NO IRISH NEED APPLY
The notice above the door seemed to spit the same four words into my face for the twentieth time that day. A flea-ridden mongrel stood in the entrance, eating a bowl of scraps. My stomach growled and as the filthy animal turned its back on me, I hobbled across the yard again.
Wheezing with every step I took, I stumbled under a nearby tree in a sheltered area. There, every part of my innermost being cried out.
Father, have mercy! Please let me die in this very place.
This was the first time I had contemplated giving up. Until now, I had fought for survival. I had battled against the starvation back home, in the hope that more corn supplies would arrive. But no more had been sent. I had wrestled with the stench of death aboard the ‘coffin ship’ in the hope of reaching America, where an agent was to greet me with a five dollar note. But no smiling face had welcomed me, and certainly no money had exchanged hands. And now here I was, slumped against a tree, struggling for a breath, quickly losing the will to live.
Hope - What good had it done?
Mary had been the lucky one. I remembered holding her thin hand as she took her last breath, the ship rocking back and forth, struggling against the rebellious waves, and Mary wrestling the pull of her future with me, against the grip of death. Yet her last words to me were ones of hope.
“Keep going, Sean. Keep looking up.”
Keep looking up. Mary’s faith had always amazed me. I gazed at the sky above me, between the bare branches, but it seemed empty, devoid of sunshine or clouds.
God, where are you? Why must I live with this pain?
It was at this stage that I realised I was going to live. My wheezing had subsided, so I now considered the next step. I could either trudge back to the damp cellar I couldn’t afford, and listen to my drunken room-mate crying, or continue counting the notices along the workshop doors as I searched for a job. Both options looked ominous, yet for some reason, I decided to take Mary’s advice. I kept looking up.
It was when looking up, that I spotted Houston’s farm. The smoke rising from the chimney of the small house on the hill-top caught my eye first. There was something about the cottage that reminded me of home. And so, I decided to climb the hill, hoping that the long trek wouldn’t just be another foolish venture.
Despite my tired aching feet, I actually enjoyed that journey. Horses galloped across fields which seemed to stretch for miles, and wild flowers popped their little heads up from behind the green grass. It was as though someone was trying to remind me that beauty still existed - somewhere against a background of degradation and suffering.
I made my way across the cobbled yard intrepidly. I used the knocker on the wooden front door, then took two steps back, ready to be chased.
I knew that there was something different about Mr. Houston, who eventually answered the door. His presence didn’t intimidate me, and he showed no outward signs of disapproval or mockery.
“Come on in.” He ushered me in before an open fire. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
“No, sir.” I spoke quietly, aware of my accent. “Perhaps you were expecting someone else.”
“Believe me - You’re just what I was looking for.” He continued to beckon me in. “Now take a seat.”
I did as I was ordered, brushing my ragged coat down before I sat on the plush seat.
“I’ve been praying hard since my last farmhand left, that the right person would be sent.” Mr. Houston began. “Ever since my wife died, I’ve been struggling to keep up. And with Adam gone now, it’s been impossible. But the good Lord promised to provide, and it looks like He just has. Now let me warn you first - It’ll be hard, gruelling work, young man, but if you do a fine job, there’ll be shelter in the stable, and good food too.”
“Whatever it takes, Sir. I wish to work hard to repay you for your kindness.”
And that was how everything began to look up. Such little faith and hope had taken me on a long journey, until I had reached the ultimate expression of love and mercy.
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