I look at my phone, I’m a quarter of an hour late. I get to Busáras covered in sweat, under jumpers, scarves, gloves and whatnot.
The kid is standing there in the middle of the foyer, alone, foot tapping as people do in movies when they’re pissed off for waiting. The face was not as angry as the foot.
“You’re late,” he tells me.
“I know, honey. I’m sorry.” There’s no time to be discussing the reason why, the bus to Wexford will leave soon. “Where’s your dad?”
“He left. He had an appointment.”
I know it’s not true. It’s his new wife. She doesn’t want him even making eye contact with me. But we have a kid, for fuck sake. You can’t just pretend this child was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And you can’t be leaving the child alone in the middle of the bus terminal.
“Why do we have to go to grandma’s house for Christmas this year, ma?”
It’s an honest question. We don’t have to. I just didn’t want to have a Christmas with just the two of us, a pudding and one or two presents under the tree, thinking how everyone sided with John over the divorce.
“Grandma likes when we visit her, honey. And Wexford is lovely at this time. We can go to the Christmas Market, see Santa... you like that, don’t you?”
“I do. But I wanted to stay with dad as well. Why can’t we have Christmas together?”
Six is a complicated age. Everything is a why.
“Not this year, sweetheart, but maybe next year?” I struggle to give the tickets to the driver while holding my big bag, the smaller bag and a fluffy giraffe.
The way I see things, we could spend Christmas together, we could spend birthdays together, and so on. But that’s not what John wants, or what his new wife tells him he should want. How he could ever fall in love with someone like that is beyond me. But then again, the whole reason they met was because of me. I didn’t know she was like that. I didn’t even know I would be divorced one day. But this is not an explanation I can offer to a six year-old.
We sit in the first row. I don’t like the back. Buses make me nervous, I want to be the first one to get out. It’s a short trip, I know, but still. I just wish I could stay in Dublin, but there’s no point. It’s just gonna be a sad and empty Christmas. At least in Wexford we get to spend it with mam and her neighbours and we get to dance and eat the good stuff. The roast, the mash. I can’t make it the way she does, for the life of me.
The bus moves. I take that tiny hand into mine until the bus is out in the street, going around to cross the Liffey. It’s getting dark outside, and the Christmas lights shine bright all along the river. The Conference center looks dazzling from the bus. The pubs in the quays are alive and I can imagine the music. I wonder if they play Christmas music this time of the year? And then all the trees, lining up the river banks. Reminds me of a landing strip. I point it out and ask “Would Santa use the trees to guide him through the lovely Irish weather and deliver the gifts?” For an answer I get transfixed eyes and a mouth agape with the possibility that this might actually be true.
I keep looking out until we reach Heuston station. That’s where I draw the line between the city and the rest. I always look for the end of the taxi row. That’s where Dublin ends. Whatever comes after that is something else. It’s County Dublin, for all I care. I don’t see how anyone could not like Dublin. During Christmas, at least. Even if I wasn’t born here, I like Dublin best. That’s where I had my best years. I start thinking how silly it is to put my best years behind me and laugh. I’m young. I’m 40 years-old. I can do things, I can be more. But at the same time, it’s over. This part of my life is over. It was over when John decided it was over.
I put the giraffe on my lap and cuddle with the kid. This little life is soon asleep. This tiny body is half me, half John. Half someone I love, half someone I don’t. A sad thing it is, not knowing which is which. I still love him, I think. I still love him, yeah. But there’s no point in dwelling on it.
We’re now on the road, towards south. It’s four and I already can’t see a damn thing out. Someone in the bus is listening to Rihanna without headphones. It’s not the driver, he’s got his radio off. It’s one of the old songs. Ela-ela-ela in my umb-erella. I don’t mind the music, thought. I’ve developed a slight taste for top 40s lately. Maybe it’s because I’m going to the gym now. But I’m not exactly loving it. I could listen to my iPod, except I just cannot move to reach it without waking up the kid.
