Picturing Patti Smith

1.

He never thought a photograph could be art.

You tell the policeman that when he asks why you did it, but he doesn’t write it down.

‘Anything else?’

He’s shaking his foot against the table. You watch the water in his drinking glass ripple in agreement with the disturbance.

You clear your throat.

‘As far as I’m concerned, being any gender is a drag,’ you say, in your best affected accent.

‘What?’

His question is a dare. You lean in and steady the table. He stops shaking his foot and furrows a brow at you, heavy with slick, grey hairs.

‘Patti Smith said that,’ you say. ‘And I agree.’

You lean back, hoping you have risen to his challenge.

Authority is his, no matter what Patti says.

 

2.

He never thought a photograph could be art.

‘It’s just pointing and clicking,’ he says, sitting too close to you now.

You study the lines on your father’s face: tokens purchased with sleepless nights and easy lager. The way his lip curls when he’s begging you to take the bait. The way his face reminds you of your own when it’s stubborn and shining.

He hands you a pile of prints. You see these moments as though they have been carved in marble, filled with paperwhite smiles.

You used to sacrifice your smile to that camera as though it were a God.

‘I took most of these ones didn’t I?’ he’s saying, rubbing the corner of his eye with a flaking thumb. You do that when you’re drunk, too. ‘Reckon I’m an artist like you, Hannah Banana?’

You want to tell him that he could be if he wanted to, but you don’t. Instead, you take the bundle and push the corners together, straightening the pile in your hands. Your thumb brushes over a picture of him, years younger and shades lighter. He winces.

‘Don’t get your grubby fingers on them! These are the only copies I’ve got!’

You cough an apology and straighten up, taking care to only touch the edges from now on. Your fingers dance around corners.

You tell him that you like them, but he knows that you don’t. He never let you hold the camera when you were young.

Someone on the television show you were half-watching screams. He doesn’t seem to hear it. Sometimes you wonder if he’s just staring at the box, which burns on into the night, never taking in a thing.

‘Some good times there girl,’ he says, shifting closer to you. His leg is still too close to yours. His breath is sour and hot. ‘Some good times we’ve had.’

There’s the two of you in Spain. You, spinning wildly in the pool; him, reading John Grisham beside it. Who captured this blurry memory you wonder, if not the two of you?

There you are in Spain again – a different part of Spain of course – and you’re grinning with a cocktail umbrella behind your ear. What were you then – eleven? Twelve?

There are no pictures of this house, you notice. There are no pictures of your mother from back then. No. He only takes pictures far away from home, where with enough cheap cerveza, he could be happy to have a daughter like you.

There’s the two of you in Majorca.

Maybe you were fifteen?

Maybe.

You put the pictures on the table, and he glows. His point is made.

‘See what I mean Banana?’ he says, leaning back on the sofa. His knee knocks into yours. ‘You should listen to me. Anyone can be a photographer. How much are they asking for that course?’

You say it’s a little over nine thousand and he scoffs.

‘You should spend that money on something real,’ he says, turning back around to face the television. ‘No daughter of mine is going to be a poncey photographer.’

The prints go back into the box. You know he’ll never give you the money.

 

3.

When you shut the door behind you, you breathe out. That pain gone from your chest. Those pins and needles laying off.

You’re happy to be away from your street, with its cobbles and used needles and neighbours.The women trying to be your mother now you don’t have one anymore. The men wondering what you’ll look like when you’re older, and if they’ll be that much older too.

Your street is all red brick and net curtains. You pass a corner shop with yellow cardboard for windows.You watch as they queue, turning their dole money into brown liquor. You pass a field where shrubs and weeds grow around empty coca cola cans. The air is thick with the smell of nothing.

The bus takes you into the town. You pass tourists in tartan, desperate to decorate their body in what they think is the uniform of a country. You want to tell them it isolates them, but instead you just stare out of the window, watching the shapes the world makes when it’s moving.

You head into the National Gallery and thumb through the catalogue. There’s a newer one online, but it’s nice to hold something in your hands.

You see the sheep in formaldehyde and wonder how it still looks so soft. You think of your mother bathing you and wrapping you in a towel, and wonder if she’d ever been here.

You see Peploe’s painting of rocks on Barra, and think how ordinary it is.

You see the Lichtenstein, and think how ugly it is.

Then you see her: Patti Smith.

Patti Smith.

 

Your mother loved her, and so did you. Two women in formaldehyde, listening to spinning disks.

That night all those years ago, ‘People Have the Power’ was playing in the background. You can’t listen to that song now.

