On the Southside, where Rathmines Road stretched toward the mountains, Janice sat in her window. Her reflection was pale and grimy. She had only been able to clean the inside of the windows, but she could live with that. She had to: she had made her bed and, as the night prowled, she was reluctant to lie in it. She had never been so alone before. There had been a fight on the street. It wasn't what she was used to. She couldn't think of any part of Toronto that was so unsettling, but she had never been around Queen and Sherbourne at night, one of the places her mother didn't approve of. She didn't approve of her moving to Ireland, either, even if it was to study at Trinity.
'Are you sure about this?' her mother had inquired with restrained insistence.
'Mother, I have told you several times. It is what I want to do.'
'I certainly hope so. Your father worked very hard to put that money aside for you. It cost us our marriage, you know? But I am sure you are old enough now to do as you will.'
'Mother, I am twenty-two years of age.'
'Don't be silly, you will always be my child, even when you are being headstrong and rash.'
Janice got that from her father, along with a fund. It was all that was left of him. Her mother expunged the rest, except the insurance money; she felt entitled to that. She had been his wife, even after his attentions had strayed. Yet, he had left money for Janice to spend on her education, but he had stipulated that she take her Master's Degree abroad. Janice had chosen Ireland because she thought that would please him. He was French Canadian, but she knew he would get the point.
'But why Ireland?' her mother's family asked in unified indignation. They couldn't understand why anyone would want to leave Canada. 'They kill each other for religion over there.'
'I will be fine. I am going to Dublin.'
'Is that in the North or the South?'
'It's in the east, actually.'
But it wasn't what she had expected. It was far more tired and dirty. She hoped it would be Georgian-like with bonneted ladies strolling on the arms of military gentlemen, as dark horses strained, as buskers fiddled for farthings and hawkers and street urchins littered the back drop.
A sudden breeze fluttered through her curtains. She wrapped herself in her robe and went to shower before the hot water was gone.
Pot-bellied lampposts, bulging windows, wide stone steps and recessed doors crowned by fanlights, dirty and dusty between wooden spars whose years of paint had wrinkled and crinkled. When she got to the coffee shop, she would sketch them in her journal. And St. Ann’s Church, a microcosm of the past, a confusion of Romanesque between the solid keep of the beleaguered and stiff tower of the Enlightenment, wrapped in solid grey stones, but the doors were a dull red. Her sketches were like that, too, a confusion of styles pulling her in different directions.
Dawson Street was no longer the elegant enclave of the Protestant Ascendancy and now housed musty offices of aging public notaries with old school ties to Belvedere and King’s Hospital: dusty old places with large grimy windows looking across at the rude intrusion of dull little cubicles aspiring to be offices. Near the coffee shop, buses bustled around the corner, swaying from side to side, hock-deep amongst impatient cars, diesel engines growling and belching clouds of thick black smoke as a phalanx of people crossed against the lights. But Janice waited for the little green man to mutely say: ‘Walk now!’
“Oh! Look, there’s that Canadian. You gotta watch.”
“How long does it take to cross a feckin' street?”
“Forever, she keeps looking the wrong way.”
Janice hesitated as the lights changed again, afraid to step in the surging river that went past regardless of signals and right-of-way. She waited for a large enough crowd to force passage to the other side. And, as she waited, she could see her classmates watching through the window.
Sinead lingered by the counter. She thought about asking about him, but she couldn't do that in front of the others. And besides, she probably looked like shite, she certainly felt like it but a few coffees would clear her head.
“Here,” she called after the young woman who'd just served her. “Give me another coffee, please. I just saw my friend across the street.” She waited by the counter for as long as she could. He might be in the back somewhere, piling up heavy boxes or something.
The young woman brought the coffee and the girls’ voices grew louder. “She is such a . . .”
“Difference?” Sinead bustled past them to an empty table. “Give her a chance, will you? She's probably feeling really lost.”
“That one would get lost in her own wardrobe.”
“And she goes around like she's so much better than the rest of us.”
“And why's she always writing things?”
“She probably keeps a diary.”
Sinead usually sat with them and they made no secret of their feelings toward Janice so she found a clean table as the others gathered their things to leave, giggling and laughing as they went.
“What’s so funny?” Janice asked as she squeezed through.
“You never know. One of them might have sneezed. How are things?”
“Very good, thank you. But I don’t think I can get used to crossing streets here, you drive on the wrong side of the road and no one obeys the signals.”
“They are more like suggestions. The trick is numbers: if there are enough of you, you can cross, if not, you've to wait.”
“In Toronto, you would be charged with jay-walking.”
They smiled at each other as they searched for something else to say. Sinead fidgeted with the corner of a page before folding the paper and pushing it to one side. “You're probably just feeling a little homesick. I know I'd be. But don’t worry, in a few weeks, it will all be fine.”
Janice sipped her coffee as her eyes grew moist. She was so glad to have someone to reach out to. She had cried herself to sleep for weeks. She could be brave through the day but tossed and turned at night counting wooly doubts as strange noises prowled until scattered by bawdy laughter lingering in the embrace of boozy sentimentality. But they dispersed, too, and wandered home to damp flats and dingy houses, straggling off in clusters and couples, a part of something and not alone like her.
But this morning, it was more than that. She was shaken by the fight. She had watched from behind her curtains as the gangs met. The night had filled with curses and the sounds of breaking bottles until police cars added lights and sirens to the frenzy.
“Were you hurt?”
“Well . . . not really. But I'm not used to things like this.”
As her eyes began to well up, Sinead reached across and took her hand. “Well, then, you're going to have to go back and that’s a pity as I just met you. It'll be all right, you'll see. I was just reading a new report that says we're starting to see a rise in foreign investment. That’s great news.”
“Don’t dwell on what's wrong with the world. It'll end up driving you mad. Then you'll go and kill yourself and that'll be a real tragedy.”
“I've nothing stylish to wear to a classy funeral.”
It did bring a brief smile to Janice’s face before the next shadow flitted by. “Why is there so much violence here?”
Sinead thought about something funny to say, but she couldn't find anything fitting. “Poverty, despair and too much drink but that's all going to change. Soon, we'll see all kinds of opportunities, and we won’t have to emigrate anymore. I don’t know if that means anything to you, but for us, it's a huge change. So! How are you settling in?”