Mr Magennis lived in a house. He had always lived in a house. His parents and grandparents before him had lived in houses. All the way back to the time of the famine, his ancestors had lived in houses. That was their culture. Their identity. He was proud of his heritage.
He had a job and every day he drove out to his place of employment on the Long Mile Road. He drove a Renault Megane and once a week he put petrol in it. Mr Magennis had his tax taken out of his salary as he earned it. The system was known as Pay As You Earn—or PAYE for short. The money went to the government and was used to pay for the running of hospitals, the upkeep of roads, the subsidisation of unprofitable bus routes and so on. Mr Magennis wouldn’t have had it any other way.
His wife had died tragically some years before. They had never had any children so he was alone in the world. His parents had passed away when he was quite young.
Once a year, on his birthday, he went to a public house and had two pints of Guinness. He didn’t particularly like drinking but believed in asserting his right to enter a public house of his choosing. Why shouldn’t he do so? Especially if he kept himself to himself and spoke to or bothered nobody.
He was forty-seven years old. His birthday fell on a Saturday that year so he was free all day. He washed his car, vacuumed the house and went to the Tesco on Prussia Street to stock up on groceries. After dinner, he strolled down Manor Street towards Stoneybatter. He selected a pub he had never been in before and entered.
He was approaching the bar when the person standing behind it addressed him. He was a large unshaven man in a white shirt. His nose had been broken some years before and a piece of bone bulged out from the side of it. This is what he had to say to Mr Magennis:
‘Not in here you’re not. No drink for you. Now: Out!’ ‘What? But I…’
Normally a very placid person, Mr Magennis felt a rage boiling up inside him. But he suppressed it. There was no point in making a scene. It was just what they wanted. He turned and left the premises. The barman resumed his chat with the customer—also a traveller—sitting at the bar.
‘Bloody cheek of them.’
‘If they could handle their drink I wouldn’t mind sharing a pub with them. If they could sit down and have a pint like any decent man. They’re their own worst enemies if you ask me.’
Mr Magennis was burning with shame. He hadn’t even spoken before being rejected. It was a simple prejudice that was all. It was beneath him even to challenge them. People like that cannot be reasoned with. The experience made him even more determined to find a quiet pub where he could have his two birthday pints. He continued further on down Stoneybatter and selected another pub. Again, it was one he had never before visited.
A television behind the bar was showing a greyhound race live from Navan. The barman and a teenage boy sat at the bar engrossed in the action.
‘Go on, Lassie. That’s the girl!’
‘Lookit her. Lookit her. She’s coming up on them.’
‘That’s the girl. Good, Lassie! Good!’
It had seemed like a lovely pub from outside.
A customer sat alone behind a marble table near the back. Blackened bare foot up on the table, he was clipping his toenails with the aid of a large stationery scissors. His face showed that his mind was searching for the correct social category in which to place Mr Magennis. Then his expression showed that he had reached some certainty in the matter. He coughed in the direction of the barman.
‘Bob,’ he said worriedly. ‘Bob.’
The barefoot man pointed at the new arrival, as if indicating a large cockroach that required squashing. Bob studied Mr Magennis briefly and came to a sudden realisation.
‘Out!’ he said. ‘Not in here. Travellers only.’
Mr Magennis was too shocked to move. Lemonade in hand, the boy turned around on his stool: ‘You deaf or what? Out,’ he said. ‘Out!’
The infuriating thing was that he would never have stayed there. You couldn’t have made him stay there. He had been just about to turn around and leave of his own volition.
Mr Magennis checked his appearance in the window of an antiques shop. He knew of settled people who tried to pass themselves off as travellers. Perhaps he shouldn’t have shaved that morning. He considered removing his necktie. But no! A man should be allowed to enter a bar looking any way he pleased. So long as he kept himself to himself and bothered no one.
A guard appeared beside him. ‘Move it along there, boss,’ he said.
‘No lip. Just keep moving.’
‘I was looking in the window.’
‘Thinking of buying something, were you?’
‘No. I was just. I’m out for a pint.’
