Jamie was about to enter Greg for the first time when a memory killed his breath.
He was ten. His mother sent him to keep a local faith healer company on a bus trip to the capital, where the man had business. It would be good for the boy to see the city. The man was called Albert and he had tiny, misshapen arms. He was blessed to be so afflicted, he often said, for his reward in the next life would be the greater. Albert wore a Pioneer pin on his lapel and his cuffs were sewn at the shoulders of his tweed jacket.
Although Albert always had a lot to say to Jamie’s parents, he didn’t make conversation today on O’Donoghue’s bus. Jamie soon decided that this was all right. There was nothing to talk about, and why even bother when you had a window to look out of? The countryside was amazing. Jamie imagined jumping out and chatting with the cows as they stood in their fields like blurs on legs. Candyflossies. Were there thalidomide cows? Did cows wear Pioneer pins? Probably.
The fields were overtaken gradually by flashes of grey that resolved into buildings and streets then there were no more fields. Jamie, who had never seen a city before, couldn’t believe how long it went on for and how tall the buildings were. It was eleventybig.
When O’Donoghue dropped them on Baggot Street, Albert said, ‘Here we are.’
He had to see a man about a dog so they went into Larry Murphy’s, where the oldsters at the bar all turned to stare at the cripple and the child.
Albert said to come into the gents. At the urinal he asked Jamie to help him, to take the quare fella out and hold it so he could aim straight. Jamie’s chest thrummed a hollow chord but he did as he was told. He released the holy man’s dick and held it and stared at the wall above. The penis felt like a small eel throwing up. It went rigid all of a sudden and bent upwards so that Jamie had to guide it back down to point at the bowl; it wanted to thrash, to spew the man’s urine all over the wall. Jamie felt the wet sting of piss spitting back in his face. The steam off it. The smell of asparagus. The stench of the little blue cake.
Calmly, done now, Albert told Jamie to shake the fella dry then wipe it with his hand and tuck it in and button the fly. Jamie did so, his hands sticky with piss and crust. Albert did not need to wash his own hands so they left the gents. Jamie followed him back through the pub, past the old men who stared again. On Baggot Street, where Albert had business, he said, ‘Here we are.’
‘Here,’ Jamie whispered now, ‘we are.’ He entered Greg.