The cliches were huddled together on our first evening in Dublin – it was dark, it looked like it might rain, and we looked lost, a bit displaced and lonesome. Then we took a cab. But first, a bit of background. We arrived at about six in the evening at the Dublin airport. With us, were our four suitcases and a large, invisible-to-everyone-but-us bag full of memories, what-ifs, and yearning for the city that we had called home for the last four and half years – Reading (UK). We had left Reading in a flurry of farewell dinners and coffees, extracting promises from friends and family to come and see us in Dublin, and with a friend and his daughter dropping us off to the Heathrow Airport.
There was no one to pick us up on the other side. So walked to the taxi terminal and booked a cab which would drive us from the Dublin airport (North of the city) to our serviced apartment in Sandyford (in the South of the city).
We settled in in the car. The husband in the front, and me in the backseat. A moment or so passed. And the man at the wheel asked ‘Are you returning home from a vacation?’ No, we said, this is our first time in the city and the country.
He began to talk. He told us about the last summer. It had been unusual for Dublin. Four weeks and more of no rain. How lawns had dried up, and Dubliners had feared that their taps would too.
I don’t remember the exact sequence of how one thing led to the other – but we were soon talking about Reading, India, Dublin – everything together. ‘You will like it here,’ he said, ‘the people are friendly.’
He told us about Leo Varadkar (the Taoiseach of Ireland – equivalent to what would be the Prime Minister in India) and how he is of Indian heritage. He said he had read a recent news article which described how Varadkar had wished the Indian community in Ireland on Diwali. ‘According to the article, there are about 40,000 Indians in Ireland. A lot of them are Irish citizens. There are lots of other nationalities too and if you take a tram you are likely to hear people talking in different languages. You will find it easy here – I really hope you do.’
It had a comforting effect on me. We went on talk about several other things. About drinking and how it was okay if one wasn’t much of a drinker. (‘You don’t have to drink in Ireland – that’s a cliche. Don’t feel pressurised to do so.’) I told him about a book of Irish short stories that a friend had gifted me. How I had loved the memoir Angela’s Ashes and we talked about its author and his impoverished childhood in Ireland before he moved to the US.
As he drove, we chatted more. He told me about the Luas (the tram) and how easy it was to get to the city centre using the Luas. ‘Have a go on the weekend – see the shops, the restaurants. You would want to see how the city centre looks like, won’t you?’
We were soon in Sandyford and at the doorstep of our serviced apartment. And then there was a problem. Since our check-in was an out of hours one, there was no one at the reception and because of an error, there wasn’t a key left in for us. We tried calling – it went to voicemail. He offered us his phone. He thought we may have better luck getting through with a local phone network instead of our UK one.
We were able to get a key after about half an hour or so. It was time to get our suitcases and get into the apartment. As we did so, he came out, shook our hands. Actually it went like this. He shook hands with my husband. He shook hands with me and then, as natural as it can be, leaned over and gave me a hug. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘everything will be fine. Everything will be okay. I hope you have wonderful experiences and really settle down fine in Ireland. I do hope you will like this country. Best of luck with everything and don’t forget – get down at Saint Stephen’s Green while taking the Luas.’
I didn’t expect that hug. And yet, it didn’t feel out of place. It felt as if a friend had welcomed us into a new city, a new country.