A thought for the still suffering

By James Falconer

‘How’s your Salmon, baby?’ asked Séamus, dipping a chunky wedge into his tartar dip. ‘Si, muy bien. Mmm, it’s so good. A friend said I should try the fish in Ireland.’ It was Carolina’s first time in Ireland. She’d been living in Madrid for the past three years doing her specialisation. Séamus, who went to university in Galway, was both excited and nervous to be back in the city of the tribes. He was glad she liked the salmon. Séamus really wanted her to enjoy Ireland.

The hotel was immaculate and the food delicious. The restaurant had pretty wooden floors and the walls decorated with warm colours. A plasma TV was affixed to the wall to the left of the bar. Along the bar were a row of brown leather high stools where two men sat enjoying a pint. They’d already had a good gawk at Carolina. They both wore football shirts, though by the look of them, it had been a while since they’d been anywhere near a football. Séamus noticed that they were both clad in different colour Liverpool shirts. ‘Home and away’, he thought. They were loud, and one spoke with a cockney accent. ‘You know it, mate’, he exclaimed.

Séamus and Carolina continued munching on their dinner. After a day spent hitch hiking around the winding roads of west County Clare, with nothing to eat apart from a few bags of salted crisps and some contused fruit, they….were…starving. The delightful food dispelled much of the nearby mawkishness. At one point Carolina enquired, ‘What language do speak’? Just as Séamus smiled, and whispered ‘English’, the door opened and an old man shuffled in. He used a walking stick and had a sombre look about him. He pulled up a stool at the bar and looked morosely at the two football fans. They gave him a quick glance while still talking, ‘The Reds ‘re goin’ to do it tonight, mate.’

After scanning the restaurant the old man spoke to Carolina and Séamus. Carolina smiled at him and said, ‘Excuse me?’ He muttered something again. This time she got up and went over to him. Carolina loved the elderly, particularly old men. ‘Are yis on holiday?’ enquired the man. ‘Hmm, I suppose we are. Séamus…’ said Carolina, pointing at her boyfriend…‘studied here, and I’m from Colombia.’ The man extended his hand and said ‘By God, you’re a beautiful looking girl.’ Carolina smiled over at Séamus, still eating his dinner, and then back at the man, who now had his hand on her shoulder.

‘What’s your name?’ asked Carolina. ‘Paddy, Paddy’s my name… I want to order some dinner’ he said to the barman, without warning. ‘Sorry, I’m afraid the kitchen’s closed.’ Séamus appeared in front of Paddy, ‘How are ya doing, nice to meet you.’ ‘Jaysus, she’s a great girl. You’d better mind her well.’ The volume on the TV intensified and the two football fans became animated. They shuffled around for a better view of the match, ‘C’mon you Reds.’

Paddy looked at the floor, ‘Jaysus, I’m starving. I have to go and get something to ate.’ Séamus felt sorry for him. He was drunk, sad and using a walking stick. ‘C’mon Paddy, I’ll take you to another place.’ Carolina beamed and said, ‘Goodbye, Paddy. Take care.’ ‘Ahh, you’re a fine lassie. The best of luck to ya.’ Carloina moved closer to Séamus, ‘I’ll get nice cake and some green tea. I may even watch some of this game!’ ‘Okay, I’ll see you soon.’ They kissed.

As they left the bar Paddy had a bit of a stumble, but he hung on tight to Séamus’ arm. ‘You’re alright, Paddy. Take your time now.’ ‘Ahh, you’re a grand lad. Where are you from?’ asked Paddy. ‘I’m from County Meath, Paddy. What about yourself?’ ‘Meath ha, I’ll tell ya, fierce tough men over that way. I’m from Mayo meself.’ Something troubled Séamus. It was Paddy’s accent. It sounded more northern than Mayo.

