A few bright spots
Even before we’re born, we’re waiting.
We wait for tit. We wait for teeth. We wait for trains, for planes, for buses. We wait for girlfriends, and for boyfriends. Sometimes we wait for best friends. We wait for our food to cook, or to be prepared for us. We wait for it to be served, to be reheated. We wait for bowel movements. We wait for the clock to strike the time we’re willing it to strike so we can get home. We wait for the traffic to clear. We wait for the next instalment. We wait for appointments. We wait for elevators. We wait for love to lift us. We wait, worriedly, for menstruation. We wait for bells, and we wait for infant cries after forty weeks. We wait for our children to arrive home. We wait for happiness. We wait for a kiss. We wait for tears to dry. We wait for wars to end. We wait for change. We wait for life. We wait for death.
We wait in waiting rooms.
I wait in a waiting room.
And next to me is Jeremy.
Jeremy is also waiting.
I’m seated so that my back is as vertical as possible. Recently I’ve been very conscious of my posture. My girlfriend says that I walk with a hunch, as if the weight of the world is on my shoulders, and that when I sit I slouch like I’m eager to slide to the floor and sleep. These two habits, I’m told, are indicative of indiscipline, and a lack of strength in character.
Another thing I’ve been very conscious of is my bowel movements. I guess we’re all conscious of them, in some way, but I’ve been especially aware as of late.
For some, a trip to the toilet is a highlight of the day. For instance, Jeremy here cherishes his toilet breaks as if they were his only source of happiness: ‘What’s not ta love about ‘em? Fifteen, twenty minits to spend lookin’ at Facebook, or scrollin’ through a Tumblr page dedicated to crackin’ birds, or to read the latest on the Middle East and see which poor fooker’s been beheaded this week, all without interruption. It’s quality alone time. No one can bother ya, unless yer willin’ to answer yer phone. And it’s an escape from the knobs you have to work with, too. Shittin’ is seriously one of, if not the happiest daily occurrences in me life at the moment.’
Trips to the bathroom don’t fill me with that much joy, in fact they’re the reason I’m sitting here, next to Jeremy. And with me being a chronic worrier verging on full-blown hypochondriac, my mind finds it tremendously difficult to relax and not think about all the potentialities; all negative outcomes of today’s trip (although one in particular tops the list every time.)
Jeremy isn’t shy. I don’t know the man, yet I’m aware of his proclivity to enjoy a trip to the bathroom a few times a day. This is something I shouldn’t know, I remind myself. That I know this should indicate a relationship of some sort, a degree of familiarity with one another, but I first set eyes on the man a mere half hour ago.
‘Do you not worry that they might find something?’ I ask Jeremy.
‘Why would I? If there’s somethin’ there, there’s somethin’ there. Better off I know about it so they can sort it out. God knows I’m not goin’ ta figure it out by meself.’
‘god,’ I smile.
‘What abou’ him?’
‘Well, he isn’t necessarily in the know, is he?’
‘It’s just a sayin’, isn’t it?’
‘Yeah, it is.’
He lowers the newspaper he holds in his hand—The Sun— and looks at me with greater attention.
‘Do you not believe in God or somethin’?’
‘No,’ I smile. ‘I don’t.’
‘Then how d’ya explain everythin’?’
‘I don’t know how you explain everything, but I know science explains a lot more than religion does.’
‘Who said anthin’ about religion?’
‘When someone believes in god, it usually implies that they’re a religious individual. You’re not religious?’
‘If believin’ in a God makes me religious, then yeah, I s’pose I am.’
‘But you don’t practice any religion? You just believe in a god?’
‘Let me put it to ya like this, right? United were down against Bayern in the Champions League Final, ’99, yeah? 1-0 down after six minutes—Basler, the bastard, right? Crackin’ free-kick. 1-0 down from the sixth minute right up until the 90th. And there’s me, and Jay, and Anto, and Charlie, and Mark, and we’re in Finches, skullin’ pints, but not able to touch the drink in the last ten minutes of the match. We couldn’t enjoy it, couldn’t even talk apart from shoutin’ at the tele. And so I say it to the lads, “lads, say a prayer, come on,” and the lads look at me like I’ve gone gaga, like I’ve ten heads. And I tell ‘em “I’m serious lads, come on. Pray.” So I grab Jay and Jay grabs Anto and Anto grabs Charlie and Charlie grabs Mark and there the five of us are, huddled like Celtic before a match, standin’ there at our table with about twenty pints of Bud on it, and we all say a little prayer to ourselves while we’re huddled. Ten minutes later Teddy and Ole scored and we were champions of Europe. The pub went mental. I swear, even Liverpool fans were cheerin’, and the drink went everywhere except our mouths. Never saw anythin’ like it. Never have since. (I won’t mention City.) Anyway, I believe to this day that if we didn’t pray in the 83rd minute then we wouldn’t’ve won. God answered our prayers that evenin’. Collective prayer, y’know? Thousands an’ thousands of United fans were prayin’ at the same time, for the exact same thing. That’s when God answers, when a huge number of people are pullin’ together at the same time askin’ for the same thing. It takes a massive effort.’
