Stories from a Dublin Scientist

Month: November, 2012

Smoke on the Horizon

I remember it like yesterday.

Me and my sister were playing in the fields, watchful eyes constantly on us.

We saw smoke on the horizon. Others’ faces said it all.

Revolution had come.


Made for trifextra writing challenge 33 words on rebellion or revolt.

Horoscopes 1

Capricorn (22 December-20 January): You will lose over FIVE POUNDS in a single Gym session today when a freak accident with a weight machine leads to your sudden beheading.

Aquarius (21 January-19 February): A tall, handsome man will enter your life this week and ignore you, just like everyone else.

Pisces (20 February – 20 March): Mars will pass through Pisces next month, leading to the faint smell of salmon being detected by the Curiosity Rover. NASA scientists will be baffled.

Aries (21 March – 20 April): Your penchant for dressing pugs in little costumes will come to a horrific, and many agree, well deserved end.

Taurus (21 April – 21 May): The stars need to warn you about what will happen on Tuesday the 27th at….. Oh! That was yesterday, wasn’t it? Sorry about that! Our bad! We hope you weren’t hurt too badly.

Gemini (22 May – 21 June): Your friends will tire of you referring to everything as “A sticky end” leading, ironically enough, to a sticky end.

Cancer (22 June – 23 July): You are to go to the Pelican Club at exactly 3:15 PM. Ask for “Marco”. The code word is “Walrus” . Further instructions will follow.

Leo (24 July – 23 August): You will develop as a person over the coming days, becoming a whole new kind of ass hole.

Virgo (24 August – 23 September): For the last time! “It’s a Virgo thing” is no excuse for leaving the house with nothing below the waist.

Libra (24 September – 23 October): Fortune will smile on your family next week when they receive a large pay off from KFC after you choke to death on a spicy chicken wing.

Scorpio (24 October – 22 November): Your unique talent will be pooled with many other’s, preventing a global catastrophe. Who’d have thought the ability to belch the national anthem backwards would be so important?

Sagittarius (23 November – 21 December): Your conspiracy fantasies will come true when CIA satellites tap directly into your brain. Oddly enough, all they will do is play Barry Manilow over and over again.

Six word stories 3

I said yes. She said maybe.


Big crowd, one little bomb, massacre


Baby’s first cry, I’m her’s, forever


Time Travelled. Shot father. Wasn’t him.


We kissed slowly. Then she died.


Twenty years together. Ignorance is bliss.


When I young there was this girl. Sally was her name. She was gorgeous, a real stunner. Always doing well. She was the most popular person in school. Many claimed to despise her. But I’m sure they secretly admired her. I know I did. I thought she was everything in the world, she was a goddess to misfits like us. She never so much as looked at me though, except when she needed something.

She went out with Jason, the head of the athletics team, a match beloved by the gossips. He was handsome and rich, his father owned half the town. They always seemed to be together, all smiles with her arm wrapped around his, dragging him around. He adored her, more than anything, always spending money on gifts for her. She made it a point of telling everyone how much she was in love and how they were to get married. She was destined for things outside here, you could tell. Jason, on the other hand, was fated to stay, to take over his father’s empire.

She finished with school and like so many of us made her way to college. Jason stayed, he had work to do. Their first parting was bitter-sweet, declarations of  love and how they would make it work.

Within two months Sally called it off, declaring that she shouldn’t be expected to keep a long distance relationship at her age. Within a few weeks she was seen around campus with a new beau, some rich fellow from the big city. It was like that for years after, she inveigled herself into high society and became a darling of the paparazzi, regularly pictured with some banker or playboy heir.

Jason wasn’t so lucky. He took the break-up hard. They found him at the wheel of his car, pills and a stolen bottle of Whiskey in his hands, and a note, saying that he never knew, could never have guessed, she would be so hollow.


Made for Trifecta week 32, make a post with the word, Hollow with the meaning or “Lacking in real value or sincerity, or substance; false for meaningless.” 

