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Old Folks by Roddy Doyle - Chapter 4

Last update - Tuesday, May 1, 2012, 13:21 By Roddy Doyle

It was cold this morning, a cold that reminded Dariya of winters at home – but damper. Her fingers were numb. She had difficulty getting the Chubb key into the lock. She had difficulty holding the key. She felt like a small child, a toddler.

But she did it. The door was open and the heat from the house pulled her inside.
‘Mr O’Rourke?’
He didn’t answer, as usual, the horrible man.
She closed the door.
‘Mr O’Rourke?’
No answer.
‘It is me!’
It was a silly thing to say – It is me! But her boss had told her to say this, or something like this, every time she opened a front door.
It is not me!
She walked down to the kitchen.
It is a mad person with an axe!
He was in the kitchen, still holding the kettle. Was that true? Had he been standing there all night in his pyjamas, waiting for Dariya to return?
It is a mad person with a kettle!
He put his free hand on the cold tap and lifted the kettle, to show her. And suddenly Dariya understood: Mr O’Rourke was offering to make her a cup of tea.
‘Yes, please,’ she said.
And yesterday – Oh my God – she had thought that he wanted to give her the kettle.
‘Thank you.’
‘Ah, sure.’
And that had been after he’d ordered her to clean the toilet. Or, she’d thought he’d ordered her to clean the toilet. Because Dariya had thought she’d said Isn’t it a lovely day? in Irish when, she knew now, she had actually said Can I go to the toilet? And he’d said –
Oh God.
Perhaps he wasn’t such a horrible old man, after all. Look at him! He was making her a cup of tea. It was Irish tea, tea-flavoured milk, and she hated it. But he was very kindly making it – for her! Perhaps she was the horrible one. She hadn’t been listening. He’d been crying out for companionship and she, the so-called professional, had pushed him away.
Well, never again.
She took off her jacket.
‘Mr O’Rourke,’ she said. ‘Isn’t it a lovely day?’
‘No,’ he said. ‘It’s shite.’
‘Oh,’ said Dariya. ‘Why is it shite?’
‘It just is.’
That was all. He was back to being horrible, and the tea was horrible too. But he said nothing nasty as Dariya emptied the fridge and wiped the glass shelves. There was very little in the fridge. Just two eggs, and one slice of meat. A carton of milk, an onion.
‘Mr O’Rourke,’ she said. ‘Do you want to shop?’
‘I will shop?’
‘It is grand?’
‘My daughter,’ he said.
‘She brings food?’
‘Grand,’ she said.
But when she went upstairs, Dariya began to worry. It was very cold up there. In the bathroom she saw her breath as she cleaned the mirror. The towel was cold and wet, and it seemed hard – as if it had started to freeze. Her fingers were sore and stiff – everything was so cold.
She was not worried about Mr O’Rourke. He was that word – grand. She worried about Mrs Touhy. Dariya could see her as she’d seen her yesterday, lying on her bed, in a room much colder than the cold outside. Today was an even colder day.
She quickly made Mr O’Rourke’s bed. She changed the sheet and pillowcases. She hung his trousers on the back of a chair. She picked up the coins that fell out of a pocket and put them on the little table beside the bed.
She went downstairs.
‘Mr O’Rourke, I am finished.’
He was standing again, pointing the remote control at the TV.
‘Bloody thing.’
‘Goodbye,’ she said.
He didn’t answer.
She should have helped him – she knew. She should have looked at the back of the remote control, to check that the batteries still worked. She should have held one battery in each of her hands and pointed her nose at the TV, the way her husband, Bogdan, did, to make Small Bogdan laugh.
But she didn’t. She left. Mr O’Rourke would not have laughed.
She ran. She started to sweat, even though it was still very cold. She had the key ready before she got to Mrs Touhy’s house. Her hand shook as she put the key in the lock.
She almost fell into the hall. She’d been running so hard, she couldn’t tell if it was warm or cold in the house.
‘It is me!’
She stumbled down the hall, to the kitchen.
Me, me, me, me!
Mrs Tuohy was sitting at the table.
‘Mrs Touhy? You are fine?’
‘Where’s Mary?’
‘Who is Mary?’ said Dariya.
She was going to become a deep-sea diver, or a lion tamer. Looking after old people really was too frightening.

© Roddy Doyle 2012

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