Approximately forty miles off the south-west coast of Ireland.
How do you tell a community of conservative Irish that you
plan to bring someone to their quaint little island who others
consider a curse? You don’t, if you’re like me, you hope you
have some good luck.
“We’ve had bad luck for ages,” said Hugo, yanking on the
handle of the bait box, it refused to budge. “That thing keeps
Quinn took a folding blade from a pocket on her wetsuit,
wedged it under the lid and it opened with a loud pop. They
recoiled with the stench.
“Get it out there,” I said, watching the fin resurface between
the foot-high waves.
Quinn reached towards the bait box, wincing with eyes
closed. “Jesus, it’s off.”
“Will ye just do it,” I said. “Sorry, love.”
Hugo held his nose dunking an arm into the slimy water and
pulled out a fist of fish guts. He shoved them into his sister’s
face—Quinn smirked without flinching—and he threw the
innards into the ocean.
“Hugo,” I yelled, seeing its shadow pass my view forty
meters out and change course back the way it came.
“It doesn’t seem interested in the bait,” he said, moping
back to get more bloody fish.
She pushed him aside. “Loser.” The motion of the boat
sent him into the bait box, and he sat in it flicking guts at her.
She preempted waves shunting the small boat and gave
him the middle finger.
“Stop messing, love,” I said. “Get more bait into the water,
He got up grumbling.
The fin went under the surface. I took the shaft and put it
to the open muzzle, my hands shook.
“Come on, uncle Donnacha, ye plank,” she said, taking a
fish tail and flinging it over my head. “Why does it have to
smell so bad?”
“Ned Murphy said it has to.” I found the groove and slid
the spear into the trigger mechanism until I heard a click.
The pin popped up like Ned had shown me.
“Why ‘uncle’ all of a sudden?” he asked, peppering the
water with fish innards.
“Since we moved in with Cara it just feels right,” she said.
“He’s not our real Dad.”
“Shush, love,” I said. My fingers fumbled trying to thread
the monofilament through the loops of the speargun. I
glanced up to see the fin scything sideways and then diving,
and I quickly threaded the line and attached it to the loop on
the shaft. “Okay.”
They leaned on the edge of the fishing boat, either side of
me and waited for it to resurface.
“See, this one is smart,” she said. “It knows we’re hunting
“Ned said you were using the wrong bait,” I said to Hugo.
“And he said the evening is the best time.” I searched the
swells trying to anticipate where it would show. “It’ll smell
the blood and come back.”
After a few minutes of nothing she sat down with her back
to the water.
“What are you doing?” he asked, flinging innards backhandedly
as far as he could. “You’re supposed to be spotting.”
“Leave her alone,” I said. “Nothing’s happening.”
“This was a stupid idea,” she said. “We’d do better alone
with the new bait. He’s jinxing it.” She glanced at me out of
the side of her eyes. “Sorry, uncle Donnacha.”
“Ah, you might be right.” I knelt down and rested the
speargun on top of the side of the boat. “Just drop the ‘uncle’
“He’s not jinxing it.” Hugo folded his arms. “We tried and
I glared at him.
Time crept on, achingly decelerated as the boat drifted away
from the blood-stained water. My knees and arms got sore
from holding the heavy lump of metal. There was no sign of
it, and no reward for our patience.
The sun drifted behind ranks and legions of angel-white
cumulus clouds that fused and blackened further out, making
the Atlantic murky. Seagulls circled overhead and dived for
the bait, or they mocked my thoughts—as all flourishes of
life seemed to nowadays. Quinn seemed to enjoy making me
feel older than forty-one too.
She played with the ends of her hair, dampening a frizzy
clump of curls with seawater. “Did you say that fella is a black
albino?” she asked, out of the blue.
Hugo frowned at her. “What fella?”
“Donnacha, I’m talking to you,” she said. “Didn’t you say
I glanced up. “Were you listening in on my conversation
“Are you going to bring him here?” She pinched the ends
of her hair with her piano-player fingers, squinting an eye.
“It’s not a good idea.” She started humming a flat version of
the Lonesome Boatman.
“He’s going to stay here for a while.” The sun had come out
from behind the clouds and I noticed the boat was drifting in
milky water. “Is that pollution?”
“Fucking capitalist,” he said, with his chin in the air.
I spotted movement fifty meters out and lifted the speargun.
She continued humming a little more softly.
“Shut up, Quinn,” he said, sipping up his wetsuit.
The sun caught the top of waves, blinding me momentarily.
As one rolled on, across its back—silky then distorted—I saw
a V-shaped wake glistening on the top of the water.
“It’s coming right at us,” I said, as the tip of the fin broke
through the surface.
Quinn stood up and slipped on fish-guts, sending her
backwards, and I watched in disbelief as she disappeared
into the murkiness. “Hugo,” I said, diving to gab her and
missing. “Help your sister.”
I leaned prone against the side of the boat and aimed the
speargun at the fin with one hand. A flash of orange passed by
my peripheral vision and a life-ring plonked into the ocean
with a loud slap. Quinn resurfaced a few feet away from it,
spluttering and screaming as the boat drifted in the current.
He reached out a hand. “Swim.”
I saw the shark inside an illuminated wave like it was
encased in blue glass. It was the width of two obese men
and its fin was as big as the sail of a training-dingy. “Jesus
Christ, this thing is enormous.” Shivers ran up my spine.
Hugo shoved my shoulder. “Fire,” he said and edged onto
the lip of the boat, stretching his leg over the water. “Grab
my leg, Quinn.”
She flapped her arms until she reached his boot and clawed
her way along his leg. He held on but began to slip in.
“Donnacha,” he whimpered.
My finger hovered over the trigger as the shark kept its
course towards the boat, forty meters out. I hesitated; if I
missed I wouldn’t have time to reload, if it was closer I’d have
a better chance. A splash sounded next to me and I saw the
two of them go into the drink as one and go under.
Thirty meters out, the shark changed course towards them
and its long body slowly curved before submerging. I held
my breath in the silence and pulled the trigger. Nothing
happened, and I lunged to the other side of the boat and
blindly reached a hand into a swell.
They resurfaced together a couple of meters out.
“Swim.” I aimed at the scattered shape hulking a foot below
the surface and pulled the trigger, nothing happened.
“The safety, release the safety,” said Quinn, frantically
front-crawling past her younger brother.
“Stop splashing,” I said, realising it was getting nearer.
“Stay still.” I remembered Ned’s instructions and gently
released the safety, it made a faint click.
The moment went quiet but for their panicked breathing
and I took aim. “Don’t move…stay very still.” I closed one
eye. “It’s a great white. Let it pass.”
“Jesus,” she said, in a husky, almost inaudible squeak.
“Shoot the fucking thing.”
Wind blew directly into my ears as loud as a gale, drowning
out doubts about missing and I pulled the trigger. A loud
thwack sounded as the mechanism released, and a whooshing
noise followed as the line was pulled at high speed through
the metal loops. The spear entered the water silently and
punctured the shark’s rubbery skin. Immediately, it darted
“Hurry, get back in the boat.” I reached out a hand to Hugo,
who swam first.