Picture it and write: How Much

Hello there! This is my offering for this weeks picture it and write by Ermilia’s Blog here. Once again, the picture is not mine, it is only for inspiration. If you like this story or any story on my blog then feel free to make it your selection for my new book of poetry and stories. I want my readers to do the selecting and give a few words about why they like them. It’s an ego thing. More details are here. Anyway, Enjoy!

How Much

“How much will you miss me?” That last question came suddenly, as if out of the blue. I was still reeling from what she had told me. A year is a long time for a six year old, I had only known her a year. We had the whole of Junior Infants and a gloriously long summer together. Now she was going, that very Friday. I had no idea what a placement was or why it was temporary. I just knew she was going. We were sitting on the dock, her red hair flowing over the wooden boards, throwing stones and watching the ripples. She lifted her head and looked at me, expecting a response. “I will miss you a lot!” I said, “You are my best friend. You are fun to be around. I always have a good time with you. I will miss you loads!” She jumped on me, giving me a great bear-hug. “Good answer!” She squealed, “I will miss you loads too!”

“How much do you like me?” I had dreaded that question. We had known each other since we were children. Been as inseparable as any friends could be. But lately things had started to change. At thirteen I was beginning to notice different things about her, things I couldn’t believe I had missed before. It didn’t help that she had taken to wearing dresses during that summer, dresses that showed far too much for me to cope with. I had been struggling to think of something to say for a while now, afraid that I would ruin what we had. But I was on the spot now and I had to speak. I went through everything I had practised. “I, I , I,  think you’re cool! I think you’re smart and, and, funny! I really like you, a lot!” She smiled, grabbed my hand, and gave me a kiss, short but sweet, on the lips. When I opened my eyes. She was staring right at me, grinning like a maniac. I felt my face redden too. I needn’t have worried. It was a good answer.

“How much do you love me?” She said it softly, her hand caressing my back underneath the silken sheets. We had just made love and were enjoying the feel and scent of each other. It was a perfect moment, A wonderful end to a graduation day. “I love you more than life itself.” I said “You are the woman that I have been searching for my entire life, I feel blessed that I found you so early. You are my soul-mate, you make me whole, complete me. No words can describe how much you mean to me and how much I love you!” He felt her arms pull tighter around him, pulling him closer. She sighed contentedly, it was a good answer. I remembered my tuxedo. The small box in the inside pocket. I was waiting for the perfect moment to ask her. I decided to do it then.

“How much do you hate me?” She said through sobs and tears. The obstetrician had just stepped out, giving us time to digest the news. I held her hand, tightly. “I do not hate you!” I said through my own  tears “You are my wife and I love you. You have given me a daughter and a son who I love dearly. This, This just happened. It was no one’s fault. I do not hate you, I cannot hate you. You mean too much to me!” She pulled my hand up to her face and kissed it, her tears dripping onto my skin. It was a good answer, it was all I could say. I didn’t move or say anything else. I just sat there, helping her in grief.

“How much do you care for me?” I looked at her over the rim of my glasses. She looked as good as she did when I married here, even with a little grey. I couldn’t believe that it had been twenty five years. We were setting out decorations for our anniversary party. Geoff, our oldest, had just gone out to get some more snacks and we were awaiting the arrival of Sam, our daughter. Sam said she had an announcement for us. We had already kind of figured it out but we kept silent so as not to ruin the surprise. I sweeped her up in my arms and said “I care for you more than anything else. You are my wife and the mother of my children. We have had good times and bad times but I wouldn’t trade a single moment of it. I love you, more than I ever have!” She looked at me, smiling, “Good answer!” she said and gave me a pick on the cheek. She then walked back to the table, doing that thing with her hips that still made by blood run red! “She’s still got it” I thought.

“How much will you miss me?” She said it frailly, barely audible over the noises of the hospital. I held her hand, gently so as not to do damage. She had been getting so weak. I leaned in close and said softly “I will miss you more than anything I have ever missed before. You completed me and without you I am only half of what I was. We have known each other our entire lives and have shared everything. I will be lost without you but I know that we will see each other again.” I then remembered a little piece of our childhood and finished with “I’ll miss you loads!” I waited for her to say something else but there was nothing, not even the sound of her breath. I held her hand, waiting, until the day turned to night and her hand felt cold. I never knew if it was a good answer.

