The Food Bank
The Food bank
He helped every Tuesday with the food bank, my father that is. Long after he had quit most things, he would pull on a bright red shirt and tuck it in to his hitched up jeans. He was old by this point. I was almost moving out of the house, but you know how hard it is with the way the rent is in Dublin.
Sometimes I would see him at the breakfast table and he would smile and say, “Would you come in to the foodbank to lend a hand.”
I always thought he was just a saint. I thought he did it to help the people. He had lived through the 50’s and 60’s and 70’s when the church told everyone what to do, but sometime in the 80’s he stopped believing in all that malarkey as he would say.
He’d say, “God doesn’t have any time for me, so why am I going to have any time for him.”
This day, the day I’m thinking of something had happened to his car and he told me I needed to drop him over. I protested of course, but he said something about how I’m living under his roof and God forbid I couldn’t give him a lift over to the church which was only five minutes away. I felt bad after that for protesting.
I still told him he could have told me earlier because I was going to have to be late for work and they get annoyed if you don’t ring them early and let them know. He said he was sorry, but how was he to know that he would get in the car this morning, turn the key, and the car wouldn’t start.
Anyway he climbed in my car and it must have been the most time we had together in five odd years. It’s funny how you miss someone even if you’re living under the same roof.
I would have given him more time, but I was busy in those years. Mam had died a few years earlier leaving dad all alone in the house and I had moved home from school to look after him, at least that’s what I told myself.
When I dropped him over to the church a friendly woman came out to help him in. She asked him who this fine young man was. He said, “This here is my son. He’s decided to help at the food bank today.”
I knew then and there that I wouldn’t be able to pull away, and the truth was I didn’t have work that day anyway. It just felt like more work to disengage from it all then to just let it all happen. Dad smiled at me in a knowing way. He knew I was no good at this sort of thing. This small talk and chatting.
I stood awkwardly to the side as the poor came in to collect their bags of food. There wasn’t anything real nice in the bags. Just the usual tins of beans and a box of cereal and maybe some rice and cheese. They would give a box of chocolates to the wee kids.
The poor didn’t look poor, a few of them did but loads came in nice cars. Dad said that some of those would be taking the food to a family member who needed them.
The church room we were in was dark and damp and smelled like a musty dump. All I wanted to do was get out, but each time I looked at the door that friendly woman would be walking in front of me with a smile plastered on her face. She didn’t look any different then that image that comes to mind. The perfect little church woman, and she wouldn’t let me go.
When the parcels ran out my father took me in the small storage closet that the church let them use and I helped him sort out some more, though there wasn’t much left over when we were finished.
It wasn’t long after that it was one o’clock, that’s when its all finished and they closed up. When we were cleaning the room and wiping down the tables the priest came in to have a word with the friendly looking lady. He said something to my father and then walked back out.
Before we could close the door a particularly rough looking lad came in with a few kids. Their faces were all lined with dirt and he was asking if there was anything else we could spare.
My father talked to him and told him he should have come earlier. He said that most of the good stuff was gone anyway but he might be able to rustle something up. There was a strange look in his eye as he addressed the man. Almost an odd sort of pleasure, not a sacrificial loving kind of pleasure, something else altogether. I couldn’t place it at all. I don’t think I had ever seen it in his eyes before.
When the lad and his kids had turned to walk away and out the door I watched him look away in disgust. I would have thought it was over the sadness of it all, but I didn’t know at all after glimpsing that strange look in his eyes.
When we left the smiling lady thanked me so profusely I didn’t know what to say. “No problem at all.” Is all I could manage.
To exit the church we had to walk through the church itself and as we passed through the aisle the shadow of the cross passed over the altar and the stain glass showered us in all sorts of colour and as my father stared up it was like he was fighting against himself. His arms were shaking as if they didn’t want to listen to him and finally he couldn’t help, but cross himself.
I carried on down the central aisle of the church and out the doors. He must have stopped inside because after a minute I decided to take a seat and have a cigarette. It may have been five or fifty minutes before he came out. I don’t know my head was in such a cloud. When he did come it seemed like he was carrying a greater weight. He didn’t stop, just walked right past me, and past the car and onto the street and down the lane. When I caught up to him and tapped him on the shoulder he looked completely lost.
“Who are you?” Is what he said to me, and he was looking at me in all the sun Ireland could muster.
“Dad it’s me. It’s Frankie.”
He shook his head as if he didn’t know me. It was mighty disconcerting, him looking at my face like he didn’t know me, but I’m not one to worry much. He talked to me like a perfect stranger, “Ah very good I was just going to mass there and had me confession.”
I kept walking beside him. I didn’t know where he was going or what to say, so we just kept walking. He brought me past the old house where my parents lived when I was still young and he even went up to the door and started searching his pockets for keys. When he couldn’t find the right one he started trying to force it open. Eventually a young lady came and opened the door, hearing all the commotion and scratching. She asked what we were doing, and I might have had to restrain dad as he wouldn’t believe that it wasn’t his house.
I apologized and towed him out to the street. He was boxing the air like a prized fighter he was. I tried telling him it wasn’t his house anymore, but he wouldn’t believe me, so I told him we’d go and get a pint. He’d always looked at a pint this early with disapproval, but I thought in his current state nothing would do him better.
