Patrick arrived in Dublin hours before his mother finished work at the Guinness factory so he had some time to spare and after parking his car, 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 some 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 a Chinese 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 held 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 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 recognized from past experience. An old girlfriend 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 only wanted to let her know that he was familiar with it—he wasn’t 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 ready 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 emotion overcame him for an excruciating moment and he struggled to bring himself under control.
With commendable 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 be emotional like this.’
‘I Ching brings deep things to surface so is common reaction. Not necessary to be sorry please.’ A bell rang upstairs followed by the sound of a baby crying just before the head of a young woman peeped round the curtain. It withdrew immediately when she saw a sale in progress. From the same vicinity a conversation in Chinese created a useful distraction from the embarrassment still simmering in the basement. Patrick struggled to get a grip of himself.
When it was quiet again he returned to eye contact and the inquisitive smile of his Chinese diviner – a complete stranger peering into the privacy of his life but this somehow made it easier to unburden himself with a secret. He made a deep sigh and opened up.
‘23 years ago my mother became pregnant with me in this city when she was 16. This was at a time when being an unmarried mother was an unforgivable sin 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, today I know that at 5pm she’ll finish work and when she will 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. There was still plenty of time and he settled back to watch the busy city shoppers running for cover as raindrops began to fall. By the time 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. An 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 accentuating the conversation she was having with her companion.
He liked her hands and what he could see of her legs and feet but he couldn’t decide on how to approach her on the question 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 a 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 for rational thought 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 foolish but glad because he had, after all, seen her as a real person and heard her musical Irish voice as she chatted and gesticulated and 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 him, warm and soft.
‘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.’