‘Listen you drunken bastard, just keep moving and there’ll be no trouble.’ Mr Magennis decided to preserve his dignity and walk away. The guard eyed him suspiciously. He seemed to be storing away a physical description for future use. He entered the antiques shop to check if anything had gone missing in the last few days.
Mr Magennis had had enough of Stoneybatter. He might have better luck in town. He raised his hand to hail a passing taxi. As he reached for the handle all the doors locked with a click. The driver shook his fist and the Hiace took off.
It began to rain lightly.
On Grafton Street, Mr Magennis purchased an Irish Times and entered the foyer of a popular hotel. He climbed the marble staircase that led to the lounge area.
‘Can I help you?’ a waiter asked.
‘I’m just going to have a drink.’
‘Here? I don’t think so.’
‘No trouble. Off you go now.’
‘Are you refusing to serve me? Because there are laws against that.’
‘Watch the temper. No fighting in here.’
‘I just want a quiet drink without bothering anybody.’
Mr Magennis sat down in a plush armchair and unfolded his paper defiantly. On the front page, the Minister for Finance and the Attorney General were pictured spitting into the palms of their hands. They had obviously just agreed on something.
A manager approached and dismissed the agitated waiter. ‘Can I help you at all?’
‘A Guinness please.’
‘Are you a guest of the hotel’s?’
‘Okay,’ the manager said. ‘There are two ways we can do this.’
Mr Magennis was determined not to lose his temper. It was his birthday. He folded up his Times and marched out of the hotel. On the street, he took a few deep breaths and tried to calm down. A doorman approached. Not wanting anyone to see his tearful eyes, Mr Magennis turned and walked away from him.
He wandered around until he felt almost calm again. It was dark now. He was standing outside a public house on South William Street debating with himself whether or not to go in. He couldn’t face another humiliation. But he had promised himself a pint. It was a matter of principle.
Just then, a large bouncer stepped out from the bar. Mr Magennis was about to depart briskly when the bouncer spoke:
‘You going in?’
‘Where? In there?’
‘Busy enough tonight,’ the bouncer remarked while stepping aside and actually holding the door open for him.
‘Is it?’ Mr Magennis said. ‘I suppose it is.’
He stepped inside. Nine o’clock and it was already quite full. Mr Magennis was a little disappointed at not being able to find a quiet corner but spotted a stool at the end of the bar that would do quite nicely. He perched himself on the stool and looked around. This isn’t too bad, he thought. Not too bad at all.
The music was louder than he would have liked but at least the place was friendly. The barmaid was so busy he couldn’t catch her eye. No matter. He was in no rush.
He opened up his paper and turned to the World section. He was just beginning to read when a tray of drinks came crashing down onto his lap.
‘Oh, shite!’ the waitress said. ‘Jaysus, I’m so sorry.’
He was soaked with alcohol. His paper was destroyed. ‘Forget about it. Just get me a towel or something.’ ‘I’m after drenching you. Hang on there.’
Not just his trousers but his shirt was soaked too. Fortunately, his lower body was hidden from view by the counter. The damp patch had spread down his leg.
The waitress still hadn’t returned so Mr Magennis tried to get the barmaid’s attention. Finally, she let him know she was listening.
‘You haven’t a towel? Bit of an accident here.’
She looked at him for longer than he thought necessary. He guessed it was the word accident.
‘Wet trousers,’ he clarified.
She handed him a towel and asked, ‘What’ll it be?’
‘A Guinness,’ he said. ‘Pint. Good girl.’
Again, she looked at him for longer than he considered polite. He wiped himself down and waited for her to finish the second pour. She set the cloudy pint down in front of him. Mr Magennis handed her a fifty euro note and watched the cream and black mingling in his pint. She’d drawn a horseshoe on the head by moving the glass while pouring. They did that on every pint.
Happy birthday, he said to himself. It wasn’t ready to drink yet. It still had to settle. The barmaid returned, handed him five euros and fifty cents in change and began to walk away.
‘Hey!’ he called after her.
‘There in front of you.’
‘Expensive pint if that’s the case. I gave you a fifty.’
‘What’re you talking about a ten? I handed you a fifty. There’s another forty euros I’m owed.’
