenly I could feel kitten soft hands reaching up covering my eyes,
“Guess who lover.” A voice said.
Lover, who uses that term in this country, terms of endearment are seldom heard from the mouth of Irish people, especially from the mouth of a young teenage girl, I thought to myself. More suited to those elegant women from those old black and white Hollywood movies my mother loved. Realizing who it was I thought it might be safer to keep that observation to myself.
Her body felt pleasant against mine, radiating warmth. She could see my face reflected in the shop window so had an advantage on me. Her perfume was a big giveaway though, telling me right away who it was, in fact, it wasn’t perfume, it was essential oil, Patchouli oil to be precise.
I wonder why they are called essential oils, Lavender, Tea Tree, Frankincense and Patchouli oil etc., are they essential, can we live without them, or are they just a nice, pleasant experience.
It’s funny how all these thoughts can go through your head in a fraction of a second, it takes longer to state it, must be natures shorthand.
Back down to earth again I turned around pretending to think it was Desi, telling him to stop his messing.
To which Desi replied, “you should be so lucky”
My arms made their way around Anna’s shoulders, fingers brushing through her hair, thumb and index finger touching her earlobe, her permanent inner smile gently caressing me, saying to myself how incredibly lucky I was.
Anna’s two pals were with her, one of them her older sister by a year, Orla.
The other girl Janet liked Desi, and he liked her, they just hadn’t connected yet.
“Where did you lot come from, didn’t see any bus coming.” I said, puzzled.
“That’s because you both wear busy looking in the wrong direction, the bus stops at the Carlton cinema coming from the south side, on the other side of the street. You wear watching for it coming from Cabra, on the Northside.” She said, and it did make sense. Growing up in the suburbs of Dublin, you only knew the area you live in and the city centre. Outside of that, we had no idea, at least I didn’t.
“Right, where are we off to then, lady’s choice I suppose? Or do we have any say in the matter” Desi said, bravely looking into the eyes of Anna’s best pal Janet, then lowering his eyes when he realised what he had said.
“So, you think us little girlies are bossy, do ya,” Janet said pushing Desi with her index finger playfully.
Desi’s face began to blush, and he responded nervously, head bowed.
“No, that came out wrong, I didn’t mean it, the way it came out, just trying to give you first choice. “Were the bare bones of what he said, rushed sentences, words missing, repeated words, and sentences. Nervous.
“Let’s head up towards Stephens Green, it’s a kind of neutral destination like Ireland’s place in the world” I said, not fully understanding the meaning of what I had said, just repeating something I read in the Herald by Con Houlahan, it seemed to make sense, I was just trying to take the attention away from Desi who was embarrassed.
Anna linked my arm and we headed towards O Connell Bridge with Orla walking beside us on the inside looking in the shop windows. Janet and Desi walked behind, I could overhear Janet saying how she was sorry, and how she wouldn’t have said anything had she realised he was the shy type. They gradually distanced themselves from us. Becoming engrossed in each other, the space between us began increasing so that by the time we reached Grafton Street they wear out of our sight.
“Will we wait or what?” I said, pausing outside some tourist office selling trips to Greece.
“No, leave them alone for goodness sake, it’s just the push they need to get them together,” Anna said, unintentionally reminding me to watch my language by her, not swearing. We walked on, me taking some of Anna’s hair out of my mouth. I walked with one leg on and one off the pavement, which nearly knocked Anna off balance, she noticed what I was doing and pulled me on to the path calling me on feckin eejit. We reached the Gates of St Stephens green and decided to wait for the other two.
There was a steady flow of people entering and exiting Stephens green, a lot of tourists speaking in foreign tongues. There was a group of lads from the north of England, who wear even harder to understand.
Looking down the mouth of Grafton Street I spotted the other two walking slowly, Desi’s arm linked by Janet, both hanging on each other’s words, oblivious to all around them. Eventually, they reached us and were about to walk right past us when Orla stood in front of them,
“What’s going on here, is your hormones at ya, bad enough having to stop these two ridin each other without you two starting.” She said.
Janet quickly responded, “I see you didn’t get over your shyness yet Orla. If there’s anyone needs watching it’s you, according to all reports”
Turning to Desi now, “and don’t you get any ideas you either” elbowing him in the ribs jokingly.
“I never opened me bleeding mouth, for jasus sake, you’re after breaking me ribs there,” Desi said in mock agony.
“Ah, gowan you little girl ya, ill kiss it better later,” Janet said, looking at Orla to see her reaction. It was obvious from her facial expression that she was trying to wind Orla up.
