Ewa ran towards the sea and squealed when the tide chased her back up by the beach. "Papa! Papa, Papa!"
Her blonde curls streamed out behind her as she ran to him.
Pawel caught his daughter and swung her around.
He kissed her soft cheek and let her down so he could chase her across the sand.
Zaneta laughed as she took pictures.
"You have been different with her," she said when they were sitting down, Ewa preoccupied making sandcastles and singing to herself.
"You look at her more, you play with her."
Pawel smiled and kissed his wife's forehead.
"I feel better. About everything."
She nodded. She knew the demons he'd fought, the baggage he'd carried for years and wounds that were reopened when Ewa was born. Her own struggle had been a hard one. But only now, had she realised how disconnected her husband had been with their daughter, although he loved her very much.
A few weeks ago he seemed to have emerged from a deep-sea dive, to have thrown off some kind of terrible bandage.
Ewa now clung to Pawel and was a decided Daddy's girl. He was more open with her too, more affectionate and generally happier all round.
Pawel looked at his little girl and thought again how the young girl he had met a few weeks ago was getting on.
How was she after that night? Her vulnerability had struck a chord with him, so had the young man, even that thin wanderer, Martin. The vulnerability of life was frightening but to be respected.
Never again would he live half a life, a life of fear.
His daughter and those he loved deserved better.
Daire turned the page of her notes. She was about to finish up, just one more page to be revised. She needed to take a break to preserve energy for the upcoming exams.
College life had resumed as usual, although whenever she visited the local newsagents Claudio was never there.
They had kept in touch as they had promised and Daire had learned that his mother had passed away two weeks ago. She had called him to extend her condolences and say she hoped he was coping all right.
"I am better, very much! Thank you," he had sounded delighted that she had called, in spite of the bad phone line.
"How was the funeral?"
"It was very sad, yes. We miss her, all of us. I got home with the help of the two brothers and sister."
Daire smiled to herself. She was glad he had people to lend him some support. He had also mentioned was making progress in his counselling sessions.
"Today, was a good day with my counsellor. It has taken a time to feel better but I feel..ehm..", she listened patiently while he tried to find the words, "without a heavy on my chest, lighter! Like to breathe, it is easier."
Daire beamed again, tucking a hair behind her ear as she stood in the smoking area outside the college library, her arms wrapped around herself guarding against the cold.
"I'm so happy to hear that, Claudio!" She really was; and proud. To think that someone's life had resumed and was slowly improving because of her pragmatism. That experience was profound. Possibly, the most profound of all. One decision, and external one at that, had defined the fate of a life-the life of someone who, at the time, had no control.
"Yes. And my ex-she also had called me. We talk here and there and use WhatsApp. It has made me so much happy." An eyebrow raised at this piece of news, Daire smirked and laughed.
"Oooh, any chance of you getting back together?" She could hear Claudio's voice grow wistful through the fuzzy quality of the call.
"This I must not expect. I hurt her very much, you see. Today we are friends and maybe this is all we will be, forever. She knew my mother too but could not come back with me. Today, I am happy."
Daire sobered, she didn't want to pull his focus away from his feeling of contentment and the present.
She had that responsibility at least.
"Of course! Today is all that matters!"
"And some other good news," he sounded so proud like he was a child revealing the punchline of a joke to a delighted audience. "I have a place in temporary accommodation, someone called to me and told me the news."
"Oh my god! That is amazing news, not good news!" Daire covered her mouth and then her eyes. The emotion on her face and her joyous exclamation attracted the tired glance of a few chain-smoking Med students.
"Yes, yes I know!" He laughed. She could tell he was beaming.
"Things can really change like this, can’t they Daire? It is all thanks to you and the taxi man, he helped me with this new accommodation." Daire hadn't known that Pawel had registered the young man’s despair that night at all in the same way that she had. She realised she had a lot more to learn about human nature than she had previously realised.
"This is the best phone call I have ever had," she admitted.
"It is the best one for me too," came Claudio's reply.
