Word got round that someone'd been appointed and that the man who got the job was from Derry. It was nothing that would've affected Kenny Ryan. You wouldn’t have expected him to hear. Lo 'n' behold he did but - and one Sunday, after ten Mass, didn't he pounce on our Liam.
'Are you Mr O'Donnell?'
Liam said he was.
'And are you a Derry man, as people are saying?'
Liam said he was.
Satisfied, Kenny said he was too. Was from Derry, originally, an' all.
'You're kidding?! What's your name? I'd be lying if I said I recognised ye - '
Even when Kenny told him, our Liam couldn't place him. The only Ryans he knew were from Cable Street - and he couldn't see this boy being anything to themmins.
He said to Kenny to come down for his dinner anyhow. The boy, after all, was on his own.
'Of course, now! - Just come down. There's more than enough to go round!'
Kenny relented and they turned to go. Had hardly reached the kirk but before Liam'd to stop to clarify something.
'On one condition: it's Liam, Kenny. Forget the Mr O'Donnell - '
The dog growled, baring his teeth, when Kenny first walked in.
'That's enough of that, you!' - Liam hit him a slap.
Bridget, hearing a stranger, took a quick look in from the kitchen.
'This is my wife, Bridget - '
'Kenny's from Derry originally an' all,' Liam told her. 'He's a Ryan. Nothing to the ones on Cable Street but! I said we’d give him his dinner!'
Bridget said, 'Aye – no bother!' and shook Kenny's hand. 'Nice to meet you, Kenny!'
Next job to do was introduce the weans: from Liam down to wee Orla.
'Seven, you have?'
Kenny made some comment their da shrugged off: ‘It's right enough what they say, sure – it's cheaper by the dozen!’
Annette was clinging to the dog still. There was still the odd angry growl.
'Cut that out, you!' Big Liam warned. 'Or it's another slap you'll be gettin!'
How long are you over in Scotland? wasn't straightforward in Kenny's case. He'd been back in Scotland for the last ten years. Was out of Derry over thirty.
All over, the boy had been: Pakistan, India, - you name it. Walking everywhere, too! First few times he was down, he was always on about Turkey. Seems there was nowhere in Turkey Kennyboy didn't know, not that the same one was for letting on how come. He took great delight in describing the massages: how you lay face down and a boy walked up you, footing it up your spine. Seeing our Liam looking sceptical, Kenny got up to demonstrate - taking dainty wee footsteps towards the fire. 'You'd be surprised,' he insisted, 'what good it does!'
He could've been Turkish himself, nearly, Kenny. Had a face that was made for a skull cap, that wouldn't've stood out in a bazaar. There was something about his colouring an’ all, that dated back to his travels maybe. The main thing about him but was: how incredibly neat the boy was. He maybe wasn't the tallest of men, was a great one but for a suit. His shoes ye could see yer face in. His hair, never long, he always brylcreemed back. He was wild well-spoken for a factory worker. In fact: ye'd never've known he was Derry born 'n' bred, if he hadn't told ye himself.
The boy was thon way, it was hard to say what age he was. He must've been fifty at least but, when he first turned up in the house. Not that the same one looked it. No, Kenny Ryan looked after himself. Or looked lik he did. Which is why the O'Donnells were all so shocked when he said where he bought all his clothes from. Every bloody stitch was from the Barras.
'You're not telling me you buy your shoes there an' all?'
For once, our Liam was speechless.
'I do,' Kenny confirmed. 'Why wouldn't I?'
He took one off and handed it over.
Big Liam was giving it: 'Clothes, I can imagine. Clothes, you can wash or dry-clean. I couldn't see myself wearing second-hand shoes but,' when Kenny interrupted him. 'Inspect them then!' he demanded – ye could tell but his feelings were hurt but.
'The best of leather!' he insisted as Liam read the writing. 'Leather soles and uppers. - An old shilling, they cost me!'
