Sunday, 6 April 2014


She knits. The same scrap of cherry-red wool, over and over, unwinding her rows and click-click, endlessly reworking her masterpiece: keeping her hands busy and her thoughts at bay.

"No thank you." "No thank you." Every time I ask. Would  you like something to eat? Would you like a drink? So quiet, she draws no attention to herself, she doesn't want it.

This time, I sit beside her. She dresses in a rag-bag of clothes. She carries a rucksack and she wears a scarf. Summer and winter. I should have guessed, but, she's Caucasian you see, Irish in fact, and I didn't think... .

"My name is Mary," I say holding out my hand. Tentatively, she takes it, "Marie-Therese". She speaks softly. "Catholic?" I ask. I always ask, sometimes someone will want to rage aginst the church, or reminisce, or ask where to hear Mass. I listen. 

"Muslim."So softly, I have to lean forward to hear.

Her story unwinds. Her husband, not here, her children in Birmingham. Gloucester is a smaller town, she says, she feels safer here. Her own faith community doesn't know her whereabouts, she has no contact with the Mosque. She's alone. Completely. So she sits in the Day Centre for the disposable and the dispossessed and knits the same cherry-red block over and over again. 

"I was a member of the Legion of Mary when I was a child." 

I am at a loss. This gentle woman left me with a deep sense of disquiet. Mary and Jesus are both honoured by Islam, but I do not care to dishonour her faith, so I pause. 

"Shall we say a Hail Mary?"

Unhesitatatingly, she joins in. 

"Please, light a candle for me." she whispers, as I leave. 

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