There’s an old joke I tell about Brian when we get talking about fitba, and it’s Wilma was a better player than him. What I don’t tell anybody was that she once gave me a dunt and doing for being cheeky. A few of us were playing near the Gilmore’s that day. We rolled about for a bit, on the slope of grass, near the wall on Shakespeare Avenue. I let her win, of course, because I didn’t hit girls. She wasn’t a better player than me. But I did let her win at kerbie.
Wilma wasn’t really my pal and she wasn’t family. But she was part of our common tribe of the Henrys and Summervilles and Hillhouses and Murdochs and Kerrs and McIvers and Shirleys and McGinleys and Og (singular, because there’s really only one Og). We spoke the same language. We came from the same place. Separate, but not apart. You wouldn’t get that awkward bump you’d get meeting new people. Wilma remembered me when I had hair and I remember her with a middle parting, which all girls favoured in those days with flicky wings of hair at the side.
I wasn’t just another baldy guy talking shite when she worked behind the bar at Stewart Street. Well, I was, but she knew who I was. Time unravels quicker when you get older. But there was a time when we thought anybody over thirty was well past it. We remembered it well.
She’d been at the same disco in St Stephen’s, I’d went to. Ten pence in –thirty pence and you were wealthy— and it was like walking into a tar pit and you only recognised each other by your teeth. When 10cc came on, I’m Not in Love, you’d scarper, boys on one side, girls on the other. Wilma might even have seen me there, but I wasn’t for dancing.
In later years, when we assumed we’d live forever, we’d bump into each other occasionally in places like the Oasis. Your tribe is not your family. We don’t take on their grief. Life isn’t fair. But when one of your tribe dies, and now Wilma is dead, a little of you dies with her. It’s not just a reminder of mortality, but who we were and are. When Brian’s son Daniel, who I hear is quite a good wee fitba player, ask him one of life’s awkward questions, ‘Who was the best player in the family?’ He’s got to answer honestly, I was better than Marie, but I wasn’t as good as Wilma. And that’s true in so many different ways. RIP.