I list in my head all the Christmasy things I need to get once we arrive. The wrapping paper, the bows, the little tags, the mistletoe... I still need to get mam some present. Maybe a new pair of house slippers. She doesn’t want things that don’t serve a purpose. Makes it so hard to gift her. A few years back, me and John gave her a beautiful book about cross-stitching, which is something I know she likes. She thanked us, said it was very thoughtful, but then I realized that she would rather have gotten more fabric and strands. I got her some a week later, saying it was for New Year’s, because I felt so bad.
Christmas is a beautiful time. I love it. I always did. Even when it was horrible. Even when dad died and it was the 26th. Even when John told me he was leaving me for that bitch, and it was the 24th. Thankfully, not in the same year. I found comfort in the shiny baubles and the wreaths and decorations on the store windows. The fake snow. Something in them tells me it’ll be alright, and that bad things will come and go, but their beauty will be there, shining brightly. I prepare a beautiful tree at home every time. This year we won’t be there, but the tree is up. And the window is decorated with the plasticky snowflakes they sell at Penneys for two euros and the fairy lights. They look good, for the price. Their designers have good taste.
Last year when John left, I almost tore up the Christmas tree. I went beserk on the nativity scene. Jesus doesn’t have a head anymore because of me. After I was done, I realised what had happened. And I was glad the kid wasn’t home at that moment. Not that anyone in my family would think I’m a heretic or something like that, but you don’t want a child to see baby Jesus beheaded on Christmas Eve. I just removed him from the manger, the kid didn’t even notice. I haven’t replaced the scene this year. I put the animals only. The whole family is gone. They’re in a separate box that I hid in the press. I didn’t have the heart to put them on the bin, that small family, and I couldn’t display half a family. Funny, would be a half family, just like mine is now. Ha, how ironic... Thankfully, kids don’t ask you about nativity scenes, unless you teach them to.
Everyone said he was right to leave. My friends were his friends anyway. According to them, he could do better, and didn’t deserve what I had done. That day, I remember every single word of this conversation, actually, I called Sara to cry over the divorce, she said, and I quote, that: ‘you have no business calling me, because what you did is wrong and I’m very disappointed in you. You should have known better.’ That’s when it dawned on me: I had no friends of my own. I could only call my mom. My side was empty. I had the kid and my mom on my corner. The kid would always defend me. But I have no one else.
But still, Christmas is a wonderful time. Everything looks lovely and new, everyone is warm and tender towards you. Especially if you’re buying presents. I always buy presents. I like to see the look on the salesperson’s face when I make a particularly large buy. I don’t look like I have loads of money. I have enough. It takes them by surprise, and I’m always glad to know someone will get a better commission because of me. I hope they’re getting that money, and not the owner. Otherwise, I’m just wasting it a good deed.
We pass a village with some houses. The bus is not exactly fast. You can count the lights. One, two, three... ten lights. Not counting the tower I can see a bit afar, which must be the church. All lit up for mass later tonight. I’ll have to go to mass. I don’t like it, but it’s important that I teach the kid to respect what grandma feels is important. The church makes me feel like a failure. I could not keep my marriage till death do us part. I did not respect my husband the way the Bible tells you to, I suppose. I’m not sure why that is.
My mom will be waiting for me at the bus stop. We’ll drag the stuff to her car and go straight to the seven o’clock mass. There, she’ll sit us with her neighbours and all the people I grew up with. There’ll be other kids, too. And those who are closer to my mom will ask about John, even though they already know what happened. At least they don’t judge me. They talk about me when I’m not around. That’s the polite thing to do.
Then we’ll go home, and the ladies will finish making dinner and the kids will go bananas over the amount of presents under the tree. Her tree is not as lovely as mine. I can count on my fingers how many baubles and how many lights there are in it. Mam was never too fond of Christmas, and it got worse when dad died. The 26th we go to the cemetery, put some flowers in the grave and for the past two years, the kid insists in leaving a slice of fruit pudding as well. “Grandad likes them, doesn’t he?”. Yes, my dear, he did.