Book excerpt

This Is the Way

A Novel

Gavin Corbett

Faber & Faber

This Is the Way
I1I was thirteen fourteen month in a room in Dublin. More, even.The landlord says to me the first day no parties no pets. The three Ps he put it but I waited for the third one and he never said it. That was the most words said between the two of us the whole time. I did sometimes think to keep him in a conversation for the mischief. He came in on a Thursday morning and you saw him hold his breath. He looked up just a glance this afeard look in his eyes and he looking at the corners where the black was spreading, at all along the lines where the walls and the ceiling met. He came in and he took the rent just got in got out the least amount of disturbance. I would laugh.I don't know how much the other people in the building kept with the rules. I heard great noise many times. I heard twenty people falling down the stair, I heard banging through the pipes. It was a busy house but I would not see it being busy. What I know is there was the Egyptian in the next room. There was a man from Africa in the room the other side ofthe landing. There was a man from Africa in rooms on the ground. He had a woman from Holland and she was on the smack. They met in Holland. There was a fella name of Donie who slept in his shoes and he was in the room the first landing and he was from near Clare and near Tipperary. I think myself and Donie and then Arthur were the only Irish in that building my time there. The fella lived in my room before me was a fella name of Mac came down from the north of Ireland Donie said. I say it like I knew Donie but I did not. There were fellas from Poland three in one room but there were others from Poland as well. I seen a couple of Chinese too a boy and a girl. The fella was very tall. His people were from the west of China. I seen them once but I never seen them again, that was the way with these folk. But a lot of Africans all the time. It was just one of them houses. Other houses on the street you saw the Indians sitting on the steps or the Romanians but our house was one of the African ones whatever it was. Every shade you'd see. The women were not friendly but they were no harm neither. A man with sore eyes was in the university in Africa but he was in a gang and he got death threats. I did not know if this house in the city of Dublin was a good place to be hiding from people who wanted you killed but I hoped for myself it was.It was an interesting house. It was more than two hundred year old. You would get the feel for it no doubt. Going up the stair, when I heard the noise of the floor board or got the smell of the damp, when I saw the lead in the fan window or the paint come off the ceiling, I got the feel for it. My room was at the top and the walls were not high but I knew of them in other parts of the house that were high. You could see theshape of the fruits and roses in the ceiling in the hall but you would not see the shape of them in my room. There was no carpet on the floor of my room, it was wood. When I moved my shoe on the wood I felt a grit. It was like sand or dirt. It had been there over the years. A man had come in from the sea or the fields, he had not taken off his boots.I got information about the house off Judith Neill who was a lady looked after me who worked in a library. She was a Protestant. She gave me food and the things from her garden like radishes. She would give me tomatoes, apples and gourds. And one time then she gave me information about Public John Chiffingham. She gave it to me written down and it was something I was interested in. Public John Chiffingham was the name of the man who built this house. He built the street. Some of the food that was eaten in the houses in the street was saddle of mutton, a barrel of oysters, pike on a plate, the bird called the ptarmigan and marmalade tarts. The houses were turned over many times to many different people. For a hundred year the houses were turned over to the good people of Ireland. They used the wood in the house to burn to keep themself warm. When they were not burning fires they hid carbines in the chimney.I met Judith one day one time I was depressed. I been in the house half a year, too long on my own. I was going mad, I went wandering. I seen a notice said this lady wanted people to tell their stories. She was collecting them from people like me. But she might think I am a strange one I said to myself, she would want me to slow down is what people say. I went to meet her in the library in the university and she gave me books to write in and books to read.She said I should collect stories myself, they would help me tell my own. Would I not make it my business to know about the others in the house she said to me. She said those houses had many stories to tell. All the lives lived in them times gone by and all the lives lived in them today came to a lot of stories. In many ways they were the same what she said, the stories went on today and the ones went on before, they were all waiting for people to tell them. She said did I know the names of any the others in the house. I said to her Mac, the fella lived in the room before me. Tell me about him she says. I did not know this fella Mac, I never met him. I made up a story about him. Anyone with a Mac their name they were the son of a son of. This Mac came down from the north of Ireland and his father was in the gutter trade. I found a picture he thrown in my wardrobe of the Republic of Korea, I said to Judith he been going with a girl from the Republic of Korea.Good says Judith.She would ask me about my room, where it was in the house. Where she says and she went on like this.At the top I says.Where at the top she says.At the front the top and the sun comes in I says.Ah where the sun comes in she says. Tell me about the sun coming in she says.I says it to her it's good because sometimes it's a sunny place. When the sun is out my room gets the sun. It's good but if there be a way to keep the heat of the sun that builds up in the summer over for the winter it be better I says.Very good she says, like this.Came a time though. After two month she seen she wasn't getting nowhere with me. I didn't know about telling tales. I didn't want to be snooping at people's doors