Róisín Ingle on . . . a brother in arms

Sat, May 10, 2014, 00:00

He flew in from Ukraine. I went to meet him at the airport, although he wasn’t expecting me. I had planned to stand in arrivals with a sign saying “My Guru” (he’d see the joke of it, the half-truth of it) but I wasn’t sure what time his plane got in so instead I went and sat in a pub with no soul and ate a meal with no heart. He rang and I wandered out of the place to greet him. When he hugs, if he knows you well, he sort of manipulates your spine with one or sometimes both hands. It would be weird if it was anyone else. But it’s fine, he’s my brother.

He tells me, although he doesn’t need to because every news screen already has, that things are getting worse out there in Odessa. He whacks his chest, raises his hand.“Slava Ukrainia” which means “glory to Ukraine”. He says the way to imagine it is if 40 people were dead in Cork and then suddenly 50 dead in Galway and nobody really knew what was going on. “What were you doing there?” the taxi man asks. He was teaching, he says. He’s big in Ukraine. Well, medium-sized. People want to learn about his way of teaching somatics, slow mindful movements that help people with chronic pain. He talks of civil war and the third World War. “I tell you something, we don’t have any real problems,” he tells the driver and me.

It’s been a year-and-a-half since he’s been home. Although he doesn’t call it home. Where would he call home? Maybe Pondicherry or the San Francisco Bay Area or the forests of Sweden or maybe slava Ukrainia. Home is where the feet are, is what he says. The weather doesn’t suit him here though. He borrows my scarf and I hear him coughing in the room we’ve set up for him where the telly used to be.

He nearly died again since I saw him. Fourth time now. Those are the moments when he has known in his soma, in his mind-body, that death was imminent unless he got help. He counts them on his fingers. The time he was body boarding in the southern Indian Ocean when the tsunami came. The time he got amoebic dysentery in Lucknow. The time he was swept out to sea during the monsoon in Goa. And this last one, a kidney infection in California so bad it nearly killed him.

He requests a family meal. No children, no partners, just our mother and any siblings who are able to come. Six out of eight isn’t bad. The last time we did this there was aggro. My fault. It won’t happen this time. It happens again. Aggro. My fault.

Somehow it’s salvaged with a box of old family photographs and a Leonard Cohen sing-song. My brother tells the story of when he was in Mumbai and he knew Leonard. They had the same teacher. He rang him once. “Leonard, it’s my birthday and I’d love you to come round for a drink tonight,” he asked. “It’s 7pm, I’ve just had my dinner and I’m going to bed,” replied Leonard. “But you’re Leonard Cohen,” my brother said. “That’s why I’m Leonard Cohen,” came the reply.

My children haven’t seen him for a year-and-a-half and yet minutes pass while they hug him. This hug, it’s deep. They won’t allow me call him the name given to him by my mother and father. “His name is Siddhartha,” they tell me all disapproving. Only Bri . . . I mean only Siddhartha could take the name of the prince who became the Buddha.

I think the last time I wrote about him coming to stay was the time I was complaining about him taking too many long, hot baths and leaving a used cotton bud on the kitchen table. That cotton bud followed him around. For ages afterwards clients would mention it as he gave them treatments, students would talk about it in breaks between classes.

When my brother comes home from Ukraine he puts his old sim card into his phone and finds all his contacts, of his clients and his students, have disappeared never to be found again according to the phone company. “That’s a pain,” I say. “It’s not a pain like Ukraine,” he says, like a line from a song he might write one day. And as he sits on my couch picking out Bob Dylan’s Tangled Up In Blue, I think: I could write about him and then all the people who need to know, they would know that he’s back. And that he’s still alive. And that I’m sorry I ever mentioned the cotton bud now.

roisin@irishtimes.com

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