Hello everyone and welcome to another intriguing book extract post here on Always Trust In Books. Today’s post is part of the Legend Press blog tour for Clár Ní Chonghaile’s Rain Falls On Everyone. I appreciate you stopping by to check out the extract, there are plenty of great blogs on the tour so please make sure you check them all out as well and give them your support.
About Clár Ní Chonghaile
Clár Ní Chonghaile was born in London but grew up in An Spidéal, County Galway. She left Ireland aged 19 to join Reuters in London as a graduate trainee journalist. Clár has been a reporter and editor for over 20 years, living and working in Spain, France, the Ivory Coast, Senegal and Kenya. She now lives in St Albans, England, with her husband and two daughters. Her debut novel, Fractured, was published by Legend Press in 2016.
Visit Clár at www.clarnichonghaile.wordpress.com or on Twitter @clarnic
Theo, a young Rwandan boy fleeing his country’s genocide, arrives in Dublin, penniless, alone and afraid. Still haunted by a traumatic memory in which his father committed a murderous act of violence, he struggles to find his place in the foreign city.
Plagued by his past, Theo is gradually drawn deeper into the world of Dublin’s feared criminal gangs. But a chance encounter in a restaurant with Deirdre offers him a lifeline.
Theo and Deirdre’s tender friendship is however soon threatened by tragedy. Can they confront their addictions to carve a future out of the catastrophe that engulfs both their lives?
Rain Falls On Everyone Extract
Theo ran. Feet pounding, arms pumping, chest heaving, heart racing. In this frenzy of motion, the only still thing was his mind. He had to get away. That was the only goal: to put as much distance as he could between him and the pebble-dashed house where a man he knew little, but enough to hate, lay in a pool of sticky, gold-flecked blood. He had to get away from Deirdre’s terrified eyes, from her outstretched hands with the grazed knuckles. He sped through the estate and out onto the main road, his open anorak flapping behind him like the clipped wings of a giant crow. He didn’t stop until he was heading west on a country road. He had covered miles, at first frantically and then steadily with his long, loping stride. He stopped, bent, placed his hands on his knees, and still his brain did not engage. He saw the road, noted its silvery greyness, looked up to the half-moon and then over the stone walls, across the fields. He registered the absence of cars. No surprise there at 2 am on a minor road leading out of Dublin. To his right, a two-storey house – a relic from the austere Ireland of the 1950s – loomed like a sentinel, marking the boundary between the sin-filled city and the countryside, where legend had it, maidens once danced at crossroads while boys played hurling without helmets. He needed transport. It was his first clear thought since the gun went off. He would never make it on foot. Deirdre might not set the Gardaí on him right away but it’d surely happen.
He’d done her a favour, no doubt about that, but sometimes people didn’t want favours. In those first, freeze-framed moments after the sharp crack that marked the beginning and the end, no one had moved, no one had said anything. Deirdre was the first to react. “Go, go now!” she hissed, grabbing a notebook and writing furiously. “Go to my father. He will look after you until you can get out.” She pushed the paper into his hands. Did her fingers flinch as they touched his? She had written her father’s address, just a few lines of scribbled instructions, a list of villages to pass through, a left and then a right down a lane. A roadmap to oblivion. Before he left, he tried to read the moral relativities in her eyes but he found only fear. It hurt him then and the memory stung now but there would be time for a reckoning later. He checked his phone. The battery was nearly dead but who would he call anyway? He clambered over the nearest wall, dislodging the top stone in his wake. It clunked dully onto his toes. He cursed, but in Kinyarwanda. The words had the force of a Taser, freezing him to the spot. He hadn’t used his own language in years. The last time was when he was around sixteen and went to a meeting for African immigrants in a church near his home in Clontarf. Teenage identity crisis, he supposed. He never returned. Instead of feeling at one with the other young men, who sat awkwardly on squeaking plastic chairs in the echo-filled basement down below the world, he felt more like an outsider than ever.
The social workers – a pudgy woman in a tracksuit and garish pink lipstick and a man in the kind of jumper most of the young black kids wouldn’t be seen dead in – were kind and wellmeaning and utterly clueless about what made the lads around them tick. It wasn’t their fault. They were offering practical solutions – language classes, dole forms, counselling services – when what the young men wanted was someone to wave a magic wand over their heads to make them the same as everyone else. All teenagers need to comply with the pitiless rules that govern their world and they were no different. But because they were black, and had funny accents, and strange, sometimes tragic, tales of foreign lands, they would never fit in. The boys knew it but they didn’t get this far by respecting the limits of the possible. The social workers, who might well have had teenagers at home with their own hang-ups about belonging, didn’t recognise that same desperation in the boys around them, though it was in every snazzily trainered foot, every awkwardly mumbled Dublin colloquialism, every toosharp haircut. There was one other Rwandan, like him but not. His name was Patrice but he called himself Paddy. It made Theo laugh. Patrice was nineteen and had arrived two years before. He was still illegal and still unemployed.