As you watched from the bottom of the stairs, from behind crisscrossed fingers, he pleaded his case.

He told her those women meant nothing, but she laughed and said ‘I mean something,’ and you remember nodding in agreement even though she couldn’t see you. Even though she didn’t know you were there.

You wonder why she didn’t take you with her when she left. You wonder if she’d have paid for the course. You wonder if she still loves Patti Smith.

You study the photograph again. Light peaks through windows and frames her naked body. She is crouched and she is beautiful. You’ve always loved black and white.

Patti Smith looks beautiful in black and white.

You realise you’ll never take a photograph this beautiful as long as he lives. You want to see art in people the way that others do. You want more than a handful of prints. You want angles and lines and to capture a moment in life so rare that it will last forever.

Patti Smith looks so beautiful in black and white.

Patti Smith was brave, you think. Patti Smith did what she wanted, you think.

Patti Smith just looks so beautiful in black and white.

You take the blade from your bag as carefully as you can.

You whisper an apology, and drag the edge across every inch of the thing you have stared at for weeks.

The paper peels and hangs. Patti’s images blisters and shreds. Somewhere an alarm sounds.

The photograph clings to the wall as if to cling onto life.

You slip the knife back into the bag, and think of your mother.

It’s ruined, you think, and you smile.

He never thought a photograph could be art.

You tell the policeman that, when he asks why you did it.

 

Apples and Oranges

I never longed for fruit in the Old World. Back then the office had bowlfuls, the pantry pregnant with apples and oranges. After weeks of neglect, these proud things would grow their own armour: thick skins of mould, designed to keep us out. A punishment, which I now know was fitting. Bananas would blacken under our watch, but I didn’t care. Back then, The Boss would just toss them out.

In the New World, strange hands grope around me to win tins of peaches, drunk with syrup. Tomatoes come chopped and packaged, tarted up with supermarket labels. I tell the supervisor that I long to taste freshness once again, to have citrus cut across my tongue, to feel a new apple in my hand.

“Do you have any?” I say, my voice a whisper. “Apples?”. As I speak, I feel my daughter’s small hand tug at mine. I never thought she’d spend enough time in a food bank for it to exhaust her.

“Fruit and veg goes to the people who bother to show up before 10,” he says, handing me a bruised box of Del Monte. “But if you’re really desperate, just look around at these people. There are plenty of bad apples here.”

He laughs at his own joke, and I press tokens into his hands without looking him in the eye. I don’t see the rot he speaks of. I see mothers and fathers feeding hungry children. I see people, jobless and scared. I see wounds left by cuts.

As we walk home, leaving the food bank behind, his vinegared words and salty laugh find their way into my mind. There, they bounce off the sharp corners left by worry. Worry about bills. Worry about jobs. Worry about Her.

In the Old World, I would work the anxiety away. The 9-5 was medicine, was a tonic, with the whirring computers and the bad coffee and the hello-how-are-yous that, somehow, we learned to start the day with.

Then pay day.

Rent.

Council Tax.

Credit Cards.

Phone bill.

(Save some for food).

I had signed that contract, hadn’t I? But then again, there were no other contracts to sign.  

Degree preferred. Experience necessary. Minimum wage.

In that sleek, polished office, I found The Boss alone.

“I’m worried it’s not enough,” I told him. Stale coffee on his breath. Nothing in his eyes. “I’m worried I’ll struggle to live.”

“You shouldn’t come to the office for money. You should come for the reward of hard work. And I’m offering plenty of that.” He handed me an apple. “Did I tell you I’m rolling out a fruit scheme? There’ll be boxes of the stuff in the kitchen.”

Rent.

Council Tax.

Credit Cards.

Phone bill.

(Save some for food).

Year one and I work late nights, filled with extra miles and goalposts ever shifting. The debt piled up.

I stored apples in my desk.

Rent.

Council Tax.

Credit Cards.

Phone bill.

(Save some for food).

Year two and my skin turned bad: yellow and marked. My chest grew tight. I struggled to sleep.

The apples festered.

Rent.

Council Tax.

Credit Cards.

Phone bill.

(Save some for food).

“It’s not enough,” I told The Boss. Stale meat on his breath. Money in his eyes. “I’m struggling to live.”

“I know I don’t pay well,” he told me in between sips of Italian coffee. “But think about this: some places don’t pay their creative staff anything.”

Rent.

Council Tax.

Credit Cards.

Phone bill.

(Save some for food).

