I am early getting into Lurgan, and have to wait at the gates as the clunking commuter trains bound for Belfast and Portadown traverse the road. Driving past the high metal-clad walls of the Police Station, I turn down Church Walk and into the free car park. There is a small encampment of travellers on the far side of the asphalt rectangle, on the flat ground at the bottom. The site consists of three caravans in a line; none of them are exhibiting any signs of life yet. Their washing is slung out on lines that stretch from the caravans to the metal posts of the wire-mesh fence. The gleaming white sheets are stiff with frost, hanging heavily like sailcloth in the light breeze. It is bitterly cold; there is no way the washing is going to thaw out today, despite the thin February sunlight that makes the sheets dimly sparkle.
The easiest way to get to Market Street from the Church Walk car park is to walk up the slope and through the narrow tunnel between the shops. This part of the journey is unpleasant; the tunnel is piss-stained, reeking, and littered with fag ends, beer tins, an empty Buckfast bottle. Broken glass crunches and grinds underfoot, sticks into the soles of your shoes. As you come out into the sunlight again, kicking the shards away, the cloying smell of cooking oil from a multitude of fast food shops fills the air. It isn’t yet 9 a.m.
While I wait outside the door to be let in to work, around me a mob of uniformed schoolkids laugh, spit, jostle, smoke semi-secret fags, pass loud remarks, gaze blearily at mobile phones, and look glum, rubbing frozen ungloved hands as they wait for the bus. I am looking forward to a cup of hot sweet tea and a bit of banter with the staff. Work goes in quickly and soon it is lunchtime. The girls question me as to which chippy I will visit today, sparking a debate on the merits of Julie’s Kitchen vs Cafolla’s. I learn that Boss Hogg’s is doing a special offer, but I am foregoing the decadent delights of a curry chip; I must get to the supermarket to do some essential shopping, and I will buy lunch there.
In Tesco’s I wander through the aisles, list-less and hungry, resisting the impulse to buy easy stuff, junk. In one of the aisles a bulging, fat, ugly girl is giving out to her red-haired three year-old son. She is wearing a black v-necked top, flaunting a pasty-looking cleavage with a blue-black tattoo just above her left tit. She slaps the hand of the boy several times for no obvious reason; he starts to squeal, gets another slap and some harsh words for his trouble. I pay for my groceries by card at the self-checkout, take a bag in each hand, and head off back towards Market Street. Just past Fa’ Joe’s Bar I see a man walking steadily towards me on the frost-rimed footpath. He has an almost-shaved head and is wearing shades. His arms and legs are muscular, and his cut-off t-shirt and shorts are obviously deployed to show off this hard-earned physique. He is eating an ice-cream, no flake. I am in awe: the chill has already gone through my woollen overcoat and is going to penetrate to my bones before I get back inside.
He pays no heed to us pedestrians; the disdainful sneer curling up one corner of his mouth dismisses all who appear in his path. I wonder what his purpose is, here in the centre of the town; what kind of superhuman he is. Will he finish his poke, levitate briefly, then speed off faster than sound to avert some far-off disaster?
No. Come nightfall a door will be kicked in; there will be violence, extortion, street justice. Someone’s fingers are going to crack.