Turn the Other Cheek

Mary

creative partner Julia Pascal

1966
Northern Ireland.
Snow drifts. Chilblains. A long way from the mangos of Nigeria.
A long way from red ants crawling up my legs.
My father’s voice,
Throw her in the water. That’ll stop the itching.
It did.
But there was another itching
When we went back to Ireland.
The itch of something not quite right.
Not right at all.

Back in the Africa of my childhood
Men with scythes came for Adolphus. He was from the Ibo tribe.
We got him on the train. Away from the scythes.
Then we had to get ourselves out.
We’d be safer back home.

From northern Nigeria to Northern Ireland
Girls in school asking,
Where are yous from? Are yous west brits or Taigs?
Is yous a fuckin fenian? What’s that fucking thing around your neck?
I got it for my first communion.

Girls can hit hard.
I learn to fight.
Mother says,
Turn the other cheek.
I am the wrong tribe.

Change school
Right tribe.
Catholic boarding school.
It’s like a prison.
Up the Antrim coast
Cross and Passion nuns.
Young girls being prepared for our future.
Stay pure. Be holy.
Never kiss a boy’s neck, it drives them wild
You’d get pregnant. 

Father Brendan Smyth asks me to tea in the parlour.
Just we two.
The nuns say, Go, be with the Father.
No!
He asks all the girls.
Some go to tea.
Some go to lunch.
He hates my refusal.
Why is this girl so difficult?
He sends me book tokens.
Which I never cash in.

Years later.
I read about him.
Forty years he was at it.
Boys.
Girls.
Right tribe?
The priest
Hiding
Denying
Moving around.
The Church hides Father Brendan Smyth
Turns the other cheek
At what happened in Ballycastle
At what happened in Carrickfergus
At what happened in a place called Eden.

Mary

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