Year three and I break. I buckle. I leave. There were balloons and cake and tear-filled goodbyes. I told myself I was taking some time.

Then, she happened. My stomach swelled and grew as the months passed. I felt her kick. I felt him leave. There was no more pay day. I fear there never will be again.

Suddenly, I longed for an apple.

Rent.

Council Tax.

Credit Cards.

Phone bill.

?

The New World started when she came. The New World is full of tears and milk, and the rest I buy with tokens.

I cry when she does, and when I sleep, I dream of fruit.

Scratch, scratch

It started with a felt tip pen and a piece of paper. Sat in the back of a greasy spoon, I jotted down ideas for a new play named Jim Jams, a title I hated and loved in equal measure. Jim Jams was my mother’s pet name for pyjamas, while psychiatrists use the term to refer to periods of extreme anxiety. Love. Hate.

I’ve lived with anxiety disorder since the age of 19, and have sought help through various methods: I take medication, I’ve seen therapists, I practice Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT, ICYDK). Some days I’m fine, and some days I’m not, but there’s a curious consistency that has never faded with time: anxiety, for me, usually rears its ugly head at night.

This play is specifically focused on the hours between sleep and waking, and much like anxiety itself, I didn’t know exactly how I wanted to tackle it. When the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival offered me a chance to be a part of their new scratch night, 5 Ways to Begin, I knew this was a fantastic opportunity to experiment with Jim Jams.

Jim_Jams

Last Saturday (October 14), I arrived at Flourish House in Glasgow with a carrier bag of props (a blanket, a laptop and some old pyjamas) and teched out what I had so far. An incomplete fragment of work, with no idea where it was meant to go. Bringing it to the stage for the first time is always a strange experience: these words lived inside my head for so long, and now they’re out, filling up the spaces in this big, empty hall.

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 14.21.35

Curiously, I wasn’t nervous. I regularly read my work at spoken word events, and this just seemed like a logical next step. I have written two plays before, and though I was never the one performing the text, I reasoned that the experience could not have been all that different.

Of course, this performance was different. It was a scratch night, which meant I would be getting feedback from the audience in real time. Underneath each seat in the audience was a felt tip pen and a piece of paper, there so that my audience can tell me exactly what they thought of my reading, be it good or bad.

The ten-minute performance went by without incident. I delivered the text exactly as I hoped I would, and the accompanying video didn’t freeze or mysteriously set on fire, so that’s all positive. Then came the question and answer session. I asked the audience what they wanted to see happen next, and they answered as I hoped they would.

‘I want to see more characters developed’

‘I want to see things from other people’s perspective’

‘I’d like to see more movement.’

This kind of feedback is essential. It’s one thing for me to know how I would like a piece to progress, but it’s another to hear it come from an audience. They are the ones who will view and take in the work, and their opinions are so useful when that work is being crafted.

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 14.20.02

At the end of the evening, I was given a handful of notes, with scribbled comments. The feedback was so supportive, helpful and positive. I’m still not sure where I want the next phase of this play to go, but I do know one thing: the next scene all started with a felt tip pen and a piece of paper.

 

Monkey Say

 

You won’t mind if you don’t know, and you won’t know if I don’t
tell you how
I want legs criss-crossed on sofas and arms aching from sleep,
skin-on-skin, hand-in-hand, face-to-face: love.
But I won’t get that;
not with puppy fat,
scarred skin and crooked teeth.
Not when I talk shit
too much, and not enough
about myself, about you, about the important stuff.
Monkey’s getting anxious.
Monkey, say I’ll be ok?
I’ll choose my words well, well worth it to keep you up there
in the dark, because
I want to set fire to blank pages and half-written books,
write fiction and fact, frank songs and free verse.
But I won’t get there;
not with borrowed prayers,
blue-collar words and cliches.
Not when I fuck it up
and bottle it, lose my nerve,
don’t react, don’t observe.
Monkey’s getting anxous.
Monkey, say I’ll be ok?
You wouldn’t laugh if I told you, would you?
Told you how
I want a life without a mile-a-minute-mind, ups and downs,
tight chests and sleepless nights.
No, you wouldn’t laugh. You’d say that
every time I wake up, every time I talk
It’s another chance to do better.
It’s another chance to do better.
It’s another chance to do better.
Monkey says I’m doing ok.

Wonted

When I first came here I was whole. Arms and legs and laughter: no cracks. I could see and walk and smile and he liked that. I dressed myself in reds and blues, I taught myself with books and words. I fed myself until he fed off me.

He caught me one night as I walked home alone. He bundled me into his car, and I sat, resigned. Silent.