To my surprise he agreed and started walking straight away mumbling something like, “she must be crazy carrying on like that, a stranger in me own house claiming its her’s what is the world coming to...”
I thought it was a pretty calm reaction considering he still believed it was his house. When we got to the pub and sat down at the bar I ordered us both a Guinness and didn’t dad recall the bartenders name just like that. He said it right out, “Well if it isn’t old Jimmy Connelly” and Jimmy turned around and growled back, “Me old mate Mic, it’s been ages since I seen you in the place. Where have ye been.”
They just carried on talking with me sitting beside only beginning to realize how mad it all was. When he was finished with the pint he turned to me and told me we should get back, told me it was too early to be having a pint. I asked him where he had been and he got all confused. He told me he had just been at the food bank and I could see he didn’t remember anything about the house or walking past me or not recognizing me at all. I decided not to tell him right way and as we walked back to the car I wondered at what point he had gone away.
I couldn’t help but think it was that moment we were caught under the shadow of the cross. I remembered his arms quaking, shaking to move, to cross himself. Maybe his old rebelling soul cracked against the habit that was seared into his very biology.
When we got home I tucked him into bed as I had to get ready to go out with the lads. I didn’t think twice about the earlier episode I was so distracted. When I caught the bus into town it did flash into my mind, but I pushed it down neatly and carried on. The old man would be fine, might watch a bit of telly, but he wouldn’t be getting up to anything else, sure he wouldn’t.
When we met the ladies at the pub I went straight over to Niamh. She was looking gorgeous and when we went from the pub to the club she was attached to me. After we had a fair few drinks we decided to leg it on the group and get off by ourselves. After shifting in an alley for a while I decided to take her back to mine. I did think of dad, but I had done it plenty of times and never disturbed him.
When I opened the door with Niamh in my arms a feeling fell on me, but I didn’t stop kissing her until I had her in my bed. Then I shushed her and went off for a minute to find something. I knew where I had them stored, but it was really an excuse to check on dad.
When he wasn’t in bed I went around the house, checking all the rooms, all the doors banging must have brought Niamh out of the room because when I turned around she was standing in the hall. “My dad’s missing.”
She couldn’t believe it either and promised to help me, but told me she had to go. The two didn’t add up, but I hadn’t really wanted her there for the company anyway. After she was gone I thought of all the places he could have gone.
I raced back to the old house and knocked on the door. The surprised woman told me she hadn’t seen him, and to stay away and not come back. On the way to the pub I cursed myself for not staying in for the night. I was too selfish to stay in for one night and now I’d have to rebound from "all me mates knowing that I live with me da."
Jimmy Connelly told me he hadn’t seen him since we left that afternoon and when I got up to the church. The doors were all locked and the place was completely dead. After I was finished pounding on the doors and the hope had all drained out of me and I was sure he was dead somewhere. Probably knocked down by a car or lost without a way home, or something worse, I went and sat back down on the church steps and pulled out another cigarette. What was left for me to do? I went back to the pub and had a few more drinks and stumbled home.
When I finally arrived home my father was sitting, as alive as ever, on the front door step. He smiled up to me as I came to stand over him. I asked him where he had been.
“Thursday night is the night I play bridge over at the community centre,” He says it like I’m stupid, and it all leaves me raging because I do know that he plays bridge on Thursday nights. I’ve even dropped him over once or twice, but all the worry of before had blinded me to the simple fact that it was Thursday and in the commotion of carrying Niamh into the house, the few drinks sloshing around inside me, and the frantic search it all had slipped my mind.I’m left speechless by it all and when I sit down beside him he puts his arm around me and pulls me over next to him.
After that day it kept getting worse. He would forget who he was, or where he was, or what he was doing. He would stumble out of the house and run off to some forgotten hangout of his youth and the guard’s would be out searching for him till the early morning. It got so bad I had to take him to the nursing home. He didn’t want to go. He kept protesting till I almost couldn’t hear it anymore.
Most visits he wouldn’t remember my name, but one day he did. I got there early on a Thursday which is odd because I’m usually not out early at all, but I was there early and dad was still sleeping. He looked kind of peaceful like laying there asleep, and when he did wake up he was out of bed in a hurry. He nearly fell getting out and once he righted himself he was straight into asking me where his red shirt was, “It’s a food bank day he said,” and I said, “Dad you don’t go to the food bank anymore.” His face grew sad then, and we sat for a while in silence.
He went away in himself then and began mumbling something about God, “Bleeding fecker couldn’t just let me be... the almighty fraud... well I’ve been storing up all my treasures...”
After that visit he would only mumble, he would never comeback to himself, and when he had finally forgotten who he was completely I stopped visiting. I suppose it would be good to say that it was hard on me, seeing him that way, and him not recognizing me and all. I suppose that’s what I should say, but none of it’s true. I just got lazy and couldn’t be bothered any more.
The day of the funeral came and it was in the same church with the same priest. The nice church lady with the smile still plastered on her face even came. When I went up to have a look at him the sun fell through those stained glass windows the same way it had on that day at the food bank, and I swear I could see his arms quivering in the coffin. I guess God just couldn’t let him go.