The light at 3 o’clock:
A kind of promising, teasing grey.
A kind I don’t remember.
As I make my way to the Swan Centre Rathmines.
And into Dunnes.
Once upon a time, it was a grubby place. I used to play hopscotch on the pink and white tiles. Avoiding the white ones. I think that was the game.
My mother bought mince meat.
And margarine in big square tubs. Thirty years later, I find them in the basement. Now housing Christmas tree decorations.
There used to be a kind of a ledge where you could pack your shopping bags. A little girl’s mother offered me a fruit pastel once when I was perched there.
I didn’t know what to do so my mother said no thank you. Too many artificial colors.
Now there are self-service tills and a woman’s voice telling you there’s an unexepected item in the bagging area.
She sounds slick and sophisiticated. Fits right in with her surroundings:
Freshly-baked scones bulging with berries. Overpriced bunches of flowers. Exotic fruits.
The stationery shop where I applied for a job is now an organic butcher’s. I remember the woman at the till questioning my potential commitment when I handed my CV in.
I am flexible, I insisted. Any day but Saturday, because I have a few teaching hours.
But there was a recession on. They couldn’t get enough of it on Morning Ireland. I remember googling haircut, European Stability Mechanism, bank deposit guarantee.
I thought I’d need to understand the terms when I moved over to Berlin for a job.
I’m reading a book by Hugo Hamilton at the moment called ‘Dublin Palms’and there’s a line that says something like: an emigrant is always the one left behind.
I go up to order the second set of Guinnesses.
“Do you want a mincepice?” the barman asks.
“Sure, why not?”
Never quite sure in Ireland what is sincere and what not. I enjoy the uncertainity. Just go along with it. Worst you can do is buy a mincepie.
The woman next to me, a regular, looks up incredulous.
“I thought he was joking!” she says, in the flattest Dublin accent you’ve ever heard. “Where’s he got the mincepies from? But that’s Noel for you. That’s so like Noel.”
It comes in a tinfoil holder. “It’s on the house,” he says. “I’ve already had three.”
He goes out for a smoke while the Guinness is settling.
“Where d’you get the mincepie?” says LSH. He’s kind of giddy, even after one.
“Noel,” I say.
Actually, not sure what is charming in Ireland anymore. Everything is less overt.
We go to another pub one afternoon and there’s a plaque hanging on the door that says “No tracksuits.” It’s ridiculous-looking. No tracksuits, etched in bronze.
Is that sincere, I wonder. I think it is. A funny country.
Inside around the table, some of the faces we haven’t seen in years. When was the last time? Such-and-such-a-person’s wedding? Yes, that was it.
“How’s London treating you anyway?”
“Grand. Can’t see myself staying longterm though.”
And the years go by.
“You’re on telly now,” says my brother-in-law over dinner on Dame Street. “I see your links on Twitter.”
“Do you want my autograph?” I ask.
My sister and niece return to the United States.
On our last night we have dinner at home with my parents, my other sister and her family.
Then LSH and I head for wine at a friend’s.
We miss the last bus home. It’s drizzling as we make our way to the tram instead. I pass my old school.
This is so strange, I say.
Twenty-four hours later, we’re back in Berlin.
We plug the dehumidifiers back in. Do some grocery shopping. Wash our underwear.