By Luca Serra
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A Friday stroll on Sauchiehall street is never just a stroll. Brunilda had got used to it. You might exchange a smile with perfect strangers, often locals, carrying amicable manners in their blood, well proud of the definition “Scotland’s friendliest city”, well proud of being one of those ‘People Make Glasgow” people. Then, a block away, you might witness the first puke of the weekend, vile fruit of a 2 pm football drinking session. 1.6 miles of buskers, beggars, reckless youths, hen parties, leaving parties, stag do’s, today’s neds and punks, tomorrow’s artists. It’s home of immigrants young and old, hipsters, rebels, people with no tribe, everyone belonging to a huge, infinite family: the Glaswegians. It’s a street of no structure, a street of pure, erratic life.
Brunilda often wondered what her role was on those 1.6 miles of walking stories. She watched and absorbed, taking in words, phrases and scenes to share with mum and grandma, one day, back in Brazil, home: the only place where she felt that unique, visceral sense of belonging. Brazil was everything she had been so far, her foundation and youth. Glasgow was the present, the moment, and although it was growing in her, it retained the shapes, lights and colours of an unfamiliar place. She didn’t see herself chatting away with a busker or consoling a kid who’s fallen of the bike: she felt like she’d be stepping on somebody else’s toes. As consequences of actions were unpredictable, she simply attended that daily march of pure, erratic life, rather than participated. She was a passive spectator.
When her phone rang, she was walking past Costa on Cambridge Street junction.
“Brunilda, hen, could you do me a favour?” Fiona said with the short breath of a mother holding a mobile phone with one hand, unfolding a buggy with the other. “Could you pop in to Tesco and grab some brown bread, butter and honey loops? I’ve run out and you know Dustin won’t touch anything else for breakfast, spoiled wee laddie! “
Their giggles overlapped from end to end of the phone.
“Sure, Fiona. No bother!”
No bother she thought to herself. It had come out with the spontaneity of her own language. Am I speaking Scottish-English? Then, she pictured herself walking into Tesco and inexplicably exploding into a million pieces of Brazilian flesh, hair and fabric. Pop in. She had guessed the meaning from context, like the evening English course had taught her, but before that phone call, she had only ever known pop as in pop music, pop-corn and popping: “to explode”. And the absurdity of that image made her hesitate, slowing down as people walked past in the echo of an accordion – a Scottish folk tune she had heard before but couldn’t name. She stood still for less than a split second, a missing frame in her walk, yet just enough to fall prey to the one she’d call – from now on – the “Sauchiehall religious guy”.
“What?” She turned and standing there, looming over her, a slender young man wearing round glasses, grey trousers and a short-sleeved white shirt. Next to him, a blue cardboard magazine holder displaying a series of brochures whose covers Brunilda couldn’t make out at first glance. On the side of the stand, the image of sun rays piercing through the clouds, casting light on a white church.
“Hi,” he reached out for a hand shake and repeated at a more human speed: “have you ever met a volunteer like me?”.
“I don’t think so…” Brunilda said in a high-pitched voice, stretching the vowels. Aaaaa don’t think sooooo… She reciprocated the handshake a bit reluctantly, leaning backwards, holding onto his hand and simultaneously escaping it.
“Cool… cool…” he said, relieved and a little surprised to have someone acknowledge him. “I am- I am a volunteer for the Church of the Seven Pilgrims, I am here to help people get closer to Jesus Christ. Do you consider yourself a religious person?”
There was something in his posture – his left foot touching the point of his right foot, his hand crossed and pushed against his chest, the awkward, constant glancing and smiling at seagulls gliding over the buildings – that served as enabler to Brunilda. The Sauchiehall religious guy seemed to have been catapulted onto the street and made to participate. He was now attempting – in fact trying his best – to make his contribution to the Friday city fair. A sense of company, common struggle, common akwardness, settled over her, creating the perfect place to open up. And she did, just like that, like when the teacher in school finally asks you the right question and it’s your opportunity to share that one solid conviction you’d been building for years.