During a short break for weak tea and Jaffa cakes, they spoke together in Kinyarwanda, the words dropping thick and clumsy from Theo’s lips. They only talked about Dublin and they kept their voices low, as they had been taught by those who first gave them these words. They did not speak of that which was unspeakable. Patrice was clearly a Tutsi and Theo knew that it was just as clear that he himself was not, or at least not just. He’d no idea if Patrice had been in Rwanda during the killing, he’d no idea where he was from, and he did not want to know. In this new world, Patrice was no more like him than Bono. That awkward evening in the church basement was the last time he’d spoken his language, until now, until the curse words burst from his lips as the jagged stone fell onto his foot. Half-formed anamneses crept upon him – other feet slapping other roads, other mouths panting, a remorseless sun – but he hadn’t come this far to let the feckers in. Anam – soul in Irish. Anamnesis – Greek, but so perfectly expressing itself through another language. Theo had always loved words because of what they showed and what they hid, and how they could, by their very existence, create new worlds, new thoughts, new possibilities. Of course, he knew only too well the flip side of this power. Words could also obliterate.
He levered the stone off his toes and stumbled through the reeds and grassy hillocks that stippled the field. He vaulted another wall, careful this time, and emerged onto a narrow country road in front of the house with its lightless window-eyes. He crouched down by the front wall, hidden still by the bushes that swayed like tipsy Wombles in the cheek-clipping wind. There was a light over the door and another on the side of the breezeblock garage. Leaning against the garage wall, there was a high-seated black bicycle that must belong to someone who had grown up with the house. An old man with a flat cap, maybe, who cycled these lanes straight-backed, spitting curses at the pace of change. Theo unlatched the small gate quietly, slipped across the front garden, grabbed the bike, lifted it smoothly onto his shoulders and returned to the road. In a few breath-starved seconds, he had left the house behind and was speeding down a hill into the safety of a nave of trees.
He could feel the house’s blank gaze on his back and it quickened his big feet on the pedals. He cycled without caution, eyes down, the up-and-down of his knees anaesthetising his brain until he was spinning down a different road, red dust rising beneath the wheels of the wooden scooter that Shema had made him, wind making him cry, going so fast even the sun couldn’t lay its heavy hand on him, sweet breeze filling his flaring nostrils, and his own shadow struggling to keep up. He laughed suddenly and lifted his feet from the pedals, thrusting his legs to the side. Then he wobbled and he was back and there was no sun now. The swollen sky was already paling.
When the road forked two kilometres later, he set his face to the darker West, heading towards the bogs of the mid-country and beyond to the Atlantic. He cycled until an invisible sun finally managed to poke straw rays of light through the sullen clouds. He knew now he was on the R446 beyond Tyrrellspass. He came off the road and found a stone shed with a balding thatched roof. One corner was dry and there were bags of cattle feed stacked by the wall, as well as two empty sacks. Theo lay on one of the sacks, putting the other on top of him, his right arm under his head. He slept quickly. He had done this before, slept on other floors on another continent, and he was tired. An hour or so later, he woke suddenly and got on the bike again, his mind numbed by cold and hunger.
He kept heading west, cycling through towns and villages where another day was stirring for people who knew who they were, and where they were going. He cut a strange sight, weaving through Monday morning mini-jams on streets made for donkey carts not cars, but he didn’t slow down long enough to see the eyebrows raised above suspicious squints. In Kilbeggan, he stopped at a petrol station and bought a coffee and a bun with thick icing. He went outside to where he had put the bike by the front wall, and stood drinking and smoking. A red-faced hook of a man got out of a battered cream Mazda and as he filled the car, he looked at Theo openly, brazenly, the way old men in small places will do. Even when he’d put the nozzle back in the machine, he pushed his hands into the pockets of his cords and stood staring. There was neither anger nor compassion on his face. He was just looking and when he was satisfied he walked into the shop, fumbling for his wallet in sagging pockets so that he looked like a hunchbacked sailor, unused to land. Theo didn’t care. The looking was nothing, less than a nuisance.
Things had changed since his arrival in 1995. Then, he was a curiosity to everyone, the freakish survivor of what the ‘blue babies’ got up to when they grew up. He’d always thought it was funny that the Irish language described black people as blue. Na daoine gorm. Black and blue. Bruised. Damaged. His Irish teacher in secondary, Máistear Burke, said it was because whenever the first Irish met the first Africans, they didn’t want to offend them by calling them black, or dubh, because that colour was associated with the devil. Theo had liked Burke, even though he was a nutjob with a dangerous habit of picking up chairs and waving them around students’ heads while demanding they conjugate the conditional tense properly. By the time Theo came to him at the age of twelve, his foster parents had mostly managed to piece together the broken child they’d been given. There were still a few bits missing but mostly people didn’t notice. Máistear Burke did but in his gruff way he treated Theo both the same as everyone else and differently. He never spared him, he never excused him, but there was the odd hand-on-the-shoulder, or chat after class that made Theo think the crazy bastard was looking out for him. In any case, Theo loved learning Irish. He was good at it. Better than the Irish themselves, Burke used to joke. Unlike the other kids, Theo didn’t feel it was a burden. They all moaned about learning a ‘dead’ language, but Theo, who had grown up speaking Kinyarwanda, French, Swahili and some English, didn’t see the problem. He liked adding another window to his house of words.