Check this out for the possibility of free stuff!!!!


Half a thousand poems

Five hundred posts there to read

Will take a long time


Well there you have it dear readers, 500 posts on joe2poetry, my primary Blog. Yippee! 🙂

On an occasion such as this I feel I should be doing something special. So here’s my idea. I want to publish, via the lovely, a collection of my poems and stories from both this blog and from my other blog Joe2stories.

The working title that I am going with for the moment is “The selected Joetwo”. Catchy huh?! The thing is though I am not going to be the one doing the selecting, you are!  What I am thinking is, you my dear readers will go through the back catalogue, find the poems and stories that you like best and e-mail me at with your selection, including a few words probably maximum of…

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Picture it and Write: Human Trial

Hello there! This is my offering for this weeks picture it and write from Ermilia’s Blog here. Once again the picture is not mine, it is only used for inspiration. Anyway, enjoy!

Human Trial

If I ever had it in my power, I think the first act that I would do would be to banish to a particularly ‘cosy’ part of hell the man who first told  me about Barry Marshall, Helicobacter Pylori and the ultimate lesson that if ethics and the law prevent you from conducting a human trials through conventional channels, you can always do it to yourself.

Bob is my name and pharmacology is my game. I made my name studying psilocybin and other chemicals in certain ‘recreational’ fungi and the effects they have on the brain. We have found over the years that many of these show real promise for treating a range of illnesses, from certain forms of psychosis to preventing addiction. Of course; one of the things that we do is take what nature provided and try to improve on it. We find that simple chemical changes to the original natural product, a nitro group here an ester there, can radically alter how effective it can be, sometimes for the better.

The gold standard for preliminary testing of these drugs is and will likely remain the animal trial. This works great for cancers and bacterial infections but when you are talking about psychoactive substances things get more tricky. A spaced out rat doesn’t look very different from a normal rat, except maybe more scared and spiders tend to produce the funkiest webs when high. Other than that you can’t really get very good data, you need to test on humans.

I suppose that the fates were conspiring against me that year. After animal trials showed that my latest lead, formula B15 was not toxic therapeutically I was delayed in getting clearance for phase one. The wrong people were off it seemed so when I finally got the go ahead it was in the middle of the summer break and there were no undergrads about (Undergrads are the best, they’d try anything!). In the end I was planning on heading off to a conference within a fortnight and I didn’t have any concrete data to present. I was frustrated, I was desperate, I said “Screw it! Just give it to me!”

Hallucinogens can have some pretty unpredictable effects on even the sanest  people so my students had to take adequate precautions. I was restrained in a chair surrounded by recording devices so that my experience would be documented. I was adamant that I would call out everything I see so we were expecting to get some good preliminary data. One of my students, Maryami, gave me a 2% solution of B15 to drink while a friend from the medical faculty watched my vital signs. I sat back and waited for it to kick in.

I was sitting for ten minutes when I noticed a coloured blotch in my vision, as if I had been looking at a bright light. I was unconcerned but called it out anyway just in case. The blotch gradually changed colour, from red,  to green, to blue, then started to expand, filling my vision. I felt a little nervous but kept on reporting what I was seeing.

Suddenly things went black, I was terrified, looking around, starting to call out. I heard other voices, trying to reassure me. My vision returned just as quickly and I was greeted by the strangest sight ever. In front of me was Maryami, but she wasn’t in the lab coat  she was in previously.  She was wearing a green jacket hooded suit. That didn’t concern me though, what really blew me was the miniature replica of herself that she held, puppet-like, on a set of strings. Her hands moved endlessly, controlling her miniature self, while her eyes turned to me. She mouthed, as if to speak, but the voice came not from her, but the puppet. “Are you OK Professor?” She asked. I most definitely was not.

I was close to the end of my tether. This was too much for me. I called to anyone who would listen that I suddenly needed to go to the toilet, very badly. I heard some murmured debate and then my medic friend telling me to stay still. That was hard to do as I watched a Cyclops with far too many fingers undo the straps. As soon as the last strap was undone I pushed him out-of-the-way and headed for the door. I used to be a champion in track and field so I was out of the door before anyone could react.

