On a cold crisp night, four prior to Christmas, I found myself walking the usual route home after work through my beloved Grafton Street. Shops were closing as people hurried to buy last-minute gifts for their loved ones and buskers were quick to pounce on this seasonal generosity. I gave into the hysteria, throwing one a 50c coin I had leftover from lunch. Christmas comes but once a year I suppose.
The brisk winter wind stung my face as the sweet sounds of carols could be heard coming gently from the distance. They gestured my legs over to the source as snow began to cover the cobblestone street. Before I could reach the congregation of carollers, I passed a lone beggar, slouched against the curve of the one of the stores already closed for the night. I walked past, opting to ignore the coffee cup held out to passers-by in his left hand, something I did more often than I’d like to admit. I had already given out my 50c if you remember. So, as I walked past and heard the words: “Any spare change for a hostel?” I thought nothing of it and continued walking towards the more desired sound up ahead. A group no bigger than thirty stood around the small choir of five children singing my favourite Christmas song; “Somewhere In My Memory” by John Williams, a song most known for its inclusion in the Home Alone soundtrack.
Yet as I listened to the it, entranced in the beauty of the scene… something didn’t seem right. I felt as though I had lost something. I checked my pockets but sure enough my wallet and phone were still there. I tried to forget the feeling but the unease in my chest wouldn’t go away. I decided to walk back to Grafton Street. For whatever reason, I could not enjoy a thing I would normally love. I walked back pondering what could’ve put me in such strange form. It was beginning to get on my nerves.
Once more, I heard the man on the sidewalk,“Spare change for a hostel?”
“I don’t sorry,” I said, shamelessly lying and trying my best to avoid eye contact for the second time whilst I scurried past.
“Don’t worry man, I know people got better things to be spending money right now. Have a good Christmas.”
Paralysed by his words, I stood there, motionless in the middle of a packed Christmas-Time Grafton Street. I slowly turned my head to look at the man whom I otherwise would’ve paid little or no attention to, an insignificant blip in my day that I’d have forgotten about moments later. This time, however, something clicked. I recognised his voice.
“Michael?” I asked the man. For the weary eyed man sitting on the path beside me, almost invisible, was an old friend of mine; a best friend.
“Thomas? Is that really you? Gosh, it must be what… eight years since I saw you last? What are the chances I’d see you here, on today of all days, how are you?” He enquired, sounding much better than he looked.
“Yes, eight years. I remember it was the day before you were set to leave to study Mathematics at Cambridge. I was due to start my electrical apprenticeship the following week,” I said plainly, still in shock at the situation.
“I see you’re surprised to see me here like this. I can’t blame you – I am too I guess. You’re probably wondering how I ended up like this aren’t you? Well don’t worry, I’ll try my best to explain.” He let out a strong cough into the front of his sleeping bag. “As you already know, I’ve always been quite the competitive Mathematician.”
“Quite the nerd yes,” I interjected.
“I thought I knew everything back then, so young and foolish, so blinded by the limitations of my own ego. I believed I’d beat the bookies and walk out the other side, I was sure I had a system. A system that worked. All the numbers worked out, only the results didn’t and I was left without a penny to my name, too disgraced to even tell my parents. I managed to get back on my feet for a while only to return to my old ways once I got back here with some of the money I had borrowed over in England. I’m a wanted man over there and an unwanted man over here. Thus, I found my way to the street on which you see me now.” I paused for a second, not knowing what to say or do for that matter. I said the first thing that crept into my mind.
“You know it’s a cold night Michael, would you like to come on over to mine for a while? It seems we’ve a good bit to catch up on.”
“I couldn’t,” replied Michael.
“C’mon it’s Christmas. What would I be doing other than watching Fair City alone and eating away my sorrows with a multi-pack of Pot Noodle. Please don’t subject me to that cruel fate.”
“You know I’ve always hated that show. However, a multi-pack pack of Pot Noodle does sound almost too good to decline. Are you sure I wouldn’t be in your hair?”
“Not at all, just don’t eat ALL the Pot Noodle, will you?”
“I’ll try. I’ll be gone by eleven tonight anyhow.”
“Eleven? Sure, I’ve a couch no one’s using. Stay the night; It’s feckin’ freezing.”
“Sleepover it is then, just like old times. Good thing I already have my sleeping bag,” I chuckled awkwardly as he wiggled himself out of it and got up.
He was a lot skinnier than I remembered but his smile remained unchanged. Walking back, it seemed to me as though nothing had changed. We walked past yet another busker and Michael threw a euro from his cup into the suitcase of the busker’s guitar. “Won’t be needing that tonight,” he said casually, making me feel guilty for my petty donation a few minutes before. Upon reaching St. Stephen’s Green, I offered to pay for Michael’s fare as we got to the machines but he continued, purchasing not only his, but mine too.
“Least I could do,” he said whilst handing me my ticket.
I felt the cold on his hands and wondered when they had last experienced warmth. So much had changed but it was the things that stayed the same which had a bigger affect on me. Together, we sat, side by side on the Luas… all the way back to Dunmore. Just as we did, those eight years before.