Patrick arrived in Dublin hours before his mother finished work at the Guinness factory so he had time to spare and after parking his car, he set out to buy her a gift. He preferred back street shops so he walked away from the city centre and eventually found a junk shop with antique jewellery on display.
A wizened Chinese woman welcomed him in with a bow and followed him as he looked around. Some of the items had an eastern influence but most of the things were unusual objects found in Ireland. He paused by an opium pipe before moving on to some jade jewellery in an ornate cabinet and took a long time looking.
‘More jewellery downstairs. You like look?’ She drew back a curtain with a narrow stairway behind it. ‘Nice gifts for your girlfriend. Good quality.’
She went ahead and tugged at his sleeve on her way past so, intrigued already from what he’d seen so far, he let her lead him down to the basement.
The lighting was low and exotic with a sweet smell of incense that hung in misty patches against the ceiling. On a gorgeous silk rug on the floor sat a low table with an open book on top and a few other things neatly arranged. An adjustable lamp cast a circle of light onto an abacus and a magnifying glass.
She encouraged him to look at the jewellery on display in illuminated cabinets against the whole of one wall by gesturing him towards them.
After a long inspection of the contents he pointed to a ring with a red stone and asked for a closer look.
‘Very old from Persia. You make good choice.’ From a collection of keys hanging on a chain from her waistband she selected the one to unlock the cabinet and took the ring to the table and knelt by the light to inspect it.
Still standing and now towering above her, a cushion on the floor on his side of the table was the only place to sit if he didn’t want to stoop uncomfortably so he decided to kneel as well and came down to her level. She handed him the ring and the magnifying glass so he could examine it in the bright light. The mysterious blood-red landscape captivated him with its sultry beauty that came to life as he changed the angle of view. After a long inspection he looked up to find the woman watching him. Her eyes were unblinking with large irises set in a face completely covered with wrinkles. He re-assessed his original view of wizened to serene and wise.
‘Why you choose this ring? Is it for girlfriend?’
She took it from him and inspected it again using a jeweller’s loupe before holding it in clasped hands and closing her eyes. He watched her face as she appeared to meditate for about a minute. When she surfaced again she looked at him thoughtfully.
‘Superb ruby. Once mystic’s ring.’
Her bad grammar conveyed the idea of a fortune teller owning it before it changed hands.
He was about to ask how much when the book caught his eye and he recognized the I Ching. It was written in Chinese but the hexagrams were something he knew about from an old girlfriend who had an English copy she used for divining. He pointed to it. ‘I Ching?’
She removed a bunch of dried sticks from a bamboo container and handed them to him after putting the ring and the magnifying glass to one side. He explained that he wished to let her know he was familiar with it – not expressing a desire for a reading. His protests went unheeded and she continued to give him complicated instructions on how to make a selection from the bundle.
‘I not sell ring to you otherwise okay?’
He laughed but she was serious. ‘You haven’t said how much.’
‘I Ching first.’
Patiently she watched until he was done, then drew some lines and dashes with a pencil and consulted the book to find their meaning.
As she flicked through the pages he took up the ring again and lost himself in the ruby having decided to buy it whatever it cost. He enclosed it in his fist possessively when she looked up to reveal her findings.
‘Long journey coming to an end. Important time for you and your family yes?’
Her question took him by surprise and his first reaction was to shrug her off but sudden emotion overcame him for an excruciating moment and he struggled to bring himself under control.
With oriental tact she occupied herself with the book again and made some notes on her pad as she waited for him to compose himself.
‘Sorry – it’s not like me to spill over like this.’
‘I Ching brings deep things to surface so is common reaction. Not necessary to be sorry please.’ A faint bell rang upstairs followed by the sound of a baby crying just before the head of a young woman peeped round the curtain. Catching a sale in progress it withdrew immediately. From the same vicinity a conversation in Chinese created a useful distraction from the difficulties still simmering in the basement as Patrick got a grip of himself.
When it was quiet he returned to eye contact and the inquisitive smile of his Chinese diviner – a complete stranger peering into the core of his private self where she’d opened the windows in the room of his deepest secret. He made a deep sigh and opened up.
‘23 years ago my mother became pregnant with me in this city when she was 15 so her parents sent her to a convent in England specializing in discreet childbirth and the adoption of unwanted babies.
‘When the time came I was handed over to my new parents and my birth mother returned to Dublin, to all appearances the young virgin again. My adoptive parents were responsible and kind and gave me all that I could ask for but they were cold and unemotional. On my ninth birthday when they told me the truth, I became obsessed with finding my real mother.
‘I was good with computers and went on to university to study programming and software design. I could hack into just about anything when I graduated. Adoption agency databanks became my main concern for two years until I tracked her down.
‘So I know where she’ll finish work at 5pm today and catch a bus to take her home. I intend to be on that bus.’
‘Ring is for mother?’
‘Yes I thought I’d buy a gift for her.’