Here’s my version of events

Escaping the laboratory building. I made to head for my home but changed direction when I noticed the plague of locusts travelling in a leisurely south-south-west direction. I instead turned due north, successfully avoiding the many dinosaurs who were wandering around the pulsating buildings. Outside a grey cave I found an injured reindeer, thankfully inside the cave was a portal to Santa’s kingdom and after skill full negotiation with the gate-keeper I was able to send it home and was crowned by the elves in thanks.

After about an hour talking to a horribly ugly but wise catfish beside a green lake, I spotted a small army of demons going in the direction of a cloud castle. I challenged them bravely being armed only with a sword and successfully bested three of them when the head demon used some new weapon against me, knocking me out.

I awoke some five hours later, in a police cell. Naked except for a bed-sheet wrapped around my chest, very, very confused. It was only through the questions of the police and a subsequent investigation by the college newspaper that I was able to piece together what had happened.

Upon running out of the lab I suddenly screamed “Locusts and jumped into nearby bushes. I then made my way through the campus, passing bemused passers-by, shedding clothes, shouting how “They can still smell my human-scent!”

CCTV the showed me entering the canteen building through the rear door, holding a small dog, then arguing with a plastic chef before tossing the dog into a cold room. I then marched through the campus, butt naked, until I ran into a small group of prospective students. With whom I had an in-depth conversation about the nature of colour during which I would periodically duck to “Avoid flying voles”

The campus police found me there and when I saw them I grabbed a rubber chicken from a small child and began waving it around me. I apparently hit several of them while shouting “Back Demons!” before I was tazered.

Needless to say, there was a board of inquiry into “This disgraceful display” to which we were all called up. I didn’t lose my job of course (Thank you tenure!) and my students were exonerated. The dog was alright as well so I have no guilt about that. I did develop a reputation however that has been difficult to live with. The number of times that people have shouted “Locusts!” at me or “Fight those demons!” And I have been gradually becoming part of the myth of the university.

On the plus side we did get some good data, not enough to blow them away at the conference, but good enough. The really big change happened when the new term started however. Whenever we would start a new trail there were lines of students eager to take part. As one young fellow told Maryami “Aren’t you the lab with the professor that ran through campus naked? I wanna try what you’ve got!”

Something Cooking

Walking through town
Past rows of houses
Filled with families, homely scenes
And in the air
Tempting me as I pass
The smell of cooking in the air
A smokey, delicious aroma  the air
Cooking meat, fresh steak sizzling
Filling my nostrils
Causing salivation
And a little faster step
Hunger assisted
A little extra umph to get home

Picture it and write: Nightingale

Hi there! This is my offering for this week’s picture it and write by Ermilia’s blog here. Once again the picture is not mine, I only use it for inspiration. Anyway, enjoy!


Debbie had been warned about this countless times during training. “Do not get attached!” they would say “They are only patients to you!” But here she was flirting like a schoolgirl with Jack. She hadn’t even seen his face, it had been covered in bandages as long as she had been working there, admittedly not that long.

She could remember the first time he had spoken to her. She was working a night shift and was walking the rounds when she heard a voice call from behind the mass of bandages. “You’re new, aren’t you?” Debbie had been flummoxed by the statement from a man who obviously couldn’t see her. He took her silence as it being necessary to elaborate “It’s your perfume; lavender with a hint of rose oil. Most of the other nurses don’t bother. It is good to smell something nice for a change.” She would readily admit that she blushed scarlet-red at that one.

From then on Debbie would make it a point to spend a minute or two talking to Jack. He was always charming, pointing out something about her that his still active senses could read. like her soft voice, delicate footsteps, or feather-touch. He never seemed to have any visitors when she was around and non of the other nurses could recall seeing any either. He didn’t act like he felt sorry for himself though. He was always perfectly cheerful. Enough so that Debbie did check one day if he was on anything.

