brother, where art thou from?

Everywhere – if I go downtown – I am referred to as ‘brother’.  I am tempted to use it in response – if you call me brother I’ll call you the same.

I’ve been to the shopping area near the house to take lunch with a friend.  Our usual place was closed because, of course, it was Friday prayers and nearly all the shops were closed as people went to the Mosques nearby.  We walked away past other shops and saw that one place had the shutter half down and staff still in the kitchen.  We went through the shutter and were served (lamb on the bone, roast chicken, rice with vegetables, soup – all for 2 costing £9.00 – delicious). As we were served the men closed the shutter and we were closed inside – so – we assume – the faithful praying on the street opposite – would not see us eating.

J and N are both around the area at the moment – unusual aspects of street life for a middle aged middle class man to know.  That’s another story though.

I was downtown and taking my daughter E to an art class.  I had an hour to use so I went to a café I like where I was writing.  A man appeared in the café and stared at me, he was dressed in worn clothing and had a look in his eye that warned me he was after something from me.  A little later he sat next to me and said ‘alright brother?’.  I looked at him resigned to some exchange I didn’t want.  As I looked at him he said ‘shelter’ and I realised it was N, I knew him from a local shelter where he had slept some months earlier.  We shook hands and spoke of his life since then and his plans.  He did ask me to buy a Tesco voucher which I refused.

Leaving the café I collect E and head to the car past a busy bar frequented by a youth from a local community.  One of their number separated from the others and made towards me, I ignored him assuming either he was headed elsewhere or prepared to be offered some narcotic.  He came close and said ‘Hi’, I look around and it was J, again from the shelter.  We shake hands and exchange news and we carry on our lives.

It is comforting to have these exchanges with two people who are amongst the more complex of the public figures of downtown.  Gives me the sense of being at home, of security, of knowing where I am.

It is a dream I admit.

My friend CB told me of a plot of land behind the church where his mother worships.  It has been bought, or it was to have been bought by a Muslim businessman – “for a Mosque”. Was that a rumour or a fact I asked?  A rumour but what else could it be.  CB said that he couldn’t understand why the Church didn’t use the money it had to buy the land and get something else going there.

Why is there such a fear of the Mosque – is it a battle for territory or for souls?  Two proselytising religions finding it difficult to co-habit?

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