Somewhere near Dun Laoghaire, in a house much too big for him, Ben wakes up. Another perfect day. He gets up from his four poster bed and goes downstairs. The kitchen is immaculate, shining. In one cupboard there is a mountain of bowls, next to delicate glasses too fine for use. With exaggerated care he takes one. The cereals in plastic containers, labelled neatly. He fills eats a bowlful, dry. It takes longer to finish and secretly he enjoys it. Breakfast done he washes his own bowl. A little act of defiance. After he leaves the staff emerge and clean it again anyway.

The Dart into town is crowded yet silent. Surrounded, Ben is alone. His eyes stray occasionally from the window. They meet briefly with a woman’s and quickly dart away. Cheeks blush with embarrassment. People should reach out to each other, he says to himself. Sometimes all it takes is saying hello. He looks up Sangria and imagines his own motivational poster. His eyes fall upon a commuter. The man is bedraggled, in a creased suit with his hair fading away. He turns and locks eyes with Ben. They look away at the same time. Their thoughts return to daydreams worlds apart.

Ben sits by the canal waiting, a brown paper bag at his side. He’s in Wilton Park or Herbert Terrace or somewhere in between. Swans pass, dipping their beaks. Business people pass, wetting their whistles. Ben doesn’t have to do either. What do you do when you don’t have to do anything? How useless can you be? Ben avoids the accusation. He distracts himself with the people passing by. Suddenly there he is, the bedraggled man with thinning hair. His shoes are flecked with mud. His pockets bulge and clack. He looks different though. He looks happier, chin up, up till it stabs the sky. He’s going so close to the water’s edge. Sometimes all it takes.
“Hello.”
The creased man jerks backward, his head twitches like a pigeon’s, looking for that word. Ben gives him a little wave “How are you today?”
The man looks down at himself as if for the first time. His mouth opens and shuts. He gulps, coming up from some private ocean and tasting the air anew.
“I’m ok, thanks. How are you?”
Ben plucks a bottle from the paper bag “Want some Sangria?”

It’s the afternoon when Ben gets to the clinic. It’s not fancy like the hospital where he usually goes. The prefab is streaked with rust outside. Inside it’s as dingy as they come.
Nobody cares about you, thinks Ben. But then you can’t afford to care about everyone.
He perches on a rickety plastic chair in a circle with people who couldn’t be more different. He listens to them talk about being surrounded but alone. Eventually the group leader turns to him expectantly. He’s not sure what she wants him to say. He’s not sure why she even asked him here. How can he help with money problems and distant wives and lives that crush the life out of you.
“My name is Benjamin Kingsington-Bowen. There’s a room in Dundrum with my name on it. It’s the softest room you’ll ever know. Sometimes I want to go inside and lock the door so the world can’t come in. Sometimes I do. Life is meaningless. And that’s terrible. And that’s beautiful because it means we have to make it meaningful. And silence is worth as much as sound. And the people we love are worth as much as the world. So laugh and cry and dance because you deserve to, because you’re human. Say hello.”
There’s a little silence. After that they have a little singsong. Then they leave, forgetting what Ben said. Sometimes all you can do is say hello.

It’s the end of the day and the beginning of the night. Ben sits in 37 Dawson Street. He sits in the back where the cushions are so big you can lie out on them. He’s not sure if the table he’s at is reserved. Everytime the serving staff come by he gets up, apologetic. He wonders if he’s useless and everything he does is meaningless. He’s forgotten his own words because that’s all they really were, words. You can’t change anything with words.
“Hello, joxer!”
Xac launches himself into the cushions, earrings rattling “Why the long face?”
Hot on Xac’s tail is Aine, as sour faced as a cat at a dog show. Felicity’s leading Morgan by the hand, showing him off like a prize dog. And behind them all, Sable. Bright, irrepressible. She wears a dress from the seventies with a hairdo that doesn’t match. She casts on him a cold eye “Must you wear the same clothes everyday?”
Ben doesn’t smile exactly but he breathes, tasting the air anew.

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