He lunged out of the water like a Marlin, slipped onto his
back and got up in one fluid motion. He leaned over the side
to pull his sister in, while I watched the spool get smaller and
the shark go deeper.
He laughed as he pulled her in, and the two of them lay on
their back, with their legs on the side of the boat. “We almost
died,” he said, gasping for breath and turning his head to
look at her.
“That was mental.” She blew away water streaming over
her top lip, puffing her cheeks. “What a buzz.” Her hands
were clasped against her forehead, elbows out wide. “Is it
still alive, Donnacha? Tell me it’s dead.”
“I barely scratched the fucker,” I said, staring back at the
spool uncoiling. “I don’t think I hit it in a good spot.” I took
out my pocket knife and held it under the line.
“What are you doing?” He jolted up into a sitting position
and held my wrist. “You have it hooked. Reload the speargun,
wait until it comes up and get it again man.”
“It’s too big and this boat is too small, it’ll sink us.” I cut
the line and slumped down with a disappointed sigh. “Shit.”
He sat on the opposite side. “We must have tried ten times
with that thing.” He sighed. “It gets away every time.”
“Are you sure it’s the same one?” I asked. “You didn’t
mention it was so big.”
“We’ve only seen it below the water…it stayed away.” He
zipped open the chest flap on his wetsuit. “You don’t get
many great whites this side of the Atlantic. I’m pretty sure
it’s the same one. ”
“You had it,” she said.
“Ah, fair play anyway,” he said, rising to Quinn’s apparent
calmness after what had occurred. “You injured it at least.
Good job, Donnacha.”
She groaned. “Don’t give him a big head.”
He waved his hand at her as I sucked air sharply through
my teeth. “There wasn’t much kick in that speargun,” I said.
“Hopefully it’ll bleed out.”
“Wonder if Ned was a whaler in a past life.” He pushed his
sister’s thigh with his foot, wiping blood from a cut on his
other ankle. “I’m not getting into that ocean until it’s dead.”
She sat up, squeezing water from her hair. “I’m convinced
now that it’s the one that got Wann Murphy,” she said and
got into the driver’s seat. “We should get a few boats together
and hunt it.”
Quinn turned the boat around and headed into Monte Cristo
Bay. The bay was typically calm and there was a warm evening
breeze. Straight ahead, the sky was a deep purple and stars
were visible. I turned around on the middle seat, looking at
the dipping sun painting unique patterns of cloud and ocean
into a kaleidoscope of oranges, pinks, and baby-blues as we
passed the small, uninhabited islands. “Maybe it did take
Wann. I hadn’t entertained the idea until I saw it up close.”
Hugo peeled off the wetsuit. “So, you don’t think it was the
“I don’t know now, Ned doesn’t seem to think so anymore.”
I held the speargun on my lap. “I want another go at it.”
“Aren’t you going to Dublin in the morning to get that lad?”
he asked, pressing on the bait-box, using his body-weight
to close the lid.
“There are going to be a few issues about that,” said Quinn,
“when the islanders find out he’s from Africa and an albino.”
“Jonah’s a Dub, and it’ll be grand,” I said, still unsure if I
was doing the right thing.
She looked at me over her shoulder. “I read up on African
albinos, there’s lots of superstition surrounding them, and
you know what people are like here. It’s going to stir a few
As we passed the old wreck, with its rusting chimney stack
visible above the water, I saw two tiny figures marching
knees-to-chin through the swamps, between the dunes and
Clippers Hook. Red and yellow raincoats and wellies, no more
than seven or eight years old. “Who are they?” I asked.
Hugo shrugged. “Never seen them before.”
“Do you know them, Quinn?” I asked.
She pushed the throttle to full and the engine roared.
The boat shuddered violently as it hit the sandbank and
beached, sending me forwards into a hunch, clinging to the
side. “Jesus Christ, what did ye do that for?”
“Sorry,” she said, turning her head away.
The two boys stood staring at us and then came towards
Quinn jumped off the boat and went to the back. “I felt like
the engine was lagging. I need to look at it.”
Hugo was on the beach, hands on hips and gazing at the
boys hopping and skipping his way.
I got off, feeling disturbed by Quinn’s odd mood change,
and joined him. “Are they from O’Dowd’s Point?” I asked.
“If I had to guess, I’d say yeah.”
I took stock of Quinn’s behaviour and waved at her to come
over. She shook her head and ducked down behind the engine.
“How’s it going?” said Hugo as the two little munchkins
arrived with screwed up faces and piercing blue eyes. “Where
are you from?”
The smaller boy in red pointed east.
“Are you from O’Dowd’s Point?” he asked.
They nodded in unison. “We were only catching tadpoles,”
said the one in red.
The one in yellow kept his eyes on me.
“I’m Donnacha, this is Hugo,” I said. “What’s your name?”
“I’m not supposed to talk to you,” said the red one.
I frowned at Hugo, chuckling to myself. “Me?”
“You’re the witch’s husband,” he said.
I stepped forward and Hugo grabbed my arm. “Leave it
Donnacha, they’re only kids.”
“Who told you to say that?” I asked, bending until I could
see the freckles on their button noses.
“Witches, witches, witches,” they chanted.
I made a fist. “Tell whoever told you to say that they’re…
“Jaysus, Donnacha, relax.”
“Hugo, it’s this kind of thing that made Erin…”
“Are you drunk, man? They’re kids.”
“I don’t care.”
I chased them up the beach and into the woods between the
dunes and the town centre.
They ran off, hiding behind trees and looking back at me
with impish stares until their little shadows faded into the
Harbouring a Curse
I fished two perfectly poached eggs from the pot with a sieve
and slid them onto a plate next to triangles of toast. “You’re
supposed to say ‘someone with albinism’, not ‘albino’, it’s
a genetic disorder.” I threw the sieve into the sink and took
off Cara’s apron. “Come and take your plate, I’ve a ferry to
Quinn walked to the counter with her eyes on the screen of
her phone. “Thanks, uncle Donnacha.” She glanced at me
wide-eyed as she picked up the plate.
“I thought I told you, love.” I put on the trench coat Ned
had loaned me because it had a detective’s look to it. He’d
given me a nice bottle of single malt too—for a fair price—to
wash away the worry of going back there after all these years.
She blinked away her vacant gaze—a look I was getting
used to seeing these last few years. “You don’t have to come
over here to cook us breakfast. We can do our own now, and
Cara makes the best pancakes.”
“I like cooking breakfast for you and Hugo, I did it for
thirteen years. I miss you two around the house.” Some
part of me wilted inside as I took my satchel off the kitchen
chair and threw it over my shoulder. The full whiskey bottle
whacked against my side. “Don’t call me ‘uncle’, Donnacha
“You should be happy, Donnacha, now you can do all the
things we prevented you from doing.”
“I never said that, did I?” I went to the hallway.
She rolled her eyes. “You didn’t have to.”
I called Hugo.
