Light breached the darkness, the way it does after prolonged gloom. The sun peeked through the grey-blue clouds of morning. The pavement and buildings would eventually absorb the gradually increasing heat of the day. Pawel glanced at Daire dosing in the backseat through the front mirror. She was exhausted. He had called an ambulance for Claudio and had followed behind it to the Mater Hospital with Daire in tow. She wanted to get into the ambulance with the young man but the paramedics were more worried about Martin.
"Ah no, I'm grand, I'm grand. I spotted him first, I did, and then I told these two when I saw them comin' up the road."
"C'mon and get in with him so, you're very pale as well. C'mon, you can keep him company," said one of the paramedics, full of bonhomie. Martin had looked doubtful and glared at Claudio but the men were firm.
They had all met up again in A&E where both Martin and Claudio were whisked away to triage. Daire followed behind Claudio gingerly until the nurse had beckoned her into the cramped little office, shelves full to bursting with documents that would most likely never be read and probably inevitably shredded. Pawel had taken a seat in the waiting room and pondered how in God's name he had come to be in this situation. He rang his company and explained what had happened. He'd said the girl he had picked up was his niece and needed to stay where he was to wait for her. As strange as it was, he'd felt inclined to make sure she got home safe, as it had been his initial objective at the beginning of this surreal night. She didn't have to follow Claudio and he didn't have to take her. But she had and he had. His sigh had been deep as he pinched the bridge of his nose. Now, as the morning lightened, the ordeal over, a strange cold fist clamped itself around his windpipe. The sight of the young girl's vulnerability as she slept, did nothing the diffuse his unease.
"This? Nah! I don't even feel it!" Martin declared proudly as he gazed nonchalantly around the ward. He was sitting on a chair while the triage nurse took his blood. The gash on his calf had been cleaned and patched up. Daire stared at his sinewy arm. The intricate patchwork of bruises, compiled by the telltale syringe marks, spoke of an intricate patchwork of simultaneous misery and ecstasy.
Her face was damp, not only with the sweat of apprehension at her proximity to needles and the smell of anaesthetic but also because of her recent bout of crying. She had called her roommate before she'd helped Claudio answer some of the GP's questions and told her she would be home shortly. Daire discovered that Claudio's mother had cancer and was in intensive care in São Paulo. He, like many others in his country, had come from poverty and fell into vice despite trying to improve himself. It must have been difficult dealing with his girlfriend leaving him and probably very hard on her too, especially as they had travelled to Dublin together. He now lived in high-risk accommodation in Portobello, Rathmines. It scared her to think that she lived only a stone's throw away from such a medieval arrangement. There had been two showers for twenty-eight men to share and one between ten young women. He had spoken about how people lived out of their suitcases and had set up bedrooms in both living rooms of the house and sometimes one or two people slept on the kitchen floor. He had broken down a few times and spoke about his terrible depression. His admissions had reminded her of her own crippling loneliness when she had moved from Tralee for University two years ago. The black mantle that would envelop her at a moments notice, drown her in its depths, extinguish the promise of any kind of happy future, foreseeable or otherwise, was easy to recall.
She began making friends once she attended a few societal events, even found she could stand and speak publicly and passionately about politics, the current abortion bill being of particular preoccupation as well as the opposing views of UCD's Student Union President.
"How's the youn' fella?" Martin inquired.
"He's not that great," Daire admitted.
"He'll be grand, he will! He'll be all fixed up now with the social and he'll be flyin'! Have a gaff now an' all before crimbo, he will watch. He's as fuckin' cute, they all are." Martin's rant made her pulse beat in her throat. She wasn't used to the abrasive frankness of Dublin's inner-city inhabitants and she had only ever seen people like Martin haunting the pavements along the Quays, ghosting the world. His bitterness shocked her.
"He's a victim! He came from nothing!"
"So did I. I had fuck all. Don't see eyr' parents rarin' us to destroy the place and not go to school and sell drugs to kill us all and buy huge mansions out in Amsterdam and Spain an' all. Blood money, it is!" The nurse hushed Martin and told him firmly he would be removed if he didn't keep his voice down. "I'm only sayin', sure yous know it's true an' all! You call them in out'a the waitin' room with their flash phones and watches!" He lowered his head like a scolded child and muttered, "What ya think? They whipped them out their arse cracks or su'm?"
To Daire, the ignorance and irony of his denunciation were staggering. Here he was, emaciated with drug abuse and had the gall to pick apart someone else's imagined misgivings based on their nationality.
"Why did you save him then?"
"I didn't know he was one o' dem. I don't mind Poles or any o' dem from over that way. But those yokes from Nigeria an' all. I'd blow them up."
"He's from Brazil. You know, his mother is dying!"
The eyes that had once seemed to glazed, almost childlike in appearance, were suddenly like gimlets. "We all die."
