|chapter one from the novel Buddha Da
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
'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
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.
'See this meditation, whit is it?'
He pulled a face.
'Ah'm no sure how tae stert. It's difficult tae
'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.'
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
'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
They never moved.
'We shall wait for him,' said the wee guy.
'Do yous want tae come in and wait in the hoose?'
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
'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
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
'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.'
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, youve got another
'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.'
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
'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.'
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 . . . ?'
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.'
'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
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,'
'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
'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
'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.