18 Doubts in Dublin
18 DOUBTS IN DUBLIN
I remember how difficult it was to get you that first visa to come to Dublin. It would never have happened without the help of an American communist who went to West-Berlin for us and a Polish train conductor who took it to Cracow for a few dollars.
Shaun could hardly believe it when he saw Magda coming through the arrival gates at Dublin Airport. Two old people stood behind him: One a frail grey old man and the other a tall, robust old woman with a head of white hair.
“I just can’t believe you’re actually here,” Shaun said, putting his arms around her and squeezing her face against his chest.
Then he turned around to Granny and Granddad and introduced his future wife for the first time.
“This is Magda,” he told them proudly.
“Sorry my English isn’t very good,” she apologised, “but I intend to practice every chance I get.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Granny reassured, “we’ll have ye speakin English in no time.”
“Your parents are absolutely lovely,” she whispered, as Granddad drove back to Drimnagh.
The next few days were spent getting to know Dublin and Shaun’s family who were all keen to meet her and form their own opinions. The weather was absolutely beautiful and one day they walked all the way to the Phoenix Park and lay in the sun in the People’s Gardens.
“I thought it always rains in Ireland,” Magda teased, as Shaun rubbed sun cream on his face.
“It normally does,” he insisted. “You are just lucky, but don’t think it going to stay like this.”
That night they met some friends in a pub in Baggott Street. Magda was amazed to find that there wasn’t even standing room, as they pushed their way through to a small group over near the bar. Magda presumed that they would soon leave to find another bar, where they could sit down comfortably, but she had still a lot to learn about Ireland.
It seemed to her as if everybody in the bar was a chain-smoker. Her eyes were watering from the smoke and no matter where she stood somebody pushed into her and didn’t even bother to apologise.
“What are ye havin?” one of Shaun’s friends asked.
“I’m not sure,” said Magda, not knowing how to react and looking in Shaun’s direction.
“She’ll have a ‘Shandy’ and I’ll have a pint,” Shaun answered.
“It’s not that everyone is so generous that they want to buy you drinks,” he explained in German.
“If I don’t stand my round they’ll call me a stingy bastard.”
“But I don’t want to stay here for more than one drink,” she protested. “It’s awful here.”
“It’s Friday evening,” Shaun explained, “every pub in Dublin is like this.”
“How do you like Ireland Magee?” somebody interrupted.
“I haven’t been here long enough to make up my mind,” she answered.
“What about the shops?”he persisted.
“We have shops in Poland as well,” Magda answered not sparing his feelings.
“We haven’t had much of a chance to go shopping yet,” Shaun interrupted, trying to break the awkward silence.
They left the pub after eleven, leaving the others behind. Shaun could sense that Magda was anything but happy with the evening.
“Come on to Burdock’s and I’ll get you the best fish and chips you’ve ever tasted,” he suggested, hoping it would improve her mood.
“It’s after eleven in the evening. I’m not going to eat fish and chips now. I just want to get home to bed.”
“Dad can I borrow the car for a few days?” Shaun asked the next day while Magda was still asleep.
“That Polish girl will never be happy here away from her family,” Granny interrupted from the kitchen.
“That Polish girl is called Magda,” he said raising his voice in anger. “You never had a good word to say about Caragh and I don’t need your opinions now about Magda.”
“The keys to the car are on the sideboard,” Granddad agreed before Shaun or Granny had a chance to say anymore.
“We’re going to visit Jonathan in Ennis.” Shaun told Magda when she got up. “We’re leaving straight after breakfast.”
Magda could sense the tension in the air between Shaun and Granny over breakfast, but she pretended not to notice.
The city was soon behind them and the freshness of the countryside lay before them. Shaun had taken a map, but he was familiar with the first half of their journey, having driven to Galway on many occasions.
Driving through familiar small towns like Kinegad and Enfield, he couldn’t stop himself thinking about Caragh. He wondered how she was spending the summer without him.
“What’s wrong?” asked Magda, shocked by a look on his face that she didn’t recognise.
“Nothing at all,” he lied and squeezed her hand forcing a smile.
“Why don’t Irish people plough their fields?” she asked, “It’s just empty green countryside everywhere.”
“I presume they can earn more raising cattle,” he answered.
The days they spent at Jonathan’s flat were memorable. He had spent the last few years teaching religion and English at the local girl’s secondary school and was busy correcting Leaving Cert. papers. Shaun realised that their arrival must have come at the worst possible time.
“Don’t worry,” said Jonathan, “I would normally have wanted to show you around, but as you can see I’m up to my eyes. Here’s the key of the car. Tell me what time you will be back and I’ll have dinner ready.
Shaun couldn’t have asked for more. They were free to use Ennis as a base and explore the West Coast at their leisure.
“This is my favourite part of Ireland,” Shaun told Magda. “I love the smell of turf and the wild scenery.”
Magda was exhausted after the long day touring Kerry. She thanked Jonathan for a wonderful dinner and told them that she just had to go to bed.
“She seems like a lovely girl,” Jonathan told him when they were alone.
“I liked Caragh as well,” he added, “but she expected you to fit into the place which she had made for you in her life.”
“I was never the best boyfriend,” Shaun answered ready to defend her.
“She has a right to feel cheated and deserted,” he confessed, “but I just couldn’t look into Caragh’s eyes without hating myself. It sounds cheesy I know, but Magda completes me. If I don’t take the risk with her I will always regret it.”
