On the train heading for Glasgow I raised a subject I’d read about the day before. “Is your church-going a substitute for Christianity?” My wife looked puzzled so I explained. “It’s about folk who claim to be Christian because they go to church every Sunday but don’t actually lead very Christian lives the other six days of the week.”
Well, we tossed the idea about for a few minutes then the train reached the terminus. Once in Central Station we made our way through the masses of travellers towards the exit. The last thing I expected was to have my question put to the test almost immediately.
My wife tugged at my sleeve.
“Look.” She pointed to a bank of pay phones against the far wall where a hunched, elderly lady was checking every change return slot. Looking at her many layers of ragged clothing and shoes held together with tape my wife commented,
“She’s probably wearing everything she owns. And what she isn’t wearing is probably in the plastic bag she’s carrying.”
I turned against the tide of people and stood for a moment, watching her. Having found no forgotten change this woman, who had to be in her seventies, headed for the newsagent’s shop.
She was so small I doubt the sales assistant ever saw her amongst the genuine customers. She picked up a magazine of two and “accidentally” shook out the advertising leaflets and free TV guides. She picked these up off the floor and tucked them into one of her many cardigans. I could only guess they might be insulation to help her through a cold night.
By now I was feeling like something of a voyeur. It was time to move on. I had seen poor people before. On the streets of Glasgow that night I would probably walk past a dozen professional beggars. But I couldn’t walk away.
Once again the woman made her way, all but unnoticed, through the crowd. Her next stop was the photo booth, where she pressed the coin return button a few times.
When she came out I was standing in front of her. Now, I’m a fairly big man so I don’t blame her for being startled when I said, “Find anything?” But there was something more in her expression. She didn’t seem to think I was police, or security, or railway staff, she just seemed totally confused by the fact that someone was paying attention to her.
“Here.” I held out some money.
She smiled, tried for a few seconds to speak but she seemed to have forgotten how. Then she mouthed the words, “Thank you.”
Stunned and scared I stepped back into the crowd. By the time I reached my wife again my tears were flowing freely.
Minutes before I had been questioning other folk’s Christianity. Now I had been tested. If Jesus had been in that old lady I might not have recognised him. Si, instead, he sent a messenger, someone I certainly would recognise. In that deeply lined face and those watery blue eyes I had seen my own dearly loved, long departed Granny.
In another life when I still had a child’s innocence I had fixed her fence, brought coal for her fire, anything to see Granny smile. And in that face I had seen proof that, decades after her death, by caring for someone else, I had made her happy again.
We were on our way to the theatre, to see Jesus Christ Superstar, but I confess I only saw about half of it the rest was blurred by tears of happiness.
This story was written by David McLaughlan.