A House and a Home
Waffles: First in a Series of Short Stories That Will Focus on Situations Around Dublin. This One Looks at the Homeless Crisis
The man looks out the window of a late hotel bar. It is Christmas Eve and he is taking in the first bit of freedom he has had in months before the festivities kick in. Like every year, this one has had its ups and downs, but it is better than the previous year and halfway through his second pint of the black stuff he raises his glass to the improvements he has felt this year in his life. When he puts his glass back down he looks to his left and there is now someone sitting there. They looks gaunt…tired, like they have had a bad time this year too. Since they share a common interest, he decides to buy this person a pint. He has after all just been given his Christmas bonus and has a good bit of spare cash. He presents the pint and himself to them and in return is greeted with a smile, a thank you and the name Lee.
Lee had finished up work today for the holidays as well. He is a qualified electrician who works for a local contractor. Despite a busy winter, installing the electricity into hotels and short stay accommodations he explains that this could be a tough Christmas for him and his family. ‘My daughter gave me this list and I just can’t do it man, I really can’t.’ The man doesn’t envy Lee, as he knows these feelings. He has a daughter himself with his ex-wife. They were divorced this year and she is now seeing another person. ‘I don’t even get the list anymore Lee, I don’t even know if I will see her this Christmas day, the ex says I can take her on Stephens Day if I want…If I want!’
Yet this doesn’t console Lee, the man can see in his eyes that he is deeply upset by this situation. ‘I try so hard pal, honestly, I try so hard and it just isn’t getting easier. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way but I just wish…’ The man stops him here, he explains his situation and the divorce in full detail, that life is more than money and his daughter will appreciate anything. ‘Everyone has their issues, and you just have to see past them. I miss my daughter every day, I miss going home to her instead of this one bedroom apartment I have, that I barely step foot in with work.’ You see, the man is an investment banker, he is always traveling and blames this for the failure of his marriage.
As they sink into the pints, the conversation gets deeper. Lee explains how his wife and daughter are the only things in his life that keep him going. He hates his job. It was an apprenticeship that was pushed onto him when he left school. He was just lucky enough to marry his childhood sweetheart and have a child with her. A situation that is far too familiar in Dublin.
The man, then explains that he met his now ex-wife while in college. She was studying to be a teacher, I was doing business, and we met on rag week. ‘She was the love of my life and now she’s someone else’s love… you should count yourself lucky Lee that you get to spend Christmas with her. As I will spend my Christmas hoping that someone swipes right and I don’t have to sleep alone again.’ They share a laugh and touch their glasses to this mild bit of lad banter. It is at this point that Lee and the man realise what they have is different in their lives, one has love and one has money. After they finish up with a round of hot whiskeys and the call for last orders has rung out, they decide to head home. Our man asks Lee if he lives local. He does. So he asks him if he wants to split a taxi with him. However, the man doesn’t realise how local Lee lives.
Lee just laughs, he has been in this situation so long now that he sees the funny side in it. ‘To be honest pal, if you can find a taxi man that will drop me up 5 flights of stairs then fair play.’ Lee and his family live here. They have for the last 8 months. They lost their home to the banks when his wife lost her job you see. After a short time in a housing hub they were given a permanent room in this hotel.
Now the man sees why Lee is distressed, why he looks gaunt and unhappy with the life he now lives. He remembers when he had his family and they went to Florida for Christmas one year and stayed in the Disney resort. This is the closest he can get to understanding Lee’s situation but not his pain. Lee is homeless. Not from choice but lack of opportunity. He works and supports his family but nobody supports him. The same bank that the man works for kicked him out. Maybe the man even helped in the policy making with this decision, but does it really matter? Is the man to blame? It is an age old argument.
At face value we see two people who will experience two different Christmas periods but both will experience sadness. One owns an apartment and pays for the upkeep of his family home, the other has nothing but a key to a room.
Despite his situation though, the man envies Lee. He knows that when that child wakes up, the feelings Lee has will disappear for a few hours. That Lees daughter will be happy with what she was given and how Santa even managed to find her new home. This is the difference you see. Family makes a house a home. The man now sees past the property value in terms of money and sees the sentiment in it. If only his boss seen this value rather than the money owed.
He says his goodbyes to Lee and hops in a joe maxi, he knows nothing he can say will change his mindset. He is just happy in the fact that come Christmas, Lee will be the richer of the two. He reluctantly accepts how sometimes in life, despite personal decisions, somethings just don’t work out. Why does this caring person have no home for his family? Why couldn’t he pay for it when he works hard? No matter how hard he tries he won’t find a suitable answer and he just looks forward to Stephens Day when he can see his daughter. He steps out of the taxi, hands over a few quid, says happy Christmas to the taxi driver and opens the door to his house.