Gary was already sitting at the table. He must’ve slipped in while the kettle was declaring its readiness. Upright, armed with an A4 folder, he usually assumes the role of dispenser of closed questions that pre-empt all answers. A conversational tic that keeps the mood light and away from awkward cul-de-sacs. This evening was no different.
“You’re needing a holiday by the looks of ya. You’ll be glad to get it”. Couldn’t argue with that.
David followed, pebbled dashed in freckles he’d picked up on a knock-down price holiday to Turkey. He and the family stayed within expertise-assuming distance of an ISIS controlled peninsula where it wouldn’t be unusual to see a few Kalashnikovs touted above heads of youngsters with little idea what they’re using them for. Everyone laughed the laugh that’s casual shorthand between folk reared within a square mile of where they sat. He went on to explain the geographical nuances of the region, oozing the ease, softer enunciation and ten-year-younger glow of a man who had the luck to be able to brandish a pen above his head in lecture halls instead. Even if he wasn’t altogether sure what he was arguing about at the time. Wisdom can’t be learned, it can only be lived. And even then…
Sean and Carole dismissed the offer of tea with a synchronised stretch of their palms as they apologised for being late. That traffic’s a killer. The Council are useless. Public services are a joke round here. Eamonn McCann has always said the people of the North have more that unites than separates them. The everyday exchanges between these chequered folk prove it but they rarely matter to anyone unconcerned with everyday matters round here.
A quick re-cap then straight to the critical question. How did you get on since? One of those catch-all questions equally applicable to the mundane and the malevolent. An open question that works at the speed of the answer that can’t be pre-empted. With everyday matters, one can never be sure.
Carole broke off the nap her chin was enjoying on her thumbs. Concentrating on wiping away invisible crumbs from the table, she felt confident her people would have no problem working together with the other people’s peoples. She only had time to speak to half of them, and the half she spoke to couldn’t envisage any arguments against it from the other half.
“There’s nothing to lose at this stage”, she wistfully announced working the last stubborn spot of the non-stain.
How did everyone else get on?
“If it means us all having a chance at getting the money, then we’d have no problem with it either”. A more tempered show of enthusiasm from an unsubtle Gary; softened by Sean’s insistence that it makes sense. That was mere seconds before he went to expose the delicacy of common sense by insisting everyone was dancing round it.
David had kept his head down throughout the exchange in earnest contemplation. His affirmative nod was out before his words. All this single identity work, he bellowed. How many more years of it can they really get out of it? If each community hasn’t managed to get on with itself by now then it’s never going to happen. And the arrogance of us to think we’re the only two communities out there. There’s more than us! His hands raised aloft in lieu of a Chrissake he hadn’t the stomach to add. Either way, his people had no problem. Buiochas le Dia, he thought to himself. Probably.
Shuffling awkwardly in her seat, Carole wondered at about the other crowd.
“What about them?”, responded Gary in rhetorical unease hoping everyone would move on.
Layers of imaginary dust were wiped from the table before everyone conceded to the need to bring them on board; to give them the opportunity to prove everybody right by giving them first flat refusal to sign up. No-one pointed out this other group had never been asked before. Just like they hadn’t been with any speed, and who knew it would go this distance. Besides, what’s a few years of cold shoulders between groups essentially united under the one union jack when you think about it? But isn’t that the problem – thinking about it. No-one thinks about it out loud.
The thirty seconds of silence were meant as a resigned approval of what must happen.
“See how you get on”
An order to point the shuttle in a sideways direction.
As if by some afterthought that too much had been conceded, Gary issued a two-week deadline till the next gathering. Carole politely asked if putting it back half an hour would be better. The traffic and all. Sean echoed her request, claiming it would give him time for a shower after coming in from a day’s work covered in paint, and David cautioned against inviting the flies in next time. The annoying wee bastards.
Ordinary people; doing everyday things.