Thursday, October 27, 2011


If you give this man a ride he'll stiff you on the fuel bill
It is six in the morning, on route to a meeting navigating the crater strewn boreens of rural Ireland when I see him. A tall, strongly built  fellow thumbing a lift by the side of the road. We're in the middle of nowhere here so I do the decent thing and pull in. I watch as he folds himself into the passenger seat, carefully balancing a black, brass-clasped briefcase across the knees of his well-tailored pinstripe suit. I am struck now by the total anomaly of this man, well-fed, well-groomed, extraordinarily well-turned out and hitching a lift on a dark October morning on a mud spattered country road half way between hell and who-knows-where. He thanks me and I tell him "No Problem" and often enough that would be it but it appears that I've picked up a talker for he immediately introduces himself as McGuffin, originally from the little village of Ballyhaise in county Cavan. I'm not about to encourage this sort of outpouring but it wouldn't matter because he's found his flow without any help from me. He tells me how he was a poorly child with congenital cataracts but that he overcame it with perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit. He tells me how he was once a simple farmer but that overcame it with perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit. He tells me that he'd once known the love of a good woman but overcame it with perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit.
"I'm a man of the people, a good man!" he tells me with such forceful earnestness that for the first time I take a good look at his face. His head and neck seem as one, as if someone had shoved a giant finger up through an expensive pinstripe suit and carefully drawn some features at the centre of the fingerprint. Two eyes, a nose and a lipless mouth closely clustered in the middle of that moony expanse of sausage-meat coloured head. In fact his jawline appears to be defined as much by his shirt collar as by anything else.
"A man of the people," he repeats. "A man like you!"
I'm a little taken aback at this pronouncement and feel that I should say something.
"I beg your pardon Mister McGuffin, but how do you mean that you are like me?"
"It's just McGuffin actually." He responds. "A man of the people, a daysint man; a man like you, just making his way; a plumber man, a builder man, a man in a van on a basic wage overcoming things with perseverence and entrepreneurial spirit."
He carries on in this vein for a while and I just keep driving. He tells me that he's been in politics but that he's not a political man; that he's been a successful business owner but that he's a basic wage man; that he likes to keep moving, putting down no roots but that he's a heart of the community man.

This incessant monologue starts to sound more and more like a sales pitch and so it comes as little surprise when he hits me with the rub.

"I don't suppose I could interest a daysint man like yourself" he begins "a working man, a man of the people, a plumber man, a builder man, a man in a van, a potential business man in a little investment opportunity? It's a dead cert and I'd be letting you in on the ground floor, guaranteed return on investment for the right man with entrepreneurial vision man!"

A sharp click punctuates the end of this pitch and I glance across to see that he has released the highly polished brass latches on the shining, black leather briefcase in his lap. He opens it just a crack and an extraordinary and beautiful golden light gushes out and I'm sure that I hear the edge of far off song, lustrous, buxom sirens singing me onward. The lid snaps shut and McGuffin arches an eyebrow at me.
"Free to those who can afford!" he declares mysteriously.
I drive along in silence for a minute, acutely aware of McGuffin's gaze boring into me, weighing me up as a man, sizing me up as prey.
"What's the initial investment amount?" I ask, conscious of the quaver of trepidation in my voice.
"A small price." he replies, reaching inside his jacket and producing a folded sheet of paper. "The details are in this simple contract. Of course you can read it if you like but to be honest, from one daysint working man to another, I wouldn't bother. It's just minor details - T's & C's and whatnot."
"So what's the amount?" I repeat a little more assertively
"To a daysint man like yourself, a potential working business investment man? A trifling price, such a little thing - shall we say your mortal soul?"
The car veers as I whip my head around to look at him and I my heart beats wildly as I struggle to regain control. When I look again at McGuffin he appears to be appraising me with a slightly sinister, amused expression like a wicked child with a bag of kittens and a bonfire.
"The price is too high for you I think." The gap of his mouth curls into a sneer, goading me on.
"No, it's not that, it's just I didn't realise that my soul was viable tender." I am trying to remain calm.
"Then simply sign here." McGuffin has the contract laid upon his briefcase beside me. I take the pen from his clawlike hand and make my mark without even slowing the car.
"You can keep the pen if you like." McGuffin offers with an air of unconvincing magnanimity.
I thank him and glance at the pen - it appears to be a cheap and nasty affair from the 2006 Fianna Fáil Árdfheis.

"Ah, it appears that we have reached my destination, you can just let me out here." McGuffin announces. "Isn't it wonderful how good company makes the road so much shorter! Just here will do."
"But this is the Áras!" I reply realising where we are.
"Indeed it is boss, indeed it is. I'll be seeing you in seven years then." and with a wink and a little pat of the briefcase which he has left in the passenger seat, I watch as McGuffin strides away into the early light of dawn, his black cape billowing behind him, casting a long shadow across the manicured lawns of Áras an Uachtaráin.

I wait until I'm a few miles away before pulling the car in to take stock. "Seven years?" I scoff "Who does he think he is?!"
Eyeing the briefcase greedily, I slide it over into my lap and snap open the clasps. What McGuffin clearly doesn't realise is that souls don't exist so this one's on him. Lifting the lid of the case a touch, the warm golden light and sweet heartsong wash out over me. I throw the lid open, trembling with excitement only to find a jerry-rigged walkman playing an old Kate Bush tape and the bulb of a pocket torch wired to a battery. Even as I sit there, my anticipation turning to rage, the tremor in my hands pulls the lid clean off the briefcase and it completely falls apart in my lap. Not even that was what it seemed. Junk! All of it just junk!