Since he was in an open ward, Jack was not allowed to have a radio blaring so one of the doctors had arranged a pair of headphones for him. He told Debbie that he had loads of things to listen to, classical music mostly, but that he was getting into audio books in a big way. That gave Debbie an idea and the next day she brought in one of her own books and offered to read it to Jack from time to time. It was a piece of chick-lit not really of much value but Jack seemed entranced. Maybe the idea of another human being, a voice so close, was what attracted him.

Sometimes Debbie would just sit beside Jack, when she wasn’t needed elsewhere and listen to him talk. He knew an awful lot, was a writer of some sort, there was certainly plenty going on under the bandages. In fact the only thing that he refused to discuss was why he was there in the first place. It wasn’t unheard of for that to occur, patients often had bad associations with the memories of accidents. She never asked about it again.

So far Jack and Debbie had been little more than close friends and companions; their relationship just cordial business. It changed late one evening when Jack was telling a particularly long and complicated Joke. Debbie laughed joyfully and placed her hand on Jack’s, keeping it there longer than was necessary. Jack went silent and pulled back his hand “I’m sorry Debbie” he said “Is that really how you think things are going? I am a patient, your patient. You must know that is not allowed. Besides I have never seen your face, or you mine. I like you Debbie, but not that way.”

Debbie was shocked, all the connection that she thought she had made with this man felt like a sham, she felt ashamed, used even. She didn’t talk to him again that night and for several afterwards. In time her anger reduced to a simmering resentment. She had heard of Nightingale syndrome, were patients fall for their nurses, why did she have to be one of the few were it went the other way? What could she do about it?

In the end she realised, nothing. Only be a good nurse and friend to Jack. Maybe in time he’d see. She started to visit him again. He seemed genuinely happy to hear her voice again. His cheerful disposition in no way reduced or tempered by what had happened. Debbie considered that promising. She endeavoured to not touch or in any way get too close to Jack again. Just to be there, whenever she was needed, for him.

About a month later Jack dropped a bombshell. The doctor had been talking to him. His bandages were coming off within a few days. “It will be nice to see again” Jack mused “I especially want to put a face to your voice Debbie. I have been wondering what you really look like.”

As soon as she could get away from Jack, Debbie set to work. She checked in with the ward office to find at what time exactly Jack was getting his bandages off. She then went to every nurse working in the hospital and begged and pleaded to get her shifts transferred to that time. The others knew exactly what she was planning, they weren’t stupid, and while they wanted nothing to do with it Debbie was persistent enough that eventually one relented and gave her the slot.

The night before was a strange one for Debbie. Every possible scenario ran through her head from Jack’s wife suddenly appearing to him looking like Quasimodo’s stunt-double passed through her dreams. It was maddening.

When she arrived for that fateful shift Debbie was dressed to impress. She had full make-up on and her Auburn Tresses were coiffed to perfection. She had also borrowed a uniform that was half a size too small, just right to accentuate her figure. The porters definitely approved, she got some wolf-whistles while walking in.

As the hour approached Debbie made sure that she was around Jack’s ward, regularly coming over to chat to him. He seemed distant as if preparing for what was to come but friendly, glad for a familiar voice. Two doctors entered the ward and headed straight to Jack’s bed, they spent ten minutes briefing him during which time Debbie inched her way across the ward. One of the doctor drew the blind of the windows while the other started to slowly unravel the bandages, layer after layer gradually coming off. Until parts of the face previously hidden came into view.

Debbie found herself getting closer, breathless with excitement. This moment had been in her thoughts for months. He was literally the man of her dreams and how she would get to see him. What Jack’s face looked like almost didn’t matter anymore, the anticipation made the moment for Debbie. She hadn’t a clue what was about to happen; but she would soon find out.

Driving Ambition

I have been asked several times “Can you describe yourself in one word?” and I would have to reply to that “Lucky” Being lucky has gotten me more in life than any amount of preparation or hard work. It is through luck, being at the right place at the right time and the like that has gotten me out of more situations than anything else. Take for example the situation after my hurried escape from the magnificent. 

