He was never a part of either community, not really.
Rather, like the revenant, he walked the borderlands between
each world, drifting in and out according to his needs.
Happy, really, only in the in-between-place, the hushed
hinterland of over-quarried hills, among the rusted, skeletal,
dinosaur remains of long dead machinery. Where the rabbits
scratched stealthily past him in the undergrowth of winds
and blackthorn; or burst forth into the open in a panicked
flurry of dusty jinking and jiving at his clumsy approach.
And where the crows called to him, occasionally, in short
discordant jeers as they drifted overhead, mocking him for
a peregrine tramontane in his émigré wanderings,
then to fly off and squabble with each other over nesting
He lived at once on the city-side of the Black Mountain
in Belfast and in the quiet hamlets beyond – what
he considered – his own personal hill.
To offset the harrying of the dark carrion raptors and to
escape the silent, brief, but assiduous consideration of
the red flash on the hillside that might have been a fox,
he’d stray into one settlement or the other.
Sometimes, with boys he’d been schooled alongside,
he was to be found in riot or football – both were
just games to him, then. He strolled the streets with pals
who talked of good jobs going for brickies and carpenters,
if you took a course in the tech, and remembered old friends,
many of them now dead, and the craic they got up to and
he’d laugh until he cried.
He would meet with deadly enemies, the kind that only children
have, mortal enemies, armed with diamond tipped intolerance
and who hated him just because of what he was or what he
believed, or where he lived.
And sometimes he was in gentle conversation with strangers
on sweeping hillsides – where the wind, staking its
own claim to the hill, pushed and buffeted their bodies
as though to keep them moving along – who talked of
work in fishing, farming or travelling to the city for some
of the big jobs with the builders in restoration. And who
muttered their own intolerances in hushed tones of the others
who hated them because of what they were or what they believed
or where they lived.
Once, he did a sponsored walk for his culture; they arrived
in a village to find locals awaiting them with water and
lemonade and the odd beer for the older men. He marched
through oblique cottages that looked like so many crooked
headstones in an old cemetery, his big-city-swagger made
ridiculous amid the no-nonsense step of the countryman.
An old man called out from the watching crowd, “Countrymen
walk from the legs, down, Bilfawst men walk from the shoulders,
down!” and everyone laughed, including himself.
And others, yet, chided him for thinking he could change
the way things were, telling him that he should go back
to where he belonged and to what he was and to what he believed.
And he felt the pride of a seagull named Livingston, of
whom his father had told him when he was a child, and he
pressed silently on as they returned their attentions to
each other, where wrangling was sure of response.
And there were others, yet, only glimpsed, like the red
flash on the hill, they watched but never openly engaged.
And when scuffling, bickering humanity became too much,
again he ranged as far as the physical and political frameworks
of the mountain would allow. Finding himself back in silent
communion with creatures who, although curious, for the
most part wanted none of his company either. And who bickered
over food and species and territory.
He found he was not one person but many.
He was the city boy everyone knew, with the craic and the
patter and the mischievous nonsense.
He was the visitor who drifted in occasionally, with his
strange ways and strange dialect. He was intriguing, even
mysterious, to his own surprise. He was a person from a
far off land that was only the other side of a hill.
And he would vanish from the urban environs and wander through
land shaped by seldom seen farmers. Once again amid the
quivering rabbit, the attentive fox and the jeering crow.
Creatures who struggled to get by and whose words were alien
or unspoken – yet as understandable to him as any
he heard either side of the hill.