Last time I saw Joseph, he was cradling his new-born in one hand, and nursing the TV remote in the other. Hurling championship season was in full-swing and, despite landing in the middle of the game uninvited, he didn’t let his irritation show. The remaining smallies were shooed from the sofa where I was beckoned to take a seat by the slap of a cushion. We traded reassurances on how well the other was looking, making brief pit-stops along the general welfare of our common acquaintances before abandoning the small-talk that never suited either of us.
With his homeland victorious in securing independence, there was much to rejoice about but still too much to fear. The Chinese would continue their aggressive advance from afar through ill-gotten seizure of oil rights; and political instability and residue from civil war will see to it that the country will be characterised by chaos for years to come. But it was a good day, he reminded himself. Even The Mayor hosted a reception for him and his compatriots. He joked they had risen to status of local celebrity though conceded it wasn’t quite in the same league as the County team. It didn’t take him long to get hooked on the game, and he proudly explained two of his sons were showing an impressive flair for it. With that one of them floated in with a hurley and a greeting in an accent flatter than the more mountainous song he had on arrival.
Lately, Joseph had become increasingly pre-occupied with other family members left behind. The phone-calls he is making now are less concerned with chasing up delayed social welfare payments than getting help to start the arduous procedure of family reunification. With little guarantee of it leading anywhere. He interpreted and reinterpreted my silent nodding until he had sculpted an answer that made the best sense to himself. “I have no choice but to try. It is my responsibility”. His speech slowed down as it always did when it came to matters grave; the lilting distinctive roll on his Rs serving as italics for the key word. I wrapped my mind in the branches of his voice and stayed there for as long as I could. Its roots run seven hundred miles down into his soul.
Scratching his scarred head with his remaining fingers, he tried to remember what it was he was going to say. Within minutes we had both forgotten how we got on to the subject of goats. I sunned myself in the rays of his laugh and smiled on hearing the sound I never fail to recollect in the silence of my memories. I noted a new fireguard surrounding the entire fireplace. For at least two agencies, this will be ticked as an indicator of the family’s successful resettlement. I could almost hear the heave of relief from the same bureaucrats on spotting all the curtains were opened at the front of the house. A sure sign they were fast becoming one of us.
For others, their resettlement was measured by their English language proficiency; their orientation of the welfare system; their ability to pay bills on time; dress neatly; keep their houses respectable; their meat in the fridge, their windows regularly opened; their bins out in the right order; their appointments on time, their clock on the wall forward or back an hour as required; their hand willingly clasped in that of another wringing at the injustice of it all or how wonderful they are. Aren’t they just wonderful? All around them, paternalism jives with charity, which in turn arm-wrestles empowerment for the determinants of doing OK.
It took taking my leave for him to mention the talking he’s being doing; in Dublin, in confidence. The flashbacks have not deserted him but there are ways to make them hurt less. I was instructed to stay safe, to not leave it so long till next time, and bring that man of mine back to meet his brother. And with that came one last laugh as I waved my way backwards down the path passing the bin left out as I departed.
This being International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, I think of Joseph. Survivor against all odds. A man who made it through unspeakable experiences who went on to impress the natives with his ability to get the bus to Dublin unaccompanied. A journey to the only available specialist services in the country that remain at the mercy of further cuts. Some curtains remain firmly shut to the reality of life for others.
A very different, curtain-opening perspective. Thank you.
Tis a strange aul world we live in.
A thought provoking piece, thank you. Interesting how First World Folks mark how someone else fits in, because you’re right, it’s all about the order of the bins going out. And yet we forget that sometimes our civil rights can be forgotten too
Indeed. A man can come through incomprehensible adversity yet ‘adapting’ to European living is based on the most superficial of criteria.