‘Maria, I just met a girl named Maria…
Say it soft and it’s almost like praying…’
Last weekend, I went home.
Home is a changing state these days. As constant as the stamps on my passport, ever present yet never the same. This particular home I speak of is the one in Northern Ireland.
‘Lord forget all of my sins…’
‘And suddenly that name will never be the same to me…’
I was walking down familiar streets of my childhood, in that semi-nostalgic way. Am I walking these because they are the only streets I know? Or am I walking these because they mean something to me? Something to keep hold of and never let go. And that’s when it happened.
Outside No Alibis bookshop, standing (nae, sitting) with her Big Issue copy half heartedly trying to sell the goddamn magazine. To me, to anyone.
The Big Issue. I’ve always wondered how this actually works? Do people get a cut from each sale? Do they get a proper salary? How does one even become employed by them? Who arranged this? How does it get set up? Why are all the people selling these from somewhere that’s clearly not Belfast? Why do I walk past with my eyes averted, apologetic, unsure, wary, wanting to help but not really sure how?
But something about her caught my heart.
Maybe it was because of her smile. Open, honest, motherly. Radiating all around her. ‘I am a mum’.
‘Me permite’ – excuse me – she began. ‘Hablo espanol?’
Why does everyone in the world keep asking me this question these days?!
No, un poco. Si, un poco.
She spoke at length, much of which I couldn’t understand. But what I did get was the gist.
I have 4 children and this is all the money I get to feed them, she said gesturing to the small change in her right hand. Pennies. Please could you even get some food to give to them? Por favor, she said. Por favor.
Where was this chick even from? Why was The Big Issue not helping her more? I did not understand.
I left saying sorry. I left. And I couldn’t shake her from my heart. Lord forget all of my sins.
So I returned, with shopping bags in tow. What do you give that feeds 4 children, that’s nutritious, that’s sufficient, that they might need? I thought of all those Christmas hampers we used to collect tins and boxes for in primary school. Something which will last the cold hard winter, things that stay. But surely kids need vegetables too, right? And maybe milk and bread and a little hot chocolate before bed? I don’t know what all I bought in the end but as I returned that smile lit up again.
‘Come back?’ she hesitated to ask.
‘Si, come back’. I replied.
And yet, why did this feel like it wasn’t enough?
‘Please, she said, there is no electricity. They have turned it off’. Oh god. I cannot fix this problem for you. Heck, I don’t even flipping live here anymore. I had to decline. What else could I do?
Not enough. Sigh, not enough.
Maybe she played me, maybe she didn’t. But I know one thing, there are emotions that need no words to understand. ‘Muchos muchos gracias’ she beamed, shaking my hand.
Como se llama?
Mi nombre es Maria, she replied.
‘And suddenly the name will never be the same to me…’
A mi también, and me also.
A mi también.