It is a year since I last saw him. He appeared one evening at the Rectory in Co Laois – in Dublin days he would have appeared most weeks, maybe Laois is too far out of the way. In June last year, he was looking for €500; he wanted it for a deposit to rent a house. ‘I don’t have €500, I’ll give you all I have in my wallet’. The contents of my wallet totalled €20.
Passing a traveller encampment at a French roadside this afternoon, I wondered what had has happened to him in the year since I saw him.
Sometimes his life seemed to go around in circles. I remember a June evening four years ago. He was sheepish when he arrived, standing at the front door and looking at his feet.
“How are you?”
“How’s the wife?”
“She’s gone these ten days, and the children with her.”
“Why would she take the children to Waterford?”
“They do have a women’s shelter there.”
“Why would she want to go to a women’s shelter?”
“Had you a row?”
“No we hadn’t, that’s the point. If we’d had a row I could understand it”.
“Have you phoned her mobile.”
“It does be switched off”.
“Have you phoned the shelter?”
“They wouldn’t tell me anything if I did”.
“What about the children? What about the school?”
“They do have school in the shelter. I got a summons about the boy not going to his school.
“What will you do?”
“Don’t know. Maybe I will go to try to find her.”
My heart had sunk. His wife had talked about going on the road again. She didn’t like the settled life. She had spent time in hospital with depression and I think she associated living in a house with her stays in hospital. Life on the road would mean the children would never receive the education they needed.
“Where will you go now?”
“Maybe I will try to go to Waterford”.
The €500 he sought last June for a deposit was because his wife had thrown him out; this time it had seemed a state of affairs that would last for some time. Perhaps they are reconciled, it seems unlikely that he would not have made another attempt at securing the money if he was still excluded from the family home.
Looking at the French caravans, pulled up on a muddy stretch of ground at the roadside, I wondered about a culture that that seemed to discriminate against women and allow the physical neglect of children. I wondered if it was permissible to ask such questions in France. If any other group needed constant help to get through problems that were endemic to their lifestyle, we would ask questions about that lifestyle. Whose interests are advanced by the exclusion of questions?