Shergar Ch 2

2.

ABOUT Jonathan.

This sounds crazy but I knew he would be my best friend on the day I met him.

I know that’s desperate. You’re supposed to know your best friend since you were both in the womb or some sad amount of time, like my my dad, who has known Jonathan’s dad since they went to the same university in England. I not sure about my mom and her best friend or if she even has one. Probably not, which makes me sad. Her too, I bet. She once told me when all is said and done, when we go to meet our maker, the only thing that matters is the friends we have made. In which case God is going to like me just fine.

I’ve got just enough friends, not too many and not to few. There’s Jonathan of course. And then my friends at school .

There were six of us in our little gang. Gang! I absolutely, positively hate that word. It makes us sound like Eoin Leonard and his knucklehead crew, wandering the playground stealing food from younger kids. We weren’t like that at all. We kept ourselves to ourselves, except when there was a big game of football going on and a few of us joined in. Not everyone though. At least one of us always stayed with Sam, who was born with one of his ankles twisted to the side so his foot can’t hold his weight properly. He could walk with a cane but he can’t play football or anything crazy like that.

Some people in our PE class wouldn’t have minded about that but Sam did. He told me more times that I could count how much he hated his “stupid fucking ankle”. He was supposed to go to America for operation to get it fixed but his parents couldn’t afford the flights. You should hear Sam when it comes to doctors in Ireland, the fucking idiots. Why can’t they do the fucking operation?

I didn’t feel sorry for Sam, and I did. I didn’t because he wasn’t after pity — “I don’t want your fucking pity,’ he once told me (Sam swears a lot, in case you haven’t noticed). And I did because PE was my favourite subject and I’d hate it if I couldn’t run around and be the best basketball player in the whole of second year. People treated him badly, too, like he wasn’t worth bothering about. All because he had a spastic ankle, which wasn’t even his fault.

Leonard was the worst. He called him a ‘spas’ to his face at least once a day. His hangers-on all laughed like this was the greatest joke since time began. Now there’s a bunch of spastics, if you ask me.

The good thing is that stopped after the ‘incident’ at Tallarin Park. Leonard never came near any of us after that even though Jonathan was long gone and back home in England.

HE ARRIVED on a Saturday. I know it was a Saturday because I had to wait home instead of going to the pitch and putt like we did every other week of the summer holidays. I wasn’t happy about that. My friend Connail’s dad collects the greens fees and he lets us play for free.

My dad said there would there would be plenty of time to play golf. We still had six weeks school holiday because they were knocking down old temporary classrooms and building new ones. I didn’t want my summer ruined by having to look after some stranger from England who I’d never met before.

We were at dinner table one night just after the end of the school year when I was told we were having a lodger for the summer and he would be sleeping in my brother’s room.

“He’s a few years younger than Brendan so you and him should have plenty in common,’’ he said. “His name is Jonathan.”

My mum already knew about it, obviously. “Remember dad’s friend, Lawrence Conran? He spend a long weekend here….how long ago was it Brendan?” she said.

My dad was already eating. He doesn’t like his food to go cold.

“Five, six years,’’ he said, through a mouthful of pasta. “Maybe longer. Can we eat? This food is getting cold.”

See what I mean?

“It’s his son. He’s a very nice boy. Isn’t he Brenden?”

I swear to god on my brother’s life I had never heard of Lawrence Conran but I didn’t say anything because that’s not how it’s done in our house, especially when my dad was like that. Bossy. My brother would definitely had a few questions — like who was this guy and why was he coming here to spoil my perfect summer with his English accent and whatever else was wrong with him? — but not me. No sir.

You know how it is in families, where parents tell you everyone is treated the same and nobody is anybody’s favourite but everyone knows that’s not exactly the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So here’s how it is in our family. Brendan is my dad’s favourite. That’s as obvious as the sun in the sky. I suppose you could say I’m my mum’s favourite, though she hides it as best she can. She can’t fool me. When I was really young she let me sleep next to her when I was scared or angry. Even now, when I have to hug her at Christmas or on her birthday, I remember the warm safety of her body. She looks out for me.

“It’ll be nice for you to have some company,” she said, though she could read my mind like one of those TV hypnotists. I had all the company I needed.