So, the chat carried on in this jovial manner as we made our way at a slow pace past the throng of people out enjoying the may summer sunshine. The clouds that were loitering threateningly overhead vanished and smiles illuminated from pedestrian’s faces. We passed some lads playing with a Frisbee, which led Anna to remark how one of them would be handy. I told that under no circumstances to mention that to Desi, he will just go and rob one if you do, getting us all into trouble. I went on to bore her with how the Frisbee was invented by an American couple playing with an old cake tin on a beach, throwing it to each one other. Somebody offered them 25 cents for it, and this gave them the idea to invent and produce the Frisbee, as the pan only cost them 5 cents. Of course, I was accused of making it up, which I had a reputation for doing, I had actually read it somewhere, I just laughed it off.
We made ourselves comfortable, laid out on the grass by the pond, where, as a child, I actually fell into the water. At first, we all sat in a circle, relaxing and becoming familiar with our surroundings.
“Is anybody hungry, I’m a bit peckish?” Desi said, rubbing his belly.
“I suppose I could eat something,” Janet said.
“You never say no to food do ya, it’s a wonder you’re still able to play camogie and do your Irish dancing. How do you manage to stay so slim with all the junk you eat?” Orla said to Janet.
“Seriously, how do you do it? I can’t eat feck-all without bursting out of my jeans.” She added.
“I guess it’s just my metabolism or something like that, or just that I’m very active, working at home and in the pub at the weekend, as well as playing sport and dancing.” Janet said, liking the attention she was getting.
“So, who’s going for a little walk then,” I said, while Desi, mimicked the girls with an effeminate wriggle emphasising his unfeminine figure, slagging the girls talking about their figures. Janet gave him a well-deserved dig in the ribs, to which Desi responded. “You punch like a girl”.
Janet replied. “That’s because I AM A girl, it took you long enough to notice.” snuggling up to him.
Repeating myself as to who was going to get some food, no one listening to me the first time. I was about to volunteer when Anna put her hand over my mouth to shut me up and suggested Desi and Janet go. We all volunteered our share of the money, but Desi insisted on paying, saying he was working and had more money than us.
Without hesitation by me, I accepted the offer before anyone else decided to voice their objections.
“All right babe lets go.” Desi said Standing up and halted by Janet’s hand across the back of his head.
“First, don’t call me Babe, where do ya think ya are, in an American film or something. Secondly, don’t ever tell me what to do, or I’ll give ye another dimple on your forehead to match the cute one on your chin. Now, on your way.” Janet added giving Desi a gentle push.
As the two-headed in the direction of the main gate, Desi touching his chin, wondering what she meant by that last remark, no one yet knowing where they were going or what they were getting. Orla decided to go with them.
“You two stay there till we come back, you can’t get up to any mischief here in the open. These other two need watching if anything happens to her, I’m dead, her Ma will blame me “
Suddenly we were alone, listening to the silence, relaxed, taking in the heat from the sun, no words between us. As she motioned me closer, I moved over nearer, witnessing her beauty, and inhaling her very essence, just to be near so beautiful a girl felt wonderous. Was I dreaming, about to wake up, was she about jump up laughing how she wouldn’t touch someone like me, and then the others appearing from nowhere to make even more fun of me. These thoughts were dispersed when her arm reached to take me in closer to her, suddenly I felt special. She kissed me passionately on the lips and then I lay my head on her flat stomach.
“Well what’s been going on in your life, is your Mam keeping well, you were saying she wasn’t well their last week.” She said to me with genuine concern in her voice.
“Ah she’s doin fine, another false alarm, she imagines all sorts of ailments. She had gall stones removed a while ago and since then she has a lot of aches and pains.” I said as she changed her position, brushing her hair with her hand, snuggling into my chest.
“How you feeling now that your finished school, any plans for the summer, any work lined up.” She said to me looking up into my eyes, kissing my neck.
“I’m sleeping much better now, although I had a mad dream the other night, I dreamt me mother sent on an errand to get my shirt repaired by the Pope in Finglas village, apparently, he was on a papal visit to Ireland.” I was in the middle of speaking when Anna interrupted me in a slightly raised tone.”
“Hold on there a minute!! you were getting repairs done by the Pope. explain that? is there nothing odd there? How? Why?” Her available arm outstretched in amazement.
I started to explain. “Because I had a hole in the arm of my favourite shirt, do you know what he did to fix it, he put a hole in the other arm, so now I had two matching holes on each arm. While he was doing up the paperwork for me, stapling the invoice and receipt together and handing it to me, after I had paid him, I slipped grabbing the nearest thing which happened to be the stapler, accidentally stapling the paperwork to his forehead. There was a big commotion now, his aids fussing over him, you’d think I had tried to assassinate the old lad or something, sure he’s nearly dead anyway. Funny how it’s always some old buck gets that job. Should give it to someone younger. Someone who will be around for a while, and not some hungry old fella who does nixers to make a few extra bob. “
She sat up now pulling away from me, interrupting my train of thought, she said. “I meant how things are down here in the real world, not in the mad world of your dreams.”
