Saturday 21 September 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: 'I ache for the past but I've this child right beside me now'


Illustration by Ben Hickey
Illustration by Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

We're off into town, me and the little grandson. To wander around for the day and have a look at the lights.

He loves the bus, and it's just as well. Normally it's the one bus into Talbot Street. But, just for the craic, I have a gawk at the Bus Connects website, and the new routes they'll be introducing in the new year. I might be reading the map wrong but I think we need to take four buses and a camel to get us from home to outside the Irish Life Centre. I could swear I see the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the distance, behind a block of flats, when we're upstairs on the third bus.

But anyway, we're there.

- What do we need to get? I ask the little lad.

- Ch'istmas dumper, Ch'istmas t'ousers, a teddy bear for Baby Deezus!

We've a crib in the hall, at home. Every year, the older grandkids go up to the attic and bring it down and they all take turns or watch as they put in the donkeys, the shepherds, the two wise men - one of them's gone on the mitch - Mary, Joseph and the baby in his manger. There's a Spider-Man and a little Simba in there as well. Simba was half-chewed by one of the dogs a few years ago but he still looks happy enough to be back in Bethlehem.

Anyway, after the excitement of taking the thing down from the attic, I find the little lad alone at the crib, staring in.

- Baby Deezus tad, he says.

- Sad?

He nods.

- He want a teddy bear.

So, that's our mission. We've to find a little plastic teddy bear for Jesus. No bother, I say to myself, there'll be loads of them in Smyths. And that's where we head.

I take hold of his hand and we're off. Across O'Connell Street, down Henry Street, we go under all the lights, past the stalls. I've been doing this for decades. He's not my child but my children's hands are his hand; the warmth, the size, the squeeze returned when I squeeze. I'm the happiest man on earth and there's a sadness right behind my eyes that's almost welcome. I ache for the past but I've this child right beside me.

Smyths is jammered and there's no sign of a little plastic teddy. There are real teddy bears, all shapes, sizes and facial expressions - some of those bears look like they'd buy and sell you - but there isn't one small enough to get in beside the baby in the crib.

We're standing there when some gobs***e runs into the back of my legs with a shopping trolley. It's agony and he stares at me, slack-jawed, like it's my fault - I threw my ankles in front of his vehicle. I can hear my father: "That's what makes him a gobs***e, son." Anyway, the magical thinking kicks in: I'm in pain, therefore we'll find a plastic teddy.

Therefore me a**e - we find nothing.

- We'll get the Christmas clothes, I say to the grandson. - Then we'll find the teddy. Is that a plan?

He nods, and we're off. He doesn't look disappointed, but I am. I remember my kids asking Santy for things that didn't actually exist, and Santy always managed to deliver. The least I can do is find a tiny teddy.

But no.

We get him his Christmas clobber. He's become a bit of a fashionista since last year. He isn't looking at the labels but he puts a jumper against his shirt and looks down.

- Clash, clash, clash, G'anda, he says, and hands it back.

We keep searching for Jesus's teddy - up and down Henry Street, Talbot Street. But no joy.

He shrugs.

- Ah, well.

It's dark and time for home. I've had enough of the buses.

We get into the back of a taxi on Sackville Place. The little lad's grand, I think, but I feel a bit defeated. I close my eyes.

When I open them again we're crawling through Fairview and the little lad is pointing at something. I look - and see: there's a line of little toys glued to the panel above the driver's dashboard. There's a yellow New York taxi, there's a little dog, a cowboy - and a plastic teddy.

- Teddy bear for Baby Deezus!

I see the driver's eyes in the rearview. He's looking at the grandson. He leans forward, takes hold of the teddy. He pulls, and hands it back over his shoulder.

- There you go.

The little lad looks down at the bear on his palm.

- Baby Deezus will be happy, he says.

- Well, that makes me happy, says the driver.

I look at his eyes in the mirror. There's a sadness there, a story.

- Thanks, I say.

I see him lift his shoulders.

- Sure, it's Christmas.

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