‘Give after big surprise?’
‘Yes …. well, some time later … I haven’t really planned when or how yet but …….’ He trailed off thinking he would work it out when the time came. He was regretting telling her his tale now.
‘How much is the ring?’
She hesitated looking thoughtful then took a ring box from a pocket of her trousers and held out a hand for the ring.
‘Destiny takes its own course you will see. Price is £200.’
Not sure whether her cryptic remark referred to the timing of the gift or his meeting with his mother, he handed it over and took out his credit card.
‘Why was it necessary to consult the I Ching before selling it to me?’
‘Lady who sell to me say ‘choose carefully when someone buy’ so I am beholden to contract. You must do same. This is special ring.’
Outside in the street again he hailed a taxi, climbed in and gave his destination to the driver, wondering if he’d paid too much for something that could be a fake. She may have set him up with the mysterious overtones of her sales routine. He went over the events in her basement, recalling the uncomfortable intimacy of the experience and took the ring from its box and put it on his little finger.
He was nervous about the important moment about to arrive and looked at his watch. Still plenty of time and he settled back to watch the busy city shoppers running for cover as raindrops began to fall. When the taxi arrived at the bus station there was a steady downpour.
He knew there were two stops before the Guinness factory so when he’d bought his ticket and entered the bus, he considered the best place to sit. He decided on a side seat so he could observe the whole of the interior when it was full of passengers.
Progress through the rush hour traffic was slow and agonizing but they picked up speed towards the end of the journey. When they arrived there was a large group waiting in the open, most of them holding umbrellas so it was difficult to see any faces and for a few minutes it seemed she wasn’t part of the crowd. Then he saw her gripping the hood of her coat against the wind, holding the arm of a friend who held her umbrella over them both.
She wasn’t like the photo he’d captured on her facebook page but he could tell instantly it was her. Another emotional surge caught in his throat from her close proximity. Here she was—the woman of the womb of his making, unaware of the importance of this moment.
He watched her slow progress in the line up before she came in talking with her friend and chose the seat opposite him. When they sat down she caught him staring and gave him a glare. He was hoping she might recognize him but the thought faded when she ignored him completely.
He knew it was an unlikely possibility but the emotion of the occasion removed his good sense and he felt slighted.
The bus gradually filled with the invasion of dripping bodies that were now pressed together on the seats, raising the humidity. The windows misted to add a dimension of claustrophobia as the noisy congregation shouted to be heard above the rattle of the diesel engine past its prime.
Patrick satisfied his need to feast his eyes on the shape of his mother by making sweeps with his head and eyes rather than a fixed line of sight although he could look at her hands which were expressing the conversation she was having with her companion.
He was mesmerised by their movements and what he could see of her legs crossed together with the free foot keeping time with the rhythm of the hands. This was it and he was coiled like a spring to act but he couldn’t decide on a means of proceeding—how to announce the nature of their kinship? Longing to sit next to her and explain, he knew this was impossible but his opportunity for an exchange of some sort might not last so what to do?
They were approaching the next stop and quite a few passengers crowded the aisle ready to alight so his view was obscured until the bus stopped and they got off.
He watched the exit as they evacuated, still turning over his options. Then his mother stood up, said goodbye to her friend and followed the last one out.
He was thrown into an indecision about what to do next as she embraced a man on the pavement that he recognized as her husband. There were two young boys that she also greeted – her sons and Patrick’s half brothers. Photos of them were also on her facebook. He stared as the bus set off and they passed from sight.
Disappointment and misery flooded through him as he made a great effort to avoid another display of emotion. His look of desperation was noticed by a passenger nearby so he turned away to look towards the driver’s back, fighting to stay in control.
When he regained his ability to think straight he was angry at first then decided to get off the bus at the next stop and return to the city centre and his car. The ferry back to Wales departed the following morning at 8 so he thought he’d head for the ferry point in Rosslare and find a hotel.
The idea of continuing to arrange a meeting with his mother was now abandoned. All his focus had been on plotting the bus rendezvous and now it had failed to reunite them, whatever came next needed careful planning. He knew where she lived but knocking on her door was too much of a challenge with a family of four to confront.
He wanted a face to face, personal approach – she was his mother after all! An email or a letter could be brushed aside too easily. Confronted in person by a long lost son looking into her eyes would turn up the emotional pressure and work to his advantage. Or so he thought.
His greatest fear was that she’d reject him again and now with a husband and two other children, he might be an old memory best forgotten.
Feeling glad that he had at least seen her as a real person and heard her musical Irish voice as she chatted and gesticulated, he formed her again in his mind with a warm feeling. It cheered him up.
He found a bus back and set out in his car to return home.
That night in a hotel close to the ferry he dreamed he was in an open boat drifting on a river with a woman pale in the moonlight sitting beside him with the tiller between them.
