“May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back…”
“Thanks,” I told the woman who was sitting in the shop doorway, a cheap sleeping bag crushed up beneath her.
“It’s an old Irish blessing,” she went on, giving a beautiful smile that lit up her unwashed face below the scruffy uncombed hair. “In other words: Be lucky.”
“Sure, don’t be thanking me, ’tis I should be thanking you.”
I didn’t need her blessing, for right now, luck was the one thing I seemed to have in abundance.
In fact it seemed as if my life just couldn’t get any better.
Three years ago I had come to the big city and I had made it big. I had a really good job with a prosperous PR agency, and my recent pay rise had allowed me to get a mortgage for a lovely flat not far from here. A flat that I shared with my girlfriend, Carrie, who was by anyone’s standards much higher up in the beauty stakes than I was. Indeed I had overheard someone muttering about me, grudgingly saying, “That ugly bastard John is really punching above his weight with a classy beautiful girl like that.”
Walking to work this morning I’d come across the girl. She was crying to herself. I passed her once, then walked back, for seeing how upset she was, was breaking my heart. This woman was about my own age, yet she was clearly destitute, sleeping rough, while I had everything I wanted in life. For a moment I couldn’t believe how unfair life was. I had a decent life, surely she deserved to have the same? What’s more, there was something familiar about her face, but I couldn’t work out what it was.
When I returned she was dabbing at her face with a tissue, but the look of sadness in her eyes when she looked up at me pierced me to the heart.
“Look,” I began, “I don’t want to be patronising, but would you be offended if I gave you some money?”
“Do I look offended?” she smiled as she took the fifty pounds I handed over. “You’re kind. That’s rare in the city of London. Rare indeed.”
“Have you lived here long?” I asked her.
“Since I was sixteen and my da got a job in Battersea. A while ago my parents died, and I couldn’t stay in the flat, and when I lost my job I couldn’t find work anywhere else without an address. I was in a hostel for a while. I miss home, sure I do. I grew up in the countryside of Kerry, lots of fields to play in, trees to climb, everyone had time to talk to you.”
“Not like here.”
“Sure, that’s true enough. Everyone’s wrapped up in their own little world, scurrying along, not noticing anything. Not caring a damn.”
We chatted for a bit, but the situation was awkward for both of us, and I was already late for work. After we said our goodbyes, I felt my day had been ruined. I was no longer looking forward to going to the office bright and early, as I usually did, to talk about fresh ideas, new clients, all the new business coming in.
But when I got there, there was something indefinably different about Goodbody, Jenkins and Dean. As I pushed open the huge glass doors and went into the lift I met Roger, who worked with me. His face was like thunder.
“Didn’t you get the text?” he snapped, not returning my smile.
“The firm’s bankrupt! Dennis Goodbody’s done a runner and they’ve called in the receivers. We’re all redundant, and it doesn’t even look as if any of us are getting paid for this month, let alone the week in hand. And the bastards told us by text!”
“What do you mean?” I couldn’t believe what he was saying, until I checked my phone and saw that he was right.. Only last week Dennis Goodbody was glad-handing us all, giving out bonuses, saying the London office was going from strength to strength.
By now we were on the first floor and all my colleagues were walking around outside the door to the office, which had a huge lock fitted onto it.
I couldn’t stand hearing the grumbling anger of my ex-colleagues, the talk about claiming our pay in the small claims court and so on. Reality had come and kicked me in the teeth.
When I got home, there was also something strange about my flat. In the bedroom it seemed that all Carrie’s possessions had disappeared. I found her note on the kitchen table. Something about ‘us growing apart’ and her meeting an old school friend on Facebook, and falling in love with him.
And then I realised that I was more worried about not getting Carrie’s share of the mortgage money than I was about her leaving me. It was true, we had grown apart, and I had been so busy at work, I hadn’t noticed. I had no savings, so with no job and no way of paying the mortgage, the building society would foreclose in a matter of weeks!
I remembered the months of applying for jobs to get the position with Goodbody. And with Brexit the economy was even worse than it had been a year ago, so if by some miracle I found a job, no way would it be as remunerative as what I’d been used to.
By chance, I found the girl I’d met this morning in a café round the corner from where she’d been sleeping and I joined her at the table.
“I remembered where I’ve met you before,” I told her as I sat down. “A folk music club in Streatham. About fifteen years ago now. You were with another guy. I saw your face, and I never forgot it.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “I remember you too! You kept looking at me, and I wondered why.”
“I wanted to talk to you, but I didn’t have the courage. I was stupid back then.”
She looked into my eyes, and for some reason I remembered the words of an old song: ‘catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, never let it fade away.’
“And so how was your morning?” she asked, smiling. “Did the road rise up to meet you?”
“Not really. To be honest the road rose up and kicked me up the arse.” I went on to tell her what had happened to me.
And for some reason as I told her what had happened, I couldn’t stop laughing at the absurdity of everything.
She joined in my laugher. “Sure it must have been a cack-handed blessing right enough. I’m so sorry!”
“Don’t be sorry. I always regretted not getting to know you at that folk club. I never forgot you.”
And as we ordered more coffee, I realised something.
That this had actually turned out to be the luckiest day of my life.