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Manus in Seomra Spraoi

Seomra Spraoi was a hub of resistance. The space was located just off the quays close to Dublin’s city centre. It was used to organise campaigns against, Shell oil’s Mayo pipeline, the World Bank and the deportations of non-nationals, among many other worthwhile causes.

It is hardly surprising Seomra Spraoi was closed down under ‘fire regulations’. It had probably only been allowed to stay open for as long as it did due to a lack of visibility. No one caused trouble, there were no fights and the Gardaí were never called out over loud music late at night, until they were one night.

When they came over they were not overly-impressed with some of the anti-capitalist and anti-police posters. Perhaps they began to perceive the space as a possible threat. In any event, Seomra was closed down under fire regulations a few days later.

But that’s just political spiel. Seomra Spraoi was also a social centre. A place where personal stories unfolded.

*******

Manus had just finished with a relationship. The woman had moved out and even though he had custody of the child for more than half the week he still felt a yawning gap in his life. Even more so when the child, Shirifa, went to her mothers.

Mentally, physically, and economically, Manus couldn’t afford the pubs, and while he could pass the time reading and writing, he still craved human contact.

For Manus, Seomra Spraoi was manna from heaven. A; social club/drop in/resource centre, not-for- profit, non-hierarchical, and run for and by the people who used it. Those were the ideals to which the centre aspired. Of course ideals and humans don’t always get along perfectly together. It’s hard once you’ve invested time and energy into creating and maintaining something to think of it in any other way than as your baby. It may belong to everyone, but it still belongs more to you. Unofficial hierarchies and cliques seem to evolve naturally regardless of ideology. But having said that the centre did its best, and its best was pretty good.

Sundays had activities specifically catering for kids but it was child-friendly in general.

Shirifa loved it.  Even when there were no people her own age the older people took an interest in her, made allowances for her and in general showed her the respect we are all due.

There is an old African saying, ‘it takes a whole village to bring up a young person’, and Seomra Spraoi was as close to a village as could be found anywhere in Dublin. Manus was enjoying bringing her up in the right type of atmosphere. An atmosphere of mutual respect.

It was in Seomra Spraoi that Shirifa and Manus heard about the protest against the World Bank, and Manus and Shirifa, along with a handful of others, decided to participate.

‘We do very well out of it,’ Manus explained to his daughter. ‘It’s  because people in other countries are kept so poor that we are rich.’

Shirifa nodded her three year old head and looked serious.

Manus laughed. He wondered about his motivation for attending the protest. There was only a dozen or so people in attendance. Manus wondered about that too. How come there was so few protesting? Did everybody believe the world order was set like concrete and could never be changed? That protest seemed futile. Or did nobody else care that the poorest countries in the world were having to pay the richest countries in the world lots of money, and as a direct consequence thousands of people lived and died with intolerable hardship?

People’s apathy amounted to criminal negligence. Manus applied uncle Noamy’s example and felt like a German civilian during the Second World War, looking at the smoke coming from chimneys and saying, ‘am I really sure what’s happening in there and even if I was what could I do about it?’

Manus didn’t feel like he was doing much but he supposed standing in the cold outside a hotel where members of the World Bank were meeting and saying ‘boo’ was better than doing nothing.

Anyway the protest in Malahide was a day out for Manus and Shirifa.

After a few hours they headed off for cake and coffee in a café along with two single parent mums and their kids. Manus was a single parent dad and he had to get used to the idea. He had to start looking at other women, or looking for another woman.

Phrases like, ‘back on the market’, or, ‘on the hunt’, could now be applied to him.

Mostly he had enjoyed monogamy but he wasn’t cut out for abstinence.

These women seemed sensitive, intelligent, strong, independent and politically aware lefty types. Manus was pleased to think they existed, and pleased to have their company. He wondered if he would stand a chance with either of them. Either would do, but shouldn’t he have a preference?

He would have been hard-pressed to decide. He wondered if his need denied him a preference. One of the women appeared more youthful than the other, more impulsive.

He had vague recollections of other women he had known when he had been younger. Impulsive times.

Manus wondered what it would be like to live with either of them over a period of years. He had visions of both women wearing completely different faces from the pleasant persona’s they presented at this moment.

How far away were the faces of anger, resentment  or painful sadness? How long before he would see those faces?

Manus had made a few quid that morning. It was the first bit of cash he had made in months and he was pleased to have money in his pocket.

He offered to buy both women their dinners with wine at the café, but they each refused. He didn’t know them that well and they were of a different gender.

