I was startled. I really didn’t know what to think. I was so sure that I would get the job. The idea of not getting it had never even crossed my mind. I could hear the baby crying outside and Molly was singing to it.
Hush my dear,
The galloping men ride through the bracken, and ride o’er the ben,
Mummy will watch her sleeping hen,
So close your e’en my dearie
She had a beautiful voice. It was clear and pure. The fact that she was so skinny and pale that you could almost see her skeleton didn’t affect her voice at all, it made it all the more beautiful.
Ever since it began nothing has been the same. I remember it well. The awful smell, the black veil covering everything, oh yes, the potato famine is absolutely terrible. I walked outside. I had let my whole family down. I couldn’t even get a job to save my own family. If only we could get enough money to go on a boat. Then we could escape to America. America. That word fills me with a sort of hope. The land which has streets paved with gold. “The land of opportunity,” people say. I would have traded my right ear just to put one foot into the country. All the people in Ireland would. Not just me.
Molly looked at me and I shook my head. She let out a moan and we started walking home. She stopped and laughed as some birds flew by inches away from her bonnet. They called to each other, flying from place to place. If only we had wings. We could fly to America. I looked down, the baby was screaming. Problem is, I thought, we don’t have wings.
It was a dismal journey, and we were very glad when we saw home at last. Mama was at her knitting. She is a magician with those needles of hers, I tell you. She was making a beautiful shawl for Molly, with reds and whites and blues. It was fit for a king. Or a president. “Any luck, Tom?” she looked up at me, but she could tell from our faces. None of us slept. We were all too hungry.
Next morning, Molly came skipping in, humming a tune and holding a large fish.
“You naughty child! Whose river did you steal it from this time?” Mama chuckled.
Molly laughed, her hair blowing behind her. She looked lovely with a flower tucked behind her ear. “Never you mind, Mama,” she said, and she set herself by the stove. Minutes later wonderful smells filled the house. We couldn’t survive without Molly.
It was January fifteenth and I finally got a job. We broke up stone and made roads that go from nowhere to nowhere. Absolutely pointless. It was just a way for the government to make more jobs. You’d think they would think of something better than that. Something that would help make the famine go away. At least it would pay the rent of the house for a while.
In the night Molly fell on the floor, coughing. Mama lit a candle and the orange glow filled the small room. I could just make out Molly on the floor, bright red in the face. We helped her back into bed, but she was still coughing. For the next few weeks it went on.
“It’s TB,” said the doctor as he examined her. He was a very good doctor, we knew that, and we believed him. Molly was so weak, if she put even a foot out of bed she would topple over coughing. But we did all we could to help her get better. We gave her three-quarters of the food, and Mama never left her side. We all thought that she was going to get better.
My job was awful. It wasn’t so much the work as the children there. They were starving. Their once young, happy faces as they paddled in the river or laughed with their friends were gone, replaced with a sad, worried expression more fit for an old man bowed down with worries than the young children they were. All they had were memories, which they would swap for a single crumb of bread if they could. Even when we had the small amount of money that we earned, there wasn’t any food to buy.
St. Patrick’s day came again. We went to church and then joined in with the parades. Mama bought some beer and dyed it green and more fish was stolen from the rivers than ever before. We chopped wood for the fire, and I helped Josie, next door, to look for leprechauns. We had Josie and her family around for a dinner of fish, beer and even one or two potatoes that we managed to find. It was a wonderful day.
The landlord has to feed us. It makes him very angry, but it’s a fact. He is going to shove us all out of our own Ireland. Hopefully soon, though I feel sad to leave this country, famine or not.
Molly was up all night coughing. When morning finally came and the birds called to each other, Molly was coughing so hard you couldn’t hear yourself talk. Then, all of a sudden, she stopped. The birds outside flew away. Mama rushed over. Then quietly, Mama began to sob.
* * *
I looked back over Ireland. The boat was rocking softly. I would really miss Ireland, even with the famine. Mama and the baby were playing with a piece of string. Everything would be all right. We were going to America.