Harriet makes her way fearfully through the throng of people in the bar. Her instructions are playing over in her mind as she edges towards the counter. Make eye-contact. Show your money.
In her heart she knows the task is impossible. This basic transaction, like society in general, is the preserve of normal people. Up to now, someone else has ordered her drinks.
Eye-contact is difficult for Harriet even in well-structured one-to-one situations, like her weekly meeting with her psychologist in the privacy of a small room. But in a crowded pub! The barman's eyes are darting all over the place. There are eyes everywhere, intent, demanding, competitive.
The barman looks at her for a split second, then turns away. Harriet thinks that he didn't really look at her; it was just an accident. The whole business is impossible.
She is about to give up and return to her seat, when she remembers her psychologist’s other instruction: 'Show your money.' Harriet searches in her coat pocket and takes out a five pound note. She holds it up and faces the barman again. He nods vaguely towards her. Or was it towards the man beside her? For what seems forever, he finishes pulling the pint he has in hand. Harriet keeps looking in his direction. The raised fiver is shaking like a leaf. The barman comes over to her.
'A glass of orange, please.'
Harriet perseveres in the complicated procedure. There's a heart-stopping moment when the barman is distracted from her orange by a huge red-faced customer bellowing for two pints of beer and two vodkas with lime. But at last she returns, elated, to her seat. She has even remembered to wait for her change.
She still doesn't understand why this has happened; she only knows that it has. She has pressed a button and the world has swung towards her. A secret door has opened.
Originally broadcast on 'Sunday Reflections', RTE Lyric FM
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