Thirteen, perhaps fourteen, years old, they crossed the street to speak with us. One with long, deep dark hair, the other fair-haired, with braces on her teeth. They asked the way to Lidl. Their accents betrayed them as Spanish, presumably on a school visit or exchange.
Asking directions to Lidl at 9.30 on a Saturday night seemed odd. “What do you need to buy?”
“We do not need to buy anything, we are to meet some friends there, in the car park.”
“Which branch of Lidl? There are two.”
“It is the one near a park.”
“Do you mean the one at Newpark?”
“Yes, that could be it. How far is it to walk? More than ten minutes?”
“Yes, more than ten minutes.”
“It is not a problem, we will call our friends and tell them to come here.”
“We are outside the police station, tell them you are outside the police station.”
The clear implication seemed to be that their friends had a car and would drive from the supermarket car park and collect them from outside the Garda barracks.
Perhaps it was the instinct of an over-protective father, but if I were the parent of a thirteen or fourteen year old girl who was in a foreign country, with only friend as a companion on the streets of a foreign town, after dark on a Saturday night, I would be concerned. I would be even more concerned if I knew that daughter had arranged a rendezvous in a supermarket car park with friends old enough to be driving a car. It was difficult to imagine that the friends in the car were other than male, and probably considerably older.
During my own teenage years, forty years ago, it was assumed that girls would always be attracted by older males. Those of us who travelled the roads on pedal cycles knew that men in cars would always be the first choice of the prettiest girls. Times have not changed.
What has perhaps changed is the capacity for anonymity. Who would ask to meet girls in a supermarket car park on the edge of the town if they did not wish to remain anonymous? Into a car, and Dublin or Waterford are reached in quick time, they could be anyone from anywhere. It could have been just a group of local lads, or it could have been someone altogether different, and what were they doing picking up girls so young?
Reflecting on the moment, there is a sense of frustration at being able to do nothing, other than hope the girls could take care of themselves.