By Cayla Rose O’Sullivan (14), Loreto Abbey, Dalkey, Co Dublin
The streets looks beautiful. There’s snow covering all of the branches of the trees like in a photograph, and the Christmas lights hung in front of shop windows, covered in frost, shine brightly through the darkness. I hear the chatter and mutters of people rushing past lugging huge shopping bags behind them, or pulling small children alongside them, each absorbed in their own thoughts.
The thin layer of white snow that covered the footpaths is now brown and covered in footprints. The laughter of kids, and a choir singing Christmas carols in the distance rings through the air. Every now and then a car horn blows, or tyres screech on the slippery roads. Everybody is happy.
I hug my sleeping bag closer, and tug my woolly orange hat down over my head and ears. My hands and feet hurt from the cold, and my nose is numb. “Any change?” I repeat. But nobody is listening. They’re too caught up in their own lives, they feel too guilty to look at me or they simply don’t care. I try for the millionth time that freezing night, to catch somebody’s eye, but even if I do, they just shift their gaze quickly, like I’m diseased.
“Could you spare some change please?” My throat burns from the cold. Anger always surges up in me, my muscles tense and I want so badly to jump up, to fling that stupid cup across the street and scream, but I never do. I gaze at the legs passing by me, coming from the left and from the right. I’m practically sitting in a puddle of water because of the snow. I notice a girl my age, wearing a long red coat with fur around the neck. She’s running over to somebody. I wonder who it is. Her brother? Her dad? I think of my own dad. I miss him.
My eyes are heavy, so I allow them to close. Just for a minute. I rest my head on the hard brick wall behind my back. Closing my eyes doesn’t make me feel any better. Memories that I was trying to keep hidden deep inside my mind burst out of their cages. They dance around mocking and taunting me. I try to suppress them but they absorb me and I’m reliving the times. When Mom told me that Dad had died. How she sat me down after the phone call. Her face was empty of all emotion. She never looked at me. I remember the day we had to leave the house. We had nowhere. I still have nowhere.
I open my eyes quickly to block out the memories. A single tear tickles my cheek as it rolls down to my chin. I hear bells in the distance. A man walks past hurriedly and I wave my empty cup at him wearily. Three girls saunter past linking arms. They’re giggling irritably and uncontrollably. I feel a surge of jealousy. One has long blonde flowing hair under her grey hat with a baby blue bobble. She’s clutching her sides because of her laughter and is receiving a lot of disapproving looks, from me too. Her two friends are beginning to calm down. So thoughtless, I think to myself, they’re holding up the . . .
“Why do you look sad?”
I turn my head and a little boy is gazing up at me. He must be only five years old and is wearing a huge poofy khaki jacket to protect him from the cold. The bear-shaped hat on his head is pulled down low, so I can just barely see his eyes, which are big and brown. “Sorry?” I ask.
“You look sad,” he replies shyly and points to the tear that is making it’s way down my face. I wipe it away quickly with my wrist.
“My friend always gets sad. Her name’s Rosie and we’re going to live in Hawaii when we grow up. She gets sad when I take her stuff. Then Mrs Lewis gives out to me. It’s annoying.”
“I like your hat. It’s my favourite colour. What’s your favourite colour?”
I smile. “Blue.”
“Why are you sad? It’s Christmas, Santa is coming soon. I’m getting a remote control car. An orange one. What did you ask Santa for?”
“I-uh-I don’t know.” The boy opens his mouth to speak again, but I cut him off. “Where’s your mum or dad?”
“Mom is there,” he says, pointing his finger over my shoulder to one of the benches.
“Maybe you should go over to her, she’ll be looking for you. Go on,” I say. He doesn’t move. I ask him for his name.
“Rory. Rory the scary. It rhymes. Mom calls me Rory Macanory sometimes. I don’t know why. We’re on our way to see Nana. Do you want to see what I got her?” He holds out a small pink tealight to me. “I’m sure she’ll love it,” I laugh.
“Bobby will be there. He’s my cousin, we’re making a snowman after dinner. Nana makes really good food. I like the chicken, but I hate the Brussels sprouts. They taste bad. Grandad won’t be there though, he’s with Dad watching the match. I want to watch it with them but Mum says that Nana has a present for me for Christmas, so I’d rather get that.”
Rory rants on with no sign of stopping. His aunt’s coming home from Australia, his dad supports Liverpool, his Mom is making a cake for dessert on Christmas Day and all of his cousins are coming to his house. It’s easy to listen to him talk on and on and I find myself grinning, which I so rarely do. His happiness and enthusiasm are infectious. How is he not out of breath, I think.
“Rory. What are you doing?”
I turn my head to the source of the voice. A woman with brown hair, wearing a large scarf, a long black coat and leather boots walks over to us. “God Rory Macanory, you scared me half to death,” she says to her son, taking his hand.
I look up at her anxiously and she looks down at me. “I’m so sorry dear, was he bothering you? I was just trying to find a receipt in my purse and God, you take your eye off him for one second.” The lady looks down at the little boy and places her hand softly on his head as he burrows his face into her leg mumbling a barely audible “sorry mum”.
“Thanks so much for watching him,” she says, looking at me again. There’s an awkward silence before she holds out her free hand to me. “I’m Eileen, by the way . . .” I grasp her hand and shake it firmly, like my dad taught me. “And what’s your name?’
“I’m Gina,” my voice comes out, barely a whisper.
“It was lovely meeting you Gina . . .” Eileen looks as if she’s about to say something else, but decides not to. “Merry Christmas.” I wish her a merry Christmas too, and she turns and walks away with Rory.
The little boy turns around and gives me a small wave, which I return with a smile. I hug my sleeping bag closer to me again and watch them walk away. Suddenly Eileen stops. She looks back at me and then at Rory. She walks back. “Gina? Would you like to go and get a coffee?”