Once upon a time, in the country where I grew up, a soldier of a foreign army tried to intimidate a girl in a car by staring at her down the barrel of his semi-automatic rifle as they were stopped at traffic lights. There was no reason for him to do this, except to be obviously threatening. The girl held the soldier’s stare – she was determined not to show fear – for what seemed like a day and a night until the jeep in which he was travelling turned off up another street.
That girl was me.
I never told anyone about this until many years later. Anything could have happened, people exclaimed in righteous anger. What if the jeep had jolted and the rifle had gone off? They had so many questions and I had no answers. What if, I suggested, he’d just wanted to fire his gun, maybe shoot someone? No, they said, no way. If you think that would never, could never happen, you should ask Majella, she knows all about it.
Majella was another girl, just an ordinary girl like me, from the same land where evil reigned. We did not know one another and we could never have known one another, for many reasons, but the truth is time and space separated us. I don’t know what it was but something tied me to Majella and tied me forever, because years later I’m still thinking of her.
Take a walk with me, Majella, down the country road to the church. It’s Sunday, it’s hot and there are glorious white blue August skies. The countryside is dreaming in peaceful greens and blues and yellows. The pollen is high, the air heavy with wheat. Look, watch the heat shimmer on the road ahead, beckoning, leading the dance.
Majella’s in the middle, she leans back a little to wave to her father who’s working in the churchyard. He waves back at us and we start humming, what’s the name of that song that’s Number One? None of us can remember, but Majella sings it anyway and we laugh cause she’s out of tune.
Light travels at high velocity; in half a heartbeat it hits Majella hard in the back and blooms out her front, rose red. While the two bullets are already mushrooming inside her, the sound splits the air around us in half. Majella’s father hurdles the fence and cradles her, there on the blistering tarmac. The summer air shrouds us in oppression.
Bleeding, dying, the blood runs out of her Sunday dress and the birds stop singing. She is 12 years old.
It could have been me, Majella, but instead it was you.
Majella O’Hare was shot and killed by a British paratrooper in Co.Armagh, Northern Ireland in August 1976. The soldier claimed he had seen an IRA sniper but witnesses told a different story. At his trial, Majella’s mother asked him why he had shot her daughter and he just shrugged. He was found not guilty by a judge who always ruled in the Army’s favor. The judge was subsequently murdered by the IRA. The O’Hare family received an apology from the British Government in 2011 in which they amended the paratrooper’s testimony saying his version of events was “unlikely”.
‘No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…’ Sir Terry Pratchett