Late evening, Dublin city centre. It’s 10.19 as I arrive at my lemon yellow lollipop Dublin Bus stop. I have 11 minutes to wait. I’m tired yet buzzing after my sub-editing shift on the newspaper.
Friday night is a busy one on the sports desk, with Irish Premier Division football match reports in late and stats to hurry out to press. It’s hectic but exhilarating. Especially after you hit that sign-out button on the Mac menu.
Lower Gardiner Street late at night is an interesting place. The architecture is distinguished: original terraces of four-storey brick early 18th century Georgian townhouses over raised basements with original cast iron window boxes, sash windows and vividly painted doors with fan windows arced above them.
A lot more distinguished than the often shady folk who drift in and out of many of these once elegant portals late at night.
You take the rough with the smooth around here, trying to look like you belong as you wait, one eye on the illuminated bus timetable and the other noting any suspicious movement in your direction.
My stop is outside a B & B called The Town House, which actually occupies two adjoining townhouses, and outside the open door of the one on my left a gaggle of late teenage girls, all in pyjamas or dressing-gowns, are huddled under a thick umbrella of swirling cigarette smoke and giggling gossip.
Nine minutes to wait now.
Down the steps of the second of the two townhouses comes a thick set, sandy-haired young man, in jumper and saggy jeans, his eyes half closed as he barely acknowledges the ‘Howya” from one of the gaggle.
He stands about two feet away from me, but does not acknowledge my presence as he stops and with furrowed brow, ponders his next move. I’m hoping it will not involve me.
He rubs the back of his fleshy neck before suddenly lurching over to the railings outside the premises he had just left.
Both hands on the spikes, he shouts up to an open window on the second floor:
“Rianna, throw us down a smoke, will ya? … an’ a lighter in a box … Rianna! …”
Seven minutes to my bus.
Rianna does not immediately let down her hair, or cigarette and lighter in a box, so her pavement paramour pushes himself back from the railings, squares his stance — he is now about a foot away from me — and bellows upwards:
“RIANNA … PLEASE DARLIN’ … A LIGHTER AN’ A CIGARETTE … IN A BOX … ASAP … RIANNA!! … ”
All of Gardiner Street can hear our cigarette-struck Romeo now and his Rianna, a blonde-haired poppet who does not look much older than my own daughter K, materialises at her casement, and lets down her treasure.
The lovestruck Romeo of the Dire Straits classic may have “sang the streets of serenade”, but this one just wants his shot of nicotine.
“AH THANKS RIANNA … thanks darlin’ …” the great Gardiner Street serenader acknowledges now, no longer in dire straits.
He sets off up the path, actually more of a stumbling lope, his head still turned towards the Town House, and still talking to his Rianna.
He makes that cupping of an imaginary phone to the ear thing we do as he tells her. “I’ll talk to that fella too, yeah?”
“Love you” he signs off, his eyes still not fully open, as he turns to focus on his mission.
He “Finds a convenient streetlight steps out of the shade
Says something like you and me babe how about it?
You and me babe how about it”
No, he doesn’t. He suddenly lurches to his left, out into the street.
It may be late but this is a still a busy thoroughfare, and our man with a hazy plan, sways out into it all, ignoring a car, a van and two buses — or rather they avoid him — as he pauses, legs splayed far apart for unsteady balance, in the centre of the road, to extract his cigarette and carefully light it, and with a contented shrug of his shoulders continues his crossing.
Two minutes to my bus.
He is nearly at the opposite path, and is just putting way the box Rianna had thrown down to him, when, BANG!, he walks face first into a signpost on the far pavement.
The sign-struck Romeo bounces backwards, still upright somehow, out into the road again — luckily there was no vehicle passing at that moment — steadies his jellied legs and throws both hands up to the tormenting heavens as he turns to eyeball the offending signpost and cry out:
“AH FER FUCK’S SAKE … WHAT THE FUCK, LIKE? …”
The signpost has nothing to say. It has been here forever, unhidden and unheralded but sure of its place on these streets of serenade, and then this idiot Romeo comes by …
But our man has things to do, people to call, and, still rubbing his face angrily, he hits the pavement again, stumbles on and vanishes stage left around a brick corner.
A minute later my bus arrives and I am up and away from Lower Gardiner Street and its sighing Riannas, waiting on their balconies or in huddled street families outside for their smoking Romeos to lope by.
Cut off from from these city streets now I am gazing out on through my perspex casement, thinking more of Rianna above and those young girls smoking outside the Town House below.
Making the best of things, I suppose. But far from the more salubrious paths that life might offer.
And I think of my daughter K, and how shielded and removed she is from all this, and how much we and she have to be grateful for.
If only she would realise this too.
But in fairness to her, it’s been a good spell with our demanding 14-year-old princess. There have been outbursts and demands, but nothing really extreme, and longer gaps between these episodes.
And more conversations, stating of positions without rancour. Talking things through.
And that afternoon late last week I was sitting in the front room, reading a Sunday supplement, and my poppet appeared at the door, to hand me in a tall glass with a straw peeping out of it.
“Oh … what’s that?”
“It’s a strawberry smoothie, I thought you might like one”
“Ah gee thanks, sweetie …”
That’s our girl.
You just have to take the rough with the smoothie.