A therapy session with a woman in a tartan skirt

The old man in me was thinking she should go and have a wash. The young man in me was regretting we hadn’t more time


I was driving to Dublin last week and there was a young woman hitching in a tartan skirt and a black plastic jacket outside Virginia. I couldn’t resist stopping.

She said she was coming from Donegal.

“I split up with my boyfriend,” she said.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I replied.

“We had a caravan,” she said. “At that big flat beach near the sand dunes.”

“Were you together for long?”
I wondered.

“Since last summer,” she said. “Caravan belonged to his uncle. Cement blocks holding it up. I got a ’flu in December from the damp mattress.”

“Where is he now?”

“I haven’t a clue,” she said.

“So are ye what they call Crusties?” I wondered.

She wasn’t amused by that question; but her hair was purple.

“We’re astronauts,” she said after a while. “Most of the time we’re in outer space,” and she chuckled at her own joke.

“What about you?” she wondered. I could tell from her curiosity that beneath the dirty purple hair and tartan skirt and the stud in her lower lip there was oodles of self-confidence inside; like maybe she did really brilliantly at school, or maybe her parents were always encouraging her.

“I’m tyrannised by God,” I confessed. “That’s my problem.”

Her face opened, like she just woke up. I suppose she’s used to old geezers interrogating her but never revealing their own anxieties. I was heading for a session with my therapist so I decided to be honest.

‘F***ing cool’
“Yes,” I admitted, “God is my problem. Or just the idea of God. That’s what led me to make so many mistakes in life. Must be something to do with childhood. Being insecure. Always looking for some hidden power to protect me. Some overlord with whom I can feel safe, because he is going to solve all my troubles; and even if my troubles can’t be solved this overlord can make my suffering meaningful. Of course the overlord might not be

God. Might be a parent or a boyfriend.

“Does that make any sense?”

“No, but you’re f***ing cool,” she declared.

“Far from it,” I replied. “I’m weak. My therapist tells me I need to give myself permission to be angry sometimes, instead of always placating other people.”

“My boyfriend gave himself far too much permission to be angry,” she muttered under her breath.

Broke our intimacy
Unfortunately we were just hitting the M50 so a necessary silence developed, which broke the flow of our intimacy, as I manoeuvred through lanes of traffic and negotiated a track towards the city centre.

I dropped her off in the Phoenix Park, not far from the Zoo. The last I saw of her was in the side mirror; she was hunched over a cigarette, trying to light it.

The old man in me was thinking she should go and have a wash. The young man in me was regretting we hadn’t more time.

That evening, after the therapy session I went to the Project Arts Centre to watch a performance; a Bhutto dancer, pallid and undefined among the shadows, moved slowly across the stage for an hour. He was like a ghost, a human without a narrative, broken like a victim of war, and silent like an imbecile. It was a beautiful show.

I got cash from an AIB on Dame Street and took a taxi back to the Clyde Court hotel. The driver was from Africa. He said he gets a lot of abuse. And sometimes people flag down his taxi but when they see that he’s black they won’t take the ride.

“It’s okay,” he said, “except if they flag you down to make a U turn. And then after making the effort they see you are black and they just wave you off or give you the finger salute. It’s not nice.”

At the bar in the hotel I talked to a waiter from Bulgaria. He was young and wore a suit and he asked me did I want ice in the brandy. I was horrified. “I would never drink cold brandy,” I declared.

When he returned he was carrying a tumbler of hot water, on top of which the brandy glass lay sideways, keeping the brandy warm.

“This is the way I learned to serve brandy in Bulgaria,” he said.

I thanked him. Images were swirling in my mind. The woman in the tartan skirt. The African taxi driver. The beautiful Bhutto dancer. And God seemed like just an old stain on the psyche that therapy was gradually washing out.

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