I had hardly lain down it seemed to me, before it was time to get up again on that fateful departure day. The sun had risen and light flooded into the bedroom through the east-facing window.
Already the house was abuzz with activity and excitement. People had come from everywhere to wish us a safe journey and a happy landing. I didn’t know I had so many friends and relatives, many of them who I had never seen before.
They came from as far away as Armagh, Omagh, Dungannon and Ballylunnen and had names like Coyle, Coyne, Devlin and Cohen, Moody and Macklin and at least one Quin, spelled with a single ‘n’ – from Belfast, who was, God help him, said my father, A Protestant! His name was pronounced with the ‘i’ and not with the ‘ee’ that was usual in our neighbourhood.
Some people who had purchased bits of furniture from us arrived with pony-and-traps to take it away. Others came on bicycles. It was a brilliant morning with not a cloud in sight.
My parents were still packing, moving items from one container to another. Questions demanded answers but there was no one to supply them. This was the most important and traumatic occasion of their lives to date. The indecisiveness of the past three months was now no more. They had reached their Rubicon. Worries about the predictions of doom and the future’s uncertainties were masked by the stress of the present, by the rising tide of excitement, the arrival of close relatives and fast friends, all of which helped to hold at bay, if only for a few more moments, any least expressions of strong emotions that accompany last farewells.
I too was caught up in the excitement. My enthusiasm though was undiluted with any regret for the past or fear for the future. I felt strangely calm and objective. I was looking down, uninvolved and unmoved, watching people come and go, others lingering at the roadside, and inside the house Sally and Mary Ann fluttering about like butterflies in their new dresses with Maggie toddling after them and getting in their way. My father was in a nice clean white shirt and his good trousers, incongruously held up by worn archaic gallowses and trying to shave with the aid of a little cracked mirror on the wall.
My mother was surrounded by her sisters and aunts and a few close friends, fussing with her purse, laughing and crying both at the same time, keeping busy – doing anything to avoid being alone with her thoughts, striving valiantly to hold back the moment of the final farewell.
… bus is coming …
… bus is coming …