Tinker’s Damn — Chapter 1

© Copyright, Jessica Allegra Seigel 2003.  All rights reserved.



“My name is Oisín O’Finn.  I am the King of the Gypsies.  The Prince of the Travelers.  I’m the Pride of the Tinkers and I live in the World.”  I said that.  Then I got a smack in the gob, and the man O’Brien told me to start again.  I could have said, “We live where you let us, you bastard.”  But what’s the use to be bitter?  Like my Da always said, if caught by the Gardaí, better to say nothing.  Or if nothing is not on, then next to nothing.

I know what they think of us.  I remember the days when Ma went into Dublin Town and sat cross-legged in her begging dress on the pavement, baby Roddy in her arms, keening mournfully until the passing crowds had filled her cup a hundred times.  With those that looked like they had some pity in them, I’d follow after.  I remember going to a lady in a small street off Grafton Street.  A man grabbed me that time by the scruff of the neck, lifting me off of my feet and my feet off of the ground.  He called me a dirty little beggar, a dirty little thief.  He called me a tinker, and he said it with scorn.  Then he growled at me to keep away from the nice lady.  Him protecting a strange woman from me, a twelve-year-old boy.  That’s what they make of us.

But I do confess it; we hold them in the same contempt.  And though my Da said it’s better to keep to yourself and say nothing–myself, I’d rather argue than be lonely.  And, thank God, I’m blessed with the talent to speak and say nothing the listener will understand.

So I said to the man O’Brien, “My name is Oisín O’Finn.  I’m the last true rebel in this cursed country and I wander and light nowhere, for the likes of you keeps me moving along.”  He gave me another crack, one that split my lip.  I grinned up at him, tasting blood, and said, “This mug will look good in the court, don’t you think?”  He replied I’d do better for myself to answer straight.  To give my name, my address, and my statement.  I said I was giving it, wasn’t I?  If only he’d stop pounding and listen.

Perhaps there were mitigating circumstances, he suggested.  A reason I’d stabbed the barman.  Jesus!  It was only a small slice to the arm.  The fella was stitched up like new at the local surgery.  Was there a provocation, he said.  Something beyond my drunkenness?  I’m not a boozer, I told him.  I’d been stone sober when I’d done it.  It couldn’t be because he’d called me a tinker, said the man.  After all, a tinker is what I am, so he said, and hadn’t I said so myself?  The ‘pride of the tinkers.’  Wasn’t that what I’d said?

And there you have it.  I’d talked, and the man had listened.  But he hadn’t understood the words.

Later, I stood in the dock, and the Judge asked if I had anything to say before sentence.  I turned and spotted brother Roddy in the gallery, almost a grown man these days.  I grinned at him, lopsided, and tapped a finger, knowing-like, to the side of my nose.  Then, turning back to the Judge, I said, “Nothing but that you’re–”  I called him a bleeding Sasanach–their word for the English.  “A what?” he said.  But he knew.  They all have to learn their native tongue to get their government jobs.  “Sasanach,” I said, and his face turned red.  “You do to us what the English did to you.”

I got the full sentence.  But I would have got that in any case.  Never mind.  When I come out, my people will be waiting for me, up country and down.

© Jessica Allegra Seigel 2003  All Rights Reserved.