Swinging through the Rectory gates at 6.30 pm, a familiar sight awaited, a Traveller whom I have known for the past eleven years.
“How are you?” he said. “I was looking for you up in Dublin; they told me that you had moved down here. I’ve been waiting since four. A girl in the school told me you lived here”.
“How are things?”
“Not good. The wife has put me out and I’m living in that old van there. I stay with friends around the place. Sometimes though, I don’t get to wash for days”.
“Did you go to prison or not?”
“I got two months, but they never put me in prison. There’s something about an appeal”.
A TD had told me he was in prison, but he clearly was not.
“What about your family”?”
“She won’t have me back. I’ve nowhere to go”.
“What about the council?”
“All they’ll give me is a flat. I don’t want a flat. If I had five hundred quid, I could get a second hand caravan and put it in someone’s garden”.
“Did you ask the council?”
“No, they’re no good. A caravan is what I need”.
“Listen, I’ve a meeting to go out to. There’s twenty quid, that’s half of what I have in my wallet”.
“You couldn’t raise the five hundred somewhere?”
“No, I couldn’t raise the five hundred somewhere”.
I gave him €500 once, it was to pay a month’s advance rent on the house in which his wife and family now live, it was to get them off the roadside. If he had been put out, it was because he had resorted to the behaviour that had driven them to the women’s refuge on a number of occasions.
He went off, sullenly. He will return. It was on Thursday evening that he called. Thinking about him this evening, there was a feeling of having been daft to give him €20. He was not a victim, but was more comparable to the loathsome Pat Baines in Paul Smith’s novel The Countrywoman
Three things contrived to go wrong with Pat Baines that Saturday. The first was when the ward sister came up to where he lay on the broad of his back in the corner bed in St. Jude’s and told him in her concise voice that it was time he got up and out as they needed his bed. The second was that the minute the news of his departure spread from bed to bed and even across the landing into the next ward, men came running with demands for payment for tobacco and newspapers that he owed them. And this led up to the third, because by the time he met their demands, which were small but many, he had exactly one penny left out of the seven-and-six relief money that Mrs. Baines had collected the day before and sent up to him by Neddo. The result of his having no money meant that he had to walk all the way from what was called Number One James’s Street past endless pubs in Thomas and Francis streets through the Coomb, lined with more pubs, even past those in Kevin and Camden streets where on other days he had lorded it grandly while he downed whisky faster than the barman could pour it. But today he was forced to walk by them without as much as a drink of water passing his lips, although at a couple of pubs where he considered he was well known enough to be able to run up the price of a couple of drinks until another day, the barmen had politely refused, pointing out in case it had escaped his notice the cardboard propped against a row of bottles: “Do not Ask for Credit as a Refusal Often Offends.” Pat Baines was offended and said so but was unable to do anything other than mutter a cursed advice as to what they might do with the drink they refused him.
As usual he considered that his wife and children were responsible for the torture of his walk from the Union and for his agony of longing for even one drink. Filled with resentment, he kaleidoscopically attributed the rest of his bad luck to them also, starting from the moment the nun asked him to leave the hospital up to the last barman’s rebuff. It never dawned on him that his wife and children were more unaware of Sister Eustace and her existence than she was of theirs, or that even if they were not, they were still as powerless about getting him asked to leave as her decision that he should do so was unquestionably final in its authority. It would have suited him to lie up another week in his bed in the corner with nothing to do all day but sleep, eat and read and be waited on hand and foot by the remnants of men who for one reason or another found existence within the prisonlike walls surrounding Number One easier than trying to live outside.
Putting up with the Pat Baines of the world has lasted too long. Perhaps the man’s arrival at the doorstep is a positive thing, a sign his family will no longer tolerate his wrecking of their lives.