'Can't argue wi that!' Liam conceded.
Sunday dinner became a regular occurrence. Before too long, it was weekly.
The weans would look forward to him coming. To begin wi, sure, they were curious - and he did, after all, bring them sweets. Saying that: it was well seen Kenny'd no weans of his own. Week after week, his varieties started a riot, nearly. Would've done, probably, if it hadn't've been for Liam – Big Liam. 'Yous know what'll happen, if I catch yous fighting!' he'd warn. 'The whole buckin lot'll go in the bin!'
'Say thank you to Mr Ryan!' he'd then insist as the Flake, Aztec, Mars bar etc went off in separate directions.
It must've been after the clothes conversation Kenny first turned up on a Saturday - on his way back from the Barras.
He plonked a strange purchase down in the middle of the floor.
'Does anyone know what that is?' he asked the assembled O'Donnells.
'Haven't the foggiest!' our Liam admitted as the weans all shook their heads just.
The one thing they did know was: that this was bloomin boring.
'Is it from the inside of a machine?' Sean asked.
'Could it be part of a broken lawnmower?' - Ciara sounded confident.
Kenny said no to both, cut poor wee Cahal short.
'You're approaching it all wrong!' he insisted. 'No more guesses! Ask me questions to try and narrow it down. Do you know Twenty Questions on the wireless? The first question’s always: is it animal, vegetable or mineral? That's how to start. Animal, vegetable or mineral - and take it from there...'
The weans were out of their depth, weren't in the least bit interested. Kennyboy was lucky if he got to Question 3.
'Just tell us, Kenny!' the Wee Ones pleaded.
He wasn't for giving in but, insisted they'd to guess. Yet more proof it was: the boy was useless wi weans. One by one they wandered off just - leaving Kenny alone wi the dog. And his unidentified mysterious bloody object abandoned just on the floor.
It was every Saturday evening after that. Every Saturday night and Sunday lunchtime. Bridget, fed up managing, started to count him in.
He appreciated her, Kenny, at least. Week after week, he brought her a Fry's Cream - handing it over lik he was giving the woman gold. A running joke, it became: that Kenny Ryan idolised her. To be fair: there was nothing the same boy wouldn't have done for our Liam's Bridget. Anything that broke, Kenny fixed. Cassette recorders, hair driers, you name it. The weans’ trannies. The record player. He saved them a fortune in repairs!
Be that as it may: Bridget was still at her wit’s end when Kenny started coming a third night. Wednesday was his half day, he revealed, and always he would go to Paddy's Market.
Saturdays & Sundays - the Barras
Wednesdays - Paddy's Market
The smell, the dirt, off the stuff was unreal - and Bridget would be cooking the tea too! And it wasn't as if Liam was home to entertain him.
Bridget, as ye might imagine, was completely browned off.
The weans, God love them, had their homeworks to do.
One time Bridget looked in, Kenny was playing wi the dog.
Even the buckin dog showed no reaction.
It was Young Liam who started to ask questions.
Annette & Ciara were in on it an' all.
'K.R.' they'd started calling him. Not to his face but.
At 15, 14, 13, they were starting to have minds of their own, and Kenny'd made the mistake of totally offending them. It was one night the News was on, and somewhere in America, a boy was due to be executed. Was the first our Liam’s weans had heard of Death Row - and the girls & young Liam were appalled. Kenny but, needless to say, was all for it. For Kenny, the electric chair was too good for the boy. Kenny’d've cut his hands off – lik they done in countries lik Turkey. Thrown him into a cell and left him to rot.
'I take it you're in favour of bringing back the birch?'
Young Liam was fizzing. Ye could hear it.
'I am!' Kenny insisted. Bugger wasn't for budging.
Listening to the guy was bad enough. The day the boy was executed but, the lousy shite "dropped by".
Dropped by, their arse! There was no way, that night, the weans could be polite.
