Jesinta got back in touch with Manus through the internet. Face-book. He had stuck his name and a photo of himself up, and someone from his distant past had got in touch with him. For Manus it was a timely, and much appreciated contact
He was down in the dumps living in Dublin. An old man from Belfast. No one knew him.
He had met a few people but they were all far too straight by far for the likes of Manus. Their smug security inherent in the safe lives they had lived. They hadn’t even tried mind altering illegal drugs or reality revealer’s (as his day would have termed them) like magic mushrooms or acid. Their whole outlook on life seemed to be gleamed from viewing television. They had done straight jobs. Lived straight lives. They had never been on the wrong side of the law, been homeless or squatted houses. They had never been beaten by the police or chased through the streets by thugs while the police looked on. They were straights, who believed the straight view of the world as portrayed on the flat screen. They never thought about it, but if pushed they would say they believed there was a democracy in which they could affect social and economic decisions, and a free press which presented them with all the necessary information to make those decisions.
Then they would describe druggies as ‘delusional’.
So it was great to have Jesinta contact him on the net.
The email said ‘do you remember Ingleston common?’, then there was the name Jesinta and a telephone number. Manus felt all a-glow thinking about Ingleston common free festival. Just the fact that there had been free festivals.
It had been the early eighties in England. He had been traveling from Stonehenge with a convoy of around fifty vehicles: cars, vans, flat backed trucks, caravans, buses and motorbikes.
The police had tried to break the convoy up. It had been during the Thatcher years, and the police were all tooled up and pushing for a ruckus, with the drug-crazed, anarchistic rabble the press had daubed the ‘peace convoy.’
As a show of strength, police in riot gear lined the bridges going over the motorway. Intent on breaking the convoy they blocked the entrances to the motorway stations thereby denying the convoy fuel. A few inexperienced young bucks broke from the ranks and tried driving in to the service stations as ordinary citizens who had the right to refuel at a motorway station.
They were captured.
Then the convoy-led vehicles swerved across the motorway and cut out their engines.
It was mid-afternoon on one of the busiest motorways in England and if the vehicles of the convoy weren’t going to be allowed to refuel and continue their journey then neither would anyone else.
The police could trash the vehicles and arrest the people but that motorway was going to remain blocked for at least a day. That would cause disruption to an important trading route, and bring media coverage. The police quickly capitulated, allowing the convoy to refuel and escorted them to a piece of common land just outside Bristol called Ingleston Common.
A woman called Jesinta had turned up on the site. She was working as a prostitute from a massage parlour in the predominantly West Indian area of London known as Brixton. She had told Manus they were both Virgo monkeys, who could be of use to each other. and brought him home to her boudoir, complete with waterbed, mirrored wall and Turkish light fittings. She gave him the cash for a pound of good Jamaican weed, and set him up in the herb business.
On the day Prince Charles and Princess Di. married Manus sat with Jesinta and the rest of the girls from the toss shop, who celebrated their day off with champagne and cocaine. They mostly listened too reggae and dub music. Prince Fari boasted about ‘heavy manners … Discipline, discipline, heavy heavy discipline.’
But Jesinta also had some white man’s music, some American country singer who sang about ‘beat the lady’s of fame at the lady’s own game.’ Manus would always remember the line.
From his twenties Manus could remember many misadventures. Jesinta had featured in a few. Thinking back to those heady lawless days it seemed like a dream.
The facebook message from Jesinta seemed like confirmation that his memories were real.
Manus phoned the number and it was her. He had tried to make contact over the years, but like most of his past she wasn’t easy to trace. And here she was alive and kicking.
She had got her hands on some cash too. She wanted to send him a ticket to come visit and see how she lived now.
He was overjoyed at the contact. Some kind of continuity to his life. It seemed he had upped and moved on so many times in his life. Cutting off a little piece of himself each time he moved. Contact with Jesinta was like contact with his amputated self.
So ‘yea Jesinta,’ he said ‘fly us over to Cyprus.’
She got annoyed that he couldn’t just up and fly over that day. What was the mater with him had he become an old man? So stuck in his routine that he couldn’t just get up and take off. And he had to admit that he was. He had his five-year-old daughter Shirifa. Her wellbeing was his priority and it wouldn’t be good for her if her da just upped and offed.
He knew then Cyprus probably wasn’t really such a good idea.
It had been wonderful the contact with Jesinta. The confirmation that someone else shared the same past experiences but bringing that memory back into flesh and blood reality!?
Jesinta could be generous and kind-hearted, but she was also a difficult enough human being to be around. She didn’t have any reason to love Manus either. Except in the same way that he loved her, as part of the past, as some sort of passport back to the days of rebellion. Days of virtual no go areas for the police in certain sections of cities all over the British isles. Days when people believed they were going to chant down Babylon. Days of free festivals.
But that whole counter-culture was dead now. Dead and denied. Like it never really existed.
Manus had, decades before, loved Jesinta and left her but he had seen her a few times since. The last time he had seen her they hadn’t been lovers for at least five years and he had called round out of the blue after a fight at work.
She was still on the game advertising herself as a mature woman, and she had a punter call. She asked Manus to be quiet while she went upstairs, but then she was back down in two minutes wrapped in a towel asking him if he would come up stairs and fuck her for a bit and she would give him twenty quid. It was a strange scenario for Manus. Apparently the punter was paying extra to have someone else go first.
Manus would have done it for free.
But he’d noticed it then as she’d raised her legs up, her flesh getting flabby and he wondered how long she could keep charging men for the privilege of touching it.