They went out onto the street and passed through the sentinel shroud of cigarette smoke, an omnipresent miasma, which along with the redoubtable pariahs generating it, was a reliable marker of licenced premises across the land. ‘Are you a smoker, Paddy?’ ‘Ha? Not anymore. I’m off them near thirty years. Me father, Lord have mercy on him, told me that if I didn’t give them up before I was fifty, they’d kill me. So, I gave up when I was forty-nine, and I’m still alive!’ ‘Fair play to you, Paddy. You’re as fit as a fiddle’. As they crossed the street Paddy clung on to Séamus tighter. ‘Uffff’ thought Séamus, ‘He could do with a wash.’

They entered a bar which, Séamus remembered, had an all-day menu. A band was setting up in the front bar, ‘C’mon Paddy, we’ll go down the back. It’s more like a restaurant.’ Séamus barely recognised the place. ‘Have a seat here, Paddy.’ Séamus approached the bar, ‘Excuse me, where’s the menu?’ ‘No menu’ grunted the young fella from behind the bar. ‘Not even a sandwich?’ The barman had gone. ‘Ignorant prick’ muttered Séamus. He turned around and had a good look at the place. He realised that it had turned into a kind of sports bar with awful mainstream music. However, it was neither a sports bar nor a disco bar, but a compromise of sorts. It had TV screens showing sport accompanied by loud music which blared over any commentary. Paddy sat gazing into the crowd. He looked out of place amongst the young party goers. Séamus shouted, ‘It seems I’ve been away too long, Paddy. They’ve changed everything; there isn’t a sandwich in the place.’ Paddy looked at the ground and said ‘Ahhh, fuck it anyway. I’m tired now. Jaysus, I think I’m going to die.’ ‘Paddy, relax; we’re all going to die. We’ll get you something to eat soon. C’mon let’s go.’

As they left the pub Séamus thought ‘Paddy’s a lot more pissed than I first thought.’ This realisation only meant that he was even more committed to looking after his new friend. Paddy was a slim, likeable man, with a charming face. ‘What line of work were you in, Paddy?’ ‘Well now, I spent a lot of time in Fermanagh. I was in the cattle trade.’ ‘Ahh, I thought your accent sounded more northern than Mayo. C’mon Paddy, there’s another hotel across the road.’

Paddy took hold of Séamus’ hand and they crossed the road again, ‘Ahh, you’re a great young fella. I hope one day I can return the favour. Where are you from?’ ‘County Meath, Paddy, don’t you remember?’ ‘I do, I do indeed, tough men, fierce tough men.’ ‘Look Paddy, there’s plenty of people eating in here. We’ll get you fixed up now.’ Upon entry to the hotel restaurant they were confronted by a waiter. ‘Excuse me; I’m afraid if you don’t remove this gentleman from the premises, I’ll have to call the Guards.’ ‘What are you talking about?’ asked Séamus. ‘This man has been in here on more than one occasion today. Ordering food and drink with no money to pay for it.’ Paddy became cantankerous ‘Ahh, it’s only a fuckin’ kip of a place anyway.’ ‘You see, this is the kind of language he uses.’ The waiter quickly looked around, lowered his voice, and leaned in close, ‘When asked to leave earlier, your friend here threatened to take a shit on the floor.’ Séamus burst out laughing, looked at Paddy and said, ‘Right Paddy, let’s go.’

Two women were stood outside the hotel smoking, ‘Sure, I’ve got two brothers in Australia, and one in Canada. Sure, there’s nothing here for them. Mammy’s hoping they’ll all be home for the Christmas…’ Séamus walked Paddy down the street a little. ‘Paddy, did you really threaten to shit on the floor?’ ‘Not at all, yer man got it wrong. I must have asked him for the toilet and when he didn’t let me, I may have made that proposal. Sure we all say things we don’t mean.’ ‘Indeed we do, Paddy. What about your family?’ Paddy’s eyes were tired, and filled with sadness. ‘Ah, the wife’s dead this years. I’ve two daughters, a son, and a rake of grandchildren above in Mayo.’ ‘Paddy, would you not go back home and see them.’ ‘Ah, I will soon enough.’ I’ve to eat something first. I’m starving with the hunger.’ Séamus smiled, ‘Look, there’s a small supermarket up the street. C’mon, I’ll get you a sandwich. What d’ya want in your sandwich, Paddy?’ They took off up the street; people were good to give way on account of Paddy’s instability. ‘Jaysus’, said Paddy, ‘I’d love a bit of ham in it.’ ‘Ham it is, Paddy.’