She darted her eyes up from her phone and back. “I read
up on what they do to albinos in Africa, people with albinism
I mean. It’s sick. Is it true?”
“Yes.” I waited at the front door. “But it only goes on in
remote parts of Tanzania and other places like Malawi, not
all of Africa.”
“According to this there are over twenty countries in Africa
that hold superstitious beliefs regarding albi—people with
albinism. Albino is just easier to say, it’s a bit of mouthful.”
“Oh, poor you—Hugo!”
“It goes on in secret now, I think.” She stabbed a fork into
the yoke and watched it bleed. “The chopping off-of arms
and all that. You’d have to be rich to pay the price, I thought
Africa is poor.”
“I haven’t got time now, love. Is Hugo having a lie-in or
“He sleeps in until after 10 now. Aren’t you worried about
his family? I heard you tell Cara they’re criminals.”
“Your ears must have satellite link-up.” I went to the
bottom of the stairs. “Hugo?”
She gawked at me pacing the hall.
“Lazy git,” I said. “He’s not coming. I’m going.”
“I’ll come with you.” She put a triangle of unbuttered toast
in her mouth and pushed the plate away. “You overcooked
the eggs,” she said, shoving me outside.
“My mind was on other things.”
“You haven’t been back to Dublin in years, have you?” she
asked, slamming the front door.
“Only once since…” My voice cracked.
“Since my mam and dad were murdered?”
She followed me to the ferry, pestering me about my reasons
for going all the way to Dublin to help a complete stranger.
Why was I? The Gardaí warned me members of the gang
who killed my brother and sister-in-law were still operating
in Dublin. Maybe I missed feeling like a saviour now Quinn
was almost eighteen and Hugo had just turned seventeen
and both were beginning to see me as a sorry drunk blaming
himself for his wife’s mental problems.
“Isn’t your anxiety and depression bad enough without you
adding to your worries?” she asked, looking at the ground
and walking with her hands in the pockets of her denim
dungarees, taking long strides. “We don’t need dangerous
people coming to Treoir either.”
“I brought you here, didn’t I?
“Funny.” She rolled her eyes. “Sarcasm doesn’t suit you.”
“I think it makes me less…what was that word you made
up you to describe me?
“Yeah, less cruddly.” I stopped by the dock and rummaged
in the pockets of Ned’s coat, hoping to find some hash he
may have forgotten about. “The lad is not dangerous and I’m
not depressed anymore.”
“But his family are dangerous.”
The ferry door lowered.
She inched to the edge of the dock, lighting a cigarette,
then balancing on her toes, with her heels over the water.
“You invited your friend Wann here and look what happened
with her. You’re not a charity. What’s it got to do with you
“Don’t smoke in front of me.” I sighed and tensed my
stomach muscles to control a pang of nausea. “He’s gifted
and we need talented students at the college.”
“My smoking annoys you, and you’re not depressed when
you’re annoyed. I’m doing you a favour.” She blew smoke at
me. “Is this to do with that lecturers’ league table?”
“You really have to stop listening in on my conversations
“I heard you weren’t high up. Is the plan to bring students
here who’ll”—she took a drag and blew it into the air—“back
“No, don’t be an idiot.” I straightened out creases on the
lapels of Ned’s coat. “I had to think long and hard about
helping him.” I folded my arms, staring at the cigarette she
held daintily by her face. “Being depressed feels selfish now.
It’s the right thing to do for me and for him. You’re too young
She cupped the cigarette in her hand and held it by her side.
“What if his family follows him here?”
“Trust me,” I said, shuffling to the edge of the dock as the
ferry’s engines fired up.
A wave of scorn broke over her nose, a gesture that disclosed
past conversations she’d eavesdropped on.
I got onto the ferry and leaned over the corroded green rail,
gazing down into the turquoise waters and breathing in the
sweet Westerly winds.
“There’s going to be trouble, I know it,” she said and
marched across the car park and climbed the dunes. She
smoked on top of the highest one until the ferry left.
My mind was elsewhere. Nowhere. Everywhere. A fifth
settled my nerves.
Gangs buzzed around the noisy entrance of Dublin’s Heuston
Station. People readers, teasing my troubles out of me
with knowing looks and prescribing a cheap deal on faulty
electronics. As I crossed the busy street I saw one light a long,
thin cigarette and laugh about me to his little gang of chainsmoking
street hustlers. They had jilting eyes warning me to
watch my back.
Once the streets weren’t too cluttered with people I took a
few swigs from the bottle of mouthwash I’d started carrying
everywhere. Benjamin Kolo’s place was in Smithfield, a few
hundred meters walk along the Liffey. I called to announce
my arrival, and he told me to bang hard on the door as he
would be mixing.
Kolo’s flat was above a shop on a high-street north of the old
Smithfield Market. It was an area that had a buzz of blackmarket
trading about it. His door was royal-blue and the
walls seemed to breathe with the slow, deep beat coming
from behind them. A smell of weed leached from the carpet
and the black mouldy wallpaper. I took a swig of whiskey
and a hit from the little canister of mouth spray I kept for
emergencies, and I hammered loudly with the back of my
He opened the door and embraced me one-handedly and
yanked me inside his cramped flat. “Brother, it’s been so
long since you’ve come to Dublin, you look old. Good to see
you again.” His lilting Dublin-Nigerian accent had a song in
it. “Your friend, Faith, is a lovely woman. She told me she
can’t meet you,” he said, smoothing out patchy facial hair on
his cheeks and jaw. “But there’s a lift waiting outside.” His
bright black eyes were the same colour as his Nigerian skin,
and his cranberry-coloured lips held a perpetual smile. His
face always put me at ease.
I went to the window and pulled back the yellow-stained
“Are you being careful, Donnacha?”
“Always, Kolo,” I said, taking a Martin Heidegger book
from his flea-market bookshelves and fanning the pages. I
felt too out of it to read and smelled the sweet, musty paper.
He shook his head. “I haven’t been back to Africa in years.
It hurts to think my homeland is still so superstitious.” He
made a loud tutting sound with his tongue.
“Is Ireland so far ahead?”
He cocked his head. “Ireland is a wonderful place to live.”
“It’s only a few decades since babies born out of wedlock
were seen as the seed of the devil and left to die in orphanages.”
I put the book back, folded my arms, and paced the
floor. “We put people in mental asylums and threw away the
key for masturbating, did you know that?”
“I’m serious, man.” I sat on a green armchair and crossed
my legs. “Irish culture championed conformity, anti-
intellectualism, and resistance-to-change up until the turn
of the millennium. You can’t change a people overnight, it’s
all still under the surface.”
“But it’s good here now.” His smile wavered. “No?”
“You’re a black man in a mostly white country. Are you
telling me you haven’t felt threatened in Ireland?”
He looked down at the tan wooden floor, studying a hole
where a notch used to be.
“Of course you have. Culturally, we’re at a point of great
instability in the world.” I sat forwards. “If we’re not
“Yes, maybe, but I understand that change takes time and
“You should talk to some of the islanders where I live,
change takes a lifetime there.”
