God bless our comings and goings our late priest Fr Brian said once, by way of a short prayer leaving our house. It is a wonderfully simple way of decribing the mundane, humdrum things we do going about our own business every day.
This part of the world has been much in the new of late following high profile court case of Hazel Stewart. That drama attracted the prurient interest of everyone – strangers; those who used to see her work-out in Fitness First; friends; former friends; the police fraternity. Even a certain clothes shop in Portstewart where she bought her expensive clothes. Before the dentist cashed in her chips that is. It had all the glamour of a television drama. Sex, lies, jealousy. And murder most foul.
Less widely reported was the murder in broad daylight of Marion Millican who worked in the local laundry in Portstewart. Marion was mortally wounded by a shotgun blast as she sat eating her lunch on a Friday afternoon over a week ago. She died in the laundry. In her place of work.
I heard the news that there had been a shooting as I prepared to collect my children from school. The nearby Prom was sealed off with yellow Police incident tape. It was an incongruous sight in our quiet seaside town of a Friday afternoon. An off-duty copy, father of my son’s friend, informed me what had happened. A shooting he said. In the laundry. A woman’s dead. The guy’s still at large. There’s a police armed response unit on the Prom looking for him.
What? I struggled to compute. The Laundry where I had been a hundred times dropping off and picking up kit. Which of the girls had been shot I asked out loud. I didn’t know their names but irrespective, they were always unfailingly friendly and helpful. No matter how tight our turnaround time, they would oblige.
The owner Sandra Moss would often drop our gear off if no-one had collected it. She knew we needed it for matches. Our new maroon and green kits, always carefully washed and folded. The colour never ran. No wrinkles. The trickiest grass and blood stains removed from shorts and shirts. The gear that was used in Croke Park; in winning Derry Championships; in triumphant Ulster Championships, in going back to Croke Park and this time winning. All washed in that same Laundry.
But who had been shot? The culprit was a former partner of the victim it was said round the town. People asked did I know the girl that had been shot. I’m sure I did I replied. When I saw her photo I said I would know for sure who it was.
And then there she was, on the Monday morning. A face to a name. She was a grandmother it said. She looked too young to have grandchildren. That made it worse. Of course I recognised her. The friendliest of them all. I never took the time to stop and ask her for her name in all the years of my comings and goings. Marion.
And now she was dead. Gunned down in the very place she worked. I thought of Marion looking in the back room for kits forgotten over the winter. Of telling her of successes on the pitch, and not knowing whether she was interested or not. Of course she was. She always smiled.
She and the other girls took pride in their work. Our gear always pristine and clean. Marion wouldn’t have been from the GAA side of the house. But nor did that matter. And they always talk about the women that wash the jerseys. . . Someone shot ours.
Anyhow there she was, a small, pleasant, smiling figure in the midst of my own comings and goings. She did a great job for us. She took great pride in what she did. Sandra told me she ran the place for her.
Yesterday Sean McLaughlin told me he had been speaking to Marion about our girls playing in Croke Park. He said she said to him I hope to God they win.
Yes Marion, we won and it was brilliant. I called in yesterday to see Sandra, and Pamela, the other girl that was there when it happened. To say I was sorry.
In all my comings and goings I won’t see Marion again. Her smile and her helpfulness. It took her death for me to know her name. That’s my loss. Anyhow, thank you Marion. For all the small things you did for us, in all our comings and goings.