It was Máistear Burke that Theo was thinking about as he ate his chips on the banks of the Shannon near Athlone. It was mid-afternoon and the pubs were already filling but he was well out of the way of any troublemakers and he would be on his bike in a few minutes. From a little hillock covered with scratchy brown pine needles, he could see over the sluggish water to the town and beyond. No grand vistas here. Just a heatless sun skulking behind flat clouds skimming monotonous estates of identical houses, all satellite dishes and twitchy curtains. He’d better not hang around. “Howya? Nice place for yer tea. Might be a bit cold for my liking though. Gonna be a chilly night, I reckon.” The voice was to his left, on the other side of the bushes that hemmed the spindly trunks of the trees behind him. A rustle, and a man appeared. Stocky and short, he wore a surprisingly bright blue hat above a thin face and there was a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his cranky-looking mouth. “None of my business, of course, but I was wondering what you might be doing here? Not my land, don’t worry. It’s all public property here by the river but other side of the trees, now that’s my field and I like to keep an eye on things round here.
You’d be surprised what goings-on you’d be getting at night; kids drinking, smoking drugs, laying into each other. Not like when I was a young one.” The man squeezed around the bushes, moving closer with every word. Theo wasn’t frightened; he was far bigger than this red-neck and look what he’d done last night, for Chrissakes. But he didn’t want any trouble here. He nodded vacantly at the man, then returned to his chips. “Visiting are ye?” Jesus, this guy wasn’t going to let up. “Jus’ down to see me mam’s folks, maybe you know them? The Connors?” He laid on the accent. The man’s face was a picture. For the first time since the night before, Theo allowed himself a secret smile. To hide the twitching of his lips, he furrowed his brow and then slowly pulled his hoodie over his head. “The Connors? Mikey Connor’s lot?” the man said. “Naw, Séamus. Maybe you don’t know them. You haven’t been living here long yourself?” The man glared at Theo through slitted eyes. He pulled the fag angrily from his mouth, choked a little as he swallowed some smoke, and flung the butt into the water beyond Theo’s feet. “Coupla years,” he said sharply. “My family’s from Oranmore.” “Ah, right.” The man flinched and Theo knew he’d got the dismissive tone just right. His years of being an outsider were paying off. He knew just which buttons to push.
Theo picked the last chip from the packet, balled the paper and put it in his pocket. He rose to his feet, grabbed the bike and pushed it past the man, back towards the road. “Nice talking to ye. Have a good one!” he said. He was still chuckling as he rode into the town. He parked the bike carefully outside the stone bus station with its vast glass windows. He wondered how long before someone would see their lucky day and grab it from the rack. What an adventure for the black iron horse, galloping across Ireland, free at last. Trup, trup a chapaillín, he muttered, the words of the nursery song echoing across the years from the start of his story in this place. But the image that came with it was from over there and it wasn’t a horse: it was a donkey, grazing by the side of a mist-wreathed track as a little boy with a big belly jutting over a pair of dirty shorts waved a long stick around its arse to get it moving again. Fuck, the walls inside me are coming down, Theo thought, shaking his head as if that could straighten out the tangled mess inside. He bought a ticket from the driver and sank into a seat, his whole body fluttering into softness like a shirt dropped from a hanger. He no longer had the strength to hold himself up. He melted into the upholstery. He’d have to change buses again in Galway but at least this way he would definitely get there by nightfall. The bus pulled out, wheezing and chuffing as though it too had struggled even to get this far. There were plugs for charging phones so Theo asked to borrow a charger from a stringy guy with a beard and a barbell through his eyebrow, who was chatting to his mate about some ‘deadly’ gig they’d been to in Limerick. “Sure, gimme a second. I’ll get it for you.” The guy rummaged in his battered green rucksack, handing over the charger with a smile so big and sincere that Theo, after the argy-bargy at the river, felt like bursting into tears.
