Not everybody left during the evacuation. Some people didn’t want to go with the crowd. Didn’t want to do what they were told. “Alternative facts…” “This is my home…” “Wha’ do them politicians know anyway…” Distrust. Anger. Suspicion. Fear. Posters and cardboard signs hung from lampposts and trees: STAY AND BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD. Or: STOP THE MACHINE. Or: IT IS NOT HE OR SHE OR THEM OR IT THAT YOU BELONG TO. These signs however, were now being spray-painted over with unintelligible signatures or pulled down and burnt. And at this point – no police, no emergency services, no WIFI, an increasing number of power outages, some looting, the odd march: “Hell no we won’t go…” – there was now boredom and a new kind of confusion and need for attention. “We should’ve left…” “We’re marchin’ but who’s listenin’, there’s lootin’ but who cares…” “Did you hear the latest rumours…” “Some sort of event…” “Disease…” “Global poxy warmin’…” “Why didn’t we just leave…” “Are we safe…”
Not everyone left during the evacuation.
A homeless man calling himself Soulbrother played the spoons and sang the blues. An alcohol inflected drawl, a hum and moan, raging against his mean old woman, whiskey, ancient and mispronounced Gods. He could be seen walking the Luas tracks, or sitting by them playing his spoons and singing in that way he does, but he spent most his time in the library. Nobody ever bothered him in the library and there he’d read books about spirituality and mythology, and smoke cigarettes and drink the whiskey and wine he stole. One day when the rain was particularly heavy the small shadow of a man darkened the library’s double doors. Soulbrother was sitting on the floor, unwanted books burning in a ring of stones, tapping his spoons absently and reading a book: Fools Journey: The Road to your Higher Self. To see who it was Soulbrother had to squint through the bluish smoke of burning books and cigarettes, and when the man came forward and Soulbrother saw his attire he bent his head heavenward and laughed. The priest looked at Soulbrother for a moment and said, “I lost my Bible,” and went searching among the shelves.
They had what they called Town Hall meetings (these meetings began to take place when the last of the Gardaí left: “Good riddance…” And the sound of helicopters could no longer be heard: “Thank fuck…”) either in the community centre or the church. The two buildings were beside each other and where the meetings convened normally depended on the general mood of the group. Today’s meeting took place in the church as the general mood was borderline hysterical with caustic mutterings of death and hell. The cause: the body of a young girl (yet unidentified, and the first person to be found dead since the evacuation) found in the park, her skin blistered, and what looked like blood coming from her eyes. “Ah here…” “We should all leave, now…” “Disease…” “Biological warfare…” “Why won’t it stop raining…” “The water…” “My William is sick…” “Answer me this: Where the fuck are all the cats and dogs gone…” At the edge of the group, on a lone pew and largely ignored, Soulbrother spooned and hummed a mournful lament. Children began to cry. The priest raised his hands: “We should give her a proper funeral and bury her…” “Yeah…” “We can’t leave…” “Dig a grave out in that, ye mad…” “Is she contagious…” A small group got shovels and dug a grave out the back of the church and buried her there. The priest said mass in which he offered gluten free body of Christ. Some joined in and prayed, others simply sat and stared. When mass finished it was decided to meet again the following evening. “We need time to think…” “Sleep on it…” “Time…”
The priest returned with a big hardback Bible for children, turning it in his hands. He stood close to the fire, taking in its heat without saying anything.
“You gonna take tha’ back to the church, colour it in?” Soulbrother asked.
The priest didn’t look at him. “You going to just sit there, die of an overdose or something?”
“Wow, easy brother.”
The priest turned, “I’m your brother?”
“We’re all brothers in Gods eyes, aren’t we?”
“You find God?”
“Nah. I’m like the wanderer Odin, hung from that tree and his eye robbed on him. I’ve found wisdom.” He tapped his temple with a mischievous finger and fixed the priest with his yellow grin and bloodshot eyes.
“Really,” the Priest crouched down on his hunkers, placed the hardback children’s Bible on the ground and held out his hands to the fire. “How did you manage that?”
Soulbrother sucked on his teeth and shed in an instant all joviality. “Well, ye see, I tried to burn meself alive…”
The priest cleared his throat into the silence and repositioned himself so he was sitting, facing Soulbrother, who now had a cigarette in his mouth, and not having a lighter or not bothering to look for it, leaned his face close to the fire so his eyes reflected flames and his skin was bright and pasty, and lit the cigarette.
“You obviously didn’t do a very good job of it,” the priest said.
Soulbrother showed the priest his middle finger.
The priest feigned offence, and then quietly asked Soulbrother why he’d attempt, or want to attempt, such a thing.
“I wasn’t always homeless, ye know, didn’t always have addictions…” Soulbrother unscrewed a bottle of wine and took a sup, offered it to the priest and the priest shook his head and Soulbrother made a face and shook his head back. “Well, to make a short story shorter, everything I had was taken from me, they took everything I had, nothin’ I could do, just thrown to the curb like rubbish, not worth a shite… Anyway, I was obviously a little upset, and I suppose, in all me stupidity, wha’ I wanted was revenge. I wanted to show them wha’ they did to me… fuckin destroyed me, without battin’ a poxy eyelid… but how d’ye show them, show who exactly? Ye know. So I was drunk and angry and off me face on gear one day and had one of those, wha’ d’ye call them, ye know, moments…”
“Yeah, an epiphany,” Soulbrother laughed. “I saw the light, I wanted to go ou’ in a blaze of glory.” He stopped laughing. “I thought I could show them how much they hurt me by hurtin’ meself in the worsest way possible. I wanted to show them and I wanted everybody to see and say look wha’ they made him do, look wha’ they did to him, ye know. It was like a protest or somethin’.” He laughed again. “A one man protest: me, some petrol, and a lighter, one sunny Sunday afternoon…” He sang these last words, tapped his tragic spoons.
