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I remember the day well. I actually remember it as a happy day. My mother and my then baby sister were taken on a day trip with a neighbour, we’ll call her Linda. She had a young daughter who aged with my sister. Her partner, Jim drove us all. All five of us packed into the tiny car.
When you’re young you never really know what age adults are but I could tell Jim was older than she was. Looking back, she must have been in her 20s and he must have been in his 40s. I remember her being quite bubbly. Black curly hair, and glasses. She stayed next door. I always felt comfortable around her. She always made an effort to engage with you. As a child that was important to me. I despised when people spoke around you as a child, rather like you were a pet or inanimate object, or simply too stupid to comprehend.
Jim, everyone said, was such a nice guy. She seemed to say it more often than most. I can’t honestly say I disliked him but something seemed off. Like a struggling children’s entertainer, desperate to draw a reaction from the crowd. He always seemed to be putting in too much effort. I could never quite work out if he was trying to impress the children or the adults looking on. My memory of that is vivid.
I remember when we set off, I was sitting in the back with my mum and my sister. My sister sat on my mum’s knee. I think I was in the middle and our neighbour’s daughter was beside me in the car side. My neighbour was in the passenger seat. At some point I remember us stopping and changing seats. Linda suggested I take a turn of the passenger seat. I was really excited. My mum seemed reluctant. I was never allowed in the passenger seat. I was too wee I was told. It was for adults. Linda and Jim were really insistent. Eventually my mum relented and allowed me to change places.
I remember him talking to me. I remember thinking that he showed a lot of interest in me, a lot more than most adults seemed to. Always talking to me, always asking questions. I can’t remember much of what he said. I just felt so excited. He asked me if I wanted to “drive”. I remember my mum reacting with shock and saying that that was not a good idea. They both laughed. He was only going to let me hold the gear stick. Placing my hand on the gear stick of the car, he then put his hand on top of mine. He pretended to let me change the gears. I wasn’t stupid. His tight grip was on top of my hand. I remember feeling a bit more comfortable with him. After all, look how nice he’d been.
Later on we were all playing together, as you would do at that age. Two mothers with three young kids on a day trip on a bright sunny day. It was a great time. He opted out. He was going for a walk he said. Linda said that he likes his walks. I watched him as walk away as we all played. It seemed like he changed as soon as he left us. Like someone discarding an old coat, he seemed to throw off his demeanour as soon as he walked away. He was gone a long time. It could have been an hour, it could have been twenty minutes, things are never clear when you’re young.
Later on, I remember asking to go to the toilet. We were in a busy tourist place. What was she going to do? I was too old to be taken into the women’s toilets, I could tell she wasn’t all that comfortable with me going into the public toilets on my own. Jim kindly offered to accompany me while my mum waited outside. Thank God for Jim! These public toilets can be dangerous places, you never know who’s about.
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