in the house neither. A man who owned his own church said the wages of sin was death, nearly screamed his own room down. I didn't want to be killed, not by the Gillaroos not by no man for nothing. I was depressed all this time, it was a bad time. The air would get in on you. It was in the way things would come to you. The part of the city the house was was the place the whores were times gone by. The soldiers used come up for the whores. There were the pimps went around in charge of the whores they would lie waiting to hit the soldiers over the head who left without paying the night before. There were fellas too hid in the dark and hit the drunken soldiers on the head they knew had money because it was easy. The soldiers hid too and hit the men who hit them first. Holy men waited around to hit the pimps to get the whores off the streets. At any place you would turn you would find a man waiting to take it in hand the thing been troubling him. This is what you would think.You could not be relaxed this time. Sometimes I would check. I would jump up I would check. I would be lying on the floor or the couch. I would be lying on the bed I would jump up. I would be sitting in my chair. I would go to the window I would check.I watched from that window. People moved in the street, birds came up to the glass. I would see the spikes and wire, all around the roofs were forks. There were statues their face crusted in cack. Hello Saint Anthony I would say. I been told he was the saint of lost things. I did not know if it was Saint Anthony I was looking at.This town had many corners. It was the thing I seen. The corners pushed you around but they would take you in. You would see the outsides of them, you would think of the insides of them. I had one of my own, a room hanging in the air. But you could not see it, you could only think of it. And you could only think of it if you knew it. They could not get me here if they did not know it, I said it to myself.Other things I would think. I thought of the people done me down and of the people never done me down. I thought of the people in the library with Judith. I thought of them below where most the work got done in the library. The bowels of the building they called it, this lady Heather I met, an anorexic they called her. She said it was the bowels of the building and it was a good word. They were Protestants most them, all them, I got good at knowing. They never done me down was the way I looked at it.I thought of the people on the street where there was a happiness was what you could see. I seen it for myself, I seen the arm chair on the road. I seen the tins of beer left about for whoever it was wanted them. I seen the childer on their bikes. There was one lad went about with thick gloves flattened all the broken glass on the tops of walls made it a safer place for the childer, I seen him. I seen the fella in the Ecclesiastical Metal Manufacturers when I was passing. He had the walls in the yard by the basement rooms painted yellow and he be sitting rags around him in his apron and the place filling up with the sun. I seen the Romanians and they were burnt looking and shamed looking people but not unhappy people, they were in fact joyful was a word that could have been used, they were a joyful people. I seen thisone fella out with his trumpet on the street and he was good enough not to play it and disturb the neighbourhood but he was showing the childer. I asked him was it a trumpet, he said it was. They suited the sun the Romanians but it was difficult. The bricks in those streets were black, it was not a place that the sun could reach for long in the day.I said I would give it a year in that house and I would see. But when my year was gone I says should I give it more time. I thought a year might cool it but I had no idea. The truth of me wanting longer though was something else. The truth of it was I was getting settled in the city of Dublin.But you hear some things. People asking questions, people who go out in the field. The people who come to where the fields gather into streets, who follow the streets, learn to read them, come knocking on doors, going house after house, do you know this person, this person we are looking for, do you know this man. 
Here are things this woman Judith Neill said to me. I was in her room in the library in the university. I was thinking of my mother, my father, my brother and my sisters. I was thinking of my uncle Arthur who was away distant places those days. I was thinking of the people been before us. Judith says you have to look at these things in detail and in whole and the story will make sense. I says is it fate you are talking about. She says it is not fate but from where you are looking it can seem like fate. Everything can only lead to where you are looking from and the more certain you are about where you are looking from the better to see what leads to it.But I did not know where I was looking from but she said I should be glad to know where I was looking from because she was not certain where she was looking from. She was a woman sometimes you could pity and I think the Devil got in her if she had a drop. She had a man was sick with fits and was a weakness dragging her down. But maybe all these people had troubles like it I seen.Judith gave me a cassette recorder one of the times. It was a box and it looked like a radio but it's a cassette recorder she says. She said it could be useful for me. She was standing in the middle of her room in the library her coat on and the room was a state. There were the carts packed high and there was paper on her table. I was sitting there I had this cassette recorder on my knee. The buttons had fallen off, they were now metal. I laughed I don't know why. It was because she had her coat on and her hands in her pockets and the room was a state. Only if you want it she says.The cassette recorder is broken it will never be fixed but not long ago I tried buying blank cassettes for it. The man in the shop said to me I was part of a dying breed. I says to myself I am part of no breed.Copyright © 2013 by Gavin Corbett

Gavin Corbett was born in the west of Ireland and was raised in Dublin, where he studied history at Trinity College. This Is the Way is his second novel. He lives in Dublin.