"How are you so cruel? I mean, look at the state of you!" Daire's voice caught in her throat. The nurse looked at her. Martin didn't bat an eyelid, he merely drew a swift breath to immediately argue back with her. His light blue eyes peering out under his prominent brow bones with a piercing stare.
"I wasn't always like this, ya know. If I'm hard, life was hard on me. I never had a chance, I didn't. Ye think evr'yone's lovely coz they're from another country and that you're supposed to say nice tings abou' them an' all. What's the point when it's not true."
"But it's impossible for everyone to be the same! And if you're like this you did it to yourself!"
"I know I did it to me'self. I did it on purpose. The easiest ting I ever done."
This took Daire aback. She wasn't expecting that answer and was torn between feeling sad on behalf of this haggard being and feeling indignant at his audacity.
They stared at each other.
"Right you're done. Take a seat and you'll get the results in a while," the nurse said crisply and called the next patient before Martin had barely moved. He and Daire walked through A&E, the latter having to take great strides to keep up with her partner's pace. They passed a poster showing a grotesque image of the remnants of an aborted child, no caption. Daire already upset, ejaculated her fury to the dimly lit empty corridor that stretched before them.
"Fucking disgusting! What absolute fucking propaganda! In a hospital of all places!"
Martin glanced at the picture and stopped briefly.
He considered the picture thoughtfully and then looked at her with that childlike hangdog expression in his eyes, almost like he was devastated. A silence hung between them. Then he spoke.
"They can't help what they look like when they come out,"he said softly and then continued to rush out to the waiting room.
Before she could follow him, her breath had to fight to release from her lungs. She couldn't believe the way she'd sounded. So callous and cruel, yet all she wanted was equality for women and their fight to control their own bodies. She was revolted by the State's attempts to keep women down in an outdated fundamentalist regime. She stood there in the corridor, rooted to the spot, utterly shocked by his poignant response. She deliberated for a while and then ran after him, ashamed. Her breathing was shaky and she was suddenly desperate. What if she was too late and she never saw him again?
What if that was to be the end of the conversation?
It couldn't be. It couldn't be the end of the conversation.
She'd caught up with Martin as he reached the entrance to the waiting room, she saw Pawel looking back at her. Martin strode past him and was headed for the exit of the hospital. She and Pawel looked at each other but the latter didn't move.
'Martin! Martin wait, for two seconds, please!'
He turned around almost bewildered to see her as if it had not even occurred to him that someone should ever call after him.
"Martin I'm sorry if I annoyed you or offended you back there. I just, you know…I'm a big supporter of repealing the eighth amendment and everything and…" She trailed off and took a breath to keep going but was cut off.
"My sister had a baby, who was tiny, like in dat picture and a bit fucked lookin' as well. They all told her to get rid of an' all, all the doctors said it wouldn't live, but she wouldn't do it. The litt'l thing is four now and loved to bits," he shrugged gently, his uncertain, unassuming temperament returning.
"They just can't help it, ye know?"
Daire's eyes welled with tears but she forced them back. Her voice betrayed her, however.
"I-I… wasn't making fun of that baby or calling it disgusting or anything…I-I'm not like that. I-I just meant that putting that picture up in here was…it puts women who want abortions off of having one when they might really need one. It's not fair. Justice will be served when we can have safe abortions here and women have bodily autonomy."
Martin looked out of his depth, not sure at all about how to carry this conversation.
She decided to delay him.
She felt like she needed to say something, anything so he wouldn't just leave.
"Would you not come back inside and wait for your results?"
He laughed then.
"Haha, wha? Sure I be waitin' there till tomorrow for me poxy results. No way!"
"Well..will you…will you at least try and get off the gear?"
He looked straight at her again and shook his head.
She put the back of her hand to her forehead, attempting to take stock of her feelings. She could feel some kind of control on the situation slipping.
"But why?' She asked almost pleadingly. For some reason, she felt very emotionally turbulent and in need to receive answers, preferably answers she could relate to."
"Why is it only right for women to have abortions here?"He asked.
Confused at the sudden question, Daire stuttered.
"What? Ehh be-because…it's not fair for women to have to travel to a foreign country to control whether they want a baby or not."
"Why would they not want their kids?"
Daire stared, incredulous at the deep abyss of his ignorance. This was completely left-field for her.
"Well..they might not be ready! They could live in poverty and not be able to support the child…"
"Poverty? Like kid's bein' raised poor, like yer man in there? Should he have been aborted?" Goosebumps raised on her arms.
"No! You don't understand! It doesn't matter it's so complex and hard to get into, especially at the moment," she dismissed in panic.
"Poverty's never a choice, drugs is," he said. He began to walk away but before he disappeared, he turned, "and that's life."