Manus had an easy-come eas- go attitude to money and would have offered to pay for the food and drink regardless. He was pleased to be able to offer and pleased to sit with two adults who brought their kids to protest against the World Bank. But that didn’t take from the fact that he was still a mate-less male and these were two seemingly mate-less females. He wondered if his offer was really him making a play for the women or if he was just being human and wanting to share in his good fortune.

In any event they had both refused dinner. The single parent mums were younger than him. Everyone was younger than him.

They all travelled back on the train together. The three lone parents and their three children.

One of the women told a story about a skeleton that gave one of its bones to make soup, but when the soup wasn’t shared out the skeleton chased the nasty people out and let a poor little boy stay in the house.

The story kept the kids happy the whole way back.

Manus couldn’t help comparing the women to Shirifa’s mum Janice.

Janice was thirty one going on nineteen. She longed for the heady social life of her late teens and early twenties. For Janice things had taken a distinctly downward turn around the year two thousand and one, when she had been twenty-four years old, and met Manus for the first time.

For Jan the relationship was never meant to be anything more than a cheap thrill for a fleeting moment. The satisfaction of idle and lustful curiosity. But what should have been a passing fling turned into a prolonged nightmare. She felt trapped by her pregnancy too, and her relationship with this man, an older man, someone from another place and another time.

She had even been unfaithful to him as a ploy to get him to end it. Shagging someone else had always worked before, but not with Manus. He stuck like shit to her shoe. Just to make her suffer she sometimes thought.

Janice had fought against and in many ways denied the relationship most of the time but for the sake of convenience, and due to economic restrictions, she ended up living in the same space and even sharing the same bed as Manus, for the best part of six years.

Receiving a bequest of fifteen thousand euro from her grandfather gave her the freedom to re-arrange her life. So Janice and Manus had officially broken up. That is, they no longer lived under the same roof or slept in the same bed, but they still had to deal with each other.

Throughout the relationship Janice had fluctuated between being churlish and rude to being needy and crying. Sometimes she wanted his emotional support, other times she just wanted him in bed.

The break up hadn’t changed the nature of the relationship.

When she needed him or even just wanted him, she had only to ask and he would be over in a flash, panting like a puppy on her porch. Occasionally he might hesitate for a moment, but it seemed so pointless. Why would he lie on his own and deny himself the warmth and pleasure of her body?

There were a couple of reasons why. After sex she might pat his crutch and say ‘you were always a great shag’. She probably thought she was flattering him, but a part of him would want to quote Billy Holiday, ‘you’ve had the best now why not take the rest, come on, have all of me.’

But Jan didn’t want the rest and the parts she didn’t want felt lonely and rejected.

She would never let him stay the night and he would feel like the dog getting put out at the end of the day.

He would try to rationalize that lots of people would love such a relationship. Sex and then piss off, but for some reason it didn’t always appeal to him.

Looked at from a certain slant of rationality, Jan was doing everyone a favour breaking out of a relationship she felt trapped in. Manus didn’t always look at it from that particular slant of rationality.

It’s funny how unrequited love can turn to hate.

But then life could sometimes be seen as a very funny experience, especially if you are living in the wealthy West.

And Manus was living in the wealthy West.

*******

He brought Shirifa to a protest against deportations. Manus had friends who had been forced out of Ireland. He had felt frustration and anger. He didn’t have that many friends and couldn’t afford to lose any of them. One of his friends was called Addi. They had met in a border town. They both lived in the same housing estate . They both felt very isolated amongst the remnants of die-hard Republicanism, and the alcoholism which seemed to dominate the estate. They met on a regular basis for over a year, never doing much other than smoking African bush weed and talking or listening to music.

But contacts like this were an oasis of human interaction in his otherwise social desert. Manus felt close to Addi. Then one day Manus got a message on his mobile saying Addi was in prison and asking for help. Manus didn’t know how to help. He never heard from Addi again. Apart from feeling useless and guilty Manus didn’t know what else he could do.

His friend Okoro was a different story, which ended with Islam Okoro not being allowed back into Ireland, even though he had three kids who were born and living in the country at the time.

So now the government was having a pre-Christmas round up of Nigerian fathers. They would be deported and their wives and children would follow them back.

Manus was angry about the loss of his friends and infuriated that the government still used the tactic of separating fathers from their children. If any one for any reason thought they had the right to separate Manus and Shirifa, they were wrong. They had no such right. Manus was sure of that.

He got himself a bit worked up as he walked down to the protest.