It was Annette who gave the signal – and off they headed.
'That boy's pure sick!' she hissed. 'That's what he is: sick!'
'He's a slimey oul so-and-so!’ – Ciara. ‘Don't be upsettin yourself, Annette - he's not worth it.'
'Who's he, like, to judge?' Liam suddenly gave it.
Whatever way Ciara reacted, a penny'd just dropped. This was what Miss Rafferty was always stressing: you had to think critically; had to be willing to challenge.
Something in Annette's face was urging Liam on.
'What I want to know is why?' he said. 'Why's he not married? Why's he no family?'
'Why's nobody heard of him?' - Annette.
'Why'd he leave Ireland?' - Liam again. 'Why India and Turkey? Why bloomin walking?'
'What age d'ye think he is?' Ciara interrupted.
'Don't know. - Fiftysomething? Dad's in his forties, sure!'
Ciara'd got Liam thinking: 'Born in 19twentysomething, that would make him. So: 19 or 20 when the war ended...'
'D'ye think he was a soldier?' - Annette.
'Can't see it,' - Liam. 'The Navy, if anything.'
'So he went to all them countries after the war?'
'Reckon so. I can see him walkin 'n' walkin - I can't see him fightin but. Can you?'
The girls shook their heads.
'So that was the 1950s and then he came to Scotland?' - Ciara.
'Would add up, aye - '
'I wonder what the reason was? How he didn't go back to Ireland?'
They were onto something, it felt lik. And getting a bit of revenge for the guy on Death Row.
Their da, it turned out, had been asking questions an' all. Had been putting out feelers whenever he phoned Derry.
None of their aunts 'n' uncles had ever heard tell of Kenny.
Their gran 'n' all her pals had never heard tell of him either.
Christy, an uncle by marriage, it was, who finally came up wi the goods. Karate and amateur boxing were the crucial connection.
Karate, you could see. He’d that kind of frame, Kenny. Boxing was hard to imagine.
It was the training that appealed, he told our Liam. It kept you off the street and out of trouble. 'And there was no shortage of trouble back in those days!'
Running up Rosemount backwards was what Kenny minded most. Murder, he said it was.
'But a heck of a lot better than getting involved.'
('He means the IRA,' Liam'd to explain to his sisters.)
It wasn't long after that conversation Christy was back on the blower. He'd more information. This time, even better.
On three different occasions, he told them, Kenny'd been due to get married.
And on three different occasions, he'd jilted the girl at the altar.
Three bloody times, the so-and-so failed to show. That was why he scampered, Christy'd discovered: the "boys" were after him.
(‘No, not his fiancee’s brothers,’ Liam explained this time. ‘The Provos!’)
There was more! Two of Kenny's cousins lived in Derry still. An aunt did an' all. All three were women, ages wi Kenny maybe. Delighted they were, to have found him. Keen as anything to meet him.
'They're after his buckin dough,' said Uncle Christy – who knew about the money down the cushions.
Our Liam, being our Liam, invited the three of them over.
'Tell them they're very welcome,' he told Christy to tell them. 'Any time they lik! They're more than welcome in our house!'
There wasn't a hope in hell of Kenny issuing invites. That, our Liam didn't have to be told.
The boy had a room 'n' kitchen, it seems. Single-storey, mid-terrace, bit of a garden to the front. His own front door, at least, as the two Liams told us. What the problem was was: it was crammed full wi junk. A mini-Barras, lik. Four bloody motorbikes, seemingly, were parked round the room. His bed folded down from the wall. Stuff was piled high everywhere, the shelves all full round the walls. You'd to jump over a hole to get into the kitchen. The toilet was off that again. Big Liam even turned down a cuppa even - after seeing the state of the dishcloths.
The other thing to come out that day was: Kenny Ryan had rats. He'd hear them - imagine! - at night and - and fling a buckin hammer at them.
On one famous occasion, he split one's head open.
