Few has been summoned to Belfast by his “associates”. He’s cagey as fuck, won’t tell me who they are. He’s nervous too. He’s shaking. More than usual anyway. I cajole him into taking the train. Not easy. He’s worried about riffraff. The great unwashed. And other piquant sobriquets. Eventually we find ourselves waiting at Smithfield Luas.
“Luas, is that like gaeilge for tram?” he peers around, shades down “or gaeilge for tramp?” he sneers out the last word, simultaneously spitting on the ground, his shoes and his afghan coat. I don’t reply.
The tram pulls up. Doors open, as we board, in front of us there is a small woman, a charity shop Mary Quant, clutching two sunflowers wrapped in newspaper. A tall, stooped man with glasses and a rucksack is standing beside her and she’s addressing a down-at-heel couple directly in front of her, they are a bit worse for wear and are holding each other up, just about.
Sunflowers ”…..and do you believe Janice? No, no? God can’t be forced on you, you have to come to him, you have to come to faith. It’s a very powerful thing, isn’t that right Jerome? And he’s well again and you’re in love, isn’t that marvellous? Jerome, isn’t that fantastic? And you’re looking so well and you’re in love and ye have each other isn’t that just brilliant? And he looks so well. Doesn’t he? We, this is Jerome, he’s my business partner, we are setting up a business to help people. This was our first meeting today in Dublin to get funding, we came up from Cork, we are going to help people in Cork but we need people from all over Ireland.”
Janice “Howya gonna help them? Like, what are ya gonna do?”
Sunflowers “Well, things like painting a wall, we’re going to paint a wall. People need so much help today don’t they? Would you be interested Janice and….?”
By now Few is kicking my ankles and I see the look of distaste, alarm and rage through the sunglasses. Oh fuck.
Sunflowers “James! Oh, my brother’s name is James, and I know another James in Cork, isn’t that funny? James runs through my life, isn’t that a sign that we were meant to meet? Now listen would you be interested in coming to Cork to help us? I know it’s expensive, but you can stay in a hostel, we stayed in a hostel last night didn’t we Jerome and we have our first business meeting today but if you can’t afford a hostel you could come up and down on the train in one day? A lot of people do that.”
The tram slows down as it reaches Jervis, Janice and James start to move towards the doors.
Janice “We’re getting out here”
Sunflowers “Can I give you, I’ll give you my mobile, get yours out there ? You have one? Great – here….”
She calls out her mobile number and Janice stabs it into her phone, Sunflowers envelopes them both in a bear hug as Jerome peers on silently.
Sunflowers “It was great to meet you, it was meant to be, The Lord knows we want to help people……bye bye bye now make sure you call me…call me! Bye bye bye”
The doors slide shut and Janice and James shuffle off down the street.
Sunflowers turns to Jerome: “That was no mere coincidence Jerome! No mere coincidence.”
Her phone rings almost immediately as the tram pulls away again, she answers
Sunflowers “ Hello Hello..Janice!” She turns and whispers excitedly to Jerome “It’s Janice!….Janice – are you available for a board meeting? The wall? Help with the wall? That’s a personal project I’m doing with an artist but there’s a bridge, the Boole Bridge , we are going to paint the bridge afterwards………………………………B O O L E, he was a mathematician…hello hello Janice? Hello….she’s gone. That was no mere coincidence Jerome! She’ll call back, James..em..Jerome she wants to help with the bridge! Isn’t that wonderful?
As we arrive at Connolly, Few makes the mistake of pushing his glasses up on his shining bonce. Sunflowers catches his eye, she addresses him;
“I always meet the nicest people. I’m so lucky. I suppose I avoid the darkness and stay on the bright side – I have this lucky necklace –see here? Would you like to touch it, it’s very lucky? You don’t have to touch it ….you don’t have to – you don’t want to? That’s fine, perfectly fine dear…”
Few yanks me out on the pavement. I stumble and he aims a swift punch into my ribs. He misses.
“Get the car, get the fucking car right now you fucking Jesus Christing shitbag!”
We pull away, he’s reclining on the back seat, grinning, the Cheshire Cat made flesh and blood.
I flick on the stereo. Serge Gainsbourg surges out, all sticky Gallic breathlessness.
“Quel bon choix ma petite salope!”
“Faster pussycat, kill kill!” He’s cackling away, a twisted wizard lost in a blizzard of his own magnificence.
I turn up the music, he shouts louder.
We skirt the Royal Canal, the ghostly triangle still jingle jangles and then we’re out on the wide and empty road. The unknowable, magical North opens up in front of us, a story waiting to be told.