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Old Folks by Roddy Doyle - Chapter 1

Last update - Wednesday, February 1, 2012, 16:58 By Roddy Doyle

She had to go to four houses every day. They were not far apart but, even so, it was difficult to do this, to be finished in time to get to the school in time to meet Bogdan as he came out. She worried that she would be delayed, that one of the old people would be sick or dead, that Bogdan would not wait for her, that he would try to make his own way home, that he would forget about the little red man and the little green man and that he would step out in front of a car and become a different kind of little red man. She worried, worried. It was the way she was.

‘A different kind of little red man.’ She should not have had ideas like that. Bogdan was her son! She loved him very much! She worried about him! She worried, worried, worried! And yet these funny things popped into her head. Perhaps she was beginning to think and behave like an Irish person. Talking too fast. Laughing at nothing.
The old people did not laugh very much, although two of them smiled when they saw her. But the man in House #3 was a horrible old man.
‘Black bitch,’ he’d called her, when she tried to vacuum the carpet at his feet.
This was strange, because Dariya was Ukrainian and she was, in her opinion, extremely white. Her husband, big Bogdan, agreed with her. ‘If your eyes weren’t blue,’ he said, ‘I would never be able to find you.’ ‘But my clothes are black,’ she told him. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘That is true. But the problem arises when you are not wearing clothes.’ ‘My skin is a problem?’ ‘I did not say that.’
The horrible man. Not her husband – the old man. Dariya made sure that his was never the last house she visited, before she went to collect small Bogdan. She didn’t want to dash from that house straight to the school, carrying the old man’s nastiness with her. There was one very nice old woman, Mrs Touhy. Hers was always House #4, the last house Dariya went to.
Now, Dariya was late. She had not checked the clock in Mrs Touhy’s kitchen but she felt it in her blood: she was very late. She closed the front door. She was not sure if she had said Goodbye. She couldn’t remember. She bent down at the door and pushed open the letterbox. ‘Goodbye, Miss-hiss Too-hee!’ Then she ran.
It was not very far. But it seemed very far. There seemed to be extra corners and longer streets.
Two weeks she had been doing this job. It was hard, squeezing the work into such a little time, and doing it properly. Making sure there would be no complaints. Making sure that her boss, Natalka, would be satisfied. It was very hard. But it was a job.
And she was on time. There were no children in the schoolyard when she arrived at the gate. She joined the other mothers, and the fathers. There were more fathers now than there used to be, when Bogdan had started going to school. They were unemployed, she guessed. But not all of them. There was one man in a postman’s uniform. There were others who looked perhaps too cheerful to be unemployed. She did not know.
She saw Bogdan. He was looking for her, as he always did. She wished, just once, that he would come out talking to a friend, that he would not look so anxious.
She waved.
Perhaps she was the one who was anxious. Big Bogdan had suggested that, before she had told him to stay quiet and watch his stupid football.
Small Bogdan saw her, and smiled and went a little bit faster, to reach her. But all the other boys were exactly the same. They were all happy to see their mothers and fathers.
She felt Bogdan’s hand take hold of hers. This was always her favourite part of the day.
‘How was school?’ she asked, as always.
‘Fine,’ he answered, as always.
‘What is my English word today?’ she asked.
They were walking away from the school.
‘Recession,’ said Bogdan.
‘What is recession?’ his mother asked.
‘A monster, I think,’ said Bogdan. ‘Teacher said it will be on our backs for a long time.’
‘My goodness,’ said Dariya. ‘I know. Teach me Irish for a change. Teach me how to say, ‘Isn’t it a lovely day?’
Bodgdan looked at her and smiled.
‘An bhfuil cead agam dul go dti an leathrais?’ he said.
He spent the rest of the walk home teaching Dariya how to say it properly. They both felt very proud, but only one of them knew it was a joke.

© Roddy Doyle 2012

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