Our meetings are less frequent now. He calls at Christmas – and when emergencies arise. Yesterday, I posted him grocery vouchers. I have known him since 1999. He appeared here this time ten years ago:
“I nearly collided with Eddie (not his real name) as I swung in towards the gate. I pulled up on the hard shoulder to get out off the path of traffic coming up the dual carriageway. He got out of his car and walked up alongside my car, standing in the nearside carriageway.
“Eddie, would you go back to your car before you’re killed. I will go and turn around.”
I swung back into the rush hour traffic and drove down to the roundabout to double back on myself and make a second attempt on my gateway.
It was bitterly cold, there was a gale force wind and the rain was falling. Eddie had no coat; his twelve year old son was dressed in no more than a polo shirt and jeans.
Eddie is a Traveller. He and his family are settled in a house the past couple of years. They were in a house before but were intimidated out of it. Eddie tries to avoid places and people where there is trouble. He is a gentle character who spends much of his time looking after his children in his own way. His wife is prone to very deep depression and is often in hospital care. Eddie spends most of his time driving around in his old Ford Escort, I suspect his main item of expenditure each week is the petrol he puts into the car, which never seems to pass a month without some new mechanical fault.
I see Eddie every week because I give him a few quid. I think he has a round of places where he calls. This evening he arrived from somewhere he had been given a bag of bread and had been promised meat next week.
I suppose, in contemporary Ireland, he should be working, but his wife would find it difficult to cope alone. Trying to get four boisterous kids to school and back and to keep them out of trouble, on the sort of housing estate where we would turn the car around and get out much more quickly than we had driven in, would drain the energies of the most resourceful person.
Eddie lives on the edge of the law. He would like to move out of the estate, but the house in which he lives is owned by landlord who has somehow bypassed the gas meter, making it more attractive to tenants at no extra cost to himself. Eddie felt the wrongdoing was on the part of the landlord, (“it’s also dangerous,” I told him) but he says it’s the first time he has lived somewhere warm.
Despite the wind and rain and despite having the few quid I had given him in his hand, Eddie wanted to talk this evening. He wanted to tell me about an old man he knew whose house had been raided and from where a woman had been kidnapped. I hadn’t heard the story but I don’t think Eddie would ever tell me a lie and when I checked the news, it was true. A Traveller wanted his wife, who had left him, back home for Christmas, so had taken the direct route. “I don’t think that’s the way to get your wife back,” Eddie said.
“Eddie,” I said, “it’s the way to get yourself into Mountjoy.”
“Hmmm,” he pondered.
Our lives were so far apart that I’m not sure he saw kidnapping your own wife as necessarily criminal; any more than bypassing the gas meter was necessarily criminal. Occasionally, like our cars at the gateway, our worlds meet, and then we go our separate ways.”
Ten years on, we are still meeting.