This story was expanded from a piece of flash fiction. It was entered for this year’s RTÉ Francis McManus Short Story Competition.
The evening classes at the college gave her the opportunity. It was a computing class that had taught her to use the Internet, something of which she had been frightened. It had been the stories in the papers that had always worried her. There was a story of a man who had lost all of his money after someone broke into his account and another story where thieves had hacked into someone’s phone and had unlocked their house, this had mystified her. Not that she needed to worry about such things; she still went to the bank in Roscrea on a Thursday with cash and cheques, and she still had a mortice lock on the front door of her house. Nevertheless, though, you couldn’t be too careful; it was the things that she didn’t know about that she was always felt would be the ones that would catch her out.
It had been on the very first evening on the course at the college that the tutor had talked about “social media.” She was not entirely sure what social media were; there were stories of young people sending pictures and stories of people saying horrible things about other people. The tutor had talked to them about all the things they could do with social media and had told them that they were quite safe things to use as long as they had a bit of wit. The key thing was not to put on them anything about themselves they wouldn’t happily see on the front page of the Tribune. There was a comment from a woman across the room that she was glad the stories should be fit for the front page of the Tribune as there were stories on the front page of some of the Dublin newspapers that would curl your hair; there had been laughter in the class.
It was the course at the college that was to bring the satisfying moment; it was learning to use the Internet that had given her an opportunity for which she had waited a long time.
It was fifty years ago now that she had taken the bus to Limerick and from there on to Shannon Airport, sitting beside him, struggling to hold back the tears. Her father had come with them, leaving the milking and the hay and all the other tasks that filled his day. It was not every day that your daughter’s fiancé flew to Toronto. Her father had thought highly of him, “he’s a man that will get on, he’ll see you right.” Her father had put on his Sunday suit to make the journey, she had said that they weren’t going to Mass, but her father insisted that an airport was a place where people wore suits. At the departure gate, her tears had finally got the better of her. Hugging him, she had said that she wished he wasn’t going, but knew that he was doing it for both of them. As he disappeared from sight, her father had put his hand on her arm, “come on, we’ll have our tea in Limerick and still have time for the eight o’clock bus.”
Months of planning had gone into that departure from Shannon. For months, they had planned a new life in Canada, a new life together. There was little work at home, and even less money, and there was a thrill at thinking at all that might be possible. Magazines showed a life that could not have been imagined in the small townland in which she lived. Times being what they were, there seemed no question that he would be the one who travelled to Canada and prepare the way. Once he had found work and a suitable place for them to live, he would come home, and they would be married in the parish church, and then they would fly together to begin their new life. She put all of her money, the couple of pounds she had set aside each week, plus a legacy that had been left her by a sister of her father who had never married after being jilted by a man.
The country being in a bad financial state, there had been something about exchange controls, so to avoid problems he had said it would be better that he took all the money as cash; then he could exchange it as he needed it.
Some hundreds of pounds were packed into the leather briefcase he carried with him; it would be money that would assist him in finding a good place as their home.
A week after his departure, his first letter had arrived. He described with excitement the details of daily life and how he had found work and how he would soon be able to start looking for a home for them. The letter had been read and re-read. Each week would bring more news, though the letters grew shorter, and seemed less excited. Nevertheless, he assured her he was looking for the “perfect place” for them.
Perhaps three months had passed when one week a letter had not arrived. The next week he wrote saying that work was taking up his time and to please forgive him if he didn’t manage to write every week as he knew she would want him to do what was best for them. The letters came once a fortnight – and then they stopped altogether.
Her father caught her eye as she had run to the door one morning to discover that another day had passed without word from Canada. Her father had shaken his head sadly; they both knew the truth. It was a neighbour’s son, another emigrant, who had returned on a family visit the following year who had told her the full story about how her fiancé had met and married a Canadian. “He has a fine home.”
So it was that one evening fifty years later she sat with her laptop and pondered the bus journey to Shannon, the farewell to the man she would never see again, the letters she had read with such joy, and all the hopes that had been lost. She had ventured into the world of social media.
Remembering the warning of the tutor at the evening class, she had written her name in Irish; she had listed her hometown as a place chosen from a map of Africa in an old school atlas; and she had put as her school an all boys college in Dublin. It was while scanning through the online pages that his name had appeared. It was odd that, after so long, his name still had the power to recall her flood of tears and the look of disappointment etched on the face of her father on that day when they had admitted to themselves that there would never be a life for her in Canada. (Two years would pass before she admitted that her savings had gone with her love).
Uncertain as to her motives, she had sent him a message, a very brief one. “Hi, how are you?” Within minutes her computer pinged; he had replied. Five decades of silence was followed by a flood of communication from him. He told of his life, he told of his two marriages and his two divorces, he told of his family that was now grown and gone, and of his grandchildren and all that they were doing. He asked about her, commenting that he had found nothing about her online. She talked about how the tutor had spoken of the need for security so would post no details. She told him that she had worked in an office but was now retired and lived a quiet life, adding that, perhaps one day, though, he might be in Ireland again? “After fifty years,” she thought, “I’ll have my chance.”
He was very enthusiastic at her suggestion that he might consider being Ireland again, what about the coming summer? He had no vacation plans made. She was surprised at the speed with which he came back to her with possible dates for flights from Toronto to Dublin. He said that after fifty years there was a lot of catching up to be done; they were both retired and would have lots of time to enjoy together. She smiled at his eagerness to make plans.
One evening, she sent him an email, “I’ve never travelled much; perhaps we could go to the Continent, a bit of a holiday?” He was delighted at the idea, France and Italy appealed to him, he said. She said she would look up fares and hotels and perhaps she would make some bookings, telling him that in the summer you needed to book ahead to get the best places. In the following weeks, clicking through travel websites, she planned an itinerary that would include flying from Dublin to Paris and then taking the train to the south of France before going on to Rome.
She was hesitant about the next step; would he really want to go? After such a long time, would he be prepared to commit himself? “I hope you don’t mind, but I need some money if I am to pay the deposits,” she typed. He sent the amount that she had asked almost immediately. Collecting it at the post office, she counted the notes very carefully and put them into her purse, before going to the travel agent to collect the tickets she had booked, she was still wary of paying for anything online. Standing in the street, with money and tickets in her handbag, he smiled up at the sunshine. She looked forward to the moment that was coming; it was a moment for which she had waited fifty years. She tried to imagine what his face would be like when he arrived, how he might respond to her.
It was a month later that he landed in Dublin Airport after an overnight flight from Canada. Cheerily, he took his jacket from the overhead locker and switched on his phone. A message arrived. He smiled to see that it was from her, what happy times they were going to have. The message was a very brief text, “the money you sent to me is the exact amount you took from me.”
Not far away, passengers were boarding another flight. She found her way to her seat and sat down, a thoughtful look on her face. Sitting in the next seat, her husband pondered her expression. “Is everything alright?” he asked.
“It is,” she said, “there was just a bit of outstanding business that I had to get sorted, something that has been around for a long time. It’s alright now, I’ve settled the account. What time do we land in Paris?”