‘Wasn’t yesterday I was born.’
‘No really. I gave you a fifty.’
‘Listen, just drop it and drink your pint.’
‘It’s a fair mistake. I’m not accusing you of anything.’
‘I gave you a fifty!’
The bouncer was now standing beside Mr Magennis. ‘What’s the trouble, Nelly?’
‘He’s trying to scam change.’
‘Listen,’ Mr Magennis explained. ‘I gave her a fifty and she gave me back the change of ten.’ He had turned around and the state of his trousers became apparent to everyone. They caught the overpowering smell of alcohol too.
‘Ah, here,’ the bouncer said. ‘The state of you, man.’
‘He pissed himself,’ Nelly explained, ‘and used a bar towel to wipe himself off.’
The bouncer saw the broken glass at the feet of Mr Magennis’s stool. ‘Right, you sloppy fucker. You’ve had enough. Outside now!’
He grabbed Mr Magennis by the shoulders and pulled him down off the stool.
‘My change! My pint!’
While being dragged towards the exit, the left side of his face made contact with a pillar. Then he was lying on the damp pavement outside, the bouncer standing over him.
‘And don’t come back. Comprendo?’
Mr Magennis put his hand to the side of his face. It was already throbbing. He had had enough of being pushed around all day. He was owed forty euros and he was damn well going to get it. He stood up and shoved the bouncer. It was the first time he had used violence since the schoolyard. The bouncer grinned. Mr Magennis pushed him again, harder this time.
‘She owes me my money! She short-changed me!’
A guard was crossing the street: ‘What’s going on here?’
‘This man is drunk. He’s been abusing our staff, knocking drinks all over the place and trying to rob money from the till.’
‘Lies!’ Mr Magennis hissed. ‘Lies!’
He lost his footing and wobbled slightly.
‘Come on,’ the guard said. ‘Let’s walk it off. Been celebrating, have you?’ The guard nodded to the bouncer: Let’s leave it at that. He took Mr Magennis by the elbow to support him as they walked. Mr Magennis could no longer contain his rage. He pressed the guard away with the knuckles of his fist:
‘They’re the ones! They are!’
Then he felt his arm being pulled up behind his back and he was face down on the pavement again. They handcuffed him and the guard who had just arrived radioed for a squad car. Those entering and leaving the bar looked down at the drunkard with disgust.
The manager of the pub was berating the bouncer: ‘I told you to keep them out. What am I paying you for?’
He was taken to Store Street and seated at a table in a cold interview room. Nobody interviewed him. Then his shoelaces, necktie and belt were taken from him and he was placed in a holding cell. Some hours later, he was taken back to the interview room. He gave them his personal details. He was charged with drunk and disorderly behaviour, damaging private property, attempting to rob a cash register and assaulting a police officer.
A face that Mr Magennis recognised from earlier that day appeared in the doorway. ‘Martin,’ the guard said. ‘A moment.’
The interrogator stepped out and the two guards conversed in the corridor. The interrogator returned and paced the room for a long time. At last, he came to rest, leaning on the table with outspread fingers.
‘Alright,’ he sighed. ‘Tell me about those stolen antiques.’
Mr Magennis was released at five in the morning. As it was too early for buses and no taxi would take him, he decided to walk. It was just getting bright and his left eye, a strange shade of yellow, was weeping.
He walked home by way of the quays. Apart from the many seagulls flocking about, the city was almost entirely deserted. Mr Magennis was glad of the fact. He padded along the boardwalk, observing through the gaps in the slats the dark waters of the Liffey below. He was envious of the creatures that lived so obscurely beneath its black surface.
He turned right on Blackhall Place and travelled up through Stoneybatter, passing the same two bars he had visited the previous evening. How he could have considered entering such places Mr Magennis no longer understood. If he had stopped before the antiques shop, he wouldn’t have recognised his own reflection this time. His hair was dishevelled, his necktie missing, his shirt filthy, the side of his face swollen horribly.
He passed the Tesco on Prussia Street and, crossing the street, turned left onto the North Circular Road. Both of his eyes were weeping now. Mr Magennis put the key in the door and entered his house.