The next day, Easter Day, I did go to church. I’d been planning on doing so anyway, but my last conversation with Dostoevsky gave me additional motivation. I should immediately say that I wasn’t full of the ecstatic enthusiasm of a new convert. The service wasn’t especially wonderful. I couldn’t really follow the sermon or hear the prayers given by a member of the congregation. I didn’t have any deep religious experience. The heavens didn’t open. But it made sense. ‘I am the resurrection and the life’. Perhaps we spend so much time arguing about the first part of this, the resurrection, that we forget about the second, the life—‘we’, that is, atheists and believers alike. Find the joy in life and the resurrection will, perhaps, look after itself. Whether I awas anything more than half a believer, I’m still not quite sure, but I now knew that I believed in life and, if life, then love; if love, then joy. Not, as I say, in any special ‘religious’ way. Just the human way of a child and a convict, the innocent and the guilty. And, if Fyodor Mikhailovich was right: if joy, then God.
That was my last conversation with Dostoevsky, but I did see him one more time.
A month or so later, on a bright May Sunday afternoon, Laura and I took a walk up to the Botanical Gardens. The good weather had come quite suddenly, after the promise of early April had turned into a cold, overcast spring, which often happens in these islands. Overnight the city put on its summer best and the crowds were out in force. It was almost a party atmosphere.
We found a bench outside the Victorian hothouses and sat there, just relaxing, getting the sun to our skin, and watching people having a good time: playing, laughing, talking, eating, texting, reading. The seemingly endless stream of people parading past where we were sitting provided a constantly changing spectacle for any half-curious people-watcher. It was almost like watching the passagiato in an Italian seaside town, only here it wasn’t quite as slow or leisurely. You never knew how long summer was going to last, so you had to get your pleasure in quickly. There was almost an undercurrent of urgency.
Then, amongst a wave of people coming towards us, I saw him. He was wearing a rather crumpled old-fashioned white linen suit and a straw hat, which made him look rather like a character in one of those Russian plays where they all sit around in their dachas having affairs and intrigues. He was walking quite slowly and I saw several people loop round him, clearly finding him in the way, but he appeared to be oblivious of them. His hands were clasped behind his back and he seemed to be cheerfully talking to himself. He could almost have been trying out some dialogue for a new novel. As he approached us, he looked up, raised his hat and, without changing his pace, gave us a smile of acknowledgement.
“Fyodor Mikhailovich!” I burst out.
I could see that Laura had already noticed him, which wasn’t surprising. Although his summer outfit might not have been so unusual in the south of England it did stick out here in Glasgow, not to mention the way he was talking to himself. He looked undeniably eccentric—at the very least. When I spoke his name Laura turned to look at me, then back at him, then me again.
He didn’t pause to speak and was soon absorbed into the crowd. Gone.
“Was that …?” she asked.
I shook my head self-consciously and a little ashamedly.
“We need to talk,” she said, looking both alarmed and curious.
Of course, I couldn’t tell her everything at once. And she couldn’t take it all in at once. That’s why I’ve written it down like this, so she could read it all. She has. I think I mentioned that around Christmas time she’d started reading The Brothers Karamazov. We didn’t discuss it much at the time, though when she finished the last page, she did turn to me and say “That was the most amazing novel I’ve ever read.” I could only agree.
(or is it THE BEGINNING?)