I had come ashore in my lifeboat after nearly three days rowing through the sea. My legs were shadows of their former selves, my hands had calluses on their calluses, and my arms were burning worse than they ever had before. I was a wreck and the first thing I wanted to do the second I hit dry land was sleep. After kissing the beach and spitting out all of the sand that I had thus ingested I threw myself back into the boat, wrapped a blanket around myself and fell asleep. In retrospect it was a rather foolish move to collapse back into the boat on a strange shore when I had no idea about the tides in the place but figuring out that something is foolish is best left to someone with a fully functioning brain, and mine was off at the time so I was only concerned with getting my rest.

I was woken by heavy shaking of the boat. The sky was already starting to darken and I found it difficult to see. I thought for a second that the tide had come in and washed me back out to sea. But I could hear the gentle lap of the waves and it was coming from far behind the bow of the boat. It seems that the tide had gone far down the beach. But the boat was rocking, what was causing that? It was only with my eyes adapting to the low light levels that I noted a dark figure finish coming over the side. I scrabbled for a torch under my blanket. Turning on the light I shone it at the dark figure and found that it was still dark. It was a black man.

He seemed a little taken aback when the light went into his face. For a moment I entertained the notion that this man had never seen a torch before but the way he moved made me realised that I must have blinded him with its glare. He groped around the boat for a few seconds stumbling over the many haphazard boxes and pieces of equipment that I had left strewn on the deck. When he regained his vision. He started to talk to me in a questioning manner, I couldn’t understand what it was he was saying, but it sounded oddly familiar. He kept on gesturing for me to get out of the boat, continuing to speak to me loudly and slowly. This man had obviously learned his communicating with foreigners etiquette from the English. Thinking of nothing better to do I nodded. Gathered what things I thought I might need and followed him.

I found it difficult to see this fella as he walked off the beach and into the surrounding jungle. I kept my torch shining on him, occasionally flicking it down to make sure there were no roots or holes in my path. I don’t think he liked that very much, he kept on looking back and speaking loudly at me angrily. I didn’t really care, I was not going to get lost. It was only a few minutes later that we emerged from amid the trees and I saw lights ahead of us. It was a collection of buildings, white sided against the tropical sun. The black man bid me to enter with him. Thinking of nothing better to do, I followed.

I found myself walking through hallways in what looked to me to be a schoolhouse. The place was deserted and I looked into each room seeing the rows of empty desks freaked me out a little. I had never liked school much at the best of times so being in one after dark was especially unnerving.

We continued through until we reached a room with a lone light swinging from the ceiling. At a desk beside a window was a man, a white man in the garb of a priest. He was writing furiously into a ledger and didn’t seem to notice our entering. My companion went over to the desk, placed his hand on the priest’s shoulder to get his attention and started speaking in that strangely familiar language. I had been thinking about it on my walk from the beach and I had come to the conclusion that I had taken in enough of the chatter from the “Tribesmen” in the Tarzan serials to recognise what they were speaking. But when the priest started to reply my heart sank a little. I knew the language they were speaking well enough. It was French.

The priest bade me to come over and sit in a chair in front of his desk. He started speaking in heavily accented English asking who I was and where did I come from. He hadn’t heard of any shipwreck he said so he might have found my being washed up on the beach somewhat dubious. I endeavoured to set his mind at ease by telling him my story including the details of the cannibalism. He was, needless to say, even more sceptical. Thankfully he was a true Christian man and offered me a place to stay for the night.

I was in, apparently, The French Congo, on the south coast, only a couple of miles from the border with the Belgian Congo. The Priest, Father Julian,  ran a convent cum school and small hospital with a number of nuns which was stationed in what could be best described as the middle of nowhere. Thankfully, he told me, they were going to send a van over to Brazzaville the next morning and that I would be welcome to hitch a ride.

I had more questions about how I might be able to find my way out and hopefully home but Father Julian was seemingly busy. I instead was placed in a bare room by a dour faced nun. I had not slept off my three days of rowing and had been living off the adrenaline of my sudden discovery so within seconds of hitting the rough sheets I was asleep again.