He grinned uncomfortably. “I came to Ireland to get away
from all that superstitious bullshit and I’m very happy here.”
He took a bag of weed from a small wooden box, opened
it, and sniffed it. “A few assholes shouldn’t bother you,
I gripped the armrests.
“It’s a good thing that you’re doing this for this person,”
he said, sprinkling some weed into a jumbo Rizla.
I rubbed a sharp pain from my temple. “It is in part for my
own selfish need.” I took a deep breath and sighed. “I have
to find something to help me get past Erin.”
“Oh, right.” He skulked to his decks and lowered the music
until it was barely audible. “You should be careful with this
person’s family.” He fixed me with a worried look. “They’re
poor and he’s worth a lot of money to them.”
“He’ll be safe on the island.” I scratched the scar on my
arm. “I’m looking forward to meeting him.”
Benny, Kolo’s free-roaming pygmy mountain goat, appeared
in his small kitchen and studied me with a dignified
pity. It ate anything it wanted and went anywhere it liked,
and none of the neighbours said a word. “You still have him?”
“I missed you, Benny.” I used to wish I had Benny’s
freedom, I thought as I rubbed his head. “I wish I was Benny.”
Kolo laughed, probably at my sincerity. “Faith said this
person you are helping has a brilliant mind for science. She
thinks he might be a genius.”
“Yeah, she mentioned it.” I thought about Erin’s intelligence
as Benny butted my hand and went to the balcony and
hopped onto a fire-escape to the roofs.
Kolo sprawled out with his lanky legs over the armrests of a
tan, leather, two-seat sofa, draping one arm behind his head.
He took a letter from inside a Kafka collection of short stories
on his coffee table. “Faith left a letter.” He threw it to me,
lit his spliff, and tapped it into a green glass ashtray while I
I quietly read the letter in Faith’s handwriting.
As we have discussed, Jonah is in grave danger and needs
somewhere safe for a while. Last week, he came to me and told
me he would kill himself if he doesn’t get away from his awful
family. His father is not of sound mind; he mentally tortures his
wife and is violent towards Jonah—believing he is cursed. Jonah’s
family are planning to sell him to a witch doctor in Tanzania.
He isn’t strong and needs support. The family are poor and he’s
useless to them. Now the Tanzanian government has clamped
down on the mistreatment of people with albinism, there is
a demand for his kind in rural parts of the country. It seems
inconceivable to think it, but a child’s arm can fetch from $5,000
to $10,000 and a person anywhere between $70,000 to $150,000.
Jonah’s family stand to make a small fortune from his sale.
Some people in Tanzania, including politicians and other
influential members of society, believe witch doctors when they
tell them people with albinism have magical properties that can
bring luck, riches, ward of evil and cure disease. If the sale goes
ahead, Jonah will be mutilated and killed.
He is gifted, very intelligent and has a unique brain—he has
theories on the universe that will astound you. He is also a selftaught
musician, sings beautifully, is loving and a pleasure to be
around. Jonah has nowhere else to go. Nowhere safe. I believe
Treoir is far enough away that nobody would ever think to look
there. And he will be a valuable addition to your community once
I have no doubts Jonah will be sold soon, and he may carry out
his threat if he can’t get away. You have his home address. I have
left a bag of his things with Benjamin. It is with great esteem
that I ask for your help.
I got up and thanked Kolo.
He threw me a rug-sack. “Be careful. Check his phone for
apps and turn off his GPS.” He came to the door. “Make sure
nobody follows you back to Treoir.”
Outside Kolo’s flat a moped rider dressed in black flipped the
tinted visor on his helmet. “I’m Azil, Kolo asked me to take
you wherever you want to go.”
“Can you take me to Harris Street flats?”
“Can you handle it?”
I grabbed handrails and then coat as he weaved through
gaps in traffic with a sixth sense and slowed on the south
bank of the Quays, leaning into the turn and then to me to
warn me about the area I was entering.
I got off on a central plaza, a dumping ground for cheap-
Christmas gifts, broken bikes, and burst leather couches.
Women, bored crazy, leaned over balconies and lurked in windows,
anxious but looking for trouble; strung-out-dramajunkies
until the kids came home, I thought.
He flipped the visor. “I know them, you’ll be fine as long as
they’re there. Just don’t draw attention to yourself. Look.”
Controlling an adjacent balcony, too busy in their huddle
to notice us, was a gang of hooded men and boys.
“Criminals mix with desperate people, setting the bar for
all.” His eyes glazed over. “They have no choice but to be
lion or prey.”
“Thanks, I’ll be careful.” I handed him Jonah’s belonging’s
and asked him to wait.
A graffiti-covered corner of the stairway reeked of piss. I
stopped and took out the single malt. A third was gone. The
cap unscrewed without a tremble to contend with, the fire in
my chest calmed doubts about my impersonating ability. I’d
pulled the rue off back in the day as an over-zealous reporter
and I reckoned, being older and wiser, I could think better
on my feet. On the last flight of stairs I took another hit and
re-screwed the cap.
Life on the third floor was virtually non-existent. At the end
of the balcony I heard TV -sports news blaring from behind
the door of the address I’d been given.
A shout came from inside when I knocked. “Who the fuck…
? Go see.”
A yellow-and-black figure appeared through the textured
glass and stopped behind the door. I knocked again.
“Answer the fucking door, Jonah.” The accent was African
The latch clicked and the door opened a couple of
inches—the smell of cigarettes and something rotting hit
me. A tall white youth poked his head around the door and
met my eyes.
“Police.” I gazed at his face. Clearly he was African.
His skin was a creamy-white peel, almost translucent, and
freckled. The afro hair on his head was as white as the
overcast sky and his pink-blue eyes—carrying the misery
of his surroundings but lacking the madness—had sagging
peach bags below them.
He stared back at me without saying a word.
A man appeared behind him and yanked open the
door—wiry, black, prison tattoos, and fists. “What?”
“Who are you?” I took out a small black notebook and pen,
keeping eye contact with him.
“Get inside.” His voice left his cracked lips like bullets and
he scanned me like a CCTV camera. “Who wants to know?”
“Police. It’s about the boy.”
The teen stopped in the hallway and turned. Cigarette butts
and matted dog-hair littered the carpet. A trembling terrier
cowered under a table in front of an imposing television in the
front room. The smell was overpowering. Blood and bleach
have a distinct smell, I thought, remembering murder cases
I’d reported on for the paper.
I flashed the fake I.D. that I had laboured over for a week,
keeping my unblinking stare on him. “Are you Jonah’s
He put the door between us and shoved him into the gap,
giving him a warning glance. “Yes, I’m his father.” He made
a pitiful attempt to look upstanding. “What did he do?” His
fake concern was less convincing, but not so much as his
ability to read me and his neck tensed into the muscular roots
of a tattooed oak tree.
“We believe he’s involved in a crime. He’s been scamming
Jonah tried to scurry away and was dragged backwards by
the hood and shoved out the door.
“Are you Jonah Odjinwahlia?” I asked, pretending to write
in my notepad. I glanced at him and back at the blank page,
my arms heavy.
