issue 37: july - august 2003 

  interview with Anne Donovan | author bio

Anne Donovan short story Anne Marie from Buddha Dachapter one from the novel Buddha Da
Anne Marie

Anne Donovan

MA DA'S A nutter. Radio rental. He'd dae anythin for a laugh so he wid; went doon the shops wi a perra knickers on his heid, tellt the wifie next door we'd won the lottery and were flittin tae Barbados, but that wis daft stuff compared tae whit he's went and done noo. He's turnt intae a Buddhist.
      At first Ma thought it wis another wanny his jokes.
      'Ah'm just gaun doon the Buddhist Centre for a couple hours, Liz, ah'1l no be lang.'
      'Aw aye, is there free bevvy there?'
      'Naw, hen, ah'm serious. Just thought ah'd go and have a wee meditate, try it oot, know?'
      Mammy turnt roond fae the washin up, and gied him wanny they looks, wanny they 'whit's he up tae noo?' looks ah'd seen a million times afore.
      'Jimmy, d'you think ma heid buttons up the back? Yer a heathen. The last time ye set fit in a chapel wis when yer daddy died. The time afore that was when ah'd tae drag you tae Anne Marie's First Communion. And you're tellin me you're gaun tae a Buddhist Centre on a Tuesday night, quiz night doon the Hielander? Tae meditate? Gie's a break.'
      When ma da gets embarrassed he looks like thon skinny wan in the Laurel and Hardy films and starts tae scratch his ear wi his left haund. That's when ah began tae think he could just be telllin the truth.
      'OK, ah know it's funny, ah probably should of tellt ye afore, but it's no the first time ah've been there. Know that job we've been daein in toon, thon shop? Well, ah wis gettin a coupla rolls for ma lunch when ah met wanny they Buddhist guys. We got talkin and ah went alang Wi him tae see the centre. It wis rainin, ah'd nothin better tae dae and ah thought it'd be a laugh, you know, folk in funny claes, chantin and that.'
      Ma wis staundin at the sink, soapy bubbles drippin aff her pink rubber gloves.
      'And it wisnae like that. They were dead nice, dead ordinary, gied me a cuppa tea, showed me the meditation room, and, ach, it wis the atmosphere, hen. Ah cannae explain it, but it wis just dead calm.'
      Ah'd never seen ma da lookin like that afore; there wis a kinda faraway look in his eye. Ah kept waitin for him tae come oot wi the punchline but he just stood there for a minute, lookin oot the windae.
      'Anyhow, ah know it's daft but ah just want tae gie it a try. They have these classes, embdy can go, so ….'
      'Oh, well, suit yersel. Just watch they don't brainwash you.'
      Ma da turnt roond and spotted me, sittin at the table, daein ma hamework – ah think he'd forgotten ah wis there. He winked at me.
      'Nae chance ae that, is there, wee yin?'
      'They'd need tae find a brain.'
      At first bein a Buddhist didnae seem tae make that much difference tae ma da. He used tae go doon the pub on a Tuesday and noo he went tae the Buddhist Centre tae meditate. Same difference. He never talked aboot it, wis still the same auld da, gaun tae his work, cairryin on in the hoose. He stuck a photie of the Buddha up on the unit in their bedroom and noo and again he'd go in there and shut the door insteid of watchin the telly –meditatin, he said. Ah thought he'd get fed up wi it. He wisnae a great wan for hobbies ma da, but sometimes he'd decide tae take on whit he cries 'a wee project'. Wanst it wis buildin a gairden shed, anither time it wis strippin an auld sideboard that came fae ma granny's. And of course he'd start it then get fed up and no finish. It drives ma ma roon the bend.
      'Jimmy, ah'm sick of lookin at they tools lyin in the hall. Are you no gonnae finish that?'
