After all the hospitality he had been offered

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Anne Enright’s latest book, The Green Road, brings us the Irish Madigan family. The four grown-up children return home to spend Christmas with their aging mother. Emmet, an aid worker, has lived abroad for most of his life. He is living temporarily in Dublin in a house with a room-mate. Here’s a situation which anyone who has lived with international friends, may recognize. At Christmas, many families ” just can’t” be hospitable.

…Emmet climbed the stairs and tapped, as he passed it, on his housemate’s door. “All right?” Denholm came out and followed him to his own bedroom, as Emmet pulled a bag out and set it on top of the bed. “Shipshape” said Denholm. “Just checking you were still there.”…

Denholm was commuting to Kimmage Manor every day for a course in International Development. His mother had died a month after his arrival from Kenya and his sister, also in rural Kenya, was HIV positive, a fact she only discovered in the maternity unit of the local clinic that was run by the same nuns that got Denholm all the way to a housing estate off the N7 and to Emmet’s spare room.

“I am very well” said Denholm. “The Wi-Fi working?” said Emmett. “A little slow”, said Denholm. But yes”. He had been talking to his brother on Skype, he said, before his office shut down, It was a big holiday in Kenya. They were all heading out of Nairobi, the same way Emmet was heading out of Dublin. They would get back to the villages in time for Midnight Mass, then a big party–all night–more parties the next day, and then on St.Stephen’s Day, which they called Boxing Day, a soup made out of the blood of the Christmas goat. Good soup, Denholm told him. Hangover soup.

…”Sounds like the business,” Emmet said. He was slipping a hand under the mattress for his passport when he realised that he was just going down the road, in Ireland.

“Yes”, said Denholm, who could not keep the Christmas loneliness out of his voice. And “Wow”, Emmet said, trying to hide the sudden mortification at the fact that he was leaving Denholm alone. After all the hospitality he himself had been offered, in so many towns. Why did he not invite him home for his dinner? He just couldn’t.

It was not a question of colour (though it was also a question of colour), even Saar was out of the question–Saar with her Dutch domestic virtues, who would clear the dishes and wash the dishes, and sing as she swept the fallen tinsel off the floor. Christmas dinner, for Emmet’s family, was thicker than Kenyan blood soup, so none of the people that Emmet liked best could be there, nor even the people he might enjoy. The only route to the Madigan’s Christmas table was through some previously accredited womb. Married. Blessed.

from Anne Enright, The Green Road. London, 2015

 

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