29th July 1999
A FARWELL TO CHARMS
by Ronnie McGinn
Since last Christmas 670,000 passengers have
passed through Cork Airport. Flying in, flying out, business or
pleasure, holidaying or homecoming, arriving, departing, rushing,
waiting, pushing trollies, carrying cases, over dressed,
underdressed, dragging themselves behind, V.T.P.ing themselves
forward, thousands of people coming and going, and not one, not
even one has ever noticed the shrivelled old man in the peak cap
and worn overcoat, shuffling along with a Blackthorn stick. The
contours and crevices on the stick are matching the lines and
wrinkles on the stooped old mans face. Every afternoon without
fail he free-travels from his small house in Douglas West to the
Terminal at the Cork Airport. He shuffles his way through the
automatic doors and pads around to the sculpture of Jack Charlton
and sits beside Jack on the fountain wall and talks to the fish.
The fish seem to recognise him as they swim about in the clear filtered water of the Airport fountain. They approach the spot near where he sits, rising and diving, fins rowing, eyes staring and looking, their mouths chewing bubbles, tails flying like flags. They rise, they stall, they fall and rise again, moving in straight lines and in circles, moving always moving. And in amongst the black, the gold, and the white fleshy Carp is a dainty little goldfish. The old man reaches out his hand and his index finger touches the water. It seems as if the fish is kissing his finger. Hello Goldie says the old man, and how are you today ?. Of the thousands of people milling past nobody hears the old man, nobody even sees him. But,then he doesnt see them either, for he lives in a another world that is far far away.
Bartholemew Forde was born in a nursing home in Wellington Road in 1910. His parents lived in a small house in Douglas West, which Batty would later inherit. His father worked in the local mill. These were troubled times in Ireland, but the family never took any active part in the struggle. Then Battys father was shot by the BlacknTans. This was a terrible blow to the family. Battys older sister, and his two older brothers emigrated and were able to send money home and support Batty and his
mother. They survived ,and within a couple of years Batty had his fathers job in the mill. Unfortunately his brothers and sister never returned, and Battys policital ideals became deep rooted and profound.
At the mill he met Minnie and, although he had lots of girlfriends, Minnie was the love of his life. As the years past and their relationship grew wedding bells were on the horizon. Then the Spanish Civil War broke out and Battys political ideals took over. He loved his job in St.Patricks Mills, and he was proud of their history. It was here the greatest sail cloth in the world was once made. It was from here that Britannia ruled the waves. He hated empires. He was also proud of the Levi Strauss connection. But duty called and Batty went off to war.
When he returned from Spain he got his job back and he and Minnie were married. They continued to live in their small house in Douglas and, although they had no children, they were very happy together. When the mills closed Batty went on the dole and, though they were not well off, they were comfortable. In 1990 they invited their friends along to celebrate their golden jubilee. It was during the party that the trouble began.
Minnie was reminising about her old boyfriends and things that might have been. Things that might have been were never went to be, said Batty, and he went on to talk about his old girlfriends. Suposing Id married John, said Minnie. And supposing Id married Kate?, went on Batty and they both laughed.
What if Id married Michael, she teased. Or if Id married Carmen, he replied. Minnie looked at him who was Carmen?? she asked. A knowing frown crossed Battys forehead. Just a girl I met in Spain, he quipped. A girl you met in Spain ? said Minnie, You never told me about a girl in Spain. I thought you went to Spain to fight for democracy, and not go with some girl. Why didnt you tell me? You told me about all your other girlfriends, what was so special about the one in Spain? Well?
Batty could sense the deep sarcasam in her voice. Oh! it was nothing, he said, Nothing happened between us, she was just a flamenco dancer in a bar. Anyway we werent even married, he said.
But we were engaged, or had you forgotten? Huh ! After fifty four years she suddenly crossed your mind ? Do you expect me to believe that? While I was praying for your safety, and worried sick about you, you were going out with someone else behind my back. You cheated on me, and now our entire marriage has been a lie. You bastard. You dirty rotten bastard.
Batty was dumbfounded. Honestly, nothing happened between us, he pleaded.
Its easy for you to say that now - its easy to be a saint after seventy - dont you ever speak to me again, for as long as you live. Dont ever speak to me. And they never did.
Life was difficult from then on. They only way they could communicate was by talking to the goldfish in the glass tank on the sideboard. Minnie would talk to the goldfish. Tell your father his dinner is ready. And in turn Batty would talk back to the fish Tell your mother Im coming. And so their lives went on, half together, half separated. The neighbours thought it was amusing, some of their friends felt it was a game, a charade between two people who really loved each other. They were never to know for five years later Minnie died in her sleep, and Batty was left alone to ponder on his life and his past. As he tried to cope with his grief he thought about the goldfish. He knew nothing about goldfish. How to feed one, how to care for one. The best thing he could think of was to get the goldfish a new home. So he placed Goldie into a water filled polythene bag and took him up to the airport and slipped him in amongst the other fish. Now Goldie would have a good home. Later he regretted it. Goldie was the last one to speak to Minnie, and maybe Goldie could still speak to Minnie. So every day he goes to visit.
Tell your mother Im sorry, he mumbles. Tell her I miss her, and tell her Ill be along shortly.
The crowds rush by. No one sees the old man, no one hears him as he rambles on muttering away to the fish. Sometimes sitting there by the sculpture of Jack Charlton, he stops talking and his eyes seem to glaze over, and his mind goes far away, as if he were in a trance, or a dream . . .
The pregnant clock is ticking,
Informally quite formal,
All so very strangely strange,
And yet, so strangely normal.
Ah dreams! the bells are ringing,
Louder, nearer, every day,
I see my Spanish Angel
In Burgos - far away.
At the guitar bar Patillas
Was where our lives first met,
She was dancing the Flamenco,
I was learning Castenets.
My fight was with the Fascists
But she choose the other side,
Although I loved her dearly,
She was not to be my bride.
As the century is turning
My thin hair to snowy grey,
I see my Spanish Angel
In Burgos - far away.
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