      'Steady on, hen, it's in progress.'
      'Whit does that mean?'
      'It means ah'm havin a wee break. Ah need tae get some varnish, that ither stuff wis the wrang shade. Ah'll finish it the morra. Nae sweat.'
      And two weeks later the tools hadnae moved fae the hall so ma ma takes a flakey and dumps aw his stuff.
      Ah thought this Buddhism would be like that. But efter a few weeks he wis still gaun tae the Centre and he'd startit meditatin in the hoose every night for aboot hauf an hour.
      Ah decided tae ask him aboot it.
      'Aye, hen.'
      'See this meditation, whit is it?'
      He pulled a face.
      'Ah'm no sure how tae stert. It's difficult tae explain.'
      'Aye, but, whit d'you dae?'
      'Well you sit doon quiet and you try tae empty yer mind, well no exactly empty, mair quiet it doon so aw the thoughts that go fleein aboot in yer heid kinda slow doon and don't annoy ye.
      'Ah'm no very sure masel, hen.'
      'D'you like daein it?'
      He smiled. 'Aye, hen, ah dae.'
      'Mibbe that's why.'
      'Mibbe you're right. That's dead profound. Mibbe you're a Buddhist and you don't know it.'
      'Ah don't think ah want tae be a Buddhist, Daddy.'
      'How no, hen?
      'If ah went tae meditate wi you ah'd miss Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.'
      It's hard tae remember when ah realised it was gettin serious. Maisty the time things went on as normal. It wis comm up fur the summer and this would be ma last term at primary; ah'd be gaun tae the big school, as ma granny kept cryin it, efter the holidays. So we'd tae visit the new school and prepare fur the school show, and since this'd be oor last yin, Mrs Shields wis pullin oot all the stops. Ma ma wis dead busy too, buyin the new uniform and that, and ma granny had no been that well, so wi wan thing and anither, ah never really thought that much aboot ma daddy and his Buddhism. He startit gaun tae the Centre mair often, right enough. Thursdays as well as Tuesdays and sometimes even on a Saturday when his team were playin away. Then wan day while we were daein the dishes he reached up high and sumpn fell oot his pocket.
      Ah lifted them fae the flair. Beads. Big broon beads strung on a thick rope. Like rosaries but much bigger and no divided up.
      Ah held them oot and he pit them back in his pocket.
      'Whit are they, Daddy?'
      He cairried on placin the dishes carefully on the shelf as he spoke. 'Prayer beads, hen.'
      'Kind of. Ah suppose they're the Buddhist version.'
      'Ah thought it wis just meditation you done. Ah didnae know you prayed as well.'
      'Sort of.'
      Ah wis well confused noo. He never came tae the chapel wi us, said he didnae believe in God.
      'Who d'you pray tae, Daddy?'
      'The only prayin he does is that his horse'll come in at fifty tae wan.' Mammy came intae the kitchen wi her coat on. ‘Ah'm just gaun roond tae yer granny's for an hour. See yous later.'
      'Aye, right, hen.'
      Ah wiped a bowl and haunded it tae ma daddy.
      'Who dae you pray tae?'
      There was a funny look on his face.
      'Look hen, this isnae easy, ah'm no really sure masel whit's happenin, ach…'
      'It's OK, Da, ah just wondered, that's aw. It's cool.'
      He smiled, his auld self again.
      'Hey, listen tae you, it's cool, man. Where d'you think ye are - New York?'
      Ah flicked the tea towel at him.
      'At least ah'm actually doon on the earth, no yogic flyin roond the sky.'
      Ah startit tae dae an aeroplane impression round the room, airms ootstretched, duckin and divin, 'Sheeom, sheeom, sheeom…'
      Da caught me and tickled me tae the grund.