Back to the big reunion but: Kenny, when he got wind of it, was raging. So buckin raging, he couldn't begin to disguise it.
Liam's three oldest were rubbing their hands in glee -
'NO WAY, Liam!' Kenny roared. 'I don't want to see them.'
'It’s too late, Kenny!' their da informed him. 'The ladies are already on their way. I don't know what you're worrying about, anyhow. You can meet them here, if you lik...'
The fact it wasn't at his place seemed to help.
The evening, in the end-up, passed without incident.
Not wanting to miss nothing, the weans ensured they were in.
Lik This Is Your Life, it was! 'All the way from Londonderry, it's your cousins, Annie & Rosie - and your aunt, Deirdre!'
There was a strained politeness. The ladies - middle-aged, overweight, all done up in their corsets - were given the settee. Kenny, the closest armchair. The O'Donnells watched lik hawks until finally, eventually, Kenny – “K.R”. - thawed. The ladies, all smiles, suggested a photo.
Our Liam took some that Kenny even smiled for – he even squeezed in between his cousins even.
The strain there was before had gone. The strange politeness stayed but.
Christy 'n' our Liam'd never had so much to talk about.
There was one last thing Liam was desperate to know.
'Would you say it was okay, Christy, to leave him in charge of your house?'
'What were you thinkin lik, Liam?'
'Well, we're due to be over home for three weeks - and the last couple of times, I put the dog in the kennels. I could save a tiny fortune if Kenny house-sat. Wha' d'ye think? Should I ask him?'
'Well, he wouldn't run off wi yir daughters, that's for sure!'
'They're coming with me 'n' Bridget. So, too, are the boys - '
'No, seriously, Liam: I think you're okay. I'd say he's straight 'n' honest. No-one I've spoken to has suggested any different - '
'Aye, you're probably right, Christy. Speakin of which: did I tell ye the story from his work?'
'Don't think so. Though ye said he was working, aye - '
'I'll have to tell you about his pay-packets before I hang up! Seems he went in to work one Monday there and the foreman was calling him for everything. They'd overpaid him on the Friday, and he'd not had the decency to say. Kenny took so much of it, it seems, before – finally – he erupted. The reason I haven't said anything is I've yet to open the envelope, he told them. Expect me to believe that? the foreman sneered. You will, Kenny told him and stormed out. First thing next morning, he's up at the office, handing back their pay packet. YOU open it, says Kenny. YOU check it. And here - before the boy can do anything, he takes out a second envelope. And a third and a fourth and a fifth, - every single one of them unopened. Nine there were on the table, apparently, before Kennyboy was finished - '
'Take it he got an apology?' Christy pretended to ask. 'Give him the keys of your house, Liam!'
Soon after that, the O'Donnells were over in Derry. The story of Kenny's pay packets had beaten them to it. Was just as buckin well the guy had fled to Scotland. The whole o bloody Derry wanted to burgle him.
The call came on the Monday - before the weans had settled even. Kenny phoned their Gran's, to speak to their da.
'It's the dog,' Liam announced, coming back in from the hall. 'Wrecked the buckin house, he has - '
Annette's face dropped. There was nothing the wean could do but.
'When Kenny got back last night, the place looked lik a bomb had hit it. The two curtains were down and so was the pelmet. The very bit of wood the curtain-rail was nailed to was snapped in two... '
'That wasn't a bomb, Liam! Sounds more lik an Army job to me! Ye sure ye weren't raided?'
Liam glared at the jokester. 'I can do wi'out the wise-cracks, nephew!'
He turned to Bridget.
'The settee's ripped to shreds, love. We’ll need a whole new suite - '
Bridget didn't speak.
'Labradors!' Liam cursed. 'Don't any of yis ever get one! That's the third buckin settee I'm having to buy!'
'And what about Shamrock, Dad?' Was Annette dared to ask.