‘You’re mine now,’ he said, and I nodded. I didn’t struggle. It was the way it had to be.

On the drive we listened to love songs on the radio and the whirr of the heater vent. The window didn’t wind all the way up. New air whistled through the crack; old air suffocated. He kept one hand on the wheel and the other on my lap. His fingers were frozen. I still didn’t struggle.

‘Is it how you imagined it?’ I asked, as we walked up the path to the two bedroom house with a garden just so and a kitchen to boot.

‘It is,’ he replied, smiling.

I’ve been here ever since.

He is proud and kind. He works 9-5, drinks two pints of lager on Saturday nights and buys me presents on Christmas and birthdays. He doesn’t shave on weekends. I do the cooking, he washes up. His favourite food is steak (medium rare) and I make him a whole roast chicken on Sundays. He lets me pick my portion first, but I save the best for him.

It takes me longer to iron his shirts than it does my own. The boss likes him neat. His mother likes gingernut biscuits, and I lay them out when she comes to visit on Thursday evenings.

He showers in the morning, I shower at night. I like to feel fresh and clean as we tuck in, but he likes to feel fresh and clean as he leaves.

One day we will have 2.5 children: one boy and one girl and one baby that we will always consider too small and precious to count as a real living thing with a gender and thoughts and hopes and dreams. I will love them equally but love him less for it, and eventually I’ll wonder if I love him at all.

When I’m old I’ll remember: that time, that night, the person I was before I got in that car with him, before I walked into this house with him, put I put on chains. I will smile and feel stronger and I will walk out of the door, not looking back.

I will walk the streets until I find her again, that girl I left behind. She will be laughing and painting and drinking and living. I will cry and I will feel and I will pick up exactly where we left off. Eventually we’ll become one again.

I will be happy alone.

But not yet.

Ridiculously Beautiful

She’s pure white, not wan;
her bloodlessness enough
to get your blood up.

She’s a sunless sycophant;
she knows you like her
peely-wally-wonderful.

Not like me: my skin is darkened from that year we lived in Barcelona,
the long weekend in Verona, the aubade’s questions I answered every time
while you salted away in shade, burning.

She’s got hair of red-orange;
gilded and golden and
bottled up for you.

She changes it with seasons;
lets it loose when you’re looking,
copper-brass-fantastic.

Not like me: my hair is black, from my mother, the giver
and look! Threads of silver, though we both know
you put them there in the night, when you thought I was sleeping.

She’s all bones and angles;

slender from spending
her youth on her body.

She’s got small breasts and waist;
rawboned and loose-skinned
cut-throat-incredible.

Not like me: my body is curved from the food we shared, I am
half moons and circles from the problems we aired, and you said
you liked it that way, soft and real and breasts and arms.

She’s petite at five foot four;
reaching and stretching
at parallel moments.

She’s small enough to lift;
the babydoll you wanted
short-lived-sensation.

Not like me: my body is tall and skyward, from reaching to you
while you were preaching at me to love myself,
because you say you love me more than anyone.

But now it’s her.
She is ‘ridiculously beautiful’
and you say you couldn’t help it: she’s all you wanted.

Now I don’t miss how we were
Her beauty is indisputable
But I’m telling you I can help it: I won’t be daunted.

I am exactly who I want to be.
Fuck you, fuck her, fuck it,
I’m just like me.

To A Singer

I found needles and thread in that place
In your head where I settled
And let her
Run loose.
This bed is just patterns, stitched
Then unravelled
By you
And your latest excuse.
Maybe I loved you, in pieces, in quarters
Or maybe you fucked me for fun.
What a lovely little life I have, or so they tell me.
And tell me.
And tell me.

Northern Girl

She cut her teeth on a whetstone
made of red northern brick
and cans of Strongbow.
Spitting out fillings (and farthings and shillings)
’cause the good old days are still going on round ‘ere.
Or, at least they were when I were a girl.
And what the fuck’s Jacques Brel
is that not an ale?
It’ll tan you my love, so you’d better be careful
If you’re necking that stuff after dark, after dark.
Yer nana won’t stand for these
songs and poems, she’s got real work on
and you’d better take notice.
Bone idle you won’t be (or lazy or useless)
’cause the tough old days are still going on round’ere.
Just like they were when I were a girl.
And what the fucks a caveat?
Is that not a pastry?
You’ll get fat my love, so you’d better stop maybe
If you want some fella to marry you by 23, by 23.
That’s the age I was mind,
when I met my Michael and went off to sign
on, to keep us ticking over.
Weddings aren’t cheap (or babies, or houses)
And the good one’s will be gone quick round ‘ere
Or, at least they would be if I were a girl.
Stop crying.
Stop moping.
Stop shouting.
Stop sulking.
Keeping writing (but just as a hobby, eh).
You can’t turn to crime, it’s in every direction
But don’t aim to high – you won’t like rejection
Just sit with me a while, we’ll figure it out.
Like they did for me, when I were a girl.

