I was already angry when I moved to the Holy Lands.
My girlfriend had left me, but more importantly, she’d
left me for a guy in
his forties with a big house in Helen’s Bay. Not much
a guy can do about
that except get angry. At the time, I thought the anger
would be easier
than pain, like I had a choice or something.
All I’m saying is that me moving to the Holy Lands
is not what made me
bitter. The foundation had already been laid.
Rosalyn and I had shared a flat off the Lisburn Road. I
stayed on after she left because I didn’t know what
else to do. But when they cut back on my hours at work,
I had to find a cheaper place, sooner rather than later.
In hindsight, it was a Godsend. Sitting in that flat, drinking
tin of Miller, staring at the wall and thinking of Rozi
- it was never going
to end well.
I saw Sara’s advert in the window of the Spar on
University Avenue. I’d
been out on an aimless walk along the Lagan towpath and
decided to cut back through the Holy Lands on my way home.
I knew of an off-license that usually had lager on offer
for the students.
The ad was straight-forward enough: ‘Young professional
needed to share house with same. No students.’ The
price was right and I phoned her on my mobile straight away.
She asked me to call around to the house, which was right
around the corner. She opened the door and it was all white
hair and loose clothes. She put the kettle on. We sat down.
I told her all about Rozi.
Don’t get me wrong: I’d already decided not
to duck any questions about why I was looking for a place.
Just never expected to go into such detail. I did so much
of the talking that I didn’t realise Sara was American
until she told me. She’d been ‘screwed over’
once too, she said, coming to Belfast about ten years ago
with a guy she met in Seattle. He left her two years later
for an eighteen year-old secretary from his work.
“I saw her once,” Sara said. “It was
at a work do. Maybe they were going at it even then. Don’t
know. She was all tits and orange legs. I kept thinking
the idea of screwing her must’ve been better than
the real thing. This was my only consolation.”
“Ever see him around?” I asked. This was my
great fear with Rozi.
“Never,” Sara said. “Always used to complain
about how small Belfast was, but thank God it’s been
big enough for the two of us.”
I moved in a week and a half later.
Sara called herself a ‘Community Relations Officer’
for some voluntary
organisation doing work in Donegal Village. Not sure what
that meant. She never talked much about work anyway. I never
It was late summer and everything went well from the start.
Sara and I
became fast friends. She made dinner a couple times a week.
I brought something back from the chippie now and then.
We watched a lot of telly in the evenings after work and
there was always some lager in the fridge. I never saw Sara
drink anything but vodka and cranberry.
My favourite part about her was her hair, that thick unkempt
mane flowing down below her shoulders. Her face was younger
than the white hair would suggest. Less wrinkles than you’d
think. Just one of those things. Genetic maybe.
She was always wearing some sort of loose skirt too. She
was a hippy chick. A hippy chick from Seattle, so she was.
The trouble began when the students returned for autumn
term. This happened the same time I got a letter from the
Civil Service. I’d gone through the whole process
of applying six months ago—all Rozi’s idea,
if you can believe it—and the letter told me I had
a post with the Planning Service. They needed audio typists
and they needed them fast.
It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. A ‘job for
life’, Rozi had said at the
time. My current gig at the solicitor’s office in
town was never going to
amount to much. I was twenty-six, a couple of years too
old not to look a gift horse in the mouth.
The big change was getting up at seven o’clock every
morning. I’d only been working afternoons at the solicitor’s
office and was enjoying the lie-in every morning.
And then the students returned. And they returned in force.
Maybe you’ve read about it in the papers.
Ever since I’ve wondered whether autumn term was
the worst: a whole new batch of eighteen year-olds living
on their own for the first time? I never stuck around long
enough to find out.
They all came home from the pub at the same time. They
singers. They played football and hurling in the street
after 3am. They
broke bottles a plenty. The girls screamed and squealed.
shouted insults and said ‘fuck’ a lot. High
heels sounded like the Queen’s
entire entourage passing by in horse-drawn carriages. Did
I mention they couldn’t sing?
And it was all Sunday through Thursday. Exactly the same
nights I needed to sleep. Then you would see the little
buggers walking down towards Botanic on a Thursday afternoon
or evening, gym bags weighed down with dirty laundry. All
of them on their way to catch a train or bus home to Mummy,
to get a good feed or two and maybe end up with a few extra
bob in their pocket. They’d be back at it in the Holy
Lands Sunday night, right as rain. Our future, piss-drunk
in the streets. Wee fuckers.
The first week I put up with it. Maybe I was tired from
my change in
schedule. Maybe I slept through more of it than I remember.
The second week it became unbearable. Sara was usually in
bed when I went off to work, but one morning she was there
in the kitchen just after seven, looking smarter than usual
in a black skirt with a white blouse. Still a big drape
of a thing. She had a conference to go to, she said. I complained
about the noise. She didn’t say anything. She did
peer intently over her mug of tea as she listened to my
That night they were at it again. I was seething in my
bed. All my muscles were tense as I lay on my back and looked
up through the skylight of my
small room. Then there was a knock at the door. It was Sara,
dressed in a white night gown. She glowed in the moonlight
coming through the skylight. She was holding something with
both her hands.
“Put some clothes on,” she said.
I got out of bed with just my boxers on. Sara stood there
and watched, not moving at all. When I was dressed she handed
me what turned out to be a carton of eggs. Then she stood
on my bed and opened the skylight window. I saw the outline
of Sara’s body through the nightgown as she expertly
climbed out of the window. She looked thinner than I’d
When I poked my head out the skylight I found a wooden
contraption on the slate roof. It was a lattice-work slung
over the crest of the roof so the sloped roof could be easily
navigated. I handed the eggs up to Sara, then climbed out
myself and laid down next to her. Our heads very close together
and we were just able to see over the crest of the roof.
“A partner in crime,” Sara said. “Finally.”
There were a couple of girls coming down our street, all
Sara opened the carton of eggs towards me. When I looked
up at her, she was smiling.
“Give ‘em a good lob,” she said, “so
they don’t know where they’re coming from. And
space out the attack. Lob a couple, and even if you don’t
hit the jackpot, wait a few minutes so they’re not
looking out for it. If we’re found out, the fun stops.”
The girls started singing Britney Spears. Hit Me Baby One
I've never had so much fun being angry.