'It's into the kennels wi him. I told Kenny to take him - '
'What else was I supposed to say?' he protested, spotting Bridget's reaction.
'Do you want the good news?' he went on.
'He's caught the mouse - '
'Have yis a mouse?' someone asked.
'Not any more!'
'How'd he catch it, Dad?' - Sean.
'He used chocolate biscuits - '
'Thought so!' - Sean again.
'He crushed up a digestive, seemingly, and mixed it wi Polyfilla - '
'Jesus, Liam! -Where'd he get that recipe?'
'It's what he gives his rats!' the weans chorused.
Was either that or the flying hammer, it seems.
'The Polyfilla sets in their stomachs,' Sean explained. 'The weight of it slows them down and they can't get back out through the holes - '
'Someone's been paying attention!' Christy laughed. 'D'ye pay attention lik that when you're at school?'
The three weeks flew past just. Suddenly it was time to go back.
Bridget's heart sank when she saw the state of her kitchen. He hadn't lifted a finger, Kenny hadn't. Hadn't bothered his arse at all to clean. The same plate and cup had been used for three weeks. Same bits of cutlery an' all. The bottle of Fairy Liquid had taken root.
The bedroom Kenny slept in was even worse. Bridget had cleared the older girls’ bedroom specially, seemingly. Fixed it up nice. It was the smell that hit her first, she said, when she went to change it back. The window’d not been opened in all them weeks. Nor had the dirty bugger changed the bed. The pillowcase was clatty wi Brylcreem, apparently. St Veronica’s veil or the Turin shroud wouldn't've had a look in. She'd ended up burning the pillowcase, Bridget. Two of her best sheets an' buckin all.
Her one consolation was: there was no more bloody mouse.
Fast-forward thirty years. Our Liam, God rest him, is four years dead now.
Kenny’s been gone ten, – at buckin least.
His house - would ye credit it? - is lying empty.
Ye'd think someone would do something. That someone would be responsible. But no but.
Rottin away it is. You wouldn't buy in the street even.
All thon stuff from the Barras is probably in there an' all still. Stuff he always insisted he'd re-sell.
Most of the bloody stuff he never fixed.
At some point - in the eighties maybe - Kenny's visits stopped.
By that stage, boyfriends 'n' girlfriends were in an' out of the house, sure.
Maybe it felt too crowded. Maybe he felt neglected.
However thick-skinned, he maybe picked up vibes maybe.
His visits dried up anyway - whatever the reason.
The last years of his life he spent caretaking.
A caravan site it was - and he'd no sooner started work there than he started to sleep in his office.
To cut down on the travel, he said.
'To save the flippin bus fares!' the O'Donnells chorused.
A good ten years maybe, he lived lik that.
There were nights wi winds 'n' rains when ye couldn't help thinking of him.
There was no call for it either: the whole buckin time, he'd thon wee house still.
Not long after his da died, young Liam fancied a walk one day – round the dam and up the Braes, lik he'd liked to walk in his teens.
Bridget, to his delight, said she'd join him.
On their way back, they were, when they passed K.R.'s street.
'Do you mind, Mum, what number he was?'
Bridget didn't - not that it took them long to find it.
Neither Liam or Bridget said anything. They both just stopped just. The garden screamed neglect, it seems. Animal, vegetable, mineral - it was all there. Pigeons 'n' seagulls were picking at somebody's vomit. The carcass of a bird lay at the door. What looked lik a rag-tree was taller than the house, got. The weeds 'n' nettles had completely taken over. The guy's power-box, even, had slowly rusted away - its front prized open, the wiring now in shreds. The house itself had slumped, apparently - the FOR SALE sign barely upright behind a broken pane.
Liam, seeing this, could imagine the rats now just
He turned to Bridget to say so. Her head, but, was lowered. Her hands joined in prayer.
'You alright, Mum?' he asked once she finished.
'May God rest his soul,' she said. Then turned to head home.