That's Not Funny
I knew a girl once, or rather did not know her. She entered my life, in a strange sort of way.
Let me explain before I confuse you further. I rarely, if ever, see the news on television, owing to my dislike of the machine. I also never read newspapers. My only sources of news are friends telling me of things happening in the outside world and the radio. I have gone for weeks without ever knowing what is going on before now. I missed the Kings Cross fire disaster in about '87 completely, and had to be told months later when someone said something about the inquest.
Anyway, returning to the point briefly, I was telling you about a girl. I would stress that not only do I not know her, but I don't know what she looks like, or what she would wear, or indeed anything about her other than three facts of varying importance. I shall tell you them in no particular order.
One, she is, or rather was, nineteen, and engaged to someone I believe was twenty-two. I am somewhat vague on that subject, I admit, but I believe that was how old he was. I don't know why, but from that statement I begin to build a picture. Accurate or not, it appears. She has long and straight blonde hair. I always describe the hair first, so it must be of importance to me. She was wearing jeans and a baggy T-shirt, possibly with the creature comforts "Easily turn off-and-onable" logo and a pleasant green tortoise. She wore a quite large silver watch, with a metal strap, which looked slightly too large for her very small wrist. Her shoes were blue and white trainers, very battered with small holes appearing around the back of the sole. The rest of her clothes were immaculate, but she felt strangely fond of her trainers and kept them despite her mother's pleas to change them. You may have noticed that I have not described her face at all. This is deliberate, and I must ask you to have patience with me, for I shall get to that in time, but her face was described by the third of the facts about her. The second, tragically, does not shed any light on her looks then, but is of extreme import to her looks now.
She is dead. She was shot in a night-club by a member of the IRA. For me the tragedy is that having read that you will not immediately have burst into tears. I did. I heard it on the news on Radio 1 in the car on my way home from work. Just another item in another news broadcast. It was important, of course: it was second that day, I believe. Just behind a politician explaining what was to be done about it all. Normally, as any normal person would, I would have said "How terrible" or "Shocking", and I would have been sad for a few moments, and then I would have filed it away and forgotten it. Had I been particularly caring I might have expressed despair regarding the violence in Northern Ireland, and might have taken up the theme in discussions with friends that night. But for some reason the news item struck me. I immediately imagined the girl, nineteen and engaged to be married, happily in love. He was shot dead at the same time. I do not have a clear picture of him, unfortunately. It would be nice to see them together. Although I realise that my picture is not of her, but merely imagined. She was, and always shall be, unknown to me. Have you ever stared down from a balcony at an airport and watched the people going past? There are hundreds, milling about. Try, sometime, watching just one of them for a few minutes, and try to work out what is going on in their life. Imagine them thinking as many and as varied thoughts as you do. Then look across and see another, and another, and try to imagine all of those people all thinking different thoughts at the same time. I always found that frightening. I never liked crowds after that. But the technique, if you can call it that, is useful, at least to me. Only by focusing in on one person can we hope to realise what things mean. I suppose the news is right to do so, although extrapolating to see the whole scene is nigh-on impossible. However, I stray from the point. The young girl is dead, and I wept for her. Not because I knew her, or understood her, or liked her, or mourned for her future husband, or mourned for her family, or felt despair, but because the opportunity of ever meeting her and seeing her and listening to her and telling her something about myself and hearing her talking about her life had been stolen from me. That potential of interacting with a fellow human being was no longer there. Her story was never completed. Like an opening chapter of a masterpiece. Perhaps it would have ended badly, but to stop it in its tracks is a crime beyond imagining.
However, I digress, and I should return to the matter in hand. The third thing that I know about her, which, as I have already said, showed me her face, is that when the terrorists pointed guns at her and said "Trick or treat?" she replied "That's not funny." I can see her saying it, even now. Her face was slightly plumper than you would expect for her slim body, and despite her blonde hair her eyebrows were very prominent. Her eyes were a mucky-brown colour, occasionally mistaken for green in poor light. She had a lipstick on which veered towards the purple end of red, and was slightly too colourful for her face, even though her face was glowing red after all her dancing during the evening. She tossed her head back slightly as things began to happen, and her hair fell behind her ears. She had a slightly coarse voice, and spoke like an elder sister scolding the younger. That was not deliberate, however; merely her instinctive reaction.
After she said this she was shot through the face. That scene I cannot imagine. I see her before, and I see her after she has fallen to the ground, a shape under a blanket kindly laid over her by the police. Her fiancé never sees her dead, for in my picture he dies from a bullet before his mourning can begin.
The only thing my picture leaves out, for me, is what she was thinking. As I have said, I often stare at people trying to fathom them out, trying to work out who they might be. She was different. Even though she is of my own imagination, she is impossible to 'read'. Did she understand what was really going on? Perhaps she assumed that the people were just pulling a bad prank? I don't want to believe that. It seems wrong to me. It's just such a stupid way to die. I don't know what else she could have been thinking, though. Maybe anger, or frustration. Or terror.
There are two things I do know for certain. The first is, for me, the saddest of the two, although I am unsure for whom. There was a time, about six years ago, when I had to ask my mother what the IRA actually wanted to achieve. It may seem remarkable, but somehow their purpose had never become clear in my mind.
The second is that no matter what is done the girl will always be dead. She will always have been killed, always shot through the face along with her fiancé. No matter what happens, no matter who governs, or what a constitution says, or how much petrol costs, that loss to the world is permanent. I shall never know her. No one I know shall ever know her, or speak to her, or hear of what she has done.