Daire felt cold inside and out. He’d known exactly what she’d been getting at, despite all of his ignorance.
People like him were born every day, some into good lives, some into bad and yet, it was choice that determined how their lives would be lived.
Wasn't that precisely it?
That's what Daire and her friends were striving for.
Women specifically, ought to have a choice with what to do with their bodies and not feel pressured to carry a group of cells. Cells that congregated to eventually create life. That was the pro-Life argument of the whole Repeal debate.
"Poverty's never a choice, drugs are. And that's life." That's what he had said.
He was basically saying that choice epitomised the meaning of life, making it a necessity. But Daire couldn't help but feel that he had, in fact, implied, something else.
"They can't help the way they look when they come out."
His voice echoed in her mind as she walked back inside the waiting room.
"Why is it only right for women to have abortions here?"
Is that really how the campaign was seen? There was much pro-choice rhetoric about the ills of travelling abroad for an abortion and yet, Martin had made her striving sound almost deluded.
Abortion, only when brought to Ireland, was justice.
She could see where his confusion lay, with many young women's stories cropping up about their terrifying journeys overseas.
The female travel rates being portrayed as the demon rather than the outdated Irish constitution.
She also understood that, to people like him, abortion was abortion wherever it was.
Pawel glanced up and saw her.
He stood up. "I have to leave now, I had to call my job and tell them but now it is very late. I have to get you home now. Where is the young man?"
"He’s in with the GP. He's going to be referred to a counsellor, I think."
"You have said your goodbyes to him?"
Daire nodded, "We’re going to keep in touch."
Pawel grunted. "Come, we’re leaving now."
They walked out to the parked taxi cab and had just reached the vehicle when Pawel stopped. He hesitated briefly.
"You get in, I'll be back in two minutes."
Pawel walked back through A&E. When he reached the psych ward he asked about the young man, Claudio, although he was not able to give a last name. The nurse at reception told him that he could be in any one of the offices along the corridor or that he may have already been discharged.
"Discharged?! He tried to kill himself tonight!"
Without waiting for an answer, Pawel flung away from the reception desk and paced speedily up the hallway.
He spotted Claudio talking to a doctor in one of the offices.
They both looked up as he stopped short in the doorway and he suddenly felt very foolish.
"I…I found this man earlier tonight. I am about to bring the young girl home." The doctor nodded.
"Yes, she did her best for Claudio. He is lucky to have had someone like her on a night like this. I believe it was only a chance encounter?"
"Yes, well, we’re looking after Claudio now. He's being referred to somebody who specialises in the area in which he needs support. We’re doing our best to see if we can arrange for him to talk to his mother."
"I thank you very much. I thank you, sir," the young man looked earnestly at Pawel from where he was sitting.
"It’s no problem. I want to give you this card. I knew some friends a while ago with the same problem as you. These people will help you find accommodation somewhere. It won't cause trouble either."
Pawel handed Claudio the card with a name and number printed in white font.
He took the card and stared down at it for a while. Tears fell into his lap. He smiled but could say nothing. Pawel's own throat constricted.
"Good luck," he said and left.
As he slid into the front seat he lay back and sighed deeply. His mind and body relaxed for the first time in hours. He closed his eyes for a few minutes. When he opened them again he saw that daybreak would soon make its appearance. He glanced at the dashboard clock. It read 4:30. The fact that this dramatic episode had taken place over the course of three short hours was mind-boggling.
This experience, if that's what it could be called, had caused some sort of a shift or awakening. It was still chilly at this time in the morning, despite the season slowly rolling into early summer. He realised Daire had not said anything since he'd entered the car and found that she was out cold in the backseat. She was pale with exhaustion and her pallor made him feel sick. He disliked that shade of white on a human being ever since…
He cleared his throat loudly and she shifted and sat up.
"Oh shit. Sorry, was I asleep for long?"
"No, about five minutes. I will take you home now. Mountpleasant, yes?"
She nodded dreamily, "Yes please."
Pawel let his own mind wander.