“Ah I was coming to that, that’s me finished in tech now according to my family, unless by some miracle I do well in the inter. My Dad is looking into a job for me, a full-time job. If by chance I do well in my exams, I can go back to tech. If as everyone expects, I fail, I have the job, win, win situation. According to him”
I managed to get the words out here in this company without being interrupted, which made a change for me, at home I’m always talked over, being told they know better.
“I would believe you probably have brains to burn, you could go on to college if you only had the confidence, you could do anything you wanted to if you put your mind to it, wait and see, you might surprise yourself.”
Anna said in my defence, pity she wasn’t there to take my side when my parents were having that chat with me. My Dad can be so persuasive and sound so right, even though you know he’s talking rubbish, you just can’t find the words of sentences to show him just how wrong he is, something he would never admit to anyhow. It’s his way of thinking or nothing, you’re always wrong.
As I sat on the grass leaning on my two elbows, Anna sat upright, turned her back to me, then she turned and lay down, resting her head on my thighs, facing me.
I said to her. “I’ll just have to wait until summer is over before I know for sure, for now, my Dads getting me a start somewhere, when or where I don’t know yet, he’ll tell me later when I see him at home”
I was hoping to end this conversation, I didn’t know really what was happening, so there wasn’t much I could say on the subject. Lucky enough the other three arrived, the two girls linking Desi who was carrying a bag full of junk food, crisps, big five bars, various other bars of chocolate and bottles of red lemonade.
“Jasus what did you get, a bottle of red lemonade, it’s like going to me grannies, all you need is Marietta biscuits and you’d be there,” I said, relieved to get the other conversation over with. It’s not that I didn’t want to talk about the subject, I simply had no answers, choices were still being made for me. I had yet to be told what I had decided to do with my life.
The other three sat down in front of us, the bag emptied on the grass, I grabbed a big five bar, I didn’t care or notice what anyone else got, if I got my big five bar I was happy.
“I hope you paid for them Desi,” I said, knowing Desi was very capable of lifting before him if the notion took him.
“Of course, I paid for them, what do you take me for, it’s just as well it was me going and not you. I have seen you doing the messages for your Ma. You only pay for the cheapest items and have the dear ones hidden in the bottom of the shopping bag” Desi replied in mock indignation.
I immediately said in denial. “Ah you’re just making that up, the way you suggested they should put letterboxes on the jacks in case the toilet paper runs out, and you were serious.”
“How would that benefit anyone if you run out of bog roll” Janet piped up.
“He thinks a friend can put a spare toilet roll in the letterbox when you’re stuck.” I said.
“Sure, can’t you just roll it under the door” Janet quipped.
“obviously but try explaining that to him.
The rest of the afternoon in Stephens Green we spent in similar banter with more intimate dalliances between Anna and I and Desi and Jannat. Orla was quite content to be left alone and free to read her paperback book knowing we were all in sight of her. Before long it was getting near time for us to be on our separate ways, I didn’t want to be too late, I’d never hear the end of it if I was the cause of the Ma and Da being late. Under the orders of Orla, we gathered up our litter, Orla, being the environmentally responsible one among us.
We headed down Grafton Street on the right side of the street. Odd how people heading towards Stephens Green go on the right side of the street and people heading in the opposite direction they go on the right side toward the city centre. Going past Trinity College, a line of French tourists waited impatiently to be led by the rapid talking tour guide. It was starting to spit rain now, which was a surprise after the great sunny day we just had. We left the three girls at the twenty-two-bus top outside Cleary’s. We had arranged to meet up the following weekend and had our goodbyes cut short by the early arrival of the bus and the girls being hurried by Orla anxious to get the girls’ home.
Disappointed, Desi and I headed towards Parnell Street quietly to get the 40A bus Home. Disappointed because I had expected and hoped to get a bit closer to Anna during the afternoon, and I think Desi felt the same way but said nothing. It seemed that every time that we tried to get close, I could spot Orla glancing in our direction, even when we were talking to each other, Orla seemed to join in with the conversation. It felt like she was deliberately keeping us apart, maybe I was just imagining things. Maybe, she was just being the big sister.
It was at Finglas village before we started talking again, both of us dashed by the sudden end of our day out. The conversation about our plans for the night, me either babysitting or going to the club with the family. Desi said we he was staying in to wash his hair in readiness for work on Monday morning.