‘Shouldn’t you be going up the road, about now?’ says Jaz, smiling into his pint. ‘To get ready for your big date.’
Rab’s bottom lips droops and he shrugs. ‘Nah, fuck it. I’ve got mair important things to dae.’ He glances around at the other punters in the pub, drinking and chatting. ‘Besides, I’m enjoyin’ myself here.’ He swills lager around his glass and swallows it, stands up to go to the bar. ‘Whit do you want to dae?’
‘Suppose we could get another wan before we go.’ Jaz lifts his glass and finishes his pint with smacking lips.
‘Go where?’ Rab turns to go to the bar, but he steps back to the table.
‘The Orange Halls, of course.’ Jaz acts as if he’s surprised. ‘If a couple of boys came to see me all the way from Ulster. I don’t want to let them down. I’m no’ like some people. She’ll be standing outside the Park Bar the now, on her todd, modelling her white wedding dress, greetin’ her eyes out’.
‘Fuck right off,’ says Rab, his cheeks and ears growing red. ‘Sometime I wonder whit fuckin’ planet you’re on. You just think you’re too smart for your own good.’ He flees to the bar before Jaz can reply, his pals mocking eyes following him.
They got a 64 bus to the Orange Hall in Clydebank, less than a ten-minute journey. Jaz squeezes like a school boy into the window seat in the smoking section downstairs. Chapping the window as the bus runs parallel with the Park Bar, nudging Rab in the ribs and chortling, ‘Did you see her, there? Big white blimp of a balloon, standin’ outside, waiting for you?’
Rab stares straight ahead, moving with the sway of the bus, smoking a fag and keeping his mouth well shut. In a huff, he stands up.
They parachute off the back step of the bus, letting go of the hand-worn, metallic, pole, timing the jump when it slows, but before it stops, stepping into the rain swept beat of road and pavement the slapping soles of feet, falling with knock-knee laughter into each other as the brakes squeal and the double-decker comes to a juddering stop. The headlights of passing cars overtaking their running feet. A car horn sounds. An old woman wearing a rain hat carefully steps off the platform at the designated bus stop. The Orange Hall is nearby, across the road from the closed front gates of John Brown’s shipyard, Titan cranes rising up above the tenements, a thumping heartbeat of metal on metal marking the dreich night. Rab’s da was forever telling him that was no accident. In the good old days you had to check into the Orange Hall first before you got a job in Brown’s. He leads the way, down the stone steps, away from the Dunbarton Road, because unlike Jaz he’s been inside the Hall. Rab remembers playing pool on green baize in a side room with his da, and his da’s pals, at children’s parties. At Christmas Santa’s white beard knocked askew, smelling of drink, with a sack of goodies, yodelling, ‘yo-ho-hoing,’ dressed in a bright orange suit with a hundred weight of cotton wool for white trims and Council surplus wellies. He knows that the Orange Hall isn’t one hall, but two. A lounge bar with tables and comfy seats where women are sometimes admitted, which you needed to pass through to get into the starker, better lit, big hall, with a wooden floor, with removable tables or chairs around it, for dancing, band practice or military parades. Music drones from the lounge, Elvis Presley and Heartbreak Hotel wooing woodchip walls. The area outside the hall is uncarpeted and smells of pee, because that’s where the men’s toilets are and the women’s toilets are located.
‘You a member?’ asks a big tired-looking man, curly hair, with streaks of grey and eyes that once twinkled like Santa’s. He sits on a bucket chair too small for him, behind a desk, a pint of heavy beside him for company. His shirt is open-necked, his sleeves rolled up, showing hairy forearms settled over and manning the open pages of a register, with a pen attached with a red elastic band.
‘Nah, but my Da will sign us in,’ says Rab.
‘Who’s your da?’
‘Sammy Burrows,’ answers Rab.
The doorman smirks, as if let into a secret. ‘Gies a minute,’ he says. Looks past Rab, checking out Jaz, and he slowly gets up, pushes open the door to the lounge, and has a confab, with a shirt on the other side, as the beat of the music gets louder.
Sammy signs them in and escorts them through the big hall to a table near the bar. There’s a space between them and the other tables people are sitting at. Rab and Jaz both hear the raised voices and Irish accents before they get there. The swivel of heads makes Jaz uncomfortable. A bulky man with a crew cut about Sammy’s age stands up, blocks their path. ‘Anything you need Sammy, you let me know.’
Sammy slaps him on the shoulder and winks, ‘Will do, Tommy, yer a good man. And the first man we’ll need when things get rough.’
Two chairs are pulled into the table at Sammy’s table, and Rab’s da. A couple of lagers placed down in front of them. Rab tried to tell a funny story that fizzles out, with only him laughing. Jaz says nothing and listens. Other people are at the table, but it’s the two Irish boys that are holding court. Del does most of the talking and most of the laughing. He’s big the way bisons are big, red faced with blond hair, but it’s the twinkle of an earring in his left ear, a gold bar, that makes him stand out. Jaz has never seen a man wearing an earring. For all his bluster, he’s not the one in charge. He addresses himself to Dougie, his travelling companion. He’s unremarkability in a faded suit jacket and feather-cut brown hair that tends to hide his eyes. Firm build but not fat, aged about thirty-five, he is about ten years or more older than Del and doesn’t say much, because he doesn’t need to.