His sad eyes peered at me and he nodded.
A trebuchet limb flashed past my gaze from behind the
door, knocking Jonah’s head forwards. “Remember what I
told you.” He scowled at his desultory son.
Jonah didn’t react and I saw precipitous resignation in his
“There’s no need for violence,” I said, grabbing Jonah’s
wrist. “We will have some questions for you too, sir. Expect
another visit from the Gardaí.”
Some kind of father skulked behind the door, his nervous
smile loaded with contempt. “Will he be charged?” His
jaundiced eyes were wrangling across at the adjacent balcony.
A quick raise of his eyebrows untethered a gnawing fear,
mainlining my pulse with a rapid burst of panic.
“I don’t know yet.” I glanced over my shoulder at the
gang on their toes, legging-it towards the stairwell. “We
will return here sir, and we’ll have questions. Goodbye.”
I pulled Jonah with me towards the end of the balcony. “I’m
not the Police, Faith sent me,” I said when he resisted me. He
hardly heard, but resignation to misery no matter who had
him made him follow me without much of a fuss.
He had the energy of a betting slip blowing down the street.
The gang was all elbows and spotless trainers crossing the
“This way.” He kicked the bottom hinge of a caged gate and
it swung in, pivoting from the top hinge and unlatching from
the lock. I followed him as he pushed it up and ducked under,
then down a narrow stairwell painted with kindergarten
murals to another caged gate. He undid the latch and led
me out onto a fenced-off children’s adventure park, inside
the central plaza.
Azil tore off his helmet at the far end and waved.
“Where are you going, cunt?” came a shout from above.
Zero fades blurred past on the upper balcony, their barrelling
steps were amplified in the echo-chamber of the near
stairwell. “You’re fucking dead.”
“Move, Jonah.” I pushed him towards Azil who was
skipping like a relay runner.
He held out Jonah’s belonging and pointed to the road.
I collected the bag from him, looking over my shoulder at
three men exiting the bottom stairs. “Will you be okay?”
He smiled. “I can handle it. Get a taxi at the rank on the
I ran into the road and flagged down a passing taxi.
Jonah sat shaking in the back of the taxi, with the yellow
hoodie covering the top half of his face.
“How did they know I’m not the police?”
“By the way you were shitting yourself.” He lifted one side
of the hood and peeked behind him.
“Faith told me everything they planned to do to you,
The taxi-driver glanced at me through the rearview mirror
and returned to minding his business. Sunlight filled the car
and Jonah put on dark sunglasses as the taxi stopped in traffic.
He considered jumping out.
Why didn’t he?
The quays were crammed and the driver took a turn onto
Pearse Street. I felt Jonah’s body go rigid and glanced back at
what he was looking at. Two African men took the turn in a
battered, red BMW.
“Do you know them?”
“Who are they?”
“My father’s friends.”
I fumbled in my pockets for my phone and texted Kolo:
Being followed, what will I do?
I asked the driver to go further south of the river while I
waited for a reply.
Kolo called back a moment later. “Who’s following you?”
“Two African men.”
“Where are you?”
“Coming up on Trinity College.”
“I’ll call Azil, stay on the line.”
My phone slipped from my hand and I bent down to get it
and sat up again as the BMW forced its way into traffic behind
us, spewing out black smoke. “Kolo, they’re in a red BMW
it’s a junker, tell Azil to hurry.”
“He’s on his way. One minute away.”
“We’re in a silver Opel Insignia, hang on.” I read the
driver’s ID on the dash and read out the reg to him.
The taxi-driver, a hardened but clean-cut Dubliner with a
Judas Kiss below his ear to his chin, watched over his shoulder.
“Is that car following you?”
“Please, we need your help. Just drive. I’ll pay you double,
He adjusted the mirror to see Jonah. “What’s wrong with
“He looks bleedin’ odd he does.”
“He has albinism.”
He turned around to Jonah “Why are they after you?”
“They’re going to kill me.”
We watched the BMW hopping a concrete divider between
the road and the Luas line, bouncing in behind a tram and
blaring the horn. “Fuck this shit.” The taxi slowed.
I shoved a fifty-Euro note at him. “Please.”
He held out his hands towards the traffic ahead and brought
the car to a crawl. “What do you want me to fuckin’ do, mate?”
The line was empty up ahead. “Use the Luas tracks.”
“There are bleedin’ guards over there.” He pointed out two
uniforms strolling through the dense mass of pedestrians on
the corner of Grafton Street and Dame Street. “I’m not losing
me license. Ye have to get out.” He stopped the car. “Out!”
He yanked open the passenger door on the road-side. “Get
out of me fuckin’ car.”
I got out and pulled Jonah into the middle of the road as the
BMW took the footpath outside Trinity college and inched
ahead of the Luas. A bus beeped behind me. The passenger
got out of the BMW and ran into oncoming traffic, slipping
and ending up on his back.
I ran towards the taxi rank by the Thomas Davis statue
on Dame Street. The sound of a revving engine filled the
air as the BMW cut across the footpath with a pedestrian
splayed on the bonnet. In a sharp motion the car cut sideways,
sending him crashing into a turning bus. Our pursuer on foot
appeared through the panicking crowd, pulling a hatchet
from the waist of his jeans and shouting at us to stop.
I opened the door of a taxi at the top of the rank. Azil sped
into the picture and past the BMW, skidding in front of it,
causing it to screech to a stop.
“Take us to Thomas Street,” I said to the taxi-driver,
mopping my brow as I slid into the back seat.
I watched over his shoulder as Azil took off his helmet and
hunkered down to look at the bike’s engine. The BMW driver
got out and pushed him to the ground while the passenger
swung the hatchet to clear a path through the packed waves
of tourists. Azil got to his feet and pushed the driver in the
chest, causing hatchet man to stop pursuing us and put his
hand on his head—caught in two minds whether to help his
friend or slice me up.
“Were they shouting at you?” asked the taxi-driver.
“Me? No.” I pulled Jonah in and closed the door. “Hurry
please, we have a train to catch.”
He shrugged and pulled out onto the road as hatchet man
pounced towards Azil who bent forwards causing him to
lunge at thin-air and tumble face-first onto the road. Carhorns
blared, pedestrians froze gawping from a safe distance,
turning the fight with Azil into a theatrical performance.
“Can you take us to Heuston Station?” I asked, calmly,
insistently as the BMW driver picked up Azil’s moped and
wrestled it aside. Azil sprung out a leg at hatchet man
scrambling after him on all fours, hitting him on the chin and
flattening him. The driver came at Azil from the side with a
crowbar he’d taken from the door of the car.
“Kolo, I think your friend is in trouble,” I said, quietly
into the phone while looking out the rear window as the taxi
passed them and stopped at the lights on the corner of College
He laughed. “Azil can handle himself, he’s a black belt in
some form of martial art.”
Azil rolled like a gymnast and was up onto his toes, his
helmet swinging in the same motion, walloping the driver
in the head, sending him onto the bonnet of the BMW. He
sprung at him, catching him with a Superman-punch, then
dropped low and swept his feet, crashing his head hard onto
the concrete. Azil wrenched the crowbar from his hand and
began pounding his legs with it.
