I thought back over all that happened and I was afraid, really afraid.
It began when I was walking down a lane leading down to what seemed to be a very big building site, the shell constructed but the doorways without doors and windows without frames or glass. It was my intention to get inside and I strolled down casually in manner, to see how that might be done.
On the way, I passed ground where, beyond a shoulder-high wall, there were women, under an overhang of the building. They seemed to have been sleeping on the ground and were now waking up. One of them stretched and I saw her breasts bare.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” she called out to me but without covering herself. Nor did she sound very angry.
I averted my eyes, though in truth I wanted to look; I gave some excuse for my presence but could hardly call out the real reason – people in the building might hear me. Continuing strolling past the women I came to the building entrance and, undetected, managed to find my way in. I got up to the second floor and there was one of the workmen there, tools hanging from his belt and I walked past confidently because that’s the only way to do it.
I forgot now for a little why I wanted entry in the first place and made my way to front of the building, facing back down into the lane. It would be a passage outside the apartments or offices when they installed the internal walls; there would be a glass frontage from waist-high but now there was only the empty opening. I looked out, hoping to see the women below but the overhang hid them from sight.
A little later, I was away from the building, in the open among black youths that were fighting with white ones but not myself part of the battle. The black youths slightly outnumbered the white ones and were giving them a real hiding.
And a little later, one of the black youths was walking through a low-level housing estate when he was challenged by a shout and a white youth was coming towards him. That seemed no great danger to him until other white youths were coming out from different directions, unbuckling their belts as they came, clearly to use them as flails, with the heavy metal buckles to inflict damage. As they gathered together, some much younger girls stood in front of them, trying to stop them attacking the black youth, but it was to no avail.
The fight was fierce and the white youths hurt the black one badly before they left him, bleeding in the road. I went and helped him into the house where I was staying and for safety, even though he was in a really bad way, got him up the stairs to the first floor.
Laying him down on a bed there, I got out my phone to call an ambulance, even though I feared it would do no good. I was stopped by a strange sight. There was a mixed race girl, light-skinned with dark freckles, lying down beside the wounded youth, facing him. She was somewhere around fourteen years old, I’d guess. As if paralysed, I watched.
The girl was smiling and she said: “You know, when they act like they don’t want you, that’s when they want you.” I had no idea what she was talking about and doubted he did.
She repeated it and after the third time, he whispered: “Truly?”
Her smile widened into a beautiful thing to see and she leaned further towards him, saying: “ Oh, yes! That’s when they REALLY want you” and kissed him gently three times on the lips. He closed his eyes and somehow I felt him slide away, life leaving him.
Downstairs, I heard the front door open.
“The youths come back to finish him off,” is what I thought first. Then I thought it might be the paramedics – even though I hadn’t called them yet. Someone else might have.
But it wasn’t – I recognised the voices.
What were they doing here? It was the owners and they were supposed to be abroad on holiday, with me minding the house for them. My mind was in a whirl as the couple came up the stairs, greeting me, the woman then complaining about some features of where they had been. To be honest, I can’t remember now where that was. My mind was in a turmoil. I didn’t want them to know what was in the small bedroom.
My heart beat even faster when their two big dogs bounded up the stairs, one dark brown and the other white. They knew me and gamboled around as I tried to block them from going past the doorway into the room. They were pushing, as if they knew I had something to hide.
Just as I shouted “No” in my most convincing master voice, the white one got past me and into the room. A second later it uttered a howl-bark of challenge inside. I was sunk, went weak and the woman pushed past me easily. A second later she screamed.
When I followed her in I saw that the youth was lying where I had lain him, his blood soaking into the sheets. The girl was nowhere to be seen, although there was nowhere for her to have gone. The dog had relaxed, as if knowing the body presented no threat.
Haltingly, I told the woman how the youth had been attacked and how I had brought him in.
“And you put him ON THE BED?” she shouted unbelievingly. I was somewhat appalled at that but I knew she was not a bad person and put it down to the shock she was feeling.
“Better phone the ambulance,” I muttered then and turned to look for where I had put down my phone. As if activated by my words, I heard it ringing. “Emergency services?” I thought … but wait a minute, I hadn’t called them yet.
“Hello?” I enquired cautiously after I’d picked it up.
Beyond bizarre, was what I thought. My 20-year-old son, phoning from our relatives in Spain. He started talking about his arrival earlier, the relatives, his accommodation … I didn’t want to cut him off for we had been somewhat estranged in the past but … After making some minimal responses I then said: “I’m in the middle of something – can you call me back a little later?”
“Residential work?” he asked. He knew I’d done that kind of work before, in homeless hostels, probation hostels, sheltered accommodation etc.
“Yes,” I lied.
“Ok,” he yawned “but I have no money on the phone.”
“I’ll call you back soon then,” I replied, inanely wondering which way the hour difference between Spain and here was, more or less?
Turning to the woman, I saw that she had a gentle look on her face. “Your son?”
“Yes,” I replied, then sighed. “Better call emergency services now.” She nodded.
And then I woke up and I thought back over all that happened and to be honest, I was afraid, really afraid to back to sleep, in case somehow I slipped back into that. And it was too early to get up.
I wondered what my Ma would make of that dream for she was a pretty good dream-deviner. But she’s gone years now.
So I switched on the light and read some more of Lady Gregory’s arrangement of stories about the Fianna. There’s plenty of killing and dying, and kissing women and strange events in there but somehow a lot less frightening than what I had just experienced.