Beautifully obscure logic on the slow bus to Dublin

A man with a peaked cap and a long nose hopped on behind me, sat down beside me and started talking

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell


I spent an evening with Little Lotus, her Irish husband and their beautiful dark-haired daughter. It was Easter Sunday, and they were doting on the child, who was playing with a jigsaw. The jigsaw displayed a scene of two birds talking to one another, but the child was so familiar with it that she turned all the pieces upside down and assembled the jigsaw from memory.

At the stove, Little Lotus was talking about the city in China where she comes from. “When someone dies,” she said, “we burn the body, and the clothes and other things belonging to the dead person. And sometimes we make a television, or maybe a car, from paper and burn that as well, so they will have good fortune in the next life.”

The little girl was showing her daddy the finished jigsaw.

“And sometimes,” Little Lotus continued, “we believe that a daughter is the reincarnation of the father’s lover in a former life.”

The real television was on in the background. But we were only
half-watching the beautiful programme about a monastery of nuns. One nun was describing how she was called to the cloistered life. She had gone to the monastery for a weekend, to see if she would like it.

“You must give me a sign,” she whispered to God, “whether I should go or stay.”

And on the last day of her retreat she saw a silver salmon jumping in the river, and she felt in that moment that she had found the place on Earth where she belonged. Some invisible force was calling her in the movement of nature. The cosmos was whispering to her. The veil of the world shimmered with acceptance.

Slow bus to Dublin
On Easter Monday they left me to a bus – a slow bus to Dublin. A man with a peaked cap and a long nose hopped on behind me, sat down beside me and started talking. His limbs were like long blades in his jacket and trousers.

“Not a bad day,” he started, “though you’d need the breakfast. I never go out without two boiled eggs at the long table.”

As an opening gambit he was covering a lot of ground, and I figured that by the time we reached Dublin in two hours he might have a good memoir delivered into my left ear.

“A long table no less,” I said, savouring the image.

“And no one to sit at it,” he said. “One in college and one in London and the wife went off last year with some fellow from Tipperary. The daughter comes home occasionally from UCD, but she sits at the far end.”

And that’s all he said until we were hurtling past the Mater hospital towards O’Connell Street.

“Do you know what the wife sent me for Easter?” he inquired.

“No.” I replied sincerely, “I don’t.”

“A plant,” he said. “She must think I’m a gardener.”

“Maybe she thinks you’ve more time on your hands,” I suggested, “now that she’s gone.”

He twisted his neck and his nose pointed at me like a curlew examining a grasshopper.

“I’m not a gardener,” he said, with gentle indignation.

His logic was so beautifully obscure that I couldn’t resist recounting a famous John Moriarty story.

“A friend of mine,” I began, “was visited by a curlew one time.”

“Is that a fact?”

“Yes,” I said. “The curlew came to the door and my friend opened it, saw the big bird before him and they began a conversation. And apparently he was there a long time talking to the curlew.”

“Right,” the tall man said, following my story without the slightest bother. In fact I might as well have been relaying the details of a court case in the Westmeath Examiner .

“So when the curlew was gone,” I continued, “a neighbour woman who
had been watching through her curtains came down and knocked the door. My friend opened it, and the woman said,
‘You had the curlew’. And my friend said, ‘I did’. And the woman said, ‘What was he saying?’ And my friend said, ‘What do you think he was saying?’ And the woman said, ‘I don’t know’. And my friend said, ‘Neither do I’.”

The bus was at the spire. I was pulling my backpack from the overhead railing.

“Do you know,” he said, “there’s more curlews now than ever? I do hear them calling above the bog in summertime.”

I smiled and then bade him farewell as I stepped off the bus into the jigsaw of disturbing emotion that constitutes O’Connell Street in the city of Dublin.

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