Somewhere along the line, several degrees of empathy fell off my moral compass

Hilary Fannin: At a push, I could be a tolerable dog-walker, but that’s about as far as my altruism extends

I feel, in these moments, utterly grateful. I could have been anywhere, as my mother would say

I feel, in these moments, utterly grateful. I could have been anywhere, as my mother would say

 

I was gadding about in whispered sunshine recently, watching green-eyed gulls battle like tigers over the eviscerated remains of a dull cod, when I spotted a sunny table set against a whitewashed wall. I sat down and drank a cup of coffee, shared a crumbling pastry with a cavalier wagtail, closed my eyes and lifted my face to the sun.

I feel, in these moments, utterly grateful. I could have been anywhere, as my mother would say; the stillness, the heat, the raucous gulls, the faint smell of diesel from the moored trawlers nearby. 

A conversation taking place between two young women sitting at a nearby table, whom I’d noticed when I was carrying out my coffee from the small cafe, drifted into my shell-likes, their voices shattering the fulgent peace. 

I’d be a potentially incendiary marriage guidance counsellor, a dangerous holistic masseuse. I could be a tolerable dog-walker, but that’s about as far as my altruism extends. 

“Seriously, you look amazing. Your hair is amazing. Your hair is absolutely amazing!”

“Oh my god, it’s the conditioner, I swear, not a word of a lie. I swear it is amazing conditioner!”

“I know! Oh my God, I told you it was amazing, it’s like totally amazing conditioner!”

Now, as we all know, the opportunity to sit quietly in the sun on this oft-moist island is not one that presents itself every day. Furthermore, I’m not the most tolerant or forgiving person in the universe. I’d make a lousy nurse, say. I’d be a potentially incendiary marriage guidance counsellor, a dangerous holistic masseuse. At a push, I could be a tolerable dog-walker, but that’s about as far as my altruism extends. 

And, somewhere along the line, several degrees of empathy must have fallen off my moral compass. This catastrophic loss, possibly taking place during Ireland’s boom years, when monied young women in Lycra, with glossy hair and tightened abs, sitting around outside waterside cafes loudly discussing the merits and demerits of a fragranced hair masque that works like total-oh-my-god magic on brittle, lacklustre hair, was certainly nothing to write home about.

One might be forgiven for thinking that era had passed, had evaporated like the value of a pyritic apartment perched on the edge of a motorway. But no, it seems those those halcyon days were simply hibernating in their Egyptian cotton sheets.

The women’s conversation continued. I closed my eyes tighter, tried to focus on the feuding gulls. Their words drifted across to my table like a slow fog.  

They talked about their dogs: “Oh my God, he’s like so cute. As soon as he sees me putting on my Rockports, he goes totally crazy.”

They talked about their children: “Noah just adores Parmesan and rosemary popcorn, and it’s like beyond organic.”

They talked about driverless cars: “There’s like no way I’m having some robot drive me around at 20 miles an hour while I sit in the back with the hockey gear.”

They talked about their husbands: “I said there’s no point in crying to me over spilt milk, that shit belongs in the office. It is totally not my problem, that’s all I’m saying. Suck. It. Up.”

“She can alpha-mom her way from here to Whistler and back again with her skis between her teeth, but some of us don’t have the time to make our own summer berry frozen yogurts

They talked about their mothers: “I told her that ebony was totally ageing, even with a tan.”

They talked about their children again: “I told Seb that if he wanted his skateboard back he was going to have to stop popping ollies over the damn dog.”

Their husbands again: “He’s threatening to take up jiu-jitsu. I said jiu-jitsu won’t stop you receding.”

They talked about other women: “She can alpha-mom her way from here to Whistler and back again with her skis between her teeth, but some of us don’t have the time to make our own summer berry frozen yogurts and take up conversational Chinese. Some of us have responsibilities. Do you remember when she had an arse, by the way? Do you want another flat white?” 

I scattered the last of the crumbs for the small tribe of wagtails at my feet, stood up, continued my aimless saunter, ignoring my own responsibilities, gadding about, drinking in the sunshine, basking in the lives of others. 

I was thinking, as I continued my stroll, that these women with their Lycra plumage, their glossy feathers and busy hungry beaks, whose words I have of course embroidered, although the kernel of their conversation is true, are as integral to this city as the gulls. They circle and soar, squawk and caw, observe the world with cold-eyed caution. I realised that in some odd way I’ve missed them. I greet their reappearance with devious joy.

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