I thought I would write about a time I got lost as a child of four or five about a mile from my home. About, rather than of. Here are the facts.
I clung to a railing, my head bowed, thinking I’m lost, if I go any further I will only get more lost, Daddy will be cross, I can never go home again, what’s going to happen to me? A guard asked are you lost, I said yes, he said follow me, and we walked into the Garda station, which I was right outside. Tip: If you get lost, lose yourself outside a police station.
It was the mid nineteen forties, war clouds rumbled, bellies too. I told a lie. I said my Daddy and Mammy were killed in the war. Where did I sleep last night? With the Lords. Who are the Lords? They are a brother and sister. They have a boy, Gerald, staying with them. He’s my age. I am staying with them so he has someone to play with. They are friends of my mother.
-I thought you said your Daddy and Mammy are dead?
-Well, they’re not.
-You shouldn’t tell a lie.
Thus spake authority. There were no female guards, they hadn’t been invented yet. Many of the male variety were there. These were primitive times.
They put me sitting on the counter, as at the seaside, for questioning. This was difficult, as I knew neither my surname nor my address. What do people call your daddy? We call him Daddy, Mammy calls him Bernard and some people call him Sir. Who calls him Sir? Maybe a beggar in the street. Does anyone call him anything else? I never heard anyone call him anything else.
Similar questions about my mother elicited the answer that the vegetable man calls her Mrs. Ennis. Ennis, they said, in triumph. Yes, my brother has his name on his copybook, Brian Ennis, I said. If they asked that first it would have saved time, but you can’t relive the past. Although I do here.
Who lives with you at home? My grandfather, my granduncle, my grandaunt, my mother, my father and us children. What are their names? I told them. Where do the Lords live? I gave directions. They looked up a street directory.
There are people called Lord living in Martello avenue. There is a Richard Walker living in Glenageary Lodge. Yes, Glenageary Lodge, I read it on an envelope. Can you read? Yes. Can you read this? It was the rules of evidence as given in court. I read it silently. They looked at me. Will I read it aloud? Yes, read it out loud. I did. I read perfectly from the age of three. A girl read at eighteen months, so I don’t get bigheaded.
What is evidence? Its what you say in court. Don’t you tell a story in court? Yes. I told you the story of how I got lost, is that evidence? No. Why? Because it wasn’t in court. This stymied me. I said nothing. Meanwhile, a man on a bicycle had gone to fetch my father. Can you say a prayer? I recited the one beginning oh angel of God, my guardian dear. That’s a nice one, I haven’t heard that before.
Everyone has a guardian angel. Have you a guardian angel? Yes. Who is your guardian angel? The Guard who found me. They looked at each other. Days of innocence. Then my father arrived and we walked home. Why are we going this way? Because I like going different ways. Those were straightforward people, I said. That’s how everyone should be said my father.
They said my story of how I got lost wasn’t evidence. It was evidence said my father. People use words without knowing what they mean I said. They don’t know what they’re talking about, my father said.
In the kitchen among the family I said I read a book about a man discovering Africa. He said he couldn’t believe the evidence of his own eyes. The trees, the waterfalls, the hills. Everything you see is evidence.
Daddy: What is it evidence of?
I said that because I couldn’t think what else to say. Nothing else seemed to fit. I thought it was what my father expected. We fell silent.
That morning, I told Miss Lord I wanted to go to the park. You won’t get lost, she asked? I said no, not knowing what lay in store. I thought the park was a place full of sunshine and playing children, as it was the day before. When I saw it, dull and grey and empty, I said that’s not the park. I walked on, I crossed a road. I didn’t remember doing that, but thought I must have forgotten. The guards didn’t like hearing I crossed a road. But that’s all in the past.
Our old family home, the Garda station and more or less all the people mentioned are no more, dead and gone. I am alive. Possibly Gerald too, still making faces at people, his only form of communication with me.
I thought I might say something here about how people think their own lives are significant or insignificant, as the case may be. At junior school we were told everything is significant. Everything means something.
Yes. Well. I don’t know. Do you?
I strive for meaning. That’s why I read and write. Do I make myself clear?
One other thing. I urinated on the police station desk. He’s frightened, a Guard said. I was in unfamiliar surroundings. This is embarrassing, but in the interest of telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth I tell it.
Now it can be told.
21st April, 2016