“Well” she said, looking up at the clouds, gathering above the seagulls. “I don’t think I am a religious person, no, but I believe God is the Universe. Some people call it Buddha, some people call it Allah, Jesus, Vishnu, but they are all praying to the same supernatural power”.
The Sauchiehall religious guy was caught by surprise. He stepped a couple of inches backward and brought his hand to his chin as if to support his whole head, processing the unexpected reply. Puzzled, for a second, he bit his lower lip, looking both intrigued and a little regretful about Brunilda’s point of view. From the infinite Universe to Jesus Christ, to him it seemed a huge distance to cover.
“That’s actually really interesting” he nodded, now pulling the skin of his chin in a nervous reaction. “So who do you pray to?”.
“I don’t pray, no. I meditate and send love to the Universe. That’s what I believe in, and I think people praying to God or any God are meditating too, just in a different way. I mean we use different words, okay, but we are doing the same thing, which is…” hand on her temple, a shrug. “How to say this… getting closer to a higher power!”
A sudden feeling of hope gave the Sauchiehall religious guy a jolt, he almost shouted: “Totally! Toootally understand!” The distance shortened to his eyes. “That’s really true. Personally, when I pray I feel closer to something a lot bigger and powerful than me. So, do you think there’s something more after this life on Earth?”.
“Sure, I believe when we die we go back to the spirit world, where we belong. And this life is just transition, no? We are here to experience the body and learn as much as possible before going back. Okay, you now, what do you think?”.
Roles inverted. His face went white, then gradually pink as the blood started circulating again, pumping and gurgling in his brain capillaries. A terrifying dilemma darkened his afternoon shift: is this girl getting closer to Jesus or am I getting closer to the Universe?
“Oh, actually, our beliefs are very similar.” Way too similar, whispered a voice inside his head. “I also believe this life is a time for us to learn and make experiences. What brought you to that conclusion, if I can ask?”.
Gathering words, engrossed in her own thoughts, Brunilda saw herself from the outside, standing there, in the middle of the city: she felt that her words were a melody as pleasant as the accordion, as truthful as the old stories two friends were reminiscing over a Costa cappuccino at the outdoor tables, as valuable as the small talk of a local to a homeless person while handing him a bacon roll and a few quid. You can fool yourself by believing that being in a city is living it, but nothing makes you more attuned and integrated than communication.
“What brought me to that conclusion?” She ran her index finger on her nose profile. “Many things, but one biggie thing, is this: the fact that science can’t explain the origin of the Universe, do you agree? Okay, I am saying this, if we believe there was a big bang, what came before that? What started… no, sorry, triggered the big bang? There is always a missing link that science can’t explain. That’s why I believe everything started with a supernatural force, and all the strange experiences we have in life, like ghosts and dreams and many many more, that’s us trying to-trying to reconnect to the higher power. So, human connection and meditation and feeling energy here and there, makes me think we can do a lot of things, much much more than our body can, understand this? ”
The Sauchiehall religious guy tapped the side of his glasses, as if a simple touch would adjust their focus. He mumbled a cross between a yeah and a hum, with an I guess, in between. Nothing that really made sense, it was a string of undecided sounds. That girl with a Brazilian accent unintentionally cornered him, forcing him to a delicate internal debate squeezed into a split second of turbulent thoughts. Even he knew that God didn’t create the world in seven days. That was a ridiculous theory that he had been told to steer clear of if he wanted to get people closer to Jesus, let alone people on Sauchiehall street on a Friday afternoon. But how can I prove that his god triggered the big bang, why his and not anybody else’s? That’d imply the other religions were based on false beliefs and he had nothing concrete to back that up. Besides, what if Brunilda was right? What if they had all mistaken their own God for the Universe itself, creator of everything and everyone. You are your own guru, they say in New Age circles, what if the Universe created the Universe?
“Interesting, very-very-yeah” he stumbled, his index finger tip gathering sweat on his temple. “What-about-Jesus-what-about-him… who do you think he was?”.
Hands crossed on his stomach, right leg a little bent, he settled himself in a comfortable position, prepared to take advantage of her hesitation: eyes down, mouth ajar in indecision, index finger twirling the tip of her hair strand. The perfect moment to pull her in, persuade her to consider a different belief, something new, coincidentally something like the Church he belonged to. The Church of the Seven Pilgrims.
