THE FACT OF THE MATTER
I am coming out the back of my local supermarket around seven on a Sunday evening recently, when the heavens open. I stop short of the main exit door, the rain splash-dancing ferociously across the car park. I have parked my car at the very far end, with the notion that every bit of exercise helps. I have no issue when getting what’s left of my head of hair drenched but getting my venerated Replay runners soaked beyond sustainability will leave a dark cloud hanging over me, so I decide to wait it out. To see how the heavens might unfold.
In the back of the supermarket are two lads. Sheltering also from the untimely outbreak, those April showers, immortalised in song down the decades. They have been on bikes, perhaps scooters – I cannot recall with certainty.
“Do you think it will ease up, lads?” I inquire.
The boy with the long, dark hair says: “Yes, I think so. You see the way the cloud up there is rolling and how the wind is blowing… I think we will be okay pretty soon.”
“Do you think so?” I say.
“ Yes, I do,” he says with great certainty.
His friend, smaller in stature and with a crop of sandy hair, is listening intently.
“Are you interested in such things? You know, weather, climate, all this talk about change.”
“We are,” they both chime.
“Funny,” I say to the tall lad, “but I had a Canadian colleague who came to live in Ireland and his wife was a woman who studied clouds, their science, their shape, humidity and so forth.”
He thinks for a moment and then says: “You mean she’s a nephrologist.”
“Is that what they call it?” I say. He smiles.
The taller lad, when I inquire if he is from around these parts – his accent suggests otherwise – says, yes, he is but his mother is from America. His father is a west of Ireland man.
“I see,” I say, looking to the skies for any sign of a break, the parked cars fully mirrored in the persistent pools of relentless rain. “That’s interesting, the west of Ireland connection, because it is from there that the emigrant ships set sail after the famine for America, and in those decades of emigration since.”
It seems I am not telling them anything they do not know.
“Yes,” says the sandy-haired boy. He has a serious countenance. “In Galway there is a walkway that is remembered as being that from which emigrants set sail for America.”
Now, I am learning something for, in all my years enjoying the craic of Galway, I never knew such a memorial existed.
The boys have been friends for five years, they tell me. Both in sixth class – but in different schools, says the shorter boy – and will be going to secondary school in September.
“Any ideas what you’d like to do when you leave school?”
The tall boy is quick to respond. “Something meaningful,” he says.
“Yes, something meaningful, that contributes,” says his friend with that serious look.
“You know what, lads,” I say, “I think it’s great that two young boys like yourselves can have the time and the interest to talk to an old guy with a walking stick.”
The sandy-haired boy says: “It’s not about your age. It’s about what you have to say. It’s about what we have to say to each other. That’s what’s important.”
The other nods vehemently.
The rain onslaught ends as quickly as it erupted. Even a little evening sun is breaking through.
The boy with the long hair says: “Without meaning to cut the conversation short, I think you should make a break for it now.
“It will be back.”
As I put one foot in front of the other with the aid of my stick, I say: “We’ll meet again, men. And talk again. And don’t give up.” And I head towards my car, sidestepping the puddles.
“Yes, we will,” they call after me.
Every generation, since Man immemorial, thinks the generation coming up behind it is of little essence or consequence. The young have always got a bad press. And have always proved to the contrary.
As I look in my car mirror to reverse, I smile at myself and say: “It’s about what you have to say to each other…”
After my brief encounter with these two fine young boys, somehow the future – like the now evening sun – seems somewhat brighter.