“Are you safe?” asked Kolo.
The taxi drove up College Green towards the Quays, and
I asked the driver to turn the radio up while checking on
Jonah’s state, seeing an awestruck smile. “We’re doing fine.”
“Go quickly. Azil will be behind you just in case. I’ll talk to
The taxi dropped us at Heuston. Jonah stayed close to me
as I bought our tickets. We waited in the corner of a busy
pub inside the station. He held his sides and rocked himself.
The negative attention he got gave me a strong sense it’d be
better for his sake to leave.
“It’s okay,” he said, seemingly reading my thoughts.
We didn’t speak again until it was time to get onto the train.
“Ready?” He shrugged as if it was dawning on him he’d taken
me at my word. “Trust me.”
I used the crowd to hide in and dragged him onto the train.
He sat in a seat and studied a spot on the floor of the carriage,
“What are you saying?” I asked, pacing the aisle, wondering
why the train hadn’t moved.
“They can get rich off of me, they’ll find me.”
I mopped sweat from my brow, opening two buttons on
my shirt. “They won’t.” Through the window I watched
briefcases hurrying through the sauntering tourists and
relaxed a bit.
“Where are you taking me?” he asked, slumping down.
I sat next to him and lowered my voice. “To an island where
you’ll be safe.”
“My father knows people. He’ll find a way to track me
down.” He glanced up at me and back at the floor.
“Where we’re going he won’t find you. It’s far away.”
“Did Faith pay for all this?”
“Don’t worry about all that, okay?”
He kept his eyes on the ground as the train pulled out of
When he spoke again a while later he rested his spasmatic
arms against an imaginary beefy torso, portraying strength
he didn’t appear to have. “What island is it?”
“Have you heard of Treoir? It’s off the west coast of
“Are you some pedo?” His face—chiselled into a man’s by
hardship—hid a boy beneath.
“No. I’m offering you a way out of your problems. Faith
told me what they want to do to you, and she said you were
planning to…” I thought better of agitating him any more.
He scratched rashes under the arms of his hoodie and
analysed me with frog eyes.
“Faith, the music teacher,” I said. “You know her, right?”
“Yeah.” He stuttered something indistinguishable.
“You’ll like it on the island. Everyone gets on, there’s
no trouble. People are happy.” I stretched the truth as a
“Sounds like a place for pussies.” He watched out the
“Is that how you talk, Jonah?”
“Yeah, course it is.”
“Faith said you were different. I think you’re fronting.”
He slouched in the chair, widened his legs, and watched
the scenery skim by with saucer-eyes.
“It’s not a place for ‘pussies’.” I sensed curiosity in him.
“Have you ever been out of Dublin?”
“Course I have.”
“I can tell you’re lying.”
He inspected a spot on the window.
“Give me your phone.”
He glared at me. “Why?”
“I want to make sure your GPS isn’t switched on.”
“Make sure it isn’t and make sure there aren’t any strange
apps on there.”
He took an old smart-phone out of the pocket of his black
Adidas tracksuit bottoms and switched it off.
I handed him the bag of his belongings. “This is your stuff.
Faith got it for you.”
A hint of a smile flashed across his face as he peered inside.
“It’s from my old school locker.” He held up a black baseball
cap with a design on the front of a hand flipping the bird. “It
was confiscated. How’d you get it back?”
“Faith got it for you. She bought you some new things
too—clothes and toiletries.”
He put the baseball cap on. “Nice one.”
His shoulders tensed and he glanced intermittently at me,
coiling up his pallid lips while leaning against the glass. “Is
it okay if I sleep?” His voice was softer, natural.
“No worries. I’ll wake you when we’re there.” I watched
his eyes darting beneath his eye-lids.
It was 4 p.m. when the train pulled into Cork station. He
faked sleep until the engines shut off. I shook him, and he
skittishly tagged behind me to the mini-van waiting to pick
We were driven towards Bantry Bay ferry terminal. Our driver
was a jolly man and emanated warmth when he was quiet and
black humour when he made small talk. He sensed we weren’t
your usual tourists, and I imagined he smelled the alcohol
on me. Despite our strangeness, he became what many Irish
westerners become around fragile people, fostering.
By the time we reached Bantry Bay Jonah knew all the local
myths and legends. And although he said nothing when he
saw the black glassy face of the Atlantic Ocean I sensed a childlike
wonder entering him when he lifted his sunglasses.
“The Atlantic Ocean,” I said as we got out of the mini-van
at the ferry terminal.
“I heard you were smart.”
There was a scowl about to form that he thought better of.
“You don’t have to be smart to know that’s the Atlantic.” He
rubbed his throat, glancing backwards.
“Are you expecting someone? I swear to you we weren’t
followed. You’re safe.”
A vanilla-smelling breeze blew from the land and made
ripples on the ocean. While I bought the ferry tickets he
stood on the cobbled street in front of the brightly-coloured
shops, looking at the rusting fishing boats in the harbour and
smiling at ice-cream-faced kids who found his appearance a
It was a hot, balmy afternoon. When the sun drifted behind
clouds he removed his hoodie and mopped his brow. I noted
how his creamy peel was as thin as gossamer, giving him
a skeletal profile. The belt on his jeans was notched so it
dangled half-way down his legs. When the sun began to peek
out he put his top back on and covered his head with his hood.
I got on the ferry first. He placed one foot on the platform
and looked at it, half-expecting it to float away. “It’s fine,
Jonah.” I reached out a hand.
Waves lapped at the bow and he listened to his thoughts
while looking over his shoulder.
When he finally got on we stood at the bow listening to the
low rumble of the engine and the hiss of the wake. Through
a thin fog, Treoir awaited on the horizon.
OUR NOT SO GRACIOUS ISLAND
Jonah said a lot when he was quiet; ostensibly more beneath
the lad he hadn’t the energy to portray anyway. “It’s not
always a happy place,” I said, thinking honesty was the best
policy with someone who didn’t seem to trust anyone, least
of all his father.
A knowing grin lounged beneath the knotted muscles in
I scanned the featureless abyss, remembering the first time
I’d taken the journey with Erin, a recon. We were weak from
barely being able to eat that whole month after the trial. But
after a day with aunt Cara we knew the island was where we’d
take Quinn and Hugo if the Guards’ concerns turned out to
Erin had no doubts our fate lay on the remote island living
amongst fishermen and farming women. Her foresight and
intelligence intimidated me as much as it did others; often
reducing me to rubble. And me, educated and opinionated. It
frightened me to see people through her lens, unfiltered and
always searching for the truth, carelessly challenging beliefs.
Barefoot walks along the cliffs at night, in a white dress, wild
hair blowing in the rain. The rumour-mill was going from
the off. And she endured them. She could take it, and she did.