“But you didn’t do it?”
“Well, keep holy the Sabbath.”
“You couldn’t do it?”
“I shoulda known, really. There’s a place in town, they let me in sometimes for somthin’ hot, ye know, tea or soup or whatever, and I was makin’ a cuppa tea in there tha’ mornin’ and spilt some boilin’ water on me hand and it fuckin hurt, and I thought to meself, jaysus, this isn’t gonna be all peaches and cream, ye know.”
The priest laughed despite himself. “Where were you planning on doing it?”
“Outside the Dail.”
“Ahh… So what happened? You had an epiphany outside the Dail?”
“Well, I got there, some petrol in a water bottle in one hand and a lighter in the other, and I just stood there like a gobshite lookin’ at the lighter and bottle for I dunno how long, and eventually… me body just went all shaky and I started to cry… yeah, couldn’t do it. And I realised then tha’ I am wha’ I am… a fuck-up, a coward…”
The fire crackled and popped, smoke twisted along its vanishing path. “You don’t have to be those things,” the priest said. “Life is change, potential…” but the priest trailed off as though embarrassed, ran a palm across his hardback children’s Bible. Soulbrother didn’t speak, and the priest asked, “What did you do?”
Soulbrother exhaled a long tired lungful of smoke. “I cried, sat there and cried, people walkin’ past me lookin’ at me funny. Sat like that for a while then went to where me dealer lives – I’d picked up a nice shiny iron bar on me travels – and I robbed him, took all his, ye know…”
“I’m pretty sure he’s dead.”
“What makes you say that?”
“I gave him a fair few smacks of tha’ bar.”
“You should come with me, back to the church.”
The priest looked around. “Why here? Why the library?” Nodded at Fools Journey. “Why the books?”
Soulbrother flicked the end of his cigarette into the fire. “Lotta questions there brother, I’ve talked enough. Wha’ ‘bou’ you, what’s your story, why’d ye stay? Help the sick and needy, tha’ sorta shite?”
The Priest sighed, “I’ll stay as long as there are people here that need…”
The priest ran his fingers through his hair and Souldbrother thought then the priest looked very young and very tired. “We choose to believe in certain things because we need faith,” the priest said. “People need Faith in something outside themselves, something, beyond…” he looked around, “beyond this.”
“Has your faith been rattled, brother?”
“Wha’ ‘bou’ tha’ girl?”
“All the more reason for a priest to be here,” and with that the priest grabbed his hardback children’s Bible and stood up. “So I better be off.”
“Wha’ happened your bible?” Soulbrother asked after him
“I lost it.”
“Oh yeah? Don’t believe ye.”
“I… got rid of it, kind of like you, it was a… protest. You sure you won’t come with me? I’ve seen you at other Town Hall meetings.”
“Nah, brother, I’ll give this one a miss.” And Soulbrother picked up his bottle of wine, supped and sang, “I’ve been down to the crossroads…”
The priest left him to it.
Hazy rain and a melancholy twilight found them gathered outside the community centre, fearful the church air had been contaminated by some unknown disease. “Airborne, tellin’ ye…” It was a smaller crowd than the night before as some had already packed their things and left in the night. Others now wore scarves around their mouths. One woman wore a belt of onions to ward off rouge germs. “It’s one of those new diseases…” “An epidemic…” “Stricter immigration laws…” The priest offered to say a prayer before they began but was angrily shouted down: “We need to figure out wha’ to do…” “We should leave…” The bass drone of agitation and fear. “People are overreacting…” “This is wha’ the Government want…” “Scare tactics…” “She had blood comin’ from her eyes for fuck sake…” “Conspiracy…” Voices echoed in the cold, in the light that remained. Voices shouted down the other, became more heated, more frightened. A little girl covered her ears. An elderly man bowed his head. A woman’s screech cut through the noise: “My William is sick, my William, my William…” “Shut her up…” The priest went to her and tried to calm her down. The woman held her son tight against her chest. “Can anyone help…” A bald man approached and the woman reluctantly released her son and the bald man turned the boy in his arms and as he did so the boy’s whole body trembled violently. “Seizure…” There were blisters on his skin and the boys eyes rolled up into his head so only the whites could be seen, and blood, tiny tears of blood, gathered there and trickled down his cheeks, and the bald man gasped and dropped the boy to the ground. The woman screamed: “What did you… my William, my William…” “Wha’ the fu-…” “It’s spreadin’…” “Was it your man…” “He killed my William…” A punch hit the bald man on the ear. Then another. Then a kick. The bald man swung his own punch. Someone tried to help the bald man and they too were attacked. A woman grabbed Williams’s mother by the hair. “Will you ever…”
All around, the rising din of violence. And everything, finally, was chaos.
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