Anyone from Springfield in Tallaght and its surrounds will appreciate this. The joy of the simple but satisfying ‘Pound Special’ from North Park. I don’t know what they put in that stuff but it sure was delicious. It is the inspiration for this piece of flash fiction.
Pushing open the heavy aluminium door, we are shrouded and enveloped in smells of star anise and onion. A deep, appreciative inhalation as we walk towards the counter that’s so high, we are only eyes and forehead above it. We hand over our pound coins, placing them onto the greasy counter that’s mottled with tatty menus and old, yellowed sellotape. Our stomachs growl in the anticipation and aroma of the curry sauce that wafts out of the hatch every time the surly counter girl opens it to pass an order in to the kitchen staff. We look at each other and smile. Most kids spend their pocket money on sweets. Not us. Every Friday, we walk to the chinese and spend our hard earned, household chore money on this local delicacy.
We watch anxiously as the hatch opens and that gloriously mundane paper bag is pushed through but our hope is dashed as the girl reads out a different order to ours and a portly man stands to retrieve his meal. We swap disappointed glances as our stomachs protest hungrily.
Then, it opens again.
“Two Pound Specials,” the girl calls in her deep, disaffected Dublin accent.
We smile to each other and taking the paper bag in hand, walk into the November night, hands frozen but soon warmed on the hot tin foil tub. We take them from the bag and let the fragrant steam assault our noses as we remove the lids. Eating from a plastic fork seems to improve the saltiness of the curry on our tongues, the chips like sponges, absorbing the rich sauce and the rice is light and slightly chewy. Each mouthful is like a flame from a log fire, heating our bellies from within against the bite of the winter air.
We walk slowly home, not speaking, just a satisfied grunt every now and again as we savour our weekly indulgence. A peak cap wearing reprobate walks by us and stops, regarding us suspiciously and we recoil a little.
“Gimme that curry,” he spits aggressively.
“You’re not getting my curry, but I’ll give ya all my smokes,” my friend says, meeting his eye contact, not backing down, holding the curry tightly to his chest with one hand, extracting the full packet of cigarettes from his pocket with the other. The youth favours this trade and goes along his way, lighting one of the cigarettes smugly as he goes.
My friend and I exchange glances, shrug and resume enjoying our hard earned treat.
The rain pounded on the window like an angry drummer thrashing out a rhythm. The mottled grey sky, mirrored half heartedly in the slug grey Liffey, cast no light into the room nor the streets below where the splashes from each pedestrian’s footfall was a backing track to idling cars stuck in the riverside traffic. The wipers on each rain spattered windscreen swooshed back and forth, back and forth.
He hated Saturdays now. Somehow the endlessness of the day was further mocked by the busy street below: people rushing about, shopping, chatting, spending time as the day eased away from them. Such a stark contrast to his, being alone in this apartment that he had grown to hate over the past few months. He used to have days like the people below where he’d take her to lunch on Grafton Street, then stroll through the Green or shopping for her favourite thing: shoes.
He felt that familiar wedge in his stomach as he thought of her blue eyes, mirrored in the azure, spring sky, her long blonde hair falling into ringlets down her back, the way she smiled almost all the time.
His eye was drawn to the orange-yellow sunflower that was swaying in the breeze, the only thing of colour within his view, the only sun in his sky. He reminisced about the day she had planted the seed, the promise of sun that the little black, striated thing held: a world of colour soon to be admired hiding in that tiny little shell. She’d watered it, whispered something to it and smiled up at him.
That was the day before he’d come home to find a note from her mother. She didn’t love him anymore and was leaving. He ran to her room and what had been a haven of pink fabric and teddy bears was empty and grey. He’d read the letter again. It had gone on to say he’d be able to see his daughter once a month from now on, nothing more.
His gaze fell from the sunflower to the solicitor’s letter on the table below. He vowed that before that plant withered and died, he’d have his little daughter in his arms again, no matter how hard he had to fight.
“Mammy, is it time to get up yet?” comes a whisper. The phone on the locker reads 7:32 a.m. “Shit…. Yes, it’s time to get up. We’re late so get dressed really quickly.” The little one is still asleep. A hot shower is a must to wake up the weary, so in I jump. “Shit” – there’s no hot water. Shivering and wet, I get out, dry and dress. I’m definitely awake now.