He was trailing his fingers in the water then watching the drops drip from his fingers like jewels when he felt her shoulder press against his, warm and soft. She lounged with her elbow propping her head and looked at him.
‘You have my ring Patrick. I am Luna.’ Her tongue the colour of the ruby peeped from between her lips before she smiled and placed a hand on his. ‘I will help you. Can you take the tiller for a bit so I can play my lute?’
He watched the water as it swirled round the rudder and she nudged him again.
‘Steering has a responsibility. You must watch where we’re going or we’ll hit something and sink.’
The following morning was a rush because he overslept so he had no time to dwell on the events of the past until he’d driven on to the ferry and headed for the café.
He was buoyant from a good night’s sleep after years of insomnia caused by an over-active mind constantly delving in the world wide web.
No recollection of his dream came to him but he was reminded of his ring when he watched the ferry casting off and then the image of his mother replayed. The motion of her hands as she’d talked to her friend were clearly remembered, becoming like signals or a sign language. A language he couldn’t quite grasp but he knew that he must to succeed in his bid to re-unite with his mother.
The drive to London and home took most of the day and the shops were closed when he arrived but the following morning he went to a jeweller in Hatton Garden to have the ring valued.
‘It’s old, certainly antique but I am no expert on matters of the past. Sotheby’s could date it for you if you tell them you are thinking of selling it.’
‘It’s not for sale. I was told it was Persian.’
‘As I said, I wouldn’t know but it’s an excellent ruby and at current market rates you could expect around £3000 but if it’s ancient, it could be worth much more. There is no obligation to sell with Sotheby’s but they have experts who can advise you on its origin and antique value. Do you have any proof of ownership? A bill of sale?’
Patrick showed him his invoice from Halls of Treasure, Dublin and credit card receipt with the £200 price tag clearly visible.
‘A lucky find indeed.’ Said the man looking envious.
Perplexed by this discovery Patrick was quite sure that the Chinese woman was no fool and must have known the market value. Her cabinets were stuffed with many other items of considerable value. Why did she sell it so cheaply?
Months passed by with his busy life back to before, hard at work with software designs and a social life that he’d neglected since leaving university. The existence of Luna was buried too deeply in his sub-conscious to rise to the surface but at night, when he slept they spent long periods together.
Christmas was beginning to show its beckoning hand in the supermarkets eager for an early start to the bonanza with the big day still six weeks away. Snow came like dust as an early messenger for a heavier fall later as Patrick shared fish and chips with two friends.
‘I’d better get back.’
That night as Luna is skimming her palm across the surface of the river she decides the time is right.
He’s unaware of her intentions as she passed him the tiller and repeated the hand movements she’d gleaned from his memory of his mother.
‘This is what it means Patrick. Watch closely.’
The sequence became the weaving of a net that took substance before she cast it from the stern and then walked to the prow. Billowed by the following wind, she spread her arms and whispered to the things she saw.
Smiling she returned to her place beside him and took up her instrument. Her introduction described the hand movements again, this time with musical notes. Then she stood and sang with a voice like water:
Luna led Patrick to Dublin, determined to help him re-bind.
The white covered ground was softening sound on a day when snow was falling. He knew that the angle of sunlight, caught by the side of his eye, would lead him to find the right bus stop—and wait.
Emer O’Hara was baking, the children had gone to school, an ordinary day like others she’d find, but today, a memory unwinding. An echo bounced in her empty womb, and a wrench took her back to that time. A void never settled by conscience, brought back by the power of rhyme.
In the mist of the rest of the morning as the tide was rising and high, an impulse took her to walking, and she checked up again with the sky. She knew the right direction, a visible route in her eye and she walked with a certain purpose to a road.
A bus took her into the city, and there in the Square unaware of her gaze, on a bench in the snow sat a man. Not a baby—the baby she’d lost but a man.
He’d grown, but for her, from the time of his birth, no growth had been made by her mind. ‘You were taken, taken, a long time ago.’ In her eyes there was no hesitation. A pain from the crowning of birth reappeared with the quickening kicks of gestation.
Then separation came into her mind and an empty hollow feeling, and she knew, she knew it was him—she knew.
The father of her other sons, what would he say to that? Would he stay and forgive her or push her away? Amalgams of worries and needles of needs to ponder.
But the husband was brought up in Denver, far away from the Emerald Isle, forgiveness and justice shone from his soul, he strode through his life open hearted.
So Patrick was in with the fold which was good and he eased himself in with the brood.
Did he dwell on resentment festering still, tossed away as something to hide? Will he always remember the feeling, abandoned and left behind? A bundle, pass the parcel in the night.
But he truthfully knew that a life is a life and you get what you get and you have to stir in with the stew.
If not for Luna.
She gave him another view. Ƚ
So the spell was cast and early next morning, an inexplicable urge to go to Dublin overcame him. There was a warning of snow but the roads were clear and the boats were still running.
— o O o —
© Copyright Garth Meaney 19 November 2015
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