The train whistle woke him, the screech breaking through his rest, its' shrill sound making him wince as he stirred into wakefulness. He sat up, wiping at his eyes and stifling a yawn. The train was slowing, but the view hadn't changed much, not since they'd gone past Limerick. Green fields had given way to forest which had given way to fields again to hills and back to forest.
Christ, I've forgotten how green it is, he realized with a start. Months spent in a dry and arid land, the wadis and massifs of Mesopotamia, mud brick huts and sweltering sun. Relocating to France hadn't been much better, miles of razor wire, entrenchments, shell craters and mud. Mud everywhere. Green's a damn sight better than brown anyways.
“Up Guards and at them” he murmured, standing and stretching for his case above on the luggage shelf. He hauled his bag down and dumped it on the seat, bending over to grab his cap. Tugging it on, he took a moment to fix it in the mirror before he was satisfied. “It'll do” he said aloud to himself, picking up his case and moving to exit the carriage.
The station wasn't much. A single platform with a small office and waiting area where you could collect your tickets. Maybe a dozen individuals were loitering on the platform as the train coasted to a halt, the brakes screeching. No one was in a rush, though heads craned curiously to see who'd arrived.
Diarmuid stepped off briskly, turning his head to gaze up the platform. He brought his hand up to shield his eyes from the sun's glare, squinting a little. He didn't recognize anyone, though there were quite a few gazes directed towards him, not all of them friendly. One though, a man in his twenties, fiddling with some tobacco, a flat cap pulled low over his eyes.
“Lorcan you bollocks!” he roared out, joy in his voice, earning a few more scandalized looks from watchers. The man in question nearly jumped out of his skin, Lorcan straightening up at the sight of him. He moved towards Diarmuid, offering his hand, a little speechless. Diarmuid seized it and squeezed it hard, “Dopey as a cow” he proclaimed. Lorcan was shaking his head in wonder. “Jesus Diarmuid, I almost didn't recognize you in all that get-up” casting his eyes up and down the uniform. He tugged at the Sam Browne belt, “So yer ma wasn't lying, they did make you an officer! Fuckin' hell” he said, still shaking his head.
“Wasn't easy earned lad” Diarmuid murmured, his head dropping for a second. Lorcan looked hangdog for a second, taking a quick look around and dropping his voice. “You know I couldn't give a rat's arse but didya not think it might have been a wee bit more easy if ye'd just worn normal clothes like?” “Fuck 'em,” was the blunt response “They know where I've been the last few years, not bloody coming back with me tail between my legs. Not to me own county.” Lorcan held up his hands in surrender and shrugged his shoulders.
“Whatever lad, be grand” he declared, “Dya wanna give me yer bag? Wouldn't do for an officer now to be fetchin' and carryin' like one of us boggers” he said with mock solemnity. Diarmuid grinned, chuckling a little “You can get fucked, dya think I'm after going soft in the head?” “Can't blame a lad for giving it a lash, come on then” he began leading the way out of the station.
They were halted by two constables just outside the ticket office, with the bottle green uniforms and Lee-Enfields, they could have been mistaken for military. They immediately straightened up at the sight of the two men, moving forward purposefully. With Diarmuid's uniform, they barely cast a cursory look over the documents before waving them on, “Welcome back sir”. “Is Sergeant Mulcahy still based here?” he asked, halting for a second.
The younger of the two slapped at a horsefly before answering, “He is yeah, why ya asking?” “I've a letter for him from his son” Diarmuid explained, “Is he on duty tonight?” “He's down towards Waterville, his aunt's sick” “Dherra, I'll call into the barracks so, where ye from lads?” “Westmeath” “Carlow” chimed in the older constable, dropping his formal reserve a little. “And neither of them can kick a ball for shite” Lorcan supplied helpfully. The older constable scowled, “We'll be kicking your bloody arse Lorcan if we find out who's fuckin' letting out Mr Fitzgerald's cattle at night.”
Diarmuid moved hurriedly to defuse the situation. “We'll be moving on, appreciate it lads, mind ye've a good day now”. He practically dragged Lorcan away towards the waiting cart. “Maybe it's you gone soft in the head, what are ya winding up the shades for?!” Lorcan shrugged easily as he unhitched the horse, taking Diarmuid's bag and tossing it in the back. “Fecks sake boy, I was just having a laugh. Martin there is a sulky hoor half the time, we slip him the odd bit of poitin to have him turn a blind eye.” “You're some amadan,” was the response as he clambered up alongside him on the seat. “Why go making trouble when there's none?” “For the craic” Lorcan grinned as he took the reins and urged the horse forward.