Mammy and me had just got back fae the Co-op when the lamas arrived at the door. It caused a bitty a sensation, lamas in Maryhill. We've had some Hare Krishnas singin roond the streets wi their wee bells fae time tae time, and ye cannae go doon Byres Road on a Saturday wioot bein stopped by thon wifie in pink robes ootside the library that keeps on tellin you tae be happy, but these were lamas, the genuine Tibetan kind wi maroon robes and shaved heids. Three of them, staundin on the doorstep on a Saturday efternoon and the way the neighbours were lookin at these guys they might as well have been llamas wi humphy backs insteidy lamas. They seemed oblivious tae the commotion; ah suppose they're used tae it, or mibbe meditatin really does make ye laid back. They bowed and the middle wan spoke.
      'Hello. Does Jimmy McKenna live here?'
      He spoke dead clear but wi an accent ah'd no heard afore.
      'Ma da's no in the now.'
      The wee guy nodded and stood there smilin.
      'He'll no be lang. He's just up the road for a message.'
      They never moved.
      'We shall wait for him,' said the wee guy.
      'Do yous want tae come in and wait in the hoose?'
      'Thank you.'
      They followed me intae the livin room.
      'Have a seat,' ah said, pointin tae the couch. Mammy wis in the kitchen.
      'Ma, there's three lamas at the door for ma daddy. Ah've tellt them tae wait in the livin room.'
      'Lamas?' She near drapped the plate.
      'Aye, lamas, you know, like priests, only Buddhists.'
      'You know whit you've been tellt aboot talkin tae strangers.'
      'Aye, Ma, but you've always said ah've tae be hospitable, and they're pals of ma da.'
      'See thon man . . .' She looked oot the windae fur a minute then turnt back tae me. 'Go and ask them if they want some tea.'
      Ah went back tae the livin room where the three of them were sittin cross-legged on the flair wi their eyes shut. The main man opened his eyes and smiled.
      'Ma mammy says would yous like some tea?'
      'You are very kind. Thank you.'
      Just then ah heard the door openin.
      'In here, Da.'
      'Whit is it, hen? Oh …'
      When he saw the lamas sittin there, his face changed all of a sudden, it wis as if sumbdy'd switched on a light bulb in his heid. Then he got doon on his knees and bowed tae each lama in turn. Ah couldnae make oot exactly whit he wis sayin but it wis sumpn like Sammy Rinpoche, Hammy Rinpoche and Ally Rinpoche. Funny that. Wi names like Sammy, Hammy and Ally they could play for Scotland. Later ah found oot that Rinpoche means holy wan – it's a bit like callin a priest 'faither'.
      'Ah'll just make the tea, Da,' ah said, and slipped oot.
      When ah came back they were deep in conversation, and ma daddy hardly noticed ah wis there tae ah planted a tray doon on the table in fronty him.
      'Thanks, Anne Marie. Listen, hen, you'll never guess whit. They've found the new lama.'
      'Oh.' Ah hadnae a scooby whit he wis on aboot.
      'You know, the heid Rinpoche's successor, the wan they'll train up when he moves on.'
      'Oh, very good.'
      'In Carmunnock.'
      'Carmunnock, Jimmy?'
      Ma ma had appeared at the door, where she stood wi her airms foldit, and that voice, where she sounds like she's been tae elocution lessons, rang through the room. She disnae dae it very often but usually it has a magical effect on ma da. But the day he never even noticed the sarcasm.
      'Aye, hen, isn't it amazin?'
      'Amazin! It's flamin incredible.'
      Ma da kept gaun. 'They want me tae go wi them tae talk tae the faimly and help them break the news. Explain aboot the trainin programme and that, how they'll take him away when he's a wee bit aulder, teach him aw the chantin an prayers and that. Thought it might come better fae a Glaswegian, you know.'
      'Jimmy, you really are wired tae the moon.'
      Daddy just stood there, starin at her.
      'Look, ah've got nothin against you meditatin, and the lamas seem like very nice people.'
      She smiled at the three wee guys, who smiled hack. Then she turnt tae ma da and she wisnae smilin.
      'But if you think that ah'm gonnae sit by and watch you make a complete laughin stock of yersel in fronty strangers, you’ve got another think comin.'
      'But, hen.'
      'Jimmy, get a grip, for godsake. Whit on earth are these folk gonnae think when you turn up and tell them their wean's the new Dalai Lama? The best you can hope fur is that they call the polis, the worst is that you'll get yer heid kicked in.'
      'You don't unnerstaund . . . it's no the Dalai Lama, it's the lineage of…'
      'Ah unnnerstaund wan thing right enough, Jimmy – syou're no gaun wi them tae Carmunnock.'
      'But, hen …'
      She marched oot the room.
      Five seconds later she opened the door, grabbed me and dragged me intae the lobby.
      'Anne Marie, you go wi him.'
      'Don't let him oot yer sight.'
      'Do you think he's gonnae go tae Carmunnock?'
      'Of course he's gonnae go – when did he ever show any sense in his life?'
      'Could you no go wi him?'
      'Don't be daft - how can ah efter whit ah just said? But ah don't want him heidin aff by hissel wi they lamas. He'll get murdert.'
      So the next thing there ah wis in the back of the van sittin on a pile of auld blankets wi Hammy and Ally, cross-legged wi their prayer beads clickin away like knittin needles. Every time the van turnt a corner or hit a bump on the road the three of us shoogled thegither and they bowed in apology then giggled. Sammy sat in the front tryin tae navigate wi a streetmap of Glesga.
      You'd think by the number of roads that lead tae it, Carmunnock wis the Mecca of the west a Scotland. You can get there fae Castlemilk, Cathkin, Clarkston or Croftfoot. Or you can dae whit ma da done and drive roond and roond the Carmunnock bypass missin every turn.
