The guests are celebrities such as writers, comic book artists, politicians and journalists, so I’m not sure what I was doing there.
The Quebec International Book Fair. The venue is packed out. Away in the distance, I can just about see the famous writer (there’s no need to name names, he’s so well-known!) who was giving his talk. The acoustics are terrible and the sound bounces off the walls, finishing off all smashed up on the floor of my ears (which are already sore from this hubbub). Surprised, I ask one of the many listeners packed into the crowd:
- Are you getting anything of what he’s saying...?
- No, but he’s a great writer.
Okaaay... (I see what I’m up against...) Hmm! In any case, I’ve a rather strange meeting to go to in a café, so I head out.
Along the way, I talk to God (yes, that guy who seems to be talking to himself, that’s me!).
- Jesus, could you find some kind of way of getting me a meeting with this author? I really like how he writes and I’d like to tell him that... (Apparently God knows lots of VIPs!)
- Spare any change, sir?
The panhandler on the other side of the street meets my eyes, I can read him like a book:
- Here we go, I’ve got me a sucker!
And I realize that I’m going to be late for my meeting...
As the thousand star terrace café is booked out with clouds, I ask him if he’d like to join me for a meal (0 star restaurant).
In other words, I can’t leave him in the driving rain and I invite him to dinner in a fast food joint!
To the trials of his life we can add the travails of mastering the English language, add to this his thick country accent and I can hardly understand a word he says!! It’s a real hmm-alaya! (an unsurmountable mass of human miscommunication).
But I’m still fascinated...
He starts by spinning me his line (he must have done it so often that he no longer realizes that it doesn’t make sense).
- My parents are with the Lord, my family’s abandoned me, I’ve been in this situation ever since I hanged and drowned myself (at the same time?!).
Being listened to warms his heart far more than a meal or a few cents... (Usually people pay him so they don’t have to listen to him). He becomes anxious, he’s got no ready reply for this kind of scenario. After a short silence, he says:
- I... I’m completely alone.
He starts to cry.
What can I do for him? I’m thousands of miles away from home, from my little country and its mountains... I tell him the best place for him to go when in distress and despair - Jesus, my invisible friend.
- You’re no longer alone, God be with you. (‘cause I can’t stay, I have an appointment now)
An incredible church
I finally arrive at my meeting – held in a noisy pub. Believe it or not, but in the midst of this crowd, a church without a home meets – without fanfare, but without embarrassment either.
The congregation is like a gathering of old friends at a table, with their beer, reading the Bible, exchanging news and praying for one another (pretty original, hey?).
However, the focus is serious, not slurred. These ‘Bible and Beer’ meetings actually started with a certain C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien (yes, the celebrated writers!).
I have the feeling that this was the kind of meeting that Jesus experienced when He was on earth...
- Ok guys, it was great to get to know you, but I’ve another meeting with some of the other writers of the Book Festival somewhere or other... so bye!
The French consulate
The consulate’s reception room is magnificent: I’m not used to interiors boasting myriad stately gilt mouldings, attentive servants in dinner jackets and bow ties straight out of films the end of which I’ve never got round to seeing.
I notice a strange thing: their bodies bend double as if on a kind of invisible hinge, every time you talk to them! The guests are celebrities such as writers, comic book artists, politicians and journalists, so I’m not sure what I was doing there.
I feel out of place and I know absolutely nobody... (I begin to wish I read all the celebrity gossip!) Hmm… at least I can stuff myself with these exquisite canapés. I turn around and with my mfmouth pffull, begin to engage a pffleasant guy in slfightly superfficiffial conffversation…pwffhat! It’s the pfamous writer who I fpsaw through the crowds just pefore!!!
- Pfi really like your pfbooks!
Was all I had the time to say before, bam! A journalist fallen under his spell whips him from under my nose to pose him a question! (I send him on his way with a salvo of saliva!)
I know, I know, it’s you God, isn’t it! I see what you’re doing there... At the end of the day it’s THE great author who will write stories using our lives as ink, if we just offer him a blank page, changing our lost causes into happy endings.
He’s the master of the twist in the tale as well, transforming our attitudes, enabling me to realize that the best part of this evening was the time spent with a panhandler with a decidedly shaky grasp of the English language…