My pride in her faded and I often pitied her and her ‘truth’
that was to her a lighthouse but to everyone else the glare of
Saltwater splashed up onto Jonah’s freckled face, and a
brisk wind thinned his eyes. He took stock of my physicality
with a hard-man expression brewing that made me laugh
until I realised he was thinking about having to fight me off
when I turned out to be a more caddish rendition of a lowlife.
“The word Treoir means guardian.” I thought he’d glean
something of my charitable intentions. “There’s a college on
the island now, where I lecture part-time, and there’s Wi-Fi
now too, but it’s slow. You need permission to visit…so it’s
safe.” I took out a slip of paper and showed him. “It’s yours.”
“How far away is it?”
“About forty miles from the mainland.” I hadn’t a drop of
the malt left and was anxious to get the worried stray-dog
look off his face. “You’ve nothing to worry about.”
He folded his arms limply in front of his body. One side of
his face refused the other’s willingness to trust me and he
countenanced an oblique and listless expression that vaguely
I sighed and told him to look around the ferry. “Maybe a
little break would do us good,” I said.
Helping him was having the effect on me Doctor Twomey
had hoped for. He left me at the bow—with a parental kind of
motion-sickness in my lower intestines—and explored the
kiosk, toilets, the graffiti on the green plastic seats, and the
contents of the refuse bins. Which made me question if he’d
spent time on the streets or fending for himself. I asked him
about it and he bowed his head.
I pointed out the diving sea-birds that seemed to be showing
off their flying skills next to the boat. A vampiric crane
landed on the deck next to us. With an amusing display of
grandiosity it unfurled its wings like it had been on a long
flight and was relieved to get a break. “Looks like a dragqueen
coming off stage after a dazzling performance,” I said,
failing to amuse him.
He wrapped his arms around his body and supported
himself against a rail. When the ferry got closer to the island
I pointed out features, explaining to him what I knew about
the island’s monk history and the Viking raiders who were
said to have perished to an angry banshee. He didn’t appear
to listen to my wild tales and hardly moved from his spot
until the ferry entered the long estuary that would take us
into the heart of the island.
“Hemp industry,” I said, pointing out the buildings at
Saints Rest near the mouth of the strait. “Bio-degradable
plastic. We’re 70% plastic-free.” I tried not to sound
preachy or proud. “We’ll be 100% in a couple of years. We
have international customers now and….” He searched for
something to occupy him. “Sorry.”
When the ferry docked at the terminal Jonah skulked
behind me. I wondered if beneath his bursts of bravado and
overriding timidness lay resentment and anger. Faith told
me he was no trouble.
He stopped to look at a map on a notice board in the car
I pointed out Monte Cristo Bay. “That’s where we live.
White sands and turquoise sea,” I said with a happy sigh.
The map showed the three small coves within the larger bay
and the uninhabited islands that almost enclosed it.
“It looks like a knuckle-duster,” he mumbled.
“Yeah, it kind of does, now you mention it.” It didn’t.
We took a well-worn path through smaller dunes to the
steep big ones that were easily climbable using the tufts of
long reed-grass that grew on them. He followed behind me,
breathing heavily and sporadically looking back at the misty
mainland. His colourless cheeks reddened as we reached the
top of a two-story mountain of sand and he stopped to gaze at
Treoir in full summer bloom: swaying grass, low-flying birds
dashing bush to bush, the ground cast in elongated shadows
made by the retiring sun.
I took the lead and stepped down the dune. He followed me
and lost his footing, tumbling past and ending up on his side,
spitting sand from his lips while grabbing for his sunglasses.
He found a green bucket instead and held it up. “Look what
I found.” His face was naive and he began digging, coughing
up mucus and trying to make a sandcastle. “I always wanted
to make one.”
“Have you never?” I found his glasses and put them on his
“They wouldn’t take me to the seaside. I asked them but
they said I couldn’t because of my skin.”
I hadn’t any words to express how it felt to know he hadn’t
experienced that elementary freedom. “Dig deeper, you have
to find wet sand, it works better.” I forced a smile on my face
and watched him dig and smile up at me when he found the
I waited as long as he needed, excited to see his face when
the island stung his ankles and the hot sand burned his feet,
bringing out of him the nature and life he’d missed out on.
Below the dune a meadow of long wheat-grass joined the
Atlantic breeze in a gentle waltz. The caws of seagulls, less
frenetic than their urbanized cousins, drew his attention
to the distant rumble of waves. He stood up as curious as
an infant, grinning at me on one side of his mouth. The
unconvincing hard act gave way to adventure.
I freshened my breath with the spray while I pointed out the
old round tower and the crumbling ruins of ancient houses
near it, leading him towards a fairy-tale woods of Elms
and Monterey pines. His eyes were fixed on the sandbanks
that lined either side of the coves where seals and sea lions
lounged in the mornings and settled down in the evening
sun. They were exiting the ocean in their droves after a long
day of fishing, and a chorus of deep bellows could be heard
whenever the breeze blew our way.
He scrambled over dunes towards them, also curious about
the woods and swamps further north. Before he got to the
white sands on the shore he stopped and admired the huge
granite cliff that braced the south-west side of the island.
“Not as epic as the Cliffs of Moher, but still impressive,” I
He gazed around him and his eyes stopped where the dunes
flattened. Black, craggy rock formations barred an approach
to the mountain. I pointed to the roofs of houses partly
hidden by trees that lined the beach. “That’s the town centre.
And that’s the guesthouse up there.” I pointed out the white
and grey house on the flat grassy plateau that had spectacular
views of the west and north-west coastline. “You can stay
there until we find you somewhere more permanent.”
He analysed me with eyes like prison hatches. “Why are
you helping me?”
“You have Faith to thank for that. She set up a GoFundMe
page for you.”
His eyes bulged and moistened and he swallowed a lump
in his throat, unable to get his words out.
“You can call her later.”
I felt a change in him as we walked up the coast. Having a
body of water between him and his troubles put him at ease.
Each step he planted into the sand was like he was claiming
the island as his new home.
We followed the shore of the half-moon beach until we
neared the ten-story cliff. “There are usually climbers on
it, free soloists,” I said. “No ropes. They come here illegally
during the summer. They’re the only ones allowed without
permission. But if you’re ever unfortunate enough to run
into anyone from O’Dowd’s Point don’t tell them, unless you
want a world of pain.”
Further up the coast, I saw Quinn and Hugo who were
oblivious to us. They explored the jagged shale and sharp
black rocks exposed by the low tide. Quinn leaned her athletic
body over Hugo’s back as he hunkered down, her head
swivelling on her swan neck and repeating his findings to
nervous puffins surfing the breeze.
“Who are they?” he asked.
“My niece and nephew.”
He slowed his walk.
“They might be a bit different than your friends. I brought
them here when they were kids. They’re sheltered from the
kind of life you’ve been used to.”
“Didn’t have any friends.” His shoulders hunched. “Why
did you bring them here?”
“My brother and his wife were murdered and we were
warned by police our lives were in danger.” I automatically
felt for the empty whiskey bottle in my satchel.
“Who killed your brother and his wife?”
“A drug gang.” I watched my feet as we walked side-byside.
