Whenever I visit Dublin, I notice an ever-increasing number of homeless people on the streets. Things have certainly changed since I lived there, and not for the better.
I’m currently trying to put together a charity book, with the proceeds going to a charity for the homeless, but I seem to be hitting lots of dead ends. In the meantime, I thought I’d post a piece of short fiction that was shortlisted for a competition back in December. It’s only a small gesture and does little to help, but hopefully my bigger plan will come together soon.
This is dedicated to all the homeless people in Ireland and across the world…
The young woman is tired and clammy as she reluctantly heads home, pushing against the revelers in Santa hats and slinky outfits. Under the Christmas lights on O’Connell, their gentle blinking, she can almost pretend that she too will celebrate until the small hours, in a silver party dress, unburdened by the illness she still denies, not ready to wear the label just yet.
The young man is cold and homeless, but insists on smiling. Slumped against the humped city bridge, he watches people hurry by, imagining them to be friendly while they pretend he’s invisible. He marvels how the padlocks that the council had removed are starting to return – as though love can only work if it is shackled.
When the woman hears singing, the unmistakable force of Handel’s Messiah wending its way through the air, she changes directions, resists the urge to hurry like she would have even one month ago, before symptoms or diagnosis. The music warms her, and she fantasizes about what it would be like to tell just one person of her sorrows.
When the man hears voices spiralling, his heart starts dreaming. Memories of a young boy’s Christmas when he still believed in the gifts of angels. He follows the melody until he reaches the edge of a crowd in Temple Bar. He forgot his mother’s face long ago, but he remembers how sweetly she hummed this, her favourite oratorio, and how she swayed in time to the tune.
They stand side by side, their eyes locked on the choir, as though looking away might shatter the beauty. As the woman stumbles, the man catches her arm, forgetting to be invisible. ‘Y’all right, love?’ he asks. ‘Yes.’ ‘Are you sick?’ ‘Yes.’ The words escapes and hovers between them. The man doesn’t ask any more, but holds her until she’s steady. Then slowly, without thinking, he leads her in a shuffling dance.
The man hasn’t gathered enough hostel money anyway, so he invites her for a drink. She says it’s her shout, it’s the least she can do, and wonders – how can a person do more? They go to a place neither of them knows. The music is too loud, and they only make it to the dance floor, where disco lights dapple them with silver. They stay an hour longer than they intend and say goodbye without touching.
On the Luas the next day, the woman touches the spot where the man caught her. The pain is different now. Tender, like the bravery growing inside her. Maybe she could tell just one more person? She wonders where the man will sleep tonight, whether she would offer him a bed if their paths crossed again. She walks home via Temple Bar, even though it’s out of her way.
And the man is still cold and homeless, but last night he danced with an angel dressed in silver lights that glittered with possibility, like the ripples on the Liffey on this, another day.