Then, Bugarach

The road to Bugarach is lined with them, these fear-drunk milksops. Some pray to a God long expired, some cling to their women and weep, and some march stony-faced towards the mountain. The road to Bugarach is long, and we all know they’ve left it too late to make it there before tomorrow.

I never hear them speaking of themselves, only of the Mayans and their calendar. They pass through my camp in their hundreds; sweat-soaked, nerve-wracked and resigned, believing in their heart that tomorrow will never come. ‘They’ve never been wrong before’, they say; ‘The apocalypse is coming’, they say; ‘We’re safe on the mountain’, they say.

My roadside tent, full of whisky and warmth and the smell of sex, is not for these men. They would watch the world burn from up there, the mountain the Mayans say would be saved. I am here for the ones that cannot make it, the ones that came too late to ascend, the ones for whom that mountain will be nothing more than a silhouette against the last sun.

I took the first one for free. I wanted to feel his weight on top of me, the prickle of his hot, unwashed skin against mine and the way he looked as he fucked me to forget. I met him on the mountain road, in the line of those waiting to ascend. I told him he would never make it up, that they’d blocked off the road and that he should enjoy his last night on earth. He didn’t ask for my name, but he told me his was Arnau. His English was broken and his eyes were blue. He followed me to my tent, and we spent our time together in silence. Afterwards, as I wiped the mess from my thighs, he cried. It was hollow, and the small, wet tent did nothing to contain it.

When the silence broke, he told me about his wife, who he said would not make the journey from Barcelona. She did not believe in the Mayan truth, he explained, and now she would die. I didn’t tell him that the Mayan truth was a lie.

‘You same as her’ he had said, and just when I thought he knew my secret, he added, ‘your hair same’.  Short and ale bottle-brown, I presumed, filled with dust from days spent sleeping on the side of the road. The one mirror I had with me was cracked, but I could see that my skin looked darker under the weight of three days’ dirt.

‘You have boyfriend?’ he had asked me, as I lay in my sleeping bag, waiting for him to leave. ‘No’, I said, ‘I don’t want a boyfriend.’ Not knowing the Catalan words to explain to him why I prefer to live on my own, I decided to leave him to puzzle it out for himself, as he dried his eyes and went back outside to join the masses. A little lighter, no happier. I waited until I saw him disappear into the crowd before I produced the blue pot my grandmother had given me as a girl. It was then that I decided to charge by the minute.

I came here for the spectacle, not the sex. The news these last few weeks has been nothing but images of restless crowds and short, fast headlines, telling us that the world may end, all the while implying that it won’t. The real story is the spectacle that unobstructed belief brings with it; newscasters asking us to imagine how, in this modern world, people can possibly believe that the earth would burn the day the Mayan calendar was finally spent.

I wanted to know why they believed, what else they believed, and if I could believe too. I didn’t want to come here with friends, neighbours or fellow travellers. I knew it was important to do this alone, to learn how I really felt, standing amongst these people that had resigned themselves to the end, based on nothing more than ancient numbers and a belief in a community long dead.

I had no job to worry about, no family to speak of since my grandmother died, and I still had most of the money she had left me in her will, though it was by no means a significant amount. I boarded a flight from London as soon as I could, and I pitched this tent on the ice-bitten ground the moment I arrived in Bugarach.

I didn’t take another man that first night. I lay there wondering about Arnau. I wondered what he would do the day after tomorrow, when he saw the sun rise and the earth unscorched. I wondered if he would tell his wife about me, if he would cry again, and if he would be disappointed or relieved to learn that it was all just a mistake.

I didn’t think as much about the next man I brought to the tent, the first man I charged. Guillaume lived close to Bugarach, he told me, knowing that I was only half listening. He came to me looking for shelter, and it didn’t take much for me to persuade him that he needed more.

I showed him the blue pot, and he asked me why I wanted money. ‘It will be nothing after tomorrow’, he said. I told him it was for comfort. I said I wanted to die with money in my hand, but the real reason is I want to live with it in my pocket. Years of barely surviving with my grandmother had left me with a thirst for more. I wanted to make as much money as I could while I lived, so that when my end does come it will all have been for something. The condemned aren’t concerned with money and privilege. They come to me because I take their fear and turn it into comfort, and in your last hours on earth, that is worth all of the coins you can spare.