Daire packed up her stuff and made her way to the library toilets. She had said goodbye to Claudio after she had given him all her recent news, which hadn’t been much. It was a quarter past six and she needed time to get changed. She was invited to a friend's house party in Killester and would take the train directly there. She hadn't seen too many of her friend's from the Politics and International Relations society. She was still a firm believer in pro-choice and held fast to her politics but something had changed.
That night, that surreal night of a few weeks ago, had put her in the firing line of many stark realities. She decided not to take some things so seriously anymore and that life was to be lived in the now. She had also decided to volunteer for a Simon community soup run. The homeless and drug problem was really getting to her. As she boarded the DART at Sydney Parade she didn't slip her earphones in her ears but instead gazed at the buildings and apartments that flew by. Who were the people that lived in them all? What were they going through? Perhaps they were living on top of each other like sardines, the way Claudio had been. She wondered about Martin. Where was he now? She hoped that, against all odds, he wasn't still taking drugs. But how could he break the habit of a lifetime, especially when he didn't want to?
The train started up again after the Connolly Station stop and proceeded to rattle over the houses of Sheriff Street towards Clontarf Road. Down below, in the bowels of one of those red-brick houses, someone's fuse was igniting for the last time.
The hit was beautiful. Like warm chocolate, it flooded the veins and sparks flew behind the retina.
The originally frantic Martin had settled peacefully against the arm of the sofa, his body sizzling with pure, untainted ecstasy.
His eyes rolled in his head as they were brought back to that wonderful time, the time he had fallen in love for the first time.
He'd known her from the flats, the same way everybody knew everybody around North Strand. He'd seen her a few times over the years, hanging around Fairview park or sitting on the railings with her mates and a few clouds of smoke. They had had mutual friends and whatever gaff he'd been invited to, more often than not she was there. Cheryl. He was brought back to that night in Stevie's when the lads had dared him to go and ask her if she had a splif and he had said her name for the first time. She didn't have one but her friends did. Once a few cans had been had, they ended up talking.
Eventually, they ended up on the floor of the sitting room, knees up, head leaning back on the wall, laughing and messing, getting stoned.
He liked her and she liked him.
They went to the bedroom and it started. In the middle of fooling around one of the friends had walked in and they all broke their hearts laughing. She called them into the bathroom. Young, lovestruck and hungry for more they followed her, dissolved and heated the powder in a bottle cap, a few people were waiting their turn.
Cheryl had done this before. She slowly took off his belt and tightened it around his bicep. At that moment he only had eyes for her and kept them on her.
He remembered how her smile made him feel and how it had distorted in his vision as he felt that first unearthly feeling as she pushed the syringe into his arm.
He'd hated needles but with her, he hadn't been afraid. He remembered how all the pain, all the confusion, frustration, worry and uncertainty evaporated in that instant. There were only love and beauty and good things.
The physical feeling was only intensified by his upwardly spiralling emotions. He felt as if his skin were melting away from his bones, massaging his insides as it did so. He would run ten thousand miles, walk across hot coals, do absolutely anything for a repeat.
This feeling that protected him, loved him, made him like the only one on earth.
Heroin, his first love.
Memories of all the other times, the times he'd touched heaven, came coursing back.
They ran hot in front of his glazed eyes while his body grew ever colder.
"C'mon Martin, hurry up!"
It was Jordan, the one.
Flashbacks of her face both laughing and scowling came to him. The first, because she was ushering him into the flat where they were about to celebrate one of their friend's birthdays, the second because they were starving and cold and the fella who was meant to meet them hadn't shown.
They'd been together for years, in and out of each others' families flats, roamed the streets together, sometimes laughing sometimes fighting.
The memories came in sporadic bursts.
The night when they'd made love for the first time, the night they'd hit each other for the first time and destroyed the place. The truth was she was long gone, missing for about five years. After that Martin too had gone missing for a while, chasing oblivion every waking moment he had.
The difference between him and Jordan was, he'd come back.
"C'mon, will ya?!"
The command kept piercing his mind.
