For the avoidance of doubt, this is a fictional story, though it does contain some true events
Easter Sunday, April 23rd, 2000
I was a little early for meeting Stephen, so I had a bit of time to wander about. Thanks to a late Easter, and, so I am told, an area of high pressure, this year’s Easter was gloriously warm and sunny. Though, this being Belfast, I brought a coat anyway as you can never be too sure. There was a light breeze in the leafy Belmont suburb that brought with it the smell of freshly cut grass, and coupled with the smell of my sun cream – I anticipated Stephen would tease me for it- there was a delightful sense that summer was here.
I came to our meeting spot- outside Stormont Presbyterian. Stephen liked to meet here because he likes to see me groan at the slogans on the church noticeboard. At Christmas, apparently, “God gave us his presence” – the slogan this time was to “come and celebrate the Son rise- Dawn service at 6:30”. I remarked when Stephen arrived with a six-pack of Coke that it was a fairly good attempt.
“What is it today, Dave, factor 50? Still smarting from that time you went outside for 15 minutes and came back a lobster?”
“Yes, because you bring it up every time the sun comes out! Anyway, how can you ignore Baz Luhrmann?”
We turned into the estate and it was heaving with folk, old folks and families mostly. The kids had painted their eggs and were rolling them down the hill, in some cases throwing them. We decided to walk the mile from the Upper Newtownards Road to the Parliament building to find a nice spot. When I was little this walk seemed like an absolute eternity but I always felt a bit disappointed now that it only took 20 minutes. We sat down on the grass not far from the building. While we were talking about United’s Premier League dominance Stephen seemed distracted by something. After a small silence, he pointed at the Carson statue.
“Have you noticed that he’s facing away from the building?”
“Stephen, you and I’ve been coming up here every Easter Sunday since your ma popped you out and you’ve only just noticed that? Too much time in Scotland, that’s your problem.”
“I…er… just never pointed it out… But really, why IS he facing away from the building? You can’t see it from the main road, so really the only benefit is to those in the building. And what’s with the weird gesture he’s making?”
“You know, it probably says on the statue, you could go down and check!”
“Yeah, but it’s more fun to bother you. Fancy a can of Coke?”
I took a can from him and put it down beside me.
“Maybe he knew something we didn’t.” I said. “Do you know he was still alive when they built it? Maybe he asked for it to be put that way.”
“Why would he do that?” said Stephen, as he tapped his can. The youngest daughter in the family sat across from us took great delight as his can fizzed up on him.
“Told you tapping the can didn’t work.” I said. He gave me a look of death. I went on. “To answer your original question, I don’t know. Maybe he’s saying trying to say that he’s only looking out for the people of Northern Ireland and not the politicians. But now you mention it… why would you turn your back on the very thing you helped create?”
“That’s what I meant!” Said Stephen. He turned and said “Do you think he’d be proud? Of the way things are now, I mean.”
“I think he’d be happy to see both sides co-operating, not so much that it took the best part of 80 years for it to happen.” I opened my Coke and took a sip. “Then again, who knows? He was of a different time.”
The sun by now was beginning to beat down heavily and the statue was dazzling and from my angle it looked like some kind of weird transfiguration was in progress. We were silent for ten minutes.
Stephen was lying down and I couldn’t tell through his sunglasses if his eyes were open or not. I continued. “As far as I’m concerned, the biggest achievement of the agreement was getting public officials to work on a bank holiday.” I was glad that he smiled, meaning my biting satire was not unnoticed.
“That statue…” I said.
“Hmm? What about it?” Replied Stephen, half asleep.
“Depending on who you ask, they built it because he ‘saved’ Ulster from home rule. Do you reckon they’d build it now given…everything?”
It was fairly obvious Stephen didn’t care. “Probably not. ” He mumbled, but I suspect he’d have given a more committed answer if he’d been anywhere near awake. “Do you think they’ll make one of Trimble and Hume?” again, I don’t think he actually wanted an answer. But I gave him one anyway.
“Yeah” I said. “With Bono in between for good measure.” I opened another Coke but it was warm and not very pleasant. “But then something will happen and the Assembly will collapse and the statue will look a bit silly. Then someone else will come along and take the glory for starting things up again and the whole cycle will repeat. And you’re just left with false hope and a bunch of daft statues.”
Stephen sat up. “You need a bit more faith in humanity. Do you not think this is different?”
“I’d like it to be -don’t get me wrong! But it just seems like hoping that things are going to be different, or that someone will come along and make everything better always ends up in disappointment. Remember Joanna?”
Stephen gave me the look of death again. It was only fair of me to mention this episode if he had mentioned my sunburn. “Where is hope then?” he said passive-aggresively.
Before I could answer an egg painted like Wolverine from X-Men rolled in front of me. The young son from a family next to us had accidentally thrown it our way. I gave it to him and he said he was sorry, but I told him not to worry about it. The child was bright- he said to his mum that it would be silly if the stone in front of Jesus’ tomb was egg-shaped because it would be hard to roll, so why do we have Easter eggs? “Just sit down, Jamie!” Came the Dad’s response, with much laughter.
We laughed. “Can’t argue with that!” said Stephen. He looked at his watch. “I should probably go. Too much philosophy for my liking.”
“I think that kid’s made more sense than either of us has!” I joked. We headed down towards Massey Avenue this time. On the way, there was a family with three teenage sons, which I would not have noticed had I not bumped into the middle one. I apologized, and he just glared at me. I got the impression that he didn’t really want to be out for a walk at this time and my bumping into him hadn’t helped his bad mood. I figured there was no worth in chastising him, so I just shrugged it off. I was a moody 15-year-old once too.
When we got to the Castlehill Road, Stephen told me he was off to Edinburgh again tomorrow, but would be back at some point in the summer. “I hear Belfast is lovely in July” was his usual joke. I always felt a bit sad when he left because he was the last one from my class I was still friendly with. We shook hands and parted ways. As I walked up the road past the posh school to my car, I pondered our conversation about the statue, how often I’d thought somebody would solve all my problems, and that they weren’t able to, or what we could possibly build a monument to that wouldn’t get embarrassing further down the line. I got to my car, and driving away, I smelt barbecues and thought to myself that Easter is just the best.