They rode in silence for a few minutes before Lorcan broke it, his eyes on the road ahead as he spoke, “I meant what I said lad earlier, woulda been wiser to leave the uniform in the bag.” Diarmuid stayed silent, staring down the less than friendly gaze of a pedestrian farmer as they cantered by. “You'd swear I was the first one in a century. I'm not the bastard who shot Mossy Stack's son.” “You headed to Dublin back in 1914, country's changed a lot since then.” “You were a Volunteer too Lorcan” “Yep, but not one of Redmond's boys” came the clipped answer. Diarmuid didn't respond.
“Go on so, tell us what the French birds are like” Lorcan pressed. “Quite similar to here actually though the crows sound a bit nicer.” Lorcan let go of the reins with one hand to thump his shoulder. “Chancer, what about in Araby or the other bloody place you were?” “Nice eyes, I didn't see much else beyond the veils. I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you to boil the water before you drink it though.” “Sounds like the midlands, they play hurling there too?” They chatted aimlessly for a little longer but it was obvious Diarmuid's heart wasn't in it, despite Lorcan's honest attempts, there was a stifled awkwardness to it all and some questions inside eating up at him.
“Since when are the shades walking on the beat with rifles?” he eventually asked. Lorcan clucked at the horse to slow, tugging on the reins as they took a corner. “Down here? Since 1917, it got a bit ugly when they wanted to bring in conscription. The De Courcy house being half torched didn't help either.” Diarmuid scratched at his hair, removing his cap, “Sinn Féin clearing up the polls then?” he asked dryly. Lorcan barked a laugh, “Feck it lad, you know Kerry, it's Mé Féiner more than anything else. We could have a Dáil in Tralee and there'd be lads in Listowel and Cahersiveen moaning because it was too far away.”
Diarmuid did smile at that. “Hasn't changed too much then” “Oh it has and it hasn't. Wait till ya hear the accent on one of the new bobbies, he's from Monaghan or some other godforsaken spot, half the parish are convinced he's a German in disguise. There's another one from Antrim, must have fucked up big time to be shipped down here. The priest nearly had a coronary when he was doing the stations and stopped off at the barracks” “Protestant?” “Presbyterian.”
Diarmuid laughed, the first proper one he'd had in a while. “Father Hartnett didn't take it too well then?” “Oh that was just the warm up, we'd a wee bit of drama down the pub last week. Father Murphy'd had a few, so'd the new bobby, I'll say one thing for him, he can bloody talk when he's on it, had half the pub on the point of converting” “What happened then?” “Dherra, you know Murphy” “He denounced him?” “You can call it that if you like, he tried to bate the living shite out of him” they both laughed and Diarmuid pressed for more, “How'd it end then?” “Myself, Joe and Cornelius Morrisey's son managed to haul the Holy Father off and two of yer man's pals took the bobby. We managed to pass it off to the sergeant as a theological debate. I'll say one thing for that Antrim lad though, he can take a punch!”
They were passing the end of the fields now and drawing into the village proper. Just as he remembered it, small stone walls, neat cottages and buildings clustered around the crossroads, McAuliffe's shop was still there, so was Stack's pub around the corner. “Who owns the car?” he asked in surprise, pointing at the vehicle near the church. Lorcan squinted, “I reckon it's the new rent man, it's fortnightly now they take them.” “Place is moving up in the world” “It's moving somewhere anyways, maybe not up but somewhere.” He touched his cap to a pair of girls strolling by.
“I'll let you off here so” Lorcan said, as they slowed near the intersection. “You won't come in for a cuppa?” “I'd say yer ma will be wanting to see you more than my ugly mug” “When'll see ya then?” “Call up to the house tomorrow sure, not like I'll be doing much anyways”
Diarmuid hopped off nimbly and hauled his bag off. “I appreciate the lift. And the chat” he added, moving to the side. “Not a bother boy” Lorcan shrugged, Diarmuid was turning his back to walk away when his friend called him again, “Diarmuid!” “What?” “I meant what I said, it's good to have you back, just be bloody careful alright?” “What'd ya mean?” Lorcan didn't meet his gaze, "Not everyone round here is too happy about boys taking the King's Shilling" "They like it enough once they get a hold of it." This time Lorcan grimaced, “Best left over a pint I reckon, good luck to ya boy”
Diarmuid nodded, “Tomorrow so” “Aye, just don't be wearing that fecking uniform!” Diarmuid grinned at him and waved goodbye, turning to the gate. His stomach felt uneasy. Five years ago he'd walked out of the house, swearing he'd never be back and here he was again. It was easy to think it might as well have been yesterday. He tugged his cap on again and squared his shoulders. “Howya Mrs O'Leary?” he greeted as he opened the gate, touching his brim at the surprised neighbour. Close your mouth or you'll catch flies, he thought irritably. For better or worse, Diarmuid O'Sullivan was home.