The mysterious Jonathan Conran from England wasn’t as tall as I thought he would be, what with him being older than me. He had stubble. Honestly. The wispy kind, like small black feathers randomly glued to his face. The kind you would shave off if you ever bothered to look in a mirror. It didn’t look good. Same with his hair and clothes, neither of which looked like they’d been washed for a month. There was a picture on his t-shirt — a cartoon face, white on black, with tight white curls, crossed eyes, and freckles on the cheeks. The slogan underneath said Brain Dead. He was wearing a pair of blue Converse, the kind I’d been wanted for ages.

He had two bags — a newish-looking brown suitcase and a large black canvas bag, battered and dusty. It looked like it had traveled ten times around the world on the back of a truck.

My dad picked him up at airport, two hours there and back. I played video games for the whole time he was gone.

I could tell my mum was as nervous as me about having a stranger living in our house, the way she tried to make excuses for him

“He’s been having a few problems at school,’’ she said.

I concentrated on the game. FIFA17. In one of the biggest shocks in the history of world football Bohemians were beating Real Madrid with just three Playstation minutes left to play.

“I think he just needs a change of scene.”

Ronaldo weaved through my Bohemians defence, the way he does

“Uh-hu.’’

She didn’t notice I wasn’t paying attention. “Just between the two of us, he’s been having a few problems at school.”

Ronaldo hit the crossbar and went for the rebound.

“What school? Who?”

GOAL! Ronald scored a last minute equaliser.

“Mum,’’ I said. ‘Look what you did.”

WE SHOOK hands and said all usual fake stuff you say when you meet someone new. He didn’t seem that excited, which was fine by me.

My mom got all giddy about his black bag. “Look Cillian, Jonathan has got golf clubs too. You can take him down to the pitch and putt,’’ she said.

I could tell the bag wasn’t for carrying golf clubs. Whatever was inside was long and skinny and probably weighed as much as a feather but I didn’t want to interrupt, especially as she was giving him the whole tourist story about our local pitch and putt course, making out like it was Pebble Beach.

“I don’t play golf, Mrs Sheridan,’’ Jonathan said when she stopped for breath. “It’s a metal detector.”

My mom looked surprised. It’s not every day someone walks into your house with a metal detector.

“A metal detector?’’ she said. “How interesting”

Jonathan shrugged but not in cool way. “I guess.”

There was something about the way he spoke to her I liked. He was genuinely surprised she thought his metal detector was interesting.

“What’s it for?” I asked.

He switched his attention to me. There was smirk on his face, a smirk I came to know well. “Detecting metal,’’ he said.

I was told to help Jonathan upstairs with his bags and showed him his room, otherwise I would have left him to carry his own bags. I retaliated for the sarcasm by only speaking to him when he spoke to me. Even then barely said a word.

“Is this your brother’s room usually?”

Grunt.

“What’s the Usain Bolt poster?”

Dunno.

He spotted the wallchart of yoga positions my brother had faithfully practised every day since forever.

“Namaste.”

Huh?

That put him in his place.

Back downstairs mum finished setting the table and was about to serve up food. Dad had retreated behind his newspaper

“Have you washed your hands?”

“Yes,’’ I lied.

“Show me.”

Caught.

“My hands are clean,’’ I said and went off to run them under the cold tap.

Jonathan, being the visitor, got a a free pass from the hand sanitation police even though his nails looked like he’d been digging ditches all day.

Dinner was one long torture session. Jonathan and me were mostly quiet while mum made suggestions about what we could do for the next six weeks. She had made a list in the notepad she normally used to make shopping lists. An actual list, which she read out loud in voice that make it sound like she expected to be thanked for her genius ideas.

Cycling.

Day trips to the beach.

Hiking.

Soccer.

Basketball.

Dublin — museums, Post Office, Trinity, Four Courts.

“Your dad and I have been looking into this camp in Donegal where they teach you how to surf for a week,’’ she said.

So that was that. My life was ruined. I was either going to drown or be eaten by a shark.

When we finished dinner I asked if I could watch TV, which went down like a fart in a maths exam.

“It’s a beautiful night,’’ my mum said, “you should go outside and get some fresh air.”

My dad was in full agreement, naturally. Anything to tie a big black bow on the worst summer in history. “Why don’t you show Jonathan around Ballytermin? Give him the ten cent tour.”

The ten cent tour? I hadn’t the foggiest what he was talking about.