In the year two thousand and eleven, Manus’s last lover had been the mother of his child and she’d been twenty years his junior. But she had shown him the full, viciousness of unconscious youth in the child custody battle and maybe he was ready for a more mature relationship. Hell he was old himself now. Maybe Jesinta and he could be lovers again. She had been twelve years older than him. He wondered if she could still raise her old legs up. Maybe they could laugh at each other’s ailments and still find some sexual pleasure.
In any event Manus and his daughter Shirifa flew to Larnaca.
At first sight Jesinta looked like Maria Sabina the mushroom priestess. Sallow skin and greasy grey long hair, flat against her skull. But her body was plumper. Fast food plump. She moved with the slow effort of age that Manus understood although his own body denied all logic and, in spite of its abuse over the years, had remained fairly healthy. He even still had a full head of black hair. And most of his own teeth.
When Shirifa went to bed the first night Manus and Jesinta sat with each other. They talked of friends who had died. Biker Spider. Phil the beer. Graham Gaskin. Characters from back in the day.
And then had little to say to one another.
Manus was not the wild young brave Jesinta had persuaded back to her reservation and she wasn’t the ass with class persona she had been either. She twirled her once luscious dark, now, lank grey hair between her fingers. There was a residual element of coyness in the gesture. But sex didn’t really seem to be an option.
She was on some prescription mood enhancers and mostly watched T.V. all day. Manus hated that kinda stuff. As Jesinta had thirty years before. He would rather be crazy and unhappy rather than have sanity and happiness as prescribed by the pharmaceutical and media companies. And whatever they were supposed to be doing for Jesinta wasn’t working. She was intransigent and dogmatic most of the time.
On one particularly bad day Manus and Shirifa had stayed out as long as they could and, too tired to walk any longer, caught a taxi.
Then there it was on the floor of the taxi.
Bunch of fifties bulging out.
Manus hadn’t the cash to pay for a fortnight’s alternative accommodation for them but there it was just sitting on the floor of the back seat.
He thought about it. He picked the wallet up and stuck it in his bag.
When they got home Jesinta was pissed off. They hadn’t stayed out long enough, or they had stayed out too long. There was no pleasing the woman. Manus asked her if she ever had a good day, and she warned him about another crack like that, and Manus was glad he had picked the cash. He was going to need it.
He took Shirifa out again on the pretext of getting ice cream. He ditched the wallet in some long grass and pocketed the cash. Six hundred and forty euros.
He felt sick.
He didn’t like thieving from individuals. Corporations, companies, banks, governments, he didn’t give a toss about, but individuals…. naw it wasn’t cool.
He was the sort who would need to talk to someone about it too, but there was no one he could tell. He tried to reassure himself that he could spend it on Shirifa, but it still didn’t feel good. He had a crap feeling in his guts.
Then Jesinta texted to say the police had called by looking for him. Of course the wallets owner had contacted the taxi firm and the taxi driver had given the last fare’s address. Manus could of course still get away with it. The wallet was ditched and the cash was untraceable but …. no. He just wouldn’t be up to it, and the thought of getting arrested for theft while in charge of his daughter in a foreign country sent shivers down his spine. No. He managed to find the wallet in the long grass where he had thrown it, stuck the cash back inside and brought it down to the cop shop. They said he might be in for a reward. He just raised his eyes and shook his head.
When he got back to Jesinta’s he felt relief and gratitude for all he had. Shirifa slept safely and soundly and Manus sat beside her. As was his habit he tried to scribble down some semblance of a story around his experience. His story told of an old lover, a free-spirited strong woman he had met at a free festival. A woman who would have despised this ugly caricature of herself trapped in some rut of vicious behaviour. The story went on to the point where Manus brought the wallet down to the cop shop, got back to Jesinta’s and felt grateful for what he had. It went on to have Jesinta wake up to all the treasures she had (not least amongst them being visited by Shirifa and her father) and in so doing Jesinta broke the habit of lashing back at all the vicious blows life had struck her. A habit she had carried on with even when life had stopped dealing her vicious blows.
Manus left his story (like all his stories an effort to get his point of view across), where Jesinta would find it and read it. And find it and read it she did.
She never admitted reading it, even denying it when he asked her. But she quoted lines and incidents from the story and did try her best for a half a day or so to behave as though she were with friends. People she could be easy with. People who didn’t want to rob or beat or cheat or dominate or belittle her in any way. People who had a sense of respect and even affection for her.
They all had breakfast in Jesinta’s room. Brushing Shirifas hair, Jesinta explained to the inquisitive five year old what a September monkey and a March rooster were. But it didn’t last much more than half a day before the drugs wore off, or kicked in, or she just slipped back into some mental rut where she had to fight back even though no one was fighting against her.
Shirifa and Manus left Jesinta’s a few days later. They had spent three hundred euros and only had two hundred left. They found a hostel which didn’t charge for Shirifa and only charged Manus seventy for the week. They didn’t eat in cafes any longer, or buy nicknacks, or play the amusement arcades. At the hostel Shirifa met a Romanian boy named Matayo. Manus met a French Canadian woman named Mannon.
Manus called back on Jesinta before they left. Shirifa didn’t want to. Shirifa at five years old still adored her father, and had been thrilled to meet someone from his world. Daddy’s old friend. And Jesinta had disappointed Shirifa. So Shirifa didn’t call back with him but Jesinta wasn’t the worst. Their was a touch of Miss Haversham about her. The hurt bitter twisted touch.
Manus tried to kiss her before he left.
He wanted to be affectionate but the only part of her that seemed to be open to a kiss was her hand. This could have resembled a devotee kissing a priestess or a pupil kissing a teacher. He hoped it wasn’t too much like a peasant kissing the hand of the rich.
Manus was still an old man from Belfast living in Dublin where no one knew him. Most people that he knew from his youth were now grumpy old ones stuck in their ways. Or dead. The dead ones were easier to love. The living were harder to deal with.