Some days later Connie was looking at the Bandoleer. It now hung over the coat hanger on the back of her bedroom door. She was brushing her hair and thinking about all the history that was attached to it and what gaps to all the stories it would complete, if it could only talk. She lifted it down and sitting on the edge of the bed she rested it across her lap. Almost without thinking she began opening the pouches. For all that it was battered the leather had been oiled and well looked after. The studs popped open with no difficulty.
As one of the pouches opened a small folded note fell on the floor. Connie picked it up and read, ’This bandoleer belongs back in Belfast. P.D.’ The paper quite clearly was not very old and the hand writing looked fresh. Connie had a rush of excitement. P.D., she thought. Is this the answer to the question as to why the Bandoleer had suddenly appeared back in her home?
She had gone downstairs to find that no one was at home. It was Saturday afternoon and the rest of the family were out shopping or catching up with other things. She decided to read one of her new coursework textbooks that she had been putting off. Connie found she couldn’t concentrate on either the text or the diagrams. Instead she found herself trying to piece together something of this paper mystery. She was getting nowhere, and anyway she couldn’t wait to tell someone in the family about what she had found.
It was nearly four by the time her mum came through the door with two bags of shopping to see them through the rest of the weekend. She had barely put the bags on the table when Connie told her.
‘I’ve found a note in the Bandoleer.’
‘Yes. I think it must be from the person who sent it from America?’
Connie’s mum asked rather sharply,
‘What makes you think that?’
‘Well the paper and the writing look very fresh. Considering what Gran said, when the last time was, when she saw the Bandoleer a note from that time would, I think, look a lot older.’
‘What did the note say?’
Connie passed the note over. She stared at it for a while and then appeared to mouth the words ‘Paul?’
‘What did you say mum?’
‘Nothing, nothing,’ and shook her head.
She passed the note back rather brusquely and continued to busy herself with unpacking the shopping as if nothing else was happening. Connie stood there wondering if she should say something at which point her dad came through the front door calling out,
‘Anyone at home!’
‘In the kitchen dad.’
Connie caught her mother’s eye and could see an uneasy look flicker cross her face.
‘Guess what I found today?’
Her dad laughed.
‘A five pound note?’
‘No. But a note of a different sort written by the person who I think returned the Bandoleer.’
‘Let me see.’
He examined it and returned it to Connie.
‘I’ve never heard of a P.D. What about you Rosaleen? Strange that they didn’t write their full name, if, it was the person who sent it?’
‘Look could we just get the shopping out of the way and forget about this Bandoleer business. Everyone will be looking for something to eat very soon. OK.’
She lifted her hands as if to say forget it, life goes on.
As the rest of the family returned home, they were told about the note. The speculation increased to such an extent that Connie’s mum put an end to it all with a rather stern,
‘The Bandoleer brought nothing but heartache and misery to my father, your Grandfather, could we please now just drop the subject. It has got no further part to play in our lives. In fact I feel it belongs in a museum with all the other historical objects from the past.’
Connie did not reply initially, but after an awkward silence in the room, simply said,
‘It was part of our grandparents’ lives and I feel we should keep it in the family mum. Gran is right we cannot forget what has been part of our family history and for better or worse we should be proud of what they tried to do and what they tried to change in the past.’
Connie’s mum was about to reply when her dad stepped in and very gently chided everyone,
‘OK, let’s drop the subject for the moment. By the way, whose turn is it to do the dishes?’
As a chorus of denials went round the table Connie looked at her mother’s face and knew she had something to tell her, but wasn’t ready to talk about it just yet.
Connie wakened early the next morning and went to Mass with her mum. They hardly spoke on the way to church except to say ’Good morning’ to one or two of the neighbours. The only consolation about going to the early Mass was the fact that the priest rarely gave a long sermon. Probably the priests thought, that the early congregations were really committed to their religion and therefore didn’t require a lecture on how they should live their lives in the sight of God. As they approached the street to their house, both looking forward to a good breakfast after their fast, Connie’s mum simply said.
‘I know who P.D. is, but I thought he was dead. I’m not sure I even want to talk about this. It was such a long time ago. I’d like you for the moment to let things sit where they are, and I’ll tell you when the time is right.’
Connie always knew her mother was strong willed and could be immovable when her mind was made up. This softness in her voice was something Connie had not heard before.
‘Sure mum whenever you’re ready. Between you and Gran you certainly have the stories to tell. I‘m beginning to think my generation will never have the same colourful lives you all seemed to have lived.’
They linked arms and arrived home to the smell of bacon frying and a great pot of tea already made by her dad.
Weeks later Connie and some of her friends had gone dancing at the Astor Ballroom in the City Centre. The Miami Showband was playing, and the place was packed. As the evening was winding down plenty of offers were coming at the girls to be walked home. All the chancers who wouldn’t buy a girl a drink or make the effort of chatting up during the evening, now quite happily would take the short cut and hope to escort somebody home. As Connie was putting down another smart remark from someone, her brother Michael strolled up beside her.
‘Need some company on the way home?’
‘Michael! What are you doing here? Have you been here all night and not given me a dance?’
‘I know Paddy on the door, and he let me in about twenty minutes ago. You know me I’ll always turn up for the National Anthem. I don‘t think.’
‘Shush, somebody might hear you and then we’ll have a row on our hands. Anyway walk me home. By the looks of things my friends have got male company tonight and I wasn’t looking forward to going home on my own. C’mon big brother ‘Show me the way to go Home’ and, both laughing, they skipped their way along the streets of Belfast.
As quiet as they could be, they came in through the backdoor to the kitchen and found their mother sitting at the table sorting through some old clothes.
‘Sorry mum, did we keep you up. You know Michael and I can look after ourselves.’
‘I know you can. I was restless and couldn’t sleep. Kettle’s not long boiled if you’d like a cup of tea.’
‘Thanks mum. Sister you have the tea. I’m off to bed. I’m playing Gaelic football later this afternoon and my handsome frame needs all the rest it can get.’
Michael kissed his mother goodnight, slipped off his shoes and tiptoed up the stairs to bed. When Connie had made her tea she sat on the other side of the table from her.
‘It wasn’t that you were just restless, was it?’
‘No, it wasn’t. I wanted to talk to you.’