“Mammy, I can’t do the buttons”
“Mammy, I want two pony tails”
“Mammy, what’s for my lunch?”
Then the little one comes in, sleepy headed, clutching six teddy bears. How does she do it? I beg her to get dressed quickly, then seeing her put her pants on inside out and back to front, I give her and her clothes to her daddy to dress her.
“Mammy, I want six pony tails.”
“No, don’t have time, come on hurry… we’re very late today.”
“Will Muinteoir be cross?”
“Not if you get a move on, come on.”
Downstairs, a crash of dishes and cups, the cats mieow to be let out, the dog barks at the cats. Ok, prioritise…. Clean out smelly cat litter tray or feed kids first. The kids win out and then complain that the cereal in their bowl is not what they wanted. Oh god, the smell of the cat’s tray is turning my stomach.
“For the love of Christmas, where are the keys?” I run upstairs to get the keys, to open the door, to put the cat tray out. Finally find my keys, open the door, the dog runs out ahead of me, into the muck and then runs back to me, jumping and imprinting mucky paws on my freshly washed jeans. “Who’s idea was it to get a bloody dog?” But no one’s listening. The kids are fighting over a crayon.
“Girls, there is no time for drawing pictures, please eat your breakfast or you will not be going to school/playschool.” As soon as I utter the words, I cringe. Supernanny says you must follow through on your threats. Now what if they don’t eat, I’ll have to stand by my threat and keep them home. Oh god no. I know, I’ll bribe them with Smarties instead.
“Girls, if you eat your breakfast, I’ll give you Smarties!” A gleeful “Yayyyy” and they begin to eat slowly but surely.
More nagging, this time to get them upstairs to brush their teeth. Why do they go immediately into the playroom and drag out their toys? My face is starting to go red and the caffeine withdrawal headache is thumping in my temples with a vengeance. Eventually, after more threats, they brush their teeth and then I nag at them to go downstairs again to get their shoes on.
“No, you can’t wear sandals – it’s lashing rain. Please just get your black shoes on.”
Finally, we’re in the car. The sky was blue when we got up, now it’s grey and lashing rain.
“Mammy, you forgot our bags.” Jump out into the rain and run back inside to get the bags. Sit back into car and start the ignition.
“Mammy, we’re not strapped in”. Turn off the ignition, jump out into the rain again and strap the kids in. And we’re on our way. Playschool drop off first but when we get to the playschool, there’s no parking. So I do a probably illegal u-turn and park on the road. I put the hazard lights on in the event of a passing policeman taking exception to my parking spot and hope that he’ll realise it’s the parking of a frazzled mammy and drive on. Run through the rain with the kids down the long, car packed driveway, deposit one slightly reluctant three year old with the teacher and run back to the car with the older one. Of course, by now, the driveway is free of cars. Strap my now soaking five year old into the car and off we go for drop number two. I curse as I pull out in front of a car on the roundabout. My mistake, sure, but people really need to learn how to use roundabouts. You only indicate left when you are leaving the roundabout, not when you’re driving right around it. But, really I should never have trusted an indicator nor the idiot behind it.
Get to the school and am trying to park in a space but the ‘lovely person’ (I don’t want my kids to speak negatively of people so I must set by example – starting now) who is trying to park in front of me has yet to establish the difference between first gear and reverse. I consider going over to them and recommending a good driving instructor but eventually they get it and I can park. Run in the rain again to the school and deposit the five year old, who has been embraced by a cackle of five year olds. I run back out into the rain and to my car. Some idiot (kids are gone so I can say that again) has left a flyer on my windscreen wiper, which has gotten soaked in the rain and is now smearing a pulpy mush all over my windscreen every time the wipers move. Seriously?
Eventually get home, take my soaking wet coat off, greet the dog, make a coffee and sit down. What is that noise? My silence is punctured by some sounds I haven’t heard for a long time – the ticking of the kitchen clock, the gentle, reassuring hum of the fridge, the dogs stomach growling and the wind rustling the leaves on the apple tree outside. Settling back into the couch, clutching my hot coffee, I savour these sounds. Then I sit up: I miss the kids, how long is it till I get to collect them?