A stroll in the shadow of weeping men


DISPLACED IN MULLINGAR:LAST WEEK I walked on Banna strand with an old friend. We were like twigs on a vast sheet of sky. And we walked like old people, hauling ourselves into the wind. The empty space suited us as we staggered over the dunes.

I raked the sand with my fingers at one stage and let it run through them and fall into the wind and be carried away.

I remember him before he grew old and bald. He had a Nepalese cardigan bought in an Oxfam shop in London, and he wore a rainbow-coloured hat on his curling hair and he had a beard. But over the years, the marijuana he smoked seemed to knit invisible layers of wool in his head and he lost all curiosity for anything except his own existence.

Eventually his wife despaired. She ran off with her insulated wounds, leaving a declaration of resentment on the kitchen table, and a solicitor’s letter which was the opening volley in a decade of litigation.

It’s not quite what we had promised ourselves when we were boys in Cavan, paddling in the lake near Butlersbridge, swinging our legs on the wall beside the bus station in Cavan town, or sucking fizz dabs we bought in Benjamin O’Rourke’s sweet shop.

It was I who suggested that we go for a walk on the beach. For me Banna strand is dominated by Roger Casement; a strand of weeping men, lost causes, submarines, far off European passions, leather boots, policemen, and erotic disasters.

I thought the beach would suit his melancholic mood. And I was right.

Without saying a word, he just walked into the ozone, and allowed the thunder of white horses be a balm to his private sorrows.

Later we sat in an apartment in Tralee, which overlooks a tennis court and the main road. The road was bumper to bumper with evening traffic.

It’s the kind of apartment block that should be in the south of Spain.

The sun would shine on the balconies and everyone would be happy and half-naked.

What they were thinking of, when they built such apartment blocks in Ireland, I don’t know.

The cement interiors might be cool and refreshing in the heat of a Granada noon, but in Ireland, on a wet March afternoon, the hallways smell predominantly of cement that will take a thousand years to cure.

“I suppose you have stayed in a lot of fancy apartments and hotels in your time,” he said. “Your work must bring you all over the place.”

I said: “Yes, I have spent a lot of time in apartments and hotels; but eventually all the wash basins, showers, fancy shampoo bottles, kettles for making tea in the middle of the night, and central heating machines that are always humming somewhere in the distance, just become a single blur.”

As he drove away, he said, “You’re lucky to be working at something you enjoy.”

That night I went into the theatre as usual, and changed into my costume. I did a few exercises in the rehearsal room to warm up. In the production I play an old man. The rest of the show is an ensemble of wonderful dance. Thirty minutes before the curtain was due to rise, I walked over to the wings on stage right, as I usually do every night, and I sat there listening to the audience coming in.

And there was a young dancer beside me, running through some of her movements. Clenching her toes in anticipation and excitement. She barely noticed me beside her because it is what we do every night.

During the show, there is a moment when we are both on stage together.

I am just sitting on a pile of books and she is dancing close by.

She has soft curling brown hair, and every night there is a moment when her body rests horizontally on the stage. She is still, and so close to me that I can see the little brown clips that hold her hair at the nape of her neck.

That night I gazed at her and thought her the most beautiful person in the world.

And after the show I decided to ask her if she was ever on Banna strand. Or would she like to walk there the following day, in the wind and the water’s roar.