That was the thing about this place: you just never knew which kind of Irish you’d be getting on any given day. The postcard Jekyll or the dark-veined Hyde. As soon as the screen lit up, the phone beeped. A message from Cara. One from Deirdre. Both punctuated by question marks. He dialled Cara’s number, squeezing down into the seat as far as he could go. He turned his head to the window, to the fields running by jauntily outside and crows wheeling backwards across the grey sky. “Hey, it’s me. Yeah, I’m okay. Shush, it’s fine. Really. I can’t talk now. I know, I know. Sorry, my phone died. I’m on my way to Deirdre’s dad. I’ll be there tonight. Don’t cry, Cara. Don’t cry. It’ll all be okay. I just need to be away for now. I’ll try to call tomorrow. No, I don’t think so really but better to be safe than sorry. Listen, I’d better go. Yeah, me too. Sorry, Cara. I didn’t mean… Me too. Bye.” He hung up. The lads on the other side of the aisle were talking too loudly, trying to give him the pretence of privacy even if they all knew everyone nearby had listened to every word. He texted Deirdre, told her where he was. Then he switched off the phone, closed his eyes and sat there wishing there was a button he could press to switch off his mind too.
At this stage, he’d take the risk of it never coming on again, of the battery running down to beyond empty. It was almost dark when he arrived, stomping through molten grey puddles under a granite sky of pregnant clouds, the air salty on his lips. The sky and sea formed a symphony of greys, reminding him of a few lines from one of the only Yeats poems he’d taken to or, to be honest, even half-understood: “Imagining a man, and his sun-freckled face, and grey Connemara cloth, climbing up to a place, where stone is dark under froth.” The lines were fresh in his mind because one of the last podcasts he’d listened to had been about Yeats. Was it just a few weeks ago? It’d been before his life veered off its tracks again anyway. There were too many damn ‘befores’ now. His ‘afters’ had no staying power. He paused at the top of the hill and looked down at the blue bungalow, too big now for one man, with its green-grey roof tiles weathered by the spray and the grasping winds that smashed onto this shore after weeks frolicking across the white-tipped Atlantic.
The house seemed to be crouching on the soft ground, poised to strike. It radiated tension. Or maybe he just thought that because of what Deirdre had told him about her father. It didn’t matter. He was cold and tired and there was nowhere else to go. He paused at the rusty gate set in the wall. Twisted branches splotched with red berries rose above the stones and a light in the front room cast a weak glow onto the patch of grass out front. A shadow passed across the net curtains. The silhouette paused, the head turned. For a second, they looked at each other – a faceless shadow, a shadowy man, white eyes shining in black faces, two men with no connection at the end of the world. The shadow disappeared and the light above the door with its peeling grey paint came on. Theo opened the gate. Behind him, the wind and the sea wrestled. He could hear the waves sucking pebbles down the shore.
The dull grind of stone on stone set his teeth on edge. The door opened. “Shema!” The name jumped from his lips like a forgotten prayer. What the hell was going on in his head today? It was as though the walls he had built between his worlds were crumbling, sending shredded memories hurtling into each other, a Big Bang of the brain. Of course, it wasn’t Shema. It couldn’t be Shema. Shema belonged to the ‘there’ with all the other dead. He started to stammer an apology, cursing his unreliable memory and treacherous eyes. The old man cut him short. “Don’t fecking stand there all night. Get inside. Look at the state of ye. C’mon now.” The voice was harsh, impatient. Theo hesitated but where else was he to go? By now, everyone in Merrickstown would know what he’d done. In the end, Dublin was not much different from the village outside Kibungo where Shema would hear from raisin-faced old ladies how Theo had stolen roasted corn from their yards even before the yellow beans had begun to digest in his guilty belly. If he didn’t want to end up chopped into bits and spread across the Wicklow mountains, he’d better stay away and stay quiet. Maybe this was the penance he deserved. Crimes of the father, crimes of the son. The mark of his people. The mark of Cain. “Jesus, are you thick as well as violent? I said get inside!” Deirdre’s father was tall and thin and wore old-man tartan slippers. As he edged past him, Theo chanced a quick glance. Hooded eyes chiselled into a broad face, white stubble around his chin and mouth, thin lips sucked clean of smiles, wispy grey hair rising like a halo in the door’s light. Was this his saviour?
He looked like a witchdoctor, a man more used to cursing than curing. “Take those mucky shoes off, then down the hall to the kitchen. I’ll make us some tea. Then you can tell me yerself what this is all about. Deirdre’s called but she’s in a right state and I can’t make head-nor-tail out of her blathering. So you’ll have to tell me exactly what happened.” Theo bent to unlace his trainers. What happened? Good question, he thought. The furniture shop closed, that’s what happened, and that’s why he ended up working at The Deep, and that’s where he met Deirdre, and Cara, and that was the start of it all.
Pick up a copy of Rain Falls On Everyone here: Legend Press / Amazon UK / Goodreads
Thank you for stopping by to check an extract from a huge Legend Press release for 2017. I am interested to see where Clár Ní Chonghaile takes this novel. Please share your thoughts on the extract in the comments. Until next time we see each other, happy reading!