      'Ya bastard! Oh, sorry, Rinpoche.'
      'OK, Jimmy. What about this - could this be it?'
      'Aw naw, Clarkston again. Whit is it wi these soothsiders, every bloody place has got tae stert wi a C – sorry, Rinpoche.'
      Between his map-readin and ma da's drivin it wis a miracle we got there, but then ah suppose if you're a lama a miracle isnae oot the ordinary. Though, frankly, ah don't think it was worth the effort. After aw they roads, signposts, and a bypass that took us an hour tae get roond, at the endy it, Carmunnock's this funny wee place wi aboot four streets. The hoose we were lookin for was in a cul-de-sac. It wis a hoose, no a flat, nothin very special aboot it, except that they had they net curtains, know the kind that cross ower and tie back? And they were pink, bright pink. Ah don't know why but somehow that made me feel better. Would folk that put up bright pink net curtains be the sort that would beat ma da tae a pulp?
      'Right, Rinpoche, this is it. Anne Marie, you stay in the van.'
      'Da, ah'm comin with yous. Ma ma said …'
      'Look, hen, it's for your ain safety. Just in the unlikely event of there bein any bother.'
      'I think she should come, Jimmy,' said Sammy. 'If the parents see that you are also a father, they will he more likely to listen to you.'
      Ma da nodded. 'Aye, see whit you mean, Lama. But just keep yer mooth shut, wee yin.'
      'Aye, Da.'
      A wumman opened the door.
      'We're here tae see the baby,' says ma da.
      'Oh, aye, come on in. She's sleepin the noo. Ah'm Sharon's mammy, she's just gone oot tae the shops, she'll be back soon. Sorry, son, ah don't think ah know you, you're . . . ?'
      'Jimmy McKenna.'
      She set aff doon the lobby wi us followin on behind. She paid nae heed tae the lamas, just kept chunterin on.
      'You'll be a pal of Tommy's, then? Ah'm lossin track of who everybody is. This place has been like Central Station all week, ah cannae believe the number of folk that have been tae see this wean. Ah'd forgotten whit it wis like when the first wan's born. Aw the lassies fae Sharon's work came roon yesterday - therteen of them there wis, you should of seen the presents they brung. That wean'll get spoilt rotten. At least tae the next wan comes alang. Sharon'll no know whit's hit her then. She thinks this is hard work. Wait tae she's had four or five – her man'll no even bother tae visit her.'
      She opened the door of the livin room and we trooped in. In the middle of the flair wis a Moses basket, draped in pink frilly covers.
      'Whit did they cry the wean?' says ma da.
      'Olivia,' says the wifie.
      'Olivia. At's nice.’
      'Aye, it's a nice enough name but ah don't know how they couldnae have cried her efter sumbdy in the faimly. Still, young yins nooadays, dae things their ain way.'
      'How auld?'
      'Wan week the day.'
      We all stared at the baby, well no at her exactly since you could only see a glimpse of skin between the frilly stuff and a wee white hat. Ah wondered when ma da was gonnae start his speil aboot the wean bein the new lama. He shuffled fae wan foot tae the ither, lookin at the lamas, who stood smilin at the wean in the cradle.
      Then she opened her eyes and looked at us. Ah've never seen a newborn baby afore and ah thought they couldnae focus, yet this wee yin looked straight at us as if she knew everythin, could see right through you.
      'Bright as a wee button, in't she?' says the granny.
      'That wean has been here afore,' ma da says solemnly.
      At this, the wee lama pipes up. 'Yes, he is the reincarnation of the twenty-ninth lama of the lineage of the Gyatso Luckche dynasty.'
      The wifie nods at him. 'Whit's he on?'
      'It's a bit complicated. You see, they're lamas, fae Tibet. And wee Olivia, has been picked by them tae . . . well, she's very special.'
      'You can say that again,' says the granny. 'She's a beautiful wean, right enough, good as gold. Never cries.’
      'His nature is like the bright sun. One of the signs,' says Ally.
      'But whit is it she's been picked for? Sharon wis gonnae enter her for that Evenin Times Beautiful Baby competition, but ah don't think the closin date's tae next week.'
      'Well, no, it's no exactly a beauty competition. It's mair . . . spiritual beauty.'
      'Spiritual beauty?' The wifie looked at the lamas, her eyes narrowin a bit.
      'His spirit is clear like running water,' says Hammy, and the others nodded.
      'Haud on a minute. Whit's gaun on here? Who are these guys?'
      'They're lamas, holy men.'
      'Are yous anythin tae dae wi the Mormons?'
      'Perhaps, Jimmy, you could explain the lineage of this beautiful boy whose eyes are like stars which will light the world.'
      Ah wis beginnin tae get fed up wi this stuff.
      'Perhaps, Da, you could explain tae the lamas that a wean in a cot wi pink frilly covers isnae a boy.'
      'Not a boy?'
      'Naw, Rinpoche, it's a wee lassie, Olivia . . . ah thought you . . . surely it disnae make any difference?'
      Ally shook his heid. 'I'm very sorry, Jimmy, but the baby we are looking for is a boy.' He turned tae the wifie and bowed. 'We are very sorry but this baby is not the one. Please accept our blessing.' He took his prayer beads and waved them above the wean's heid, mutterin some stuff ah couldnae unnerstaund, then the lamas turnt roond and heided towards the door. At this point Olivia decided she'd had enough and let oot a roar.
      'Haud on, whit d'yous think you're daein? You've made the wean greet, wavin they rosary beads in her face.'
      She turnt tae ma da. 'And as for you, ah don't know whit the hell you're up tae but it's no funny. Tommy'll kill you if he funds oot – he's a good Protestant, so he is.'
      'Let's get ooty here, Da.' Ah startit tae push him up the lobby. 'Sorry, Missus, he didnae mean any herm.'