The next morning I was awoken by a nun bringing me in something small to eat; different nun, same dour face. Having just eaten and by then fully rested I was much more able to face the world. I retraced my steps to Father Julian’s office only to find him having an animated conversation through a telephone. I only have a few of the saltier French words in my vocabulary and I caught most of them coming out of the enraged priest. In the end he slammed the receiver down shouting “Merde!” only then realising that I was present.

I felt suddenly like a very large, very vulnerable target. I instinctively started trying to hide myself from his gaze. He was looking like he was about to explode on me as well when he calmed down, though still annoyed, and said to me “That was about my driver. He got drunk last night and has been thrown in prison. I don’t know when he will be released. I have no one to drive my van over to Leopoldville. I have people and medicine over there that we really need here. Things that cannot wait. What am I going to do?” He put his head in his hands the lifted his head and looked at me, a smile developing on his face. “Enrique.” He asked me “Can you drive my van?”

Since I went to a catholic school I have developed a well-honed ability to lie to clergy. “Why of course I can drive a van” I said “I used to drive a van for my Job back in Dublin” This was what I like to call a ‘truth in technicality’. While I had ridden in the van with Daithi while we made the boat run. I never drove it for work. Daithi did show me how to handle the van. He even let me handle it once. I think I managed to make about twenty yards when, ashen-faced, he wrenched the wheel from my hands and decreed that he would never let me drive a vehicle in his presence again. I think he was jesting.

Father Julian seemed to take what I said at face-value. He was relieved and explained the situation to me. I was to drive the hospital’s van cum ambulance to Brazzaville with the Matron and two nurses. There we would meet one of the hospital’s doctors with the medicine and other supplies on the docks and the boat from Leopoldville. This doctor could drive himself so I would be free to make my way wherever I wanted once I reached Brazzaville. It was a win-win situation I thought. How difficult could it be?

Father Julian explained that the terrain was so ‘difficult’ that it was likely to take half the day to get there so it would be best to set off as soon as possible. He took me out from his office and around back. The van was a dilapidated old thing which from the looks of it had been through the wars and considering the time probably had been. My intended passengers Sister Concepta, the Matron, and Sisters Bridget and Bernadette the nurses, were already loading the little cargo for the outbound trip. I made a show of inspecting the vehicle, in reality checking that all the pedals and levers that I remembered where there, and announced that I was satisfied for our journey and would go and get my things. Father Julian, bless his soul, was so grateful to me he had given me an old duffel-bag that he had for my assortment of crap. I wasn’t sure what was important so I took everything and took it back to the van.

The front cabin was a snug affair so it was just going to be me and Matron in the back while the two younger, and much better looking, nurses stayed in the seats in the back. It was probably for the best, the other two didn’t have any English while Matron had enough to communicate effectively.

With Father Julian and some of the rest of the staff looking on I went through the start-up procedure in my head, said a few prayers and turned the ignition. The engine came to life and immediately jutted forward. Remembering Daithi’s screamed advice I put the gears into first and slowly released the clutch. Slowly, ever so slowly, the van edged out of the little compound and out into the tree-lined road.

Hubris is a sin I am intimately acquainted with and as soon as the hospital was out of sight I figured that I had gotten the hand of this driving lark and was going to show this old nun how things were done. I increased my speed shifting up the gears as I had remembered Daithi telling me and pretty soon we were moving down the road at a fair rate of knots.

How I say road, But this is in the loosest possible definition of the word. It was not paved, more of a track, a muddy, bumpy, trail through the jungle. Moving at any speed through this was causing the van to jump up and down like an over excited stallion and I started to feel sorry for the two nuns in the back. That very thought brought to my mind the image of two nuns bouncing around in the back of the van, an image so bizarre that I almost started laughing and which distracted me enough that I ended up hitting a bump in the road and knocking the van into a hedge.

Our landing was soft so neither me of the Matron had visible injuries. She did however, have a look that could curdle milk, “Sorry!” I murmured “I’m a little rusty”, the look remained. We both got out. Me to check the van and if we could get back on the road and Sister Concepta to check on the other two. The hedge had no nasty surprises so I was confident I could just reverse out without difficulty. I asked the Matron about the nurses, still feeling concern but she just replied gruffly “They’re alright. Tied down!”