This time she was smiling and she didn't look so bad, in fact, her eyes were shining and so was her black hair.
She was pointing him through the doorway of one of the flats in North Strand.
"You're Ma's callin' ye," she smiled.
His mother had passed away when he was fifteen while his father had lived and drunk away the hours.
He felt himself smile.
He stepped through the doorway and into the warmth. And then at last, after a very long and hard journey, the lights dimmed and eventually went out.
"See ya next week, man." Claudio felt a pat on his shoulder.
"Yes, I will see you," he smiled. He zipped up his hoodie and began to walk in the balmy summer evening. His English had improved since he had joined the support group for gambling addiction, recommended to him by his counsellor. He was learning to cope slowly but surely with life, which had been made considerably easier now that he was out of that dreadful house. The Daisyhouse Housing Association had arranged for him to be set up in temporary accommodation in Gardiner Street.
The Association had been notified by the friends of the taxi driver who had found him along the canal all those weeks ago. They had initially called and told him they would be in touch in a few weeks. He had been distraught for a few days. However, just before he had been placed he had been flown home for his mother's funeral.
Devastated by the loss but relieved to be coming home, he had upped sticks in the middle of the night and disappeared from what some articles in the Irish Independent later called 'a clubhouse.'
The day itself had been dreadful and Claudio felt that he was almost back where he had started mentally. However, seeing the family he had not seen in a few years was a balm on his soul.
He was able to open up to his brother and get advice in the week and a half he had stayed after the funeral. No one else knew about what had happened. He didn't want to tell them yet. Maybe one day he would.
Once he had received the call that the Housing Association had found him somewhere to live, he travelled on the long-haul flight back to Ireland aided financially by some of his cousins. After one of his sessions, Maria had called him out of the blue. He had been worried when he did not hear from her after he had arrived back in the country and relieved when her number showed up on his lock screen.
They'd stayed in touch and met up in the city. He'd been very nervous. He'd not laid eyes on her for almost two years. When she'd first seen him walking towards her along the Liffey Boardwalk by O'Connell Bridge she'd got up and looked at him for a while.
It was the look that brought him back.
He remembered how she'd cried with frustration knowing they could not keep the rent together with him spending and losing money the way he had. The tears in her eyes as she went around cleaning the flat or doing laundry, the fights, the sleepless nights. She'd been almost constantly sad. He remembered the day she'd told him she would leave but that had been a few weeks before she actually had.
The day she had left was one of the worst of his life.
He had come home from work to find every trace of her gone.
All of her clothes, bags, her toothbrush. Everything was gone bar a few stray hangers.
She'd stayed with a friend and refused to talk to him.
Devastated and unable to make ends meet on his own, he moved into the house in Rathmines and sank further into debt. He had treated her badly and he could see that he never deserved her and she never deserved to be brought here and let down like that.
"I'm sorry-," he began to say but was cut off as she took a step forward and put her arms around him. He did likewise and they stayed like that for a while.
They talked, uncertainly at first but eventually fell into a rhythm.
She'd been devastated to hear about his mother as she'd loved her too.
They had since met up again a few times and were staying friends. However, nothing more had been spoken of and Claudio was prepared to be content with that. He was about to start a new job as a trainee Barista which would bring in some income if only a little. He still had large amounts of debt to pay off but was receiving counselling to deal with this burden. As he took in the warmth of the evening, the smell of summer and the noise of people milling all around he was reminded that he was alive.
That's what, Katherine, his counsellor kept explaining to him.
"You are here, right now. No time exists at all other than right now. And you are here for a reason. You made it. Well done."
He took heart from that at times like these.
When he looked back he could not altogether admit that the thought of suicide was completely ridiculous and the life was so much easier now but the fact was, he was doing it.
He was living.
He took to reading about the struggles of some famous and historical figures.
He found he had an interest in history, it gave him a better sense of the resilience of the human spirit over time. The new motto that he lived by, was inspired by a quote from Nelson Mandela.
It always seems impossible until it's done.