“My brother was a witness to a shooting. He was
stubborn. The gang who did it…I’d rather not think about all
“Sorry for asking.”
Quinn sprung to her feet, fixing her bikini and telling Hugo
to follow her. She called out with an elongated “hey”. Hugo
traipsed behind her and became distracted by washed-up
plastic in the sand that he began putting in a black refuse
sack he removed from his shorts.
Jonah stopped and folded his arms, kneading his thin
bicep and gazing at their striking similarities. Both had androgynous
facial features, clear complexions, short, slightly
upturned noses, full lips, dimpled chins, locks of wild hair,
and naturally athletic bodies—that they were unabashed
about showing off.
She arrived with her sun-bleached hair—the colour of
copper pennies in various stages of decay—stuck to her
reddened forehead. “I’m Quinn. You are?” The mature act
was more awkward than it’d been of late. But it seemed to
bring out defensiveness in Jonah.
I moved closer to her until our shoulders brushed, jollyuncle
smile plaster over my drunk-until-sober face. “This is
“Alright. What’s the story?” he muttered, not knowing
where to look.
She cocked her head at him. “You’re an albino, aren’t you?”
“Do ye think there’s somethin’ wrong with me or somethin’?”
His accent became more guttural.
“It’s just I didn’t know black albinos existed until I heard
Donnacha mention it.”
He turned like he wanted to leave and gazed at the waves
breaking against the sand-bank.
“Quinn,” I said. “That’s extremely rude. Sorry, Jonah.”
“What?” Her bottom lip doubled in size.
Hugo jogged up the beach, his feet shifting sideways in the
loose sand, laughing towards Jonah.
Jonah lifted his head and nodded at him. “Alright…story?”
“Story man, I’m Hugo.”
“I’ve never met anyone like you,” said Quinn, gazing at his
face beneath the hoodie and sunglasses. “You’re unique. You
have a Dublin accent though. Did you pick that up to fit in or
something? What’s your African name?”
Hugo closed his eyes, mortified.
One side of Jonah’s mouth drooped. “Me name’s Jonah,
that’s it. I was born in Ireland.” He folded his arms and
watched Hugo pick up plastic. “I have an Irish passport.”
She inspected his body without considering if she was
troubling him. “How old are you?”
“I’m eighteen in a few weeks.”
“Then she gets her half of the inheritance,” said Hugo,
digging out a plastic coke bottle from the sand.
She dismissed him with a wave of her hand. “You have
to be honest with people. That’s how you make friends
and build trust.” Her brattish glance was thrown towards
me. “Everyone is so precious nowadays.” She rubbed her
chin, trying to think of something else intelligent to say.
“Donnacha, relax.” Flicking her hair. “You have to get down
to the truth. Everyone is trying to be something they aren’t.
Like there’s a blueprint to being liked or something. I’m
being me.” She appealed to Jonah with outstretched arms.
“Real people are like cigarettes and alcohol, they taste bad at
first and then you want them all the time.”
Jonah shook his head at Hugo.
“She can be bossy too,” said Hugo. “But if she tries to boss
me…” He had a low, country tone to his voice—more country
than Quinn’s mixed-Irish, TV one. It was modesty and a
sensibleness in him, but he often appeared dull. Erin had
instilled in him a steeliness from an early age, a defence mechanism
that deterred anyone from assuming he was
weak, and he eyed Jonah with a trained wryness in him.
“Boom,” said Jonah, with a burst of ebullience. “If she
bosses you too much then bitch slap.”
“Sorry?” He folded his arms.
“That’s how it goes where I’m from. If someone disrespects
you, they have to pay.”
“You’re talking about respect, ah.” He scrutinised his face.
“Self-respect is the only respect you need. Right, Donnacha?”
He became distracted by his sister’s sudden quietness. “He
won’t hurt you, he’s never bitched slapped anyone.” He
locked eyes with him. “Have you?”
“No, fair enough, I haven’t.”
She threw her head back. “I’m not scared of him.”
“Why are you so quiet all of a sudden then?” asked Hugo.
She leaned glibly on one hip, looking towards the wood.
“Do you know, ‘U’ appears four times in tumultuous, quiet
only needs one?” She bent her neck until her nose was in
front of Jonah’s. “I do photography. You’re my new model.”
“That’s a bit rude,” said Hugo. “He might bitch-slap you.”
She did a half-pirouette. “I’m not rude, I’m…” She thought
about it for a moment. “Excitedly inquisitive…I’m exquisitive!”
They made up their own words. As they got older they’d
gotten more sophisticated.
“No, you’re being acidic and blunt,” said Hugo. “Aclunt.”
Jonah unfolded his arms and grinned.
Sophisticated, I thought, trying not to laugh, but not
always. “Jesus, Hugo.”
Quinn jogged off.
“Where’s she going?” I asked.
“Don’t know, she’s always disappearing these days.” Hugo
pointed at the dunes. “There was someone there.”
“Think it was those kids again.”
I took him aside while Jonah followed a white crab darting
towards the shallows. “If you see them when Jonah is around
get rid of them. I don’t want any crazy notions starting up
because of how he looks.”
He watched him. “He looks cool to me.”
“Cool man, look after him for me, won’t you?”
Jonah was gazing out to sea. I followed his eye-line to see a
fin passing the islands in the bay and sat down, staring at the
broken spear ploughing through the water. “It’s a shark,” I
said, taking binoculars from my satchel and handing them
“It’s been coming here for years,” said Hugo. “Wann,
Ned’s wife went missing. She was always swimming out too
far and she—”
“We don’t know what happened to Wann, Hugo.”
“It’s a great white,” he said, excitedly. “We almost got it
“It’s not a great white,” said Jonah, assuredly. “I know a
lot about sharks. It’s a basking shark.”
“We’ve seen it up close, I don’t think so,” said Hugo.
“I’m pretty sure, my eyes are shite but I can even see the
plankton it eats, look.”
Hugo grabbed the binoculars from him. “Fuck off. A
Jonah pointed. “See the shadow in the water that looks
“Yeah, that’s plankton.”
Hugo frowned at me. “That water didn’t have a manky
taste when I fell in. I was wondering…So…”
“If that’s a basking shark…” I said.
“Then…so we’re back to the traffickers.” He took another
Jonah seemed confused.
“Wann made a few enemies on the island,” I said to Jonah.
“Everyone has a theory what happened to her.”
Hugo’s shoulder’s hunched.
“Who’s Wann anyway?” asked Jonah.
“She was a painter who came here to help Erin set up the
college,” I said. “She became famous and then went missing
a few years ago.”
“Haven’t heard a word from her since,” said Hugo, gawping
at the shark and tutting. “We thought it might have been
that thing since we kept seeing it enter the bay. But she had
come to Ireland by way of sex traffickers who she escaped
from. She was always worried they’d track her down.“
“Ned has a million theories,” I said. “Most of them revolve
around the O’Dowds.”
Jonah laughed. “I thought you said everyone was nice
I grinned at him. “I told you it wasn’t a place for pussies.”
END OF EXCERPT