Good Friday, 10th April, 1998 – Belfast, Northern Ireland
I put down the wee paint brush. The face has gone wrong. I didn’t mean it to be frowning. It looks cross. I want to smash it. It’s hard boiled so it won’t make a mess. My stomach squirms. I push the spotty blue eggcup with the frowny faced egg across the table.
“Da, I feel sick.”
“Didn’t I tell you not to be eating three Creme eggs? Now you’ll not want your lunch.” He stands from the kitchen table, runs the tap, fills a glass. “Drink this.”
I sip the water. I don’t like water. “Can’t I have some orange in it?”
“Not unless you want to be seeing those Creme eggs again,” he says. “Are you going to finish that?”
He points at the hard-boiled egg with its screwed up eyes and squiggly mouth. I was going to do big ears and red hair but now I don’t want to. I shake no.
“Go lie down for a bit then.”
He pats my head. I don’t like it when he pats my head. I’m not a dog. I pull away from him and trudge upstairs.
I lie on my bed but I don’t go to sleep. I study the ceiling; it’s white with a brown mark off a leak, last year, in the loft. Da said he was going to paint the ceiling for me. Said he was going to paint the whole room and I could pick the colours. He promised. I close my eyes so I can’t see the brown mark anymore.
I feel better now. My stomach’s not squirming around. I get up and step out onto the landing.
“Still no news?”
Da’s in the hall, on the phone. Even though we’ve got a new cordless one now he still mostly stands in the hall to use it. Which is good ’cos it makes it easier for me to hear him. I sit on the third stair from the top. The third stair works best. It’s down far enough so I can hear; up high enough to hide me.
“I thought they’d agreed on that… Why not?... Fine. Let me know if there’s any change.”
He sounds unhappy. Maybe he’ll have to work later. He promised he wouldn’t work today. I stay sitting, thinking about going down. It must be lunchtime.
Da puts the phone back. I get to my feet, go down two stairs so he sees me. He sort of jumps when he does.
“Cian, are you feeling better?”
I shrug. “I’m O.K.”
“Do you want lunch?”
I nod. Follow him into the kitchen. There are hot cross buns. Mrs McMullan brought them. She let Da think she made them but I’ll bet she bought them. Da puts them under the grill. I get the butter and two plates. The phone rings.
“Watch those, Cian.” Da races into the hall.
I stand behind the door, listening. Bet he has to go to work.
“Hello? Dan, I thought… no, I know, I’ve been waiting, hoping. Christ sake, praying.”
Da’s telling Uncle Dan lies. Da never prays. We don’t go to church. I’m glad we don’t. Ryan says it’s dead boring, sitting there while the priest says stuff in a funny language. What’s the point if you can’t understand what he’s saying?
“Thanks but we’ve plans for later,” Da is saying now. “Lunch, a kick-about then finish that Lego pirate ship of yours.”
Da’s meaning the one Uncle Dan gave me for Christmas. We’re only building it now ’cos Da’s been working so much.
“Aye, and you. Keep everything crossed. ’Bye.”
Da puts the phone down. I dart to the cooker. There’s smoke coming from the grill. I yank the grill pan out.
“I thought you were watching those,” Da says.
He’s got his arms folded but he’s smiling so he’s not properly angry.
“Ach, we’ll scrape the burnt bits off.” He gets a knife, stands at the sink and scrapes. Black crumbs mucky the washing up bowl.
Da butters them thickly but the hot crossers still taste burnt. I don’t moan though; it’s my fault.
“We’ll have that kick-about next,” Da says. “I take it you’re O.K. now?”
I’m eating my third burnt bun. I nod. “Can we go to the park?”
Da frowns. We usually play in the garden. But it’s too small for a proper game. The park’s bigger but not really big enough either. It would be, if we could use all of it but we’re not allow to go over the line to their side. It’s not a real line. Aye, it is a real line but it’s not a painted-on line. Everyone knows where the line is, even though it’s invisible. We don’t cross to their side. They don’t cross to our side. That’s the rules. But sometimes they cross. Or we do. Then there’s trouble. That’s why Da doesn’t like playing in the park.
“Alright,” he says, “I think it might be O.K. today.”
We walk to the park. There’s not many people about. On bank holidays there’s usually lots of people about, visiting and stuff.
“Why’s it so quiet today, Da?”
“I don’t know, Cian.”
He doesn’t look at me when he answers. That means he’s lying. He tells me off when he catches me lying but he lies when he thinks it’s something he has to do. He told me that if it’s important and you’re doing it to protect someone it’s O.K. to lie but I’m too young to know when it’s O.K. so I shouldn’t ever lie. I think that’s shite so he can lie when he wants to but tell me off when I do. I wonder if he lies when he’s in court, so’s he can win the case. And if he lies in court and the judge finds out does he tell Da off?
He knows why it’s so quiet today.
“Hiya, Cian,” Ryan shouts over, pedalling across the park to me and Da. Tommo and Mikey are here too. They jog beside Ryan ’til they reach us.
“What’re yous doing here?” I ask.
“Me ma said to get out from under her feet,” Ryan says, “so we thought we’d have a game but,” he looks at my footie, “we haven’t got a ball.”
“Why not?” Da asks.
“Lost it.” Tommo points to the other side of the park, over the invisible line.
We all look.
The ball’s rolled near the slide. Their side has the slide and swings. They must’ve got to pick sides first. There’s a man leaning against the slide, smoking. He’s about Da’s age. I know ’cos his hair’s a bit grey like Da’s. He’s wearing a puffer jacket. He’ll be roasted in it ’cos the sun’s out. Dunno why he would wear such a thick jacket today. I look for his dog; when grown ups come to the park it’s to let their dogs run around. But there’s no dog. He’s just standing near Ryan’s ball, smoking. Staring at us. At Da. He’s one of them. He knows we’re the other lot ’cos we’re on our side. He drops his cigarette. Stamps it with his boot. Maybe he’ll go now he’s finished smoking and we’ll be able to sneak across, get Ryan’s ball.
He doesn’t go. He straightens up, looks at the ball, then at us. He points to the ball, then to us. Ryan steps forward and nods but Da grabs his shoulder, yanking him back. The man doesn’t say anything, though he’s close enough to. Da doesn’t say anything either. He just hisses “ssshh” to Ryan. But it doesn’t matter ’cos the man saw Ryan nod, knows it’s Ryan’s ball. He picks it up. He’s gonna throw it over. He nods us a “get ready, here it comes” nod. Ryan wriggles out of Da’s grip and stretches to catch the ball. The man smiles. He raises the ball over his head. Then he spins round, throws it away from us, deeper into their side. It flies for a bit, drops down, bounces and rolls under some bushes.
“Oi, that’s…” Ryan starts.
Da clips Ryan’s arm, shutting him up.
The man faces us. He unzips his jacket. He must be sweltered in it. He reaches inside, his right hand going towards his left armpit. We copped it at school once for making farting noises with our hands in our armpits. I don’t think the man’s gonna make farting noises.
Da pushes me behind him, reaches for Ryan, dragging him backwards.
“Lads,” he says to Mikey and Tommo who’re on his other side.
They edge near to me as Da steps forward so he’s in front of us. I lean around Da to check what the man’s doing. He still has his hand inside his jacket.
“Time to go,” Da mumbles. But he doesn’t turn so we don’t move. “Cian.”
“Head yourselves to the gates.”
“Are you not coming, Da?”
“In a minute.”
I look at Ryan, Tommo and Mikey. Ryan’s got a face like my frowny egg. He’s never getting his ball back. Mikey’s chewing his thumbnail. Tommo shrugs at me.
“Now, Cian,” Da hisses.