‘You don’t just think that is was a case of them getting a bit lucky?’
He shrugs his shoulders. ‘Luck. Act of God. Same thing.’
‘OK, well, apart from footballing miracles, what other evidence have you got for me?’
Now he takes the newspaper from his lap and places it on the small table in front of us both, on top of the other rags and mags and leaflets.
‘Right, I have another one for ya. When I was a yunfella we used to have fields where, now, there’s a massive shoppin’ centre and business parks and the motorway. There was, like, this division of trees between each field with Fields One and Two havin’ a football pitch each, and Field Three extendin’ far towards the Strawberry Beds. You know the Strawberry Beds, yeah? Jimmy Joyce used ta sit at the Chapelizod end and contemplate life and whatever else that’d be goin’ through his genius head. Probably thinkin’ about aul Nora, eh? The rascal.’
I nod, smile.
‘Well one day durin’ the summer, we were playin’ Commando in the back field, the farthest one, near the Beds. There was an old farmer’s gaff there and everyone said the farmer was still there and would shoot at ya if ye trespassed, and when we were there someone would shout “Sketch, the farmer!” and everyone would run for their lives and not look back, and so the legend prevailed.’
He pauses and takes a moment for clarity: ‘You know Commando, yeah? The game? Ye’d make guns out of sticks and divide the group into two teams. Usually we’d play durin’ the summer and all we’d be wearin’ were shorts and we’d tie football socks ‘round our heads so we’d be like Rambo, even though Commando was an Arnie film. Anyway, the teams would each start at opposite ends of the field, and make their way towards each other, spreadin’ out over the large, sprawlin’ area. On the day in question—durin’ the summer so we were in our Rambo get-ups—I was searchin’ through the bushes and trees. The trees were really thin, I don’t know what species of tree they were—who knows species of trees?—but they were thin, and there was a rake of them throughout the fields, mostly around the perimeter, right?’
He fixes himself in the chair in an attempt at making himself more comfortable.
‘So we’re in the middle of the game, and I haven’t killed or even seen anyone from the other team. I’m there, and Noelie off my team is behind me. (Now that I think about it, it reminds me of Lord of the Flies. I only read that once, back in school, but I think about it now and I can hear chants: “Kill the pig! Cut his throat! Kill the pig! Bash him in!”) Anyway, I start to run. I don’t know why, but I start to run slowly—a light jog —with me gun held with both hands, down by me groin: safety, y’know, like the pros. And Noelie instinctively follows behind me, picks up the pace. Then, for reasons I still don’t understand, I stopped to look down at me runners, like to check if the laces had come loose or somethin’. I don’t know why I stopped, me runners weren’t untied, but I did, and poor little Noelie carried on ahead of me, scamperin’ with his gun in his hand. A few seconds later he fell over one of the traps set by the other team—a piece of wire between two trees—into a pile of stingers. Y’know, nettles? And branches with thorns, really big ones. Horrible. Like, really bad. He was in a jock. Cuts everywhere. Stung by nettles and scratched by thorns, all over. I went over to him and just looked down at him. He was in a lot of pain. Rollin’ around—all he had on were his shorts and a Rambo head-tie, remember. And I wanted to tell him to stop rollin’, because he was only makin’ it worse, but I didn’t know what to do. I just looked at him.’
‘So you’re saying that was another act of god?’ I ask.
‘He was in an awful state for days,’ he replies. ‘I’m serious. We knocked into him and his Ma answered and he was screamin’ from the pain, we could hear him from the sittin’ room. His Ma told us to leave him for a few days. She was real upset. After that he was completely different. I swear. He was a changed lad. Like his innocence was lost or somethin’. He was never the same. And for some reason on that day I stopped, and he didn’t. And he’s the one who ended up in a bad way. Messed him up, like.’
‘There’s still no reason to suggest that it was god’s doing. Just pure chance. Something in your brain warned you that your laces may be undone, a spontaneous red flag. Happens all the time. You stop and check the gas just in case you’ve accidentally left it on.’
‘Or you’re prompted to do so by somethin’ else,’ Jeremy quickly retorts.
I shrug my shoulders.
‘Somethin’ prompted ye to come here today, didn’t it?’ he says.
Before I can respond a young nurse emerges and calls my name. I look at Jeremy; a look that speaks only of panic, I imagine. They’re going to find something, I think. They’re going to find tumors, loads of them. The cancer will have metastasised. I’m royally fucked.
‘You know they stick a tube up yer hole?’ he says to me for some reason, maybe in an attempt at humour to make me feel less anxious, maybe not.
I nod my head before getting up and walking slowly towards the doors which, when opened, could be mistaken for The Light.
‘Good luck,’ I say to Jeremy.
‘God bless,’ he nods, and smiles, and winks, and chuckles to himself.
After they administer the anaesthetic and are wheeling me in, I ask the genial Indian nurse if people tend to talk during the procedure while they’re semi-conscious.
‘We’ve had a few. . . funny occurrences,’ she smiles.
‘Oh God,’ I say, sluggishly, and that’s all I remember until I wake up and I’m dazed, and then after I eat some biscuits and drink some coffee I get dressed, and then I wait for the doctor to give me the news.