A story written for the upcoming Visible Ink competition. The theme is after the rain. So I figured I would use that phrase as the title and the last line. Any bonus points that are to be grabbed are mine for sure!
- The Egg Party
After the rain
by The Egg Party
When I would ask her if she would go to back to Ireland, her homeland, after she divorced my Father her reply was always the same, 'No. It's too bloody cold. And wet'. After time passed I usually followed it up with the question of whether she would become an Australian citizen. It was usually just my smart arse way of invalidating one of her stark opinions of the Australian political system. You can't complain about it without proper voting representation. To that query all I got was, 'No. What if I get conscripted?' My fifty something year old Mum was worried about the Queen sending her to the front line.
Many people want you to hate the Crown when you're born in Ireland. Similar to tourists wanting Melbournians and Sydney-siders to degrade each other. Good conversation I guess. More interesting than talking about the weather. Ha ha. I am now quite ambivalent towards the monarchy. It has slowly dawned on me that it will be an inevitable part of the society I live in. For the time being. Especially after the heart breaking referendum we all lived through.
I was having a Guinness a few years ago at Freehills Tavern, a little tobacco stained dive in Crumlin, Dublin. I was drinking with my Uncle and Grandfather, George Junior and Senior respectively. The pub was the first place I ever worked. When I was fifteen living in Dublin I went for a job there as a lounge boy. A glamorous title. You could be under eighteen and work in a pub so long as you didn't pour the drinks, only carry them to the awaiting tables.
The owner asks me, 'how old are you son?'
'Fifteen' I reply.
He looked sideways at me then asked, 'Are you sure you're not sixteen?' To my surprise I aged a whole year in the space of ten dumb struck seconds.
A rumpled man came to the table and stopped to say hello to my Grandfather. They left together to place a couple of pounds on a race around the corner at the Horseshoe.
When they left my Uncle tells me, 'that guy that your Granddad left with goes by the name of Jellybean and he's a former IRA member. Stole a bus for the cause and got a lengthy stint in jail'.
Gossip and Scandal! I took a minute to process that nugget and then asked, 'You know, Uncle, I have been asked many times about the Troubles and such. What do you think? What's your take on the whole thing?'
'Well. Oisín. Truth be told it does not matter any more. Though I would ask you not to shout that around the place. There are many who still want Ireland to be whole and independent. Does not fucking mean a thing now we're joining the European Union. Independence takes a back seat. Europe is an amalgamated mass now, a team'.
Republicans in Australia are rarer these days after the royals pushed out some family members too young to publicly fuck up. At the very least the separatists have unspoken opinions. Because, you know, everybody loves a baby. Both my parents come from colonially influenced countries; my mother from the Republic of Ireland and my Father from Malaysia. Both part of the British Empire's pie at one stage or another. Both now their own sovereign nations. They too had to accept the monarchy as background tabloid nonsense. Ain't no use shouting, 'Merdeka!', or, 'Ourselves Alone!', in the streets of Australia.
With that said the crown has played a pivotal role in the history of my immediate family. My parents met when they were both living and studying in London. My Mother studied nursing, my Father computer science. They moved to Ireland together, setting up their life in the small county of Donegal. All us children were born there and were blessed with European passports.
I imagine my Father being an odd sight in Donegal Town. He lived there long enough that his Malaysian-English had an Irish lilt. People conversing with him for the first time were put on their toes. The general idea of a mixed marriage in the town was between a Catholic and a Protestant. A foreign commodity in a place so isolated that the only 'Oriental' food establishment's most popular dish was chips with curry sauce. I try to imagine the transition from Segamut, Malaysia to his new home. Malaysia, a place of two seasons: dry and wet. To Ireland, a damp country besieged by a continual march of clouds. In hindsight our eventual migration to the driest inhabited continent on Earth makes more sense.
Years later on a trip back to Dublin for my Granddad’s eightieth birthday I found myself doing the rounds of the various extended family. I was sitting in my Uncle's house. The dinner was filling and thick and we sat drinking beer afterwards. My uncle Desmond was smoking inside his plush dining room, the rest of the family having left to do various activities. I was unaccustomed to the sight of combining smoke and grandeur from my Australian upbringing. Mum said she had never met anyone else in her life that relished the act of smoking as much as he.
