The gate of the cottage garden opened directly onto a road where a vehicle might legally travel at a hundred kilometres an hour. Sitting among other buildings on a rise in the ground at a bend in the road, it might be easy to drive the route without ever noticing the cottage was there. If one drove at a speed approaching the limit, there would not have been opportunity to take in details of the small low building set a dozen or so feet back from its roadside gateway.
The place had about it an air of neglect and it would not have been unreasonable to assume that one of the modern bungalows in the townland had been a replacement for the grey, slate roofed dwelling, that a twenty first century family would have found the cramped space and basic amenities not adequate for the times.
The discovery that the cottage was occupied came one summer’s day as he drove northward on the main road. In the gateway stood a woman of an indeterminate age, who waved as if for him to stop. Lowering the nearside window of the car, he had leant across to inquire if all was well. “I’m grand”, said the woman, “could I get a lift into the town”. He had gathered the items that had accumulated on the passenger seat and put them into the back. As the woman stepped into the car, traffic approaching from behind was braking hard before moving out to avoid him. “We are causing an obstruction here, we had better move”.
The woman looked at him as if he were speaking in a foreign language. He felt compelled to enlarge upon his comment. “The gateway there is not really a safe place to stop; there’s no place to pull off the road and the traffic goes quickly”.
The woman seemed unimpressed, “that’s my gate”.
“Do you ever take the bus into town?”
“The bus? The bus never goes at a time when I want to go to town. I stand at the gate until someone stops – as you did”,
No-one could argue with such logic. Anyone seeing someone waving for help at such an unlikely place would assume some emergency had occurred and would stop.
“Do you farm?”
“I did, but I have the land let, now. I keep a few acres and a few cattle to have something to do”.
“Where do you want to go in the town?”
“Either of the supermarkets will do. Sure let me out just before them; I go into both of them – to see what they have”.
“Will you take the bus back?”
“It depends if the bus suits me”.
Maybe the woman stood at the edge of the town with a hand raised in appeal to passing motorists. It was not a question of saving the fare – for her age would have allowed free travel – more, it seemed, a matter of convenience, if the timetable reflected her inclination.
Perhaps a month passed before he saw the woman again. Seeing her standing at the gate as he approached the bend, he slowed to a halt and opened the door. “Going to town?”
“I am”, she said and stepped into the car. “That was good timing, sometimes I have to wait a while”.
The following Saturday, as he walked down a street in the city centre, he saw the woman. Some shopping requirements must have brought her into the city. “How are you?” He asked as they passed each other.
“I’m well”, smiled the woman, and hurried on up the street.
“Who were you talking to?? asked his companion as they continued their walk to a cafe.
“A countrywoman to whom I have given a lift into the town a couple of times”.
No further comment passed between them, even the encounter slipped from the mind until it became a point to ponder.
A year or more passed until a bright May afternoon as he drove northward from the city toward the town. A familiar figure stood at the cottage gate. He braked and drew up where she stood. The car was much more untidy than usual and he gathered a pile of papers and put them into the back of the car.
“I haven’t seen you for a long time”, said the woman.
“No”, he replied, “it must be at least a year. How are things on the farm?”
“Oh they are fine. I have had some unpleasant callers. There was a man trying to sell me a knife for €5. I had to tell him where to go. I won’t tell you what I said”.
It seemed an odd story, perhaps she was a little muddled. It was better to stick to safe and familiar stuff; stick to the farming and not ask further about the caller. “How did calving go?”
“Oh, I don’t worry about calving, now. I buy stock in and fatten it before selling in the autumn. I bought ten animals a coup;e of weeks ago”.
“What stock do you keep” he asked.
“Oh, I have four black and white ones, four black ones and one speckled one.”
Four, four and one didn’t make ten, but more surprising than the arithmetic was a countrywoman who did not know the breed of her cattle. “Are the black ones Aberdeen Angus?”
“Oh, yes, I think so”, said the woman. “I don’t know what the others are”.
They approached the small town where had brought her on previous occasions. “Do you want to be dropped off nera the supermarkets”.
“Yes, please”, the woman replied.
“Is it to be Supervalu or Costcutters?”
“Either will do, you could let me out up here on the left”.
The street was wide and it was easy to pull up without causing delay.
“Thank you very much”, said the woman and opened the door and stepped out. Going to one shop would have meant walking further up the street ahead, going to the other would have meant crossing the road behind him. There was no sign of her walking up the street. Looking into the mirror, there was no sign of her crossing the road. Turning around and looking to the left and to the right, there was no sign of her anywhere.
“Hmm, he thought, “that would explain €5 knives and speckled cows”.