Jonathan stared blankly for a while as if he were considering something and then looked directly at Shaun:
“I’ve also found someone who makes me feel that way too,” he confessed.
“We met at a music festival last June.”
“I’m very happy for both of you,” Shaun congratulated. “I really hope everything works out. Nobody deserves it more.”
“His name is David,” Jonathan added and waited for a reaction.
“Don’t think I’m surprised,” Shaun smiled. “It is about time that you stopped putting life on hold and accepted who you are.”
“I didn’t know who I was until I met David,” he defended. “I knew as soon as we met that he was the half of me that had been missing for as long as I can remember.”
“Then we have something wonderful in common.” Shaun agreed. “We have both found a person who completes us and that leaves us with no real choice. Does it?”
After leaving Jonathan they stayed for a few nights in small guest houses along the coast. Shaun knew Magda was worried about the amount of money he was spending even if she said nothing.
“Where will we live when we return to Ireland?” she asked.
“I earn enough as a teacher,” he exaggerated. “I have a few thousand in the bank. We can easily get a mortgage.”
“How you can be so calm about such things,” she complained. “Nobody in Poland would go to a bank. They would live within their means. My parents spent twenty years building our house, but now they don’t have to worry about rising interest rates.”
“We do things differently in Ireland,” Shaun answered finishing the conversation abruptly.
The time they had spent together in Ireland had shown him that Magda would be no walkover. She was ready to give up her family, but she wouldn’t ever be a silent partner. The days alone had been a distraction, but the remaining weeks in Drimnagh worried him. He didn’t trust Granny to keep out of his affairs and he knew Magda wouldn’t be slow to defend herself.
The ladder left lying against the house and the look on his mother’s face at the front door, told him he would have other things to worry about.
“Your father’s been taken to hospital,” she told him with tears in her eyes.
“What happened?” Shaun demanded, looking at the ladder.
“The old fool just wouldn’t wait for you to come back,” she explained. “He just couldn’t leave the windows. The ambulance man thinks he’s broken his hip.”
The next two weeks were spent going back and forward to the hospital. Granddad had indeed broken his hip, but that wasn’t the worst. The doctor told them that the fall had put Granddad’s heart under such strain that he wasn’t likely to last more than a few months.
“The walls of your father’s heart are like paper. When he comes home he will need absolute rest.”
“They’ve sent him home to die,” Granny sighed, as the ambulance men carried the stretcher up the stairs.
“Don’t say that ma,” Shaun protested, although he felt the same in his heart.
“It wasn’t as I hoped it would be,” he sighed as he left Magda to the airport in Granddad’s car.
“It isn’t your fault,” Magda replied, trying to console him.
“These things happen in life. Just take care of your dad and be nice to your mum.”
“I’ll do my best,” he answered, a half-hearted tone in his voice.
“They need you now,” she warned.
He had a week left before his return to East Berlin for a very different year than the one he had spent as a student. He was looking forward to his first year with Magda on neutral territory, but the fall had put a dark shadow over it.
My Dad who had always seen the best in me wouldn’t be around much longer and I would be far away.
There was so much I wanted to say, but neither of us was great at those type of conversations. I brought Dad his dinner and the last day at home and sat on the side of the bed. I awkwardly took his hand and squeezed it hard avoiding his eyes.
I was twelve the last time I had hugged his my Dad and even then it had felt incredibly awkward. This was the best I could do even knowing what we both knew. Nonetheless, the warmth of his hand and the message in his eyes have stayed with me.
“I don’t know what I’m goin to do here on my own with him,” Granny sighed looking at Shaun’s packed suitcase in the middle of the living room.
“The others will be over a few times a week,” Shaun replied.
“They have lives of their own,” she sighed, “we are just in the way.”
“You know you’re being unfair,” he answered.
“I just need to go up again before I go,” Shaun said, excusing himself.
I fought the tears back when I saw the look of resignation on his face.
“I love you dad,” my voice trembled.
“I know you do.”
“You are the best dad anyone could have. Thank you for seeing the best in me Dad. I’ll try not to let you down .”
Shaun remembered all the times he’d wished for a younger dad instead of a tired old man and he felt ashamed.
“Shaunee,” Dad started, “You have no idea how proud I am of you. You educated yourself without much help from us. You can hold your head up high. Believe in yourself and nothing will hold you back. Magda seems like a good girl with a head on her shoulders. Take good care of her. You’ll have to make up for the family she is leaving behind. It won’t be easy for her.”
“I love her,” I insisted.
“Always remember that and you’ll both be happy.”
Dad’s stare followed me to the door. I never saw him again after that. He managed to hold on longer that the doctor’s expected. Granny told me, in an accusing tone, that he often looked over at the bedroom door as if he expected me to be standing there. He was never out of my thoughts during all those months. I had many precious memories, but one came to me again and again: We stood side by side in the Phoenix Park, caught in a ray of autumn sunlight which filtered between two rows of chestnut trees. We were united in the sheer appreciation of the moment and the Browny ran in circles around us, enclosing us into our own special space.
“Dad sent the priest away today,” she shouted down the phone, when I rang from East Berlin.
“He told him he didn’t believe in God.. His prayers were going unanswered and he felt cheated.”
This news just didn’t fit in with the man I knew: The greatest rock in my life had given up on hope. His picture of God had let him down when he needed it most. I was depressed at the thought of Dad leaving the world feeling lost and cheated.
“He found peace in the end,” Granny told me several years later . I would like to believe that he found the wonderful beauty of God within himself. The trust he put in me as a person kept my head above water long after he had passed.