I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

New Dubliners


Literary Publishing




Dora has done some translation and interpreting before, but it has mostly been in quite an informal context and in the area that she feels rather comfortable in – music. But now they call her from one of the translation agencies that she has recently applied for work with, and they ask her to rush to the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street. They give her no more than half an hour to get there, but she accepts the job. She turned down one other offer earlier this morning, when it caught her in bed. She was still awfully drowsy and unable to gather her thoughts, but then she worried the agency might never call her again. And so she promised to herself that if they did call her, she would take the job no matter what. And they do now – forty minutes later – though they give her no information on the nature of the interpreting that she will be asked to do. She will get more details when she arrives at the hospital, they say.

She hails a taxi, as she does not even know where the hospital is. But on this particularly dark and rainy October morning a taxi would be necessary anyway. And while the driver skilfully manoeuvres their way through the dense rush-hour traffic on O’Connell Street, fighting against the hammer of rain attacking the windscreen, Dora wonders if she will be able to cope with what is about to be thrown at her – also in the literal sense, as she is rather on the sensitive side of things. If she sees a baby covered in blood and birth fluids, or if she slips on the placenta splashed out on the floor – let alone having to witness the cutting of the cord – she will most certainly faint. Hospitals have always made her cringe and sweat. Even the briefest glimpse of a syringe sends a terribly cold shiver down her spine. She therefore hopes no one will ask her to interpret while the client convulses with labour pain.

The nurse would go: “Push!”

Then Dora: “Nyomd!”

The patient would scream: “Nem tudom!!!”

And Dora: “I can’t!!!”

On O’Connell Bridge, she looks up  pregnancy  in Wikipedia to make sure she is familiar with at least the most basic terminology. Strangely enough, the agency had not checked her language skills before they gave her the job. They had only asked for papers proving her language proficiency.

On her arrival at the hospital, Dora is surprised by how claustrophobic the place feels – it looks like a big, old townhouse adapted for use as a hospital. In one of its dark and narrow corridors she is met by a young midwife who immediately takes her to a grey-haired, all-wrinkled social worker whose name Dora does not manage to catch, but who seems to be taken aback by how young Dora is. As a result, the small office the social worker resides in fills with an unpleasant air of mistrust.

But Dora tries to behave as if she knew what she was doing. She listens to the instructions very carefully: the social worker wants to talk to a young Hungarian woman who has just become a mother, but who – unusually – never receives any visitors or phone calls. Therefore, the old lady wants to check if everything is fine, if the new mother has someone who will be able to help her with her new responsibilities once she leaves the hospital, and, consequently, if the baby will be provided with adequate care.

The midwife then takes Dora to a big ward in which beds are arranged in two rows – one to the left of the ward, and one to the right. Each bed is hidden from the world behind colourful curtains. On the bed behind the second curtain to the left, in her stained blue pyjamas sits Barbara. She looks like any other woman in the hospital – shagged out and dishevelled, but also relieved.

When Dora explains to Barbara why she has come to visit her, Barbara – even though she has no English whatsoever – seems slightly embarrassed that a stranger needs to assist her. The midwife smiles pleasantly and leaves the Hungarian ladies for a minute or two to let the ice-breaking continue.

Barbara becomes noticeably worried when Dora tells her that the social worker wants to meet her, and it does not make her feel any better when Dora clarifies that the meeting has only been arranged to ensure that everything is fine with Barbara – nothing to be anxious about. The young mother, however, gives an impression of someone who would prefer to be left alone. She seems rather uneducated and lost – like someone who has never experienced anything like this before. And Barbara indeed has not. It is her first child.

But Dora is nervous too, so she has no difficulty empathising with Barbara. She tries to make Barbara feel at ease, at the same time hiding her own insecurities behind a reassuring smile. She asks how Barbara feels and how the baby is. But before Barbara is able to answer, the nurse comes back and asks them to follow her to the social worker’s office.

The social worker is now like a completely different person – all smiles and friendliness. She asks Barbara to take a seat in front of her, across the desk. Dora finds a spot beside Barbara – just behind her, slightly to her right. She tries to focus and remember all the rules of good interpreting: be invisible; note down the main points; talk calmly and clearly; translate only what is said – never add anything; do not get drawn into a conversation with any of the parties.

Barbara is asked, through Dora, if she feels fine, and – through Dora again – she confirms that she does. Then, the social worker asks where Barbara lives and who with. But Barbara cannot remember the exact address – she can only recall the postcode. She lives with her two sisters. Both sisters are married.

When Barbara is asked about the father of the child, she hangs her head down and becomes even more reluctant to answer the questions. She just says, quietly, that she does not know where the father is. In fact, she does not know who the father is, or so she claims. The social worker informs Barbara that the name of the father needs to be provided for the birth certificate, or else it will state  unknown. Barbara confirms that she does not know the name, which brings a lump to Dora’s throat, and which clearly upsets Barbara.

The social worker then asks Barbara if there is anything that the hospital staff could do for her, but the only thing Barbara wants is to know when she will be allowed to go home.

Before they leave the social worker’s office, the old lady once again enquires if Barbara is sure she will be OK. And when Barbara nods, she is allowed to go back to her bed. Dora is dismissed too. She feels relieved that her first interpreting job went so smoothly, but deep down she also feels great sadness, wondering what will happen with Barbara. After all, the poor girl is in a foreign country without the language, uneducated, forgotten by everyone, and now with a baby. Dora is glad to see that at least the hospital staff do their best to provide her with the care she needs.

Although it still rains, Dora decides to walk. She has an umbrella, and she needs some fresh air and some solitude. The streets are busy with cars splashing water on the early-lunch crowds who graciously leap over the multitude of puddles forming at their feet, and who swirl their colourful umbrellas as if performing in some bizarre dance show. But Dora walks unaffected by all the swarm and bustle, lost in her thoughts and looking up at the massive, dripping wet and still juicy green trees which branch out over the fence of Merrion Square Park. She breaths in the warm, early-autumn air and meditates on how the aura that surrounds her is now a perfect reflection of her feelings…