By Dipika Kohli
Northwest Asian Weekly
“Did you change your hair?” I said, thinking out loud.
“Yeah. There’s a place called the Chop Shop in Skibbereen.”
“It’s interesting how the front of your hair flips up a little bit like that.” I was used to Yoshi Kayukawa’s wilder cuts, like the shaved look in his punk hang-on phase, then the short cropped cut he got when I pointed that out.
“Weslife style, you mean?”
“I mean, it’s boy band hair, like.”
“Oh, just that… you go into the Chop Shop, and you come out with the same haircut that everyone else in line is going to get. It’s pretty funny.” He tapped the wheel with both thumbs, the same way he did when we’d drive to the North Carolina coast for breaks from school, playing U2 and Dinah Washington mixes on cassette.
“I think I’m a little tired, Yoshi. I’m not getting what you’re saying, exactly.”
“No worries, just rest a little. You can sleep some when we get home. The lads from work are looking forward to meeting you, and there’s going to be a session on tonight at Baby Hannah’s. We’re invited.”
We passed four pubs, a little place with a picnic table and purple flowers dangling from a basket.
Soon, very soon, we were home.
Later, I’d associate West Cork with poetry and song, with drink and dance. Bia agus craic agus ceoil. I’d watch Michael Collins and think of Clonakilty, and I’d remember all the stories about 800 long years of oppression the Irish had to deal with under British rule. I’d lose it a bit when Yoshi brought me to the famine grave at Abbeystrewery, seeing with my own eyes the trauma and negligence spelled out there.
I would picture children dashing along the short strand at Tragumna, tugging on the sleeves of their mothers, with their siblings close by, or the sun sliding down beyond Roaring Water Bay.
I’d think about the early breakfast at The Stove I got with Yoshi one morning, sharing tables with farmers readying for a day in the fields, though I wasn’t going anywhere but Cork to shop for shoes for the day, and taking Bus Éireann that way. I remember the same bus, later, not picking me up, and confronting the driver about it when I saw him next. He wasn’t apologetic, and this turning of the tide made me feel the first inclinations to want to leave Ireland, despite how relaxed I felt at last.
Recalling Ireland makes me think about how Dan O’Mahoney poured his heart out with a rendition of Ride On, at a pub called Baby Hannah’s, on my first night in Skibbereen. We sat on low stools and heard the night flicker in a fire not so far from me.
I’d see the hills of Donegal and think of people in Chicago agonizing over how far they were from their native land. I’d peek at pink phosphorescence on Loch Oighinn when a kayak tour brought me out that way. I got better with the kayaking and sailing when I took an instructor course in Schull, but I only got one semester deep before I did, after all, leave the country. I biked only twice, it was too hard with the lorries rumbling by, so instead I floated through rows and fields of gorse at Reen Pier, or noted the bobbing daffodils lining our drive that I imagined Wordsworth would have liked, placed in the foreground with buoyant, lonely clouds in the far.
I’d tell myself over cafe teas and perfect scones, the kinds that come with homemade clotted cream, with milk in tiny pitchers but not nearly as small as those in Japan, that I would get through this all right. That I would be okay. We’d do things we’d never done, like watch horses in trotting races, they called them, or driving through the middle of someone’s road bowling game, which was perfectly normal and people just waited politely at the side to let you through. You could picture a wild ocean edging these scenes, with cool pebbles on beaches you could see from the tops of tussocky cliffwalks at places with names like ”Owenahincha,” just a stone’s throw from our house in Shepperton. There was all of this, and with time, an acceptance of us, too. I never realized the extent of how much until one day when I scored tickets for a gig when Christy Moore, the Christy Moore, came to Clon.
He’d come to DeBarra’s to play a sold-out show, and because I was writing for the local paper I’d been given two tickets. Yoshi and I sat with Christy’s own brother at our right. The brother bellowed at the chorus and other times, too, but there was no comparison to the original voice, the one I’d first heard through RTÉ’s station on our new stereo on my first week in town, when Christy Moore sang The Rose of Tralee.
What is this music?, I’d thought. Whose is that voice?
Ireland had the kinds of places and people that would make you stop what you were doing, and sit up and pay full attention, to the degree that you felt really aware and present, maybe for the first time in your life.
Christy’s was the last show I saw in Ireland, but the impression was like thick rum cake, the kind the dollhouse maker’s wife shared with us one Saint Stephen’s Day when we came around to say hello. These were the good times.
Many times, I sat still, and closed my hands around my heart, looking for anything that might help me make sense of where I was, how I’d arrived here, and what was past. I looked back much more often than ahead.
I would recall scrambling up cliffs to the Beacon in Baltimore, and ambling about the ruins at Castlefreke with a Frenchman and a Swede, whom we’d later visit in their native countries in coming years. I’d think about all the Gaelic and English song-poets, reciting such lyrics as Teddy O’Neill, where the musicians incited whole rooms of people to join. Never had I seen such love of word and story, and never such a rousing color in the cheek as when I came to Ireland, to West Cork, to the place where I might never have seen were it not already writ in the stars. (end)
Dipika Kohli’s first book, The Elopement, is about running away to Ireland with Akira Morita in 2001. Names are changed in this excerpt.
Dipika Kohli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.