* * * *

Ma da wis awfy quiet on the way back in the van. Ah thought the lamas would be dead disappointed that the wean wisnae the new lama but they never seemed that bothered, went on wi their prayin as though nothin had happened. Ah wis startin tae unnerstaund how ma da had been that taken wi the lamas; there wis sumpn aboot them, they were that cheery and smiley that you couldnae help likin them. But wan thing bothered me.
      'Rinpoche, can ah ask you sumpn?'
      Sammy paused in his prayin and turnt roond fae the fronty the van. 'Of course.'
      'Know how thon wean wisnae the new lama – is that because yous had been tellt it definitely wis a boy this time, or does it have tae be a boy?'
      'The lama is always male.'
      'Is that no a bit sexist?'
      'Shoosh, hen,' says ma da. 'It's different for them.'
      'How's it different?'
      'You don't unnerstaund.'
      'How am ah gonnae unnerstaund if ah don't ask?' Ah turnt back tae Sammy. 'Ah mean, yous went harin aff lookin for him in Carmunnock. Yous were dead certain aboot it, but the minute yous fund oot the wean's a lassie you're oot the door. Suppose Olivia is the new lama?'
      'Only a male child can be the successor to the lineage. It is our tradition.'
      'That's no a reason. That's whit they said aboot no lettin lassies on the fitba team at school but when Alison's ma wrote tae sumbdy on the cooncil they had tae let us play. And ah'll tell you sumpn, the team wins a sight mair often since there's lassies on it.'
      'Look hen, this is no the same thing. Just leave it the noo, eh?'
      'But, Da . . .'
      'Anne Marie, ah said leave it.'
      Ah wanted tae go on but ma daddy sounded mair weary than anythin so ah shut up. Anyway, there wisnae much point in arguin wi the lamas, they just kept smilin and clickin away at their prayer beads.
      But ah couldnae let it go in ma heid. Ah knew it wisnae right and ah think in his hert ma daddy knew as well and that was how he wis quiet. Thon time wi the fitba team, ma da wis right behind us. He wis the wan that taught me tae play in the first place. Ah decided tae talk tae him on his ain, later.

Anne Donovan 2003

This electronic version of  "Anne Marie" appears in The Barcelona Review with kind permission of the author and publisher. "Anne Marie" is chapter one from the novel Buddha Da , Canongate Books, Edinburgh, 2003. Book ordering available through amazon.comamazon.co.uk

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author bio

Anne DonovanAnne Donovan’s prize-winning short stories have been published in various anthologies and broadcast on BBC radio. Her collection Hieroglyphics and Other Stories came out in 2001. Her debut novel Buddha Da was published in 2003 and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize; both books published by Canongate Books Ltd. She lives in Glasgow.

see interview with Anne Donovan


 tbr 37           July - August 2003 

Short Fiction

Emily Carter:  WLUV
Anne Donovan: Anne Marie
Todd Shaddox:  The Hidden Art of Scatology
J. Michael Slama: Volatile

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