Sometimes I think about my mother. I wonder if she would have done it if she had money or a man to help her. It was quick, my grandmother told me when I was old enough: a razor to the wrist. No prophecy predicted it, the world went on, and my second day on this earth was spent in mourning for the woman who brought me into it. I stopped believing that love was enough when my grandmother told me how she died.

I didn’t share these thoughts with Guillaume. Instead, I told him about my fantasies, my likes and dislikes, and when we were finished he dropped a wad of notes into my pot. We had never agreed a price, I realised, but we had both known I was after more than I would have asked for. In the pot was enough to pay my rent for two months, but when he left the tent I felt immediately shortchanged, and set out straight away to find the next one.

I stopped taking their names after the third. I didn’t want them to tell me where they had come from, or who they had left behind. I could see all that in their faces. My blue pot filled quickly, and soon there was a line outside of my door.

‘Don’t you mind the others?’ I asked one man, in his early forties with salt and pepper hair and a belly that gave away years of overindulgence. ‘I would have done, back home’ he said, with a broad London accent, ‘but it’s not really the time to be picky, is it?’ I reeled, lay back, and waited for the satisfied groan that I knew would signal the end of the encounter.

The last one left in a hurry: number 33, keen to find shelter. By the time he’d emptied himself I was red raw, the cloudy stench of sex warming the tent. I didn’t wash. I waited.

It’s close to midnight now, and I can hear them praying. A mass of different languages, Gods and words all connected by one thought: please, help us. These people had come here because the Mayans said they would be preserved on the mountain, but they were denied that safety by men and their rules. I had expected rioting, protesting, an angry mob storming the hillside, but the crowd are at peace. Scared, hurt and repentant, but oddly still in their togetherness in what they believe is their last night on earth. I fall asleep thinking of the hundreds I had made, and if Arnau and the others would wait until morning, or embrace death on their own, just like my mother did.

21.12.2012

I wake as the sun rises. Hysteria.

‘Thank God’ they say, ‘It’s a miracle’ they say, ‘We’re saved’ they say, as they dance and sing and hug. I smile to myself, and start packing up what belongings I have, wondering if one of the men I have met would return to me to say goodbye. There is laughter and music outside, and the sharp wind does nothing to cut through their happiness. I decide to wait a while, and as the day goes on, I watch them head for home, content that they will live to see another day.

Hours pass, and the road to Bugarach empties. With my tent packed, I decide to climb the mountain, now that no men stand guard and it no longer means the difference between life and death. I climb slowly, perspiring all the while. Sunlight penetrates my dirt-encrusted skin, and I start to burn. Sand and dirt collect under my fingernails, and I tire as the sun grows larger in the sky. After a while, I hear weeping.

An old woman, toothless and barefoot, is crying into the arms of a younger man. Her son, I presume. ‘It was a lie’, she is saying, ‘they made me believe and it was a lie’. The man has her in a comforting embrace, though silent tears run down his cheek. ‘Are you OK?’ I ask, knowing it is none of my business. ‘It was a lie’ she repeats, and buries her head in his chest.

I look around, and realise I have walked into a camp of people who had given up their lives to come here, believing it was the end. They were no different to the people below, but today would change everything for them. Just like the others, they have been proved wrong, only they were not rewarded with their lives. They are left with doubt and sadness and an emptiness where their conviction should be. This time, there would be no prophecy to help guide them home.

She picks up an old blanket, moth-bitten and well-worn, and hurls it off the mountain, finding strength from her pain. She howls to the sky, shouting loudly in a language I’m not sure I could ever I understand. I stare at her: wordless, exhausted.

I ask the young man if I can help, but he shakes his head. I think about offering my services to him for free, but I know it would be a mistake. Instead, I reach into my bag, pull out my blue pot and stare at my pile of money. Guilt wrenches in my stomach.

‘You cry too’, the young man said, and I realise he is right. I touch my hand to my face, wet and hot. ‘Yes’, I admit, and finally, I know why I came. I hadn’t believed in anything for a long time. I curl the money in my fist and drop it into her lap. ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ the young man asks, disbelief etched into every line on his face. I don’t answer him. I don’t need to.

I pick up my tent and climb down the mountain, heading home on the road from Bugarach, knowing that I had given somebody something new to believe in.