After reversing back onto the road I set on ahead at a more sedate pace, making good time but nothing flashy. Time moved remarkably fast, me being kept busy with constantly watching for uneven ground, and in no time we were over an hour on the road. It was then that we came to something frankly disturbing.

Growing up in Dublin when I did, it was not unusual for me to see horses attached to carriages out on the road, delivering milk, coal, and whatnot. Occasionally there would be an accident when one of these horse would get injured and more rarely it would be nasty. What I saw on that road was horrific.

It looked to my vantage that three different carriages had collided with each other within the last few minutes. One, it appeared, had been overloaded and slipped on the mud careering into the other two. The horse on the first carriage had tried to hold on to the road so strongly that it had torn something in its front leg and it was lying face down, its hoof in an unusual position. The second had been impaled with some metal bars from the first wagon killing it, dead. The third horse’s front hoof had been crushed by the second wagon lurching back. It was trying to move, crying in pain and panic. There was assorted bits of freight like chickens and papers lying around and to top it off the drivers were each running around, wailing at what had happened and shouting at each other.

While I was watching this chaos in front of me, a large man stepped down from the third wagon. He held a box in one hand and a gun in the other. While the drivers argued he went to third horse put the gun against its head and fired. This silenced everybody else. The man then went in silence to the first horse and put a bullet in its head too. He then turn and started walking, straight towards us. I was petrified but Sister Concepta was made of stern stuff and bade me to keep quiet with a shush. The man knocked on my door with the barrel of the gun I opened it and he said something in French. The nun replied in kind and he said “I am sorry. My name is James! Are you going to Brazzaville?”

It is good advice not to refuse a man with a loaded gun who has recently used it. We welcomed James in the cabin and somehow he was able to fit his big bulk between me and the Matron without crushing us. Under James’ eye the carriage drivers had already made a hole for the van to pass through allowing us to continue on our way.

As soon as he had settled, James lost whatever menacing countenance that he had possessed on the road. His gun had seemingly vanished and his started to talk with us openly and exuberantly. In fact he very much monopolised the conversation, Sister Concepta not having very good English and me being busy driving. That didn’t seem to bother James though, he certainly had enough to talk about.  He was on his way to Brazzaville to cross over to Leopoldville on the other side of the Congo river and meet his compatriots. From there he was planning an expedition to go into the heart of Africa and “find his fortune” Though the details were “hush-hush”. We didn’t pry.

On my part I told him of my experience at sea and he listened most attentively. At the end he looked at me with a mixture of pity and admiration in his eyes “So you are going to this city without a clue what you’re going to do next? That takes courage my friend!” At which point he slapped me on the back so hard that I had to scrabble to stop running into trees again.

With James’ talking and my avoiding potholes time passed even faster for me. The roads gradually improved too first into wider dirt tracks and then paved roads so I was able to increase my speed more. Within another three hours we were entering the outskirts of Brazzaville. Following Sister Concepta’s directions I made my way, slowly, through the maze of bustling streets down to the docks where we found a straight-laced looking doctor waiting for us.

I offered to help loading but the doctor and nuns insisted that only they could do it properly. They told me I was free, giving me their thanks. I then stood for a second, looking around, thinking about what to do next when I came face to face with James again.

“Enrique, my friend!” He said to me “I have been thinking about how you have nothing here and it saddens me. But I think again and I know you are in luck. I could use a person like you. A man with courage and quick thinking.” He pointed at the small ferry docked close to us “That boat is heading for Leopoldville in half an hour. If you come with me I can offer you a chance at great riches, enough to go wherever you want. You would be a fool to say no.”

I said at the start of this part of my story that I consider luck a strong part of my life. I never said it was good luck all the time. I have a few decisions in my life that I have come to regret later, this was one of them. “Why not!” I said to James, he immediately began grinning, “It will be an adventure!”

It  most certainly was an adventure, which more than once nearly saw the end of me. But that is left, dear reader, for the next part of my story.