But Brunilda had another reasonable answer.
“I think Jesus was a healer, a psychic maybe? Someone who knew about the higher power and how important is to – to share love and caring and positivity. His prayers were meditations, his miracles were healing sessions maybe, and his stories were just stories to make you think about life. Of course, maybe somebody thought he was crazy, somebody thought he was illuminated – no, wait… enlightened. But in the end it doesn’t matter, was he crazy? That’s okay to me, what’s important is the message”.
“Right… right… I see your point” He couldn’t help but let out a nervous chuckle, skilfully masked as throat clearing sounds, hands on his mouth. Then, he tilted his head the other side, an abrupt neck jerk. “So you don’t think Jesus was sent by God to set a perfect example of life to follow?”
“You mean by the Universe?”
“Well, of course, I – I respect your opinion, but I think he was sent by God”
“Ok, but what about all the other healers of different religions?” she replied. “Were they sent by other Godies? Like Buddha or Allah had their own healers? It’s a bit strange to me. I think it’s simpler – the healers knew the power of the Universe, they could feel it, and they were here to unite us not to divide us, and we, the people, made a mess, and fought to decide who had the best Godie and who didn’t, you understand? Sorry – sorry” she broke into an embarrassed laugh. “Sometime I speak a lot and I don’t know in English if it’s clear!”
“Oh no, no worries” he reassured her.” Your English is amazing, very very good. Where are you from by the way?” He blushed, knowing that his mouth spoke with the sole intention of deviating from all the irrational thoughts now storming in his head. A subtle, yet sharp, nagging feeling crept inside him, leaving him dismayed. Had he believed in the Universe all along?
Brunilda shared where she was from – including basic information: weather, population, geographical features – and she went on for a while, but he didn’t even register. Immersed in his own confusion he nodded and smiled, more of a mechanical gesture than genuine interest.
“That’s fantastic” he said, not knowing what he was referring to. Then, his words came out as mere duty, the flat and dull tone of a sales assistant on his thousandth failed deal. “Right… so, would you like to know more about our Church?” His hand flopped on the magazine holder. He was now holding on to it. Beads of sweat gathering on his forehead, he seemed like he wanted to melt into the pavement and disappear.
“No, sorry” she shrugged with a smile. And she really did feel sorry. “I believe in the Universe and I am okay with that, also, so sorry, I have to go to Tesco now, for butter and other things.”
“Alright!” he crossed his hands over his chest and let out a painful laugh, leaning backwards. “I’ll let you get on with your day then, was a pleasure talking to you”.
They both raised a hand and walked opposite ways. As her pace picked up on Sauchiehall street, Brunilda was crossed by jolts of joy. She felt a little more part of the city. It was the magic of sharing the core of herself, opening up with others on opinions they might find a little bizarre. And she realised there was nothing better than talking about weird stuff with a stranger and feeling at ease. On her way to Tesco she didn’t turn back. And she missed the whole Sauchiehall religious guy struggle: he paced around his magazine holder, eyes down, head shaking, hands to his hips, fingers squeezing and sinking into the fabric of his shirt.
“They were here to unite us, not divide us, and we made a mess… we made a mess…” he murmured in a cracked, inconsolable voice. “The Church of the Seven Pilgrims… fuck’s sake… what am I doing with my life!?” He lifted the magazine holder up and tucked it underneath his shoulder, before walking away, not quite sure on what to do with it. A couple of brochures fell on the ground but he didn’t bother picking them up. On the corner of Buchanan Street you could still see his head shaking softly.
In Tesco, after shoving a loaf of brown bread, butter and honeyloops in a plastic bag, Brunilda handed a ten pound note to the girl behind the cashier.
“There you go, ten quid .”
She was on a roll, still in the mood.
“How’s your day being?” she asked.
“Brilliant!” the girl almost shouted. “Friday, intit ? Two more hours to go and I am aff for a bevvy. What are you up tae ?”.
“Ah-” Brunilda pressed her lips shut, eyes to the ceiling. “I don’t know! Doing things, have a cup, walk about”.