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Facebook is amazing. I befriended a friend recently, only to discover he's dead

Michael Harding: For days I tried to remember his face

'There is no end to the mystery of Facebook.'

I was sitting on a bench opposite the library in Trinity College when a voice spoke my name. I turned to look but saw not a man of my own age, but rather a boy, as he was back then, young and slender, when we first met at a college party in 1975. He was studying at Trinity and I was teaching in west Cavan.

“Where does the time go?” I said to him, because passing time is a mystery to me, like the vanishing of birds beneath a magician’s cloak.

He came to visit me once because he was studying anthropology and west Cavan fitted his perception of a rural community; a place where people lived by the seasons and were not governed by any clock.

“Is that the time?” someone would ask in the middle of the night, staring at the clock that sat like Napoleon’s hat on the mantelpiece above the range while we ate sandwiches and drank mugs of tea to sober up at three in the morning.

“Is that the time?”

As if time was merely an opinion and not a solid fact.

The mountain seemed exotic to my scholar friend; particularly my tiny cottage with its flagstone floor and the black range belching puffs of smoke into the kitchen whenever a gust of wind came down the chimney.

He wasn’t impressed. He was horrified. So I gave him the bed and I took the sofa.

“But the bed is damp,” he said. And I couldn’t deny it. We swapped, and he took the sofa beside the range for the rest of the night.

The next morning there was a knock on the door.

He was in a sleeping bag, and a neighbour woman had decided to pay us a morning visit.  

Glorious manhood

He wasn’t expecting a woman so he didn’t put on any clothes before opening wide the door and my neighbour was forced to endure the sight of all his glorious manhood dangling between his legs.  

“Jesus, Mary, and Saint Joseph,” she exclaimed as she turned on her heel, about to flee. 

His face returned by accident, as I sat on a bench in Trinity College

But I rushed out, and called her name, and inquired what she had in her hands.

“Fadge,” she said, still wary of the feral boy who had now retreated to the shadows of the kitchen. 

“I thought you might be hungry,” she said, her eyes flitting from me to the figure of the young scholar in the darkness behind me.

“What’s fadge?” he wondered.

“It’s a word we have for homemade bread,” I explained.

It was hardly more than 8am.

“You must have been baking early,” I suggested.

“I never notice the time,” she replied, but agreed that if the anthropologist put on a trousers she would come in for tea and sample the loaf with us.

“That is bully fadge,” I declared as the butter melted into a fat slice on my plate and we all supped mugs of hot tea.

“Will you not have a bit, a hogdie?”  she inquired at last of the Trinity scholar, as if she were talking to her own child.

We laughed about those phrases afterwards. “Bully” meaning good. 

“Fadge” meaning homemade bread. 

“A hodgie” being a term of endearment for one’s beloved. And the fact that my neighbour didn’t bother with clocks. 

“It’s because she lives beyond the perimeter of the urban world,” I suggested.

He disagreed. “It’s because she is young,” he said. “Time only worries old people, who have no time left.”

I always hoped to find him again after he went to America, or at least his address, so that I could send him a Christmas card. 

But Facebook is amazing. I accidentally befriended a mutual friend recently, only to discover that he died a few years ago. For days I tried to remember his face, wondering where the time had gone and then his face returned by accident, as I sat on a bench in Trinity College. And I saw him again in his lovely big anorak, his blue jeans, and white runners, and his icy blue eyes as they shone like diamonds, in a dark kitchen all those years ago; as real as if he were standing before me, and not annihilated in the flames of an American crematorium.

Trinity is still the same. Old buildings and trees, and quadrangles of green lawn. And young scholars loitering on the benches; fingering their smart phones, and idling the time, like a flock of geese at a gable wall. It’s well for them, I heard a ghost whisper, because for the moment, they still have all the time in the world.