This Is the Way

Gavin Corbett

This Is the Way

In memory of my father

In the common course of things, mankind progresses from the forest to the field, from the field to the town and to the social conditions of citizens; but this nation, holding agricultural labour in contempt, and little coveting the wealth of towns, as well as being exceedingly averse to civil institutions, lead the same life their fathers did in the woods and open pastures, neither willing to abandon their old habits or learn anything new.

GIRALDUS CAMBRENSIS, Topographia Hibernica (c. 1188, trans. T. Wright)

~ ~ ~

There I was now. In a room, a tidy room, tidier than any room I been in before. The bed was hard. The walls they gave no sound. A heavy window thumped itself shut. Good I says. Peace I says. First time I been in a hotel room though I was in an apartment once in the Canary. That smelt of bleach, this smelt of paint. I took in the room, I enjoyed it I did. I felt settled after what had been. I thought of the very nice girl in the hall at the desk. I thought of her the whole time I been in the room. I might ask her I says. I went in the toilet I seen they had not built the sink well but I came out in the room again I says I like this. I could live in this room I says.

When I got the call from my cousin Jimmy I went down to meet him in the hall. My cousin Jimmy was thirteen year older than me and he was my mother’s eldest brother Thom’s eldest boy. He was a bald man with gold teeth and tattoos on his hands and neck. We sat in chairs around a glass table.

He says are you liking the room.

I says it’s grand. It’s better than grand I says.

The business is appreciated he says.

No problem I says.

You know you’re the only guest he says.

That true I says.

Did you see the picture of Raekwon in the bathroom he says.

No I did not I says.

You’re in the Raekwon room he says. Every room’s named after a rap star.

That so I says.

It is he says. But listen.

What I says.

Sorry he says.

What you saying sorry for I says.

He turned to look at the girl at the desk. The girl was watching television.

He says in a low voice you cannot stay here hear me.

What you saying to me I says.

He says some of the young lads in the town know about you here. They know you’re in Rath in the hotel. They see you come cruising into town as chastisement he says.

I wasn’t cruising nowhere I says.

Anthony he says.

I says there isn’t no way they should see it as chastisement. Do they know who me mother is.

Anthony Anthony says Jimmy. There’s no changing the way young lads’ minds work.

Who told them I’m here I says.

Jimmy looked over at the girl again. Could have been her he says. The girls is worse than the boys.

And when should I leave I says.

Now he says. Tonight he says.

That bad I says.

There’s fellas shouting your name in the town he says. We don’t want this thing starting up again.

Sounds if it’s already started I says.

Could have he says. I don’t know.

Fuck I says. Where will I go I says.

He says I was you I’d lie low for a time. Go to Dublin.

I just come from Dublin I says.

Not your father’s house he says. Go into the city of Dublin, go to a place they wouldn’t think of going he says.

Fuck I says.

Serious Anthony no one needs this trouble he says.

I did not know what to think because Jimmy could be the fool what I knew of him but later in the night my mind was made up for me. The phone in my room rang it was the girl at the desk.

Is that your car out the front she says.

Mine’s the only one there isn’t it I says.

You better come down she says.

I ran down to the hall I couldn’t believe what I seen. I seen outside my car was burning.

I says to the girl who done this.

She was still watching television she says I haven’t seen nothing.

I ran out to the car I could not get near to it the heat. I looked about I could not see anyone. The hotel was a mile out of the town, all about was dark fields. I ran past my car I ran across the road in a field. I waited behind the hedge. I rang Jimmy I says to him Jimmy you better get here and you better get me out of here.

I

1

I was thirteen fourteen month in a room in Dublin. More, even.

The landlord says to me the first day no parties no pets. The three Ps he put it but I waited for the third one and he never said it. That was the most words said between the two of us the whole time. I did sometimes think to keep him in a conversation for the mischief. He came in on a Thursday morning and you saw him hold his breath. He looked up just a glance this afeard look in his eyes and he looking at the corners where the black was spreading, at all along the lines where the walls and the ceiling met. He came in and he took the rent just got in got out the least amount of disturbance. I would laugh.

I don’t know how much the other people in the building kept with the rules. I heard great noise many times. I heard twenty people falling down the stair, I heard banging through the pipes. It was a busy house but I would not see it being busy. What I know is there was the Egyptian in the next room. There was a man from Africa in the room the other side of the landing. There was a man from Africa in rooms on the ground. He had a woman from Holland and she was on the smack. They met in Holland. There was a fella name of Donie who slept in his shoes and he was in the room the first landing and he was from near Clare and near Tipperary. I think myself and Donie and then Arthur were the only Irish in that building my time there. The fella lived in my room before me was a fella name of Mac came down from the north of Ireland Donie said. I say it like I knew Donie but I did not. There were fellas from Poland three in one room but there were others from Poland as well. I seen a couple of Chinese too a boy and a girl. The fella was very tall. His people were from the west of China. I seen them once but I never seen them again, that was the way with these folk. But a lot of Africans all the time. It was just one of them houses. Other houses on the street you saw the Indians sitting on the steps or the Romanians but our house was one of the African ones whatever it was. Every shade you’d see. The women were not friendly but they were no harm neither. A man with sore eyes was in the university in Africa but he was in a gang and he got death threats. I did not know if this house in the city of Dublin was a good place to be hiding from people who wanted you killed but I hoped for myself it was.

It was an interesting house. It was more than two hundred year old. You would get the feel for it no doubt. Going up the stair, when I heard the noise of the floor board or got the smell of the damp, when I saw the lead in the fan window or the paint come off the ceiling, I got the feel for it. My room was at the top and the walls were not high but I knew of them in other parts of the house that were high. You could see the shape of the fruits and roses in the ceiling in the hall but you would not see the shape of them in my room. There was no carpet on the floor of my room, it was wood. When I moved my shoe on the wood I felt a grit. It was like sand or dirt. It had been there over the years. A man had come in from the sea or the fields, he had not taken off his boots.

I got information about the house off Judith Neill who was a lady looked after me who worked in a library. She was a Protestant. She gave me food and the things from her garden like radishes. She would give me tomatoes, apples and gourds. And one time then she gave me information about Public John Chiffingham. She gave it to me written down and it was something I was interested in. Public John Chiffingham was the name of the man who built this house. He built the street. Some of the food that was eaten in the houses in the street was saddle of mutton, a barrel of oysters, pike on a plate, the bird called the ptarmigan and marmalade tarts. The houses were turned over many times to many different people. For a hundred year the houses were turned over to the good people of Ireland. They used the wood in the house to burn to keep themself warm. When they were not burning fires they hid carbines in the chimney.

I met Judith one day one time I was depressed. I been in the house half a year, too long on my own. I was going mad, I went wandering. I seen a notice said this lady wanted people to tell their stories. She was collecting them from people like me. But she might think I am a strange one I said to myself, she would want me to slow down is what people say. I went to meet her in the library in the university and she gave me books to write in and books to read.

She said I should collect stories myself, they would help me tell my own. Would I not make it my business to know about the others in the house she said to me. She said those houses had many stories to tell. All the lives lived in them times gone by and all the lives lived in them today came to a lot of stories. In many ways they were the same what she said, the stories went on ...

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