Shirifa was sleeping in the buggy. He stood outside the immigration office with a dozen others. He was given a placard that read ‘no deportations’.

He was glad to show some of the people going into the building that not all of the Irish thought it was ok to deport these men.

Then a racist, a male in his thirties; poor, uneducated and socially deprived, went by and shouted: ‘shouldn’t let the black bastards in in the first place.’

The words ‘fucken wanker’ erupted out of Manus in a loud and violence-threatening voice.

It was always impossible dealing with blind ignorance and hatred. Manus had dealt with a lot of it as a child on Belfast’s Ormeau Road. Then it was called sectarianism.

‘Taigs out’ would get painted on the walls, and he and others were chased through the streets. Sometimes people were caught and killed stone dead because they were Taigs.

Manus could never really figure it out. Was it that perpetrators of these types of crime had defects which they tried to compensate for by showing off an ability to hate? Were they acting under the influence of a crowd with a collectively low IQ? Probably a lot of the blame lay with newspapers, clerics, and bosses who told them it was right to have contempt for people even slightly different from themselves.

As a child Manus could never figure out why people he had never met could hate him. And there would be no chance to talk, to rationalize. These people wanted to stop you talking, stamp out your rationality.

Manus’s instant and uncontrolled reaction at the racist statement had shocked him by the depth of violence it carried in its tone. By its vicious rage.

It shocked the racist too, who kept moving for a bit but then decided to come back and stand up for his right to be a loud-mouthed racist.

‘Who called me a wanker? are you looking for a fight?’

Manus followed his breath closely as he took off his shoulder bag full of nappies and wipes, set it gently on the child’s buggy and stepped out to meet his would be assailant.

‘You looken for a fight?’, the man repeated.

Manus felt centred enough, and just tried to keep his eyes on his opponent’s feet and fists. A head butt would also be a danger as they squared up.

It crossed Manus’s mind as he approached that it might be best to just lash out with a kick. He was glad he wore heavy shoes and if it was going to happen it would be better to get the first blows in. It would end the tension for a start. But how would it look on the camera? Surely they were on CCTV camera?  Maybe Manus could just stand him down. As he drew closer Manus cursed his own stupidity for having brought a blimp of draw with him to the protest. Manus wasn’t the brightest.

Then he had Shirifa with him and if they arrested Manus what would they do with his daughter?

Manus squared up to the man. ‘Just leave’ said Manus and luckily for Manus the racist left.

Pauline stuck a small camera in Manus’s face just as the racist left. She asked Manus how he felt. Manus had felt slightly overwhelmed by the spontaneity and ferocity of his own reaction, but all he could say to Pauline was, ‘I feel too emotional about the whole thing. I just wish they’d stop this shit.’

He wasn’t even clear what ‘shit’ he was referring to. Racism. Deportations. The main stream press, who’s messages divided people and diverted them from the real issue of the destructive policies and practices of the world’s greedy, wasteful corporations;

All of the above he supposed.

*******

Shirifa woke up hungry and a bit grumpy. After the protest he brought her round to Seomra Spraoi. They boiled rice and ate it with yogurt. Pauline’s daughter played with Shirifa. So did Patrizia. Pauline was about the same age as Manus. Patrizia wasn’t half his age. Both females seemed fit and healthy, and he wondered if either would consider him a potential shag. He seemed more detached about this question than his sexual needs usually allowed. Did detachment come with age?

Both women seemed worthwhile human beings. Human contact meant a lot to Manus and although he still worshiped sex more than money or any other god, he sometimes preferred it when sexuality took a back seat to a more rounded and fully human interaction.

Seomra Spraoi was a slightly different social setting to most. Alternative social relations were possible. Manus didn’t feel like he had a need to show sexual interest in any one, nor would he be too offended if no one showed that type of interest in him.

In truth Manus doubted his ability to go with anyone other than the mother of his child. She was the only one he’d known for six years. He figured he would miss the familiarity and resent the break in intimacies continuity. Maybe he was just scared of the unknown.

After Seomra Spraoi was shut down under fire regulations Manus felt a terrible sense of loss at the news. He felt isolated again. Where would he go? Where would he bring his daughter?

With no where else to go Manus called on two people he knew. Unfortunately Seamus from County Clare had returned to smack, while Ghanny from Nigeria had found Christianity again. Manus turned first to alcohol, and then to scribbling.

Seomra Spraoi would open again, even if it was in another building. It was a place where people could get together and exchange ideas and go some way to creating social norms, maybe even a social revolution that suited themselves rather than their rulers. But that’s just back to political rather than personal spiel.

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