He was exhausted and not only from the events preceding their stop at the hospital. The hospital waiting room itself had been an ordeal and his harrowing flashbacks had done nothing to soothe his unease either. He'd hated walking through the corridors looking for Claudio, it had echoed many of his previous nightmares from years ago. However, this particular time he could be the saviour that hadn't been for Zaneta. The memory of her wails as she'd clung to him, the sobs that wracked her body as her mother had held her like a child with silent tears running down her own face as they all sat in the maternity ward in Gdansk University Hospital. Pain, sheer, untainted, nauseating pain. He couldn't even remember his own feelings or reaction to what had happened, only what he had absorbed from everyone else- Zaneta, her parents, his parents. A fierce headache kindled in between his eyes and before long he knew it would span out across his forehead and perhaps his cheekbones, depending on how bad it was. After a few minutes of driving, he decided to check in with the girl in the back.
"Are you alright?" His own throat was constricted.
"Huh? Oh, er, yeah. Just…tonight was a crazy night." She left out the fact that she felt unbelievably overwhelmed and confused. That her views had been subtly but definitively challenged and her comfort zone breached. The common ground she shared with some of her fellow students, something that had initially enabled her to make friends in this lonely city, seemed to be just another side of an argument. Pro-choice was an opinion, not the answer, especially not for some. And these 'some' were not always Bible bashers or Jesus freaks either.
This realisation had slammed her in the face like a door propelled by a strong wind along with what Martin had really meant.
People never choose poverty but they can choose the wrong path, sometimes consciously as he did. That's life. Conscious choices steered his life, just like Claudio's. And yet, the whole night had been spent, trying to preserve the life of a stranger. We all die. The story Martin had shared about his sister, showed tenacity to preserve life no matter what.
And yet in a strange paradox, Martin was slowly ending his own.
Poverty? Like kids bein' raised poor, like yer man in there? Should he have been aborted?' What was the big difference between Claudio and Martin? Both had come from nothing and both of them were subject to vice but Claudio had, by chance, been stopped from killing himself in time by a group of strangers. Martin had not. And yet, the two of them still had their choices…and their lives for however long. But they only had their choices so long as they had lived. There was no life without choice or a choice without life. One can't have a choice without life. If life was inhibited…essentially, so were many kinds of potential choices. But sometimes life had to be inhibited, no? For the sanity and safety of the mother in terrible circumstances and safety of the child? Of course. Choice was a choice. Choice made by one who was alive. Oh, God! This strange turmoil was horrible.
'Yes it was very strange,' Pawel muttered.
Daire looked up and was brought back to earth. "Being in that hospital, talking to the GP brought it all back. I…er, I used to be very down, er, depressed like."
Pawel said nothing.
"Just the loneliness he talked about. Brought me back."
He gazed at her through the mirror. Paulina would be just a few years younger than she is, he thought. Daire looked a little younger than her supposed age and Pawel found himself imagining…
"I don't like hospitals either. I lost a daughter, many years ago." Daire's eyes became very round.
"Oh my God," she breathed.
"She would have been sixteen last month. That was perhaps the reason I have been so strange tonight. I suffer sometimes from the... the memories, the flashback," Pawel motioned to his temple to attempt to explain his predicament.
He was not surprised to see her cry. The fatigue and drama of the night had evidently got to her. He found himself saying more.
"I used to support the party to stop abortion in Poland. I thought life should be given a chance no matter what and people should keep their good ways. When my daughter Ewa was born a few years ago, I found life very hard. It was hard to love again, knowing what was lost. My wife was also sick like you were when we lost Pauli…lost our first." He found himself swallowing hard.
He couldn't even say her name out loud. He had never realised how raw it still was for him.
"She died from pneumonia when she was a few weeks old. She was born early, you see."
It was hard losing a baby and then attempting to overcome the hurdles of loving another that had lived. He remembered the simultaneous feelings of disbelief, joy and terror swimming in his heart when Zaneta had told him that she was pregnant again at thirty-seven.
"Tonight, I have seen a lot. I have a lot to think about. Perhaps… perhaps, you have too."
The young girl nodded, her face tear-stained in the dim light. They drove in silence the rest of the way. When they pulled up outside the student flat, Daire began rooting in her bag.
"Don't do that. You are home now, that's all that matters."
"No, please! For all you've done!" She thrust a fifty-pound note at him.
"I'm not taking it. Tonight has been too long. You have been kind enough already. Go, it's very late and I have to get back."
She hesitated and slowly put the money back in her purse.
She slid out of the backseat and, at a loss for what to do next she said again, "Thank you so much," and closed the car door.
He watched her go up the path, the light flick on in the hall, her flatmate hugging her and her going inside.
"Thank you," he muttered. As he drove back the way he came and passed the forbidding canal that he had stopped at a few hours before, he found he had to wipe away a single tear from his chin.