It was grey and raining. I would have left hours ago but I have a severe distaste for flimsy umbrellas and being wet. We got onto the topic of my parents. Des hadn't seen me since my parents split many months and miles away.
'Oisín', he said, pausing to drag, 'how are you feeling about it all? The divorce I mean'.
'Well, you know, it is for the best. As they say. They spent a long time not getting along on account of wanting to give it there best attempt at patching things up. Problem was Dad had shut down. In his later life he became more of a 'traditional' Malaysian man. His words. Wouldn't talk about love, life or finances, to him it was men's business. So they just stopped communicating. Lost a fair bit of respect for the old man unfortunately. His mistakes reflected my own too succinctly'.
'For the best then?'
'Yeah. I actually kinda flipped out at them before the split. They didn't talk much about the issues they were having with each other. Dad slept on the couch in the living room for a crazy length of time, maybe somewhere in the region of a year. I told them to fucking sort it out or at least explain the situation'.
'For the best'.
'Yeah. You know they are so estranged now that I have lost perspective of how they got along in the first place'.
'That is a difficult idea. It could be said about any relationship once it is done, after the immense love has transformed into something else. I will say this. Your Dad was a pretty exciting guy when he met me and all the siblings'. There were lots. 'They did love each other at the time. In my opinion. Look. How about you let me tell you of the story of meeting him for the first time'.
First I'll give you some imagery to help Des' story out. As a young man, my Dad looked a lot like Bruce Lee. As an old man there is no current age comparison. God rest Bruce's soul. He was attractive enough that when back in Malaysia he worked as a male model. A cat walk model at that. My Aunt Nelly said that her girlfriends used to call him Red on account of a particular pair of burgundy bell-bottoms he loved. Also wore these giant fucking glasses.
There is not a public figure that I can use to make an easy comparison for Mum. She also had a fondness for huge glasses. Her hair started going white when she was seventeen. She had to raise all her siblings due to her being the oldest of six. Her Mum, my Grandmother, walked out on the family when she was a teenager. It could be said that the stress caused the premature hair colour. But that is only conjecture. She described her teens and early adult life as a continual babysitting job. She spent much of her spare time reading and imagining the outside world. Soon as her brothers and sister were old enough she got out of there and went to London where she met my Father. So we are up to date, right? I'll let Des finish then.
'I remember your Mum coming back from London with this new fellah. Now mind you Oisín we never met many, if any, Asian people on account of living in the outskirts of Dublin'.
'I can imagine'.
'So this guy, looking like the Wing Chun master Bruce Lee comes to the door and straight away we are all asking him “can you do karate?”, Des lights another cigarette, 'Your Da says “course I can” without dropping the beat'.
'Well that is news to me too. Maybe I just never thought to ask him growing up. Or I have forgotten'. Mum revealed later that the only karate my Dad ever knew was gained from watching kung fu movies. Perhaps even the same ones watched by the curious children in Dublin.
'I can't tell you. Anyway we all asked him to prove it, you know, show us some karate skills. Without saying another word, your Da goes up to the door that led from the lounge to the kitchen. He reached up to the top of the door with a coin in his hand...'
Des was then standing to illustrate the point. Des took a fifty pence coin out of his pocket and placed it on top of the the open door. He starts stretching his hands, one occupied by the cigarette the other emphasising the story.
'… and then your Da then steps back, preparing himself. He took two steps forward, jumped, and kicked the coin off the door. Most fucking amazing thing I had ever seen. He casually lands and catches the coin mid air. Fuckin' catches it'.
Des looked at his empty palm as he finished. He still had a level of awe in his eyes.
I was silent for a few moments digesting this phenomenal act of confidence and bravado.
'I know your Da has somewhat fallen out of light in which you once saw him. But consider this story when you see that serious Malaysian man he has become now'.
We talked about other things but I was distracted and my uncle could see it. So we hugged and parted ways.
Reinvention is rarely considered fully unless it pertains to oneself. It is especially hard to imagine for a parent. I left and contemplated what I had heard as I walked back to my bed, after the rain.