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Short Story
From 'Safe Home'

“Where to?”

They named a city centre Japanese restaurant, and he started up.

“Big night?” he inquired further.

“It’s a friend’s anniversary,” the woman volunteered. “Two years married today. A bunch of us are meeting up.”

“Are you married yourselves?” he continued.

“Nearly,” she laughed, while the man fidgeted with his pockets, gazing abstractedly out the window.

“What game are youse in?”

She showed signs of bridling against his inquisition, raising her head and drawing in her chin, as though this question was too personal, and he could see the fella turn to her and make a derisive face, squeezing up his nose and curling his upper lip in a snigger of incredulous repulsion, but she answered anyway,









“I teach Communications and Media Studies in the Dublin Institute of Technology. He’s a solicitor.”

“Doing well so,” Pat said, but realising he’d better change the subject, quickly offered,

“There’s a lot of different kinds of places to eat around the town now. You wouldn’t find many Japanese restaurants here a few years ago. I’ve never been to one meself. I wouldn’t fancy raw fish. Sushi, isn’t that what they call it?”

“Yeah, sushi,” she replied. “We both love it. But there’s more to Japanese cuisine than sushi.”

“I suppose it’s because there’s so many foreigners around - Bosnians, Romanians, Arabs, Africans, Chinese, the whole lot - that you have all these different places to eat. Although, on second thoughts, maybe not, ’cos these immigrants aren’t suppose to be able to afford to eat in fancy places.”

“That’s right.”

They were driving down the South Circular Road. Groups of sallow-skinned, turbaned men with long dark curly beards and flowing robes walked up and down the footpath, passing the preponderance of white people, but not mingling with them. A little further down, men and women with mahogany faces strolled, or stood around outside take-away cafes in twos and threes, some dressed fairly well, others quite shabbily. The women wore bright, saturated colours, reds and yellows and greens, that contrasted conspicuously with the more muted tones favoured by the natives.

“This is what makes me laugh,” Pat went on, warming to his theme. “They’re suppose to be escaping from war and torture and what have you, and then they’re driving around in big two litre cars and getting their socialising money at the same time. I think half of them just come in from England, ’cos they think they can make a load of money here ’cos there’s a boom on. Economic refugees, how are ya?”

“I know,” the woman agreed again. “And everyone’s being so bloody P.C. about it, like in where I work, that’s what gets me. They come in here, and they get everything for nothing. I stumble from one financial crisis to the next, and I don’t get any help from the state.”

“It’s true. Like, we have a housing shortage. Where are we going to put them all, that’s what I want to know?”

They were both beginning to feel good, as strangers feel when they find they have found something in common. The woman’s partner stayed strangely silent though, whether through disdain or indifference Pat couldn’t quite figure out.

“Yes,” he could see her nodding enthusiastically, glancing in his mirror once again, “and then they complain when they’re dispersed down the country, into B’n’Bs. The thing is, they get their women knocked up as soon as they get here, and then they have to be allowed to stay.”

Pat thought that was quite a rough expression for a woman like her to use, but he could see that she was just trying to be friendly.

“Or they try to take up with Irish girls,” he told her. “I hate to see that. And they always pick on the plain-looking ones, or the stout ones, ’cos they think they’re a soft target. Poor girls.”

“I’ve a friend who works in an English language school, and she says the school hands out visas for them to come over and study here, and then they never turn up for their classes. It’s such a con.”

“That’s disgraceful. I mean, we’re only a young country. All this prosperity’s only new. It’s not like we can handle them all. What if the bubble bursts? I know what kind of asylum I’d put them in.”

They slowed to a stop outside the restaurant, surrounded by the hurly-burly of traffic.

“What’s the damage on that?” the chap piped up, with his first contribution to the conversation.

Pat pressed the metre. “Six euro even.”

The guy handed Pat a five euro note, fumbling in his trousers’ pockets for change, and then added a two euro coin. “That’s fine,” he said.

“Thanks a lot,” Pat responded. “Enjoy yourselves now.”

The passengers jumped out. As he was closing the back door, the young man leaned in and smirked,

“Give Ireland back to the Irish, eh?”, and tittered as he banged the door shut tight.

Nice couple, thought Pat.

First published in Abridged, Derry, October 2006, edited by Gregory McCartney.










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