The following is from Eoghan Walls' debut novel The Gospel of Orla. Walls a Northern Irish poet from Derry. He has lived and worked in Ireland, Britain, Germany and Rwanda. He won an Eric Gregory Award in 2006, and his poetry has been shortlisted for multiple international awards, including the Bridport Prize, the Manchester Poetry Prize and the Piggott Prize. He has published the first major translation of Heidegger’s poetical works and currently teaches Creative Writing at Lancaster University.
I am sad to go but it is time now and there is no point in hanging around any longer. I leave my phone under the pillow. I don’t leave a note because that is just for suicides. I don’t want to make them sadder than they will be anyway but I also don’t want them coming for me straight away. Last time they got me at the station but at least I hadn’t bought a ticket so they don’t know where I was going so they won’t know where I am headed now.
I don’t need to creep out full ninja as I can hear Dad snoring but I go into his room anyway to see Lily. She is down and will sleep until about half five in the morning. They are both deep sleepers until she gets thirsty at half five and climbs out of the cot into his bed and rocks him by the nose and that wakes him even if he has been drinking.
I will miss her but I can’t bring her and can’t hug her in case she wakes so I look at her for like a minute and touch her foot. Then I close the door and head downstairs and check my bumbag and rucksack and zip them up and tie my fringe out of my face and breathe and unlatch the door and step outside.
My bike is against the wall.
I walk it out the gate careful not to clunk anything.
The gate is creaky and Annie Pomfret’s dog barks but he barks all night anyway and nobody pays him any attention. But I get out and check my zips again and there is no one up or down the street so I hop on and cycle out past the traffic light onto the bridge and there’s no one in the Arms this late and I get down to the canal path sure no one sees me.
Now it finally seems like it might really work and I am happy.
I have piles of food in my bag and drink too and they are heavy enough but not too heavy. I have three chicken wraps from Boots and a big bottle of Fanta and a six pack of Hula Hoops squashed down to let the air out and four Curly Wurlys and fifty-four quid in my bumbag which should be enough to get at least one takeaway a day for two days if I get starving but I probably won’t.
The plan is I am going to cycle to Liverpool get the ferry to Belfast then on to Drumahoe to Sinead’s house and leave all this crap behind. Sinead would not chuck me out I am her dead sister’s daughter and anyway I was born in Ireland I am like a citizen so if they want to take me back let them try. And I am taking the canals because nobody will look for me there. I got a book Traffic-Free Cycle Paths in the Northwest and could name all the rivers and villages I will pass through with my eyes closed. I left my phone so they can’t GPS me and if they see my bike is missing they will be, – She must be on the roads! which is bullshit because I will be on the canals. I have googled everything and deleted my history. By the time they have figured it out I will be halfway to Ireland.
The towpath is dark but I have Mum’s good light and it’s not raining. A clear clear night. Moths are buzzing around the bike light and the muddy path is dry. When I clear the trees and pass out of the village I am nearly laughing. I pick up steam and slow to go under the bridge and the moon is massive. Really bright and pretty reflected on the water. And I reckon that is why I do not see the man in the bushes until he is right on me and the bike crashes into him and I go spinning off the path and he grabs the bike and I am hanging on his arm. He is holding me by my bag and my bike is swinging over the canal.
– Please, he says.
And I let go and I am in the water and help bloody hell he is going to rape me and kill me. He is tall and bearded and stank but I am in the water and the bike is on me and my clothes are stuck to my bike. And I kick and swim but the canal is not that deep but I am scared. I scream and say, – We have a dog, and climb up to the rushes and run. My trainers are full of water and so are my jeans and I run until I am down in the fields near Cooper’s Ridge. The path is straight I have nowhere to go and I can hardly breathe and my throat is sore and I am getting an attack. But I do not hear him so I stop and hold my knees and try to listen past my breath.
He was mad hairy I do not know why he would hide in the bushes.
If he was trying to murder someone why would he be in the countryside? That would be stupid you are unlikely to find anyone to murder at this time of night.
I am still scared and out of breath and freezing but I can see him in the moonlight back where I crashed into him. He seems to be sitting down and I try the counting thing to slow my breathing. Suddenly I think maybe he is not a murderer but instead I have hurt him and I could end up in prison.
I am too young for prison. Obviously.
My bag came off in his hands.
I have no bike.
My breathing slows.
I don’t know what to do.
So I stand watching and he doesn’t move and I reach into my bumbag and take out the Swiss Army knife and wish I had taken a bigger knife the kitchen one but God I did not think I would be using it. I take out the biggest blade and slowly walk back up the towpath.
– Hey, I say.
– Hey you.
He is hunched on the canal bank squatting and I can see him and he is really wearing a blanket. I think he is just some homeless guy but homeless guys can be murderers too. The only light is moonlight but he has a beard mad hair and shiny eyes. Either he has opened my bag or it opened when he grabbed me but my food is all over the ground.
He is putting it back in.
I am still afraid but more angry now as that was my bloody food I bloody stole it. Why is he touching it and for that matter where is my bloody bike? In the water that’s where. So I start shouting like, – Give me back my bag! and, – I have a knife, and then more like, – I am going to bloody stab you if you move if you even move! And he drops the food in the bag and steps back into the bushes and bows his head. He says sorry over and over and his voice is deep and foreign and I grab for the bag and get it. Then I run past jabbing the knife about madly until I am on the village side of him and I reckon he could not catch me if I ran home.
And I will run but I am wet and I had a plan. Now I have no bike and I am scared but first I want to say something. So I turn and say, – What’s your name? What’s your bloody name?
He is squatted on the mud and looks up at me and says, – Jesus.
– Jesus? Jesus bloody Jesus like the Jesus Jesus?
– Well bloody Jesus Jesus you ruined my bike. You owe me a new bike you arse.
And he says, – Sorry sorry, but now I reckon my knife isn’t that big so I pull my bag tight and walk off and I don’t look back and I don’t run but when I get to the bridge I start crying but there is no one behind me. There is only one thing I can do which is go home and try this another day but with no bike I will not be able to take the canals. And I feel the world go out of control again and have to control my breath. So I do control it and walk back into Glasson shaking with cold and everything is still spinning when I hide my wet clothes in a bag at the bottom of my bed and change into pyjamas and lie back and wait and wait for sleep.
From The Gospel of Orla by Eoghan Walls. Used with permission of the publisher, Seven Stories Press. Copyright © 2023 by Eoghan Walls.