They stood outside the supermarket. ‘Paddy, where are you going to sleep tonight?’ ‘Jaysus, I’ve no idea. I’ll find an auld corner somewhere.’ ‘Ahh, Paddy, how about I put you in a taxi home?’ ‘Sure, I haven’t a penny to me name.’ ‘Yeah, but you can pay the driver when you get home. You probably have a few bob around the house, or one of your children can help you out?’ Paddy placed his hand on his stomach, ‘Jaysus, did you hear my belly rumbling?’

Séamus began walking idly around the shop thinking about Carolina, ‘she’s waiting for me in the hotel.’ He thought again, ‘oh, sure she has the little Liverpool supports club to keep her company, great.’ He wanted to take her out to some traditional music and show her Galway at night. Carolina, a doctor specialising in neurology, had a lot of patience. She worked predominantly with stroke victims, most of whom were elderly men. ‘She might wonder where I’ve got to’, he thought. When Séamus took his place in the queue he couldn’t see Paddy standing at the door anymore. After quickly paying for the sandwich and a bottle of water, he dashed outside. Paddy had wandered down the street. ‘Paddy, are you okay?’ ‘Jaysus, I’m not. I need to sit down. I think I’m going to die.’ Séamus took hold of his arm and motioned him in the direction of Eyre Square. ‘There’s a bench across here, and Paddy, you’re not going to die…yet. Sure you’ve to eat this sandwich first!’

They both sat on a bench in the square. ‘Where are you from?’ asked Paddy. Séamus laughed, ‘I’m from Meath, Paddy. You must remember!’ ‘I do, FIERCE tough men over that way. Jaysus, hope I’ll be able to return the favour someday.’ ‘Ahh, Paddy, sure it was a pleasure to help you out. How are you getting on with the drink this weather?’ He looked at the ground, ‘It’s only an auld nuisance. I think I got bad whiskey in a pub earlier today. I’m not right after it at all.’ Séamus looked at him and said, ‘I haven’t had a drink in over six years, Paddy. I realised that I was powerless over alcohol, and that my life was unmanageable.’ Through this journey Séamus learned to spare a thought for the still suffering alcoholic. It was not in his interest to judge if Paddy was, or wasn’t, an alcoholic. It made little difference. He wholeheartedly identified with Paddy’s plight. He’d been there, lost, lonely, hungry, penniless and confused. He saw himself in Paddy when he first sat at the bar. ‘Ahh, I’ll tell ya, you’re a fine young fella. Well done, you’ve a great life ahead of you. Mine’s all behind me now. Where’s that sandwich gone ta?’

‘I got you Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato, Paddy.’ ‘Good lad, fair play to you.’ Séamus handed him the sandwich. Paddy ate it as if he hadn’t eaten in a week. He only had a few teeth left, but did his best to chew it. Mayonnaise was soon smeared around his mouth. ‘Here Paddy, have some water.’ Séamus thought about how we enter the world confused and messy and often arrive back at that stage upon our exit. ‘Paddy, I’ll leave you this tissue so you can wipe your mouth.’ Paddy was unable to speak. He gave a wink, and raised a thumb.

Séamus felt a wobble in his stomach. He knew this warm sensation. The sight of Paddy eating the sandwich was too much for him. He looked away. He looked at Paddy again, drew a deep breath and said, ‘Paddy, it was great to meet you. I’ve to get back to my girlfriend now. I hope you get to see your family soon. Mind yourself, and take it easy.’ He put his hand on Paddy’s shoulder and gave it a light squeeze. Paddy looked at Séamus with his gracious, sad eyes, and with his mouth half-full said, ‘God bless you. You’re a great man. I hope one day I can return the favour.’

About an hour later, Séamus was taking Carolina out to some traditional music. He had already told her what happened with Paddy. When they walked into the main square, he said, ‘You see that bench over there? That’s where I left him.’ The empty sandwich box lay on the bench.

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