on yir doorstep, christ

Author: Daniel Oliver Bachmann
Translator: Donal McLaughlin

Translator’s Note

This story was first translated when Daniel and I spent the month of June at Hawthornden Castle, just outside Edinburgh, as ‘Hawthornden Fellows’. I was keen for the other writers in residence – Canadian poets Nancy Mattson & Jeanette Lynes, and New York novelist Emily Raboteau – to be able to enjoy Daniel’s work at our fireside readings each evening. Even when producing that first draft, I realised that while Daniel’s story was conversational in tone, rather than written in Bavarian, finding an equivalent voice in the translation immediately involved more dialect: in this case, Glaswegian. This did not seem inappropriate in that issues in the story such as the arrest and deportation of immigrants were also dominating our newspapers at the time. The pull of Glaswegian became so great that, in the end, with Daniel’s consent, I transferred the entire story to Glasgow and changed the characters’ names. Fellow translators with theoretical objections to such an approach should be assured that I expect this to be a one-off!

Donal McLaughlin


on yir doorstep, christ

Tellin ye: thon boy that lives in the same block as us, wan everywan calls Tony, is a strange wan. Really strange. He’s naw frae here, that boy, he’s frae Africa, he’s black. Kenya, he said, or the Congo, or thon place Jack McConnell likes tae head tae, whit’s-its-name? Och, how shid ah know? How shid ah know whit all they African countries are called? It’s the same wi Tony. His name’s naw really Tony. He telt us his name, it’s the kinda name nay cunt can remember but. Bula summit. We jist call him Tony. Tony, as in: Tony Yeboah, the boy Leeds Utd bought frae Eintracht Frankfurt. He wis really good, Yeboah, naw a patch, but, on Asamoah, or the boy Owomoyela. Tam wished oor wee team coulda signed Yeboah. He woulda fitted in well, he reckoned. Fitted in well wi the Juniors. Stickin point, but, wis his age. Naybody knew whit age the boy wis. He didni know himself. Imagine! There wis only wan thing for it, Otto Pfister said – cut his leg open. Cut it open an’ coont the rings.
Manager of the national team – Ghana – Pfister was.
It’s naw as easy as that but, is it? Ye canni go roon cuttin folk’s legs open. Naw if ye’re plannin tae gi’e the boy a game, anyhoo.
Anyway, oor Tony – he’s involved wi fitba an’ aw. He’s the wan that cuts the grass, an’ he’s really guid at it. Totally straight lines he mows; perfect, they are. Bernard frae up above us says he wis gobsmacked first time he seen whit the boy can do. The way he gets the lines totally straight. We call Bernard Gina cos he fancies that Gina lassie. Ye know Gina Wild, don’t ye? – the wan that makes aw they films. Bernard’s got every single wan, an’ we watch them thegether sometimes. Wi’oot Tony but. “Cos the lines widni be very straight themorrow, otherwise, boys, wid they,” Bernard aye says.
He’s actually met Gina, Bernard. It wis at thon big Expo thing she’d a slot at. Shoved his way up tae the front, he did – naw that it wis easy, mind – an’ he took a photie wi his mobile phone. Ye can see Gina in it, an’ Bernard’s thumb. They’re baith in it, the mobile-phone photie. Once he’d took it, she gi’ed him a kiss, apparently, above his right eye.
“Above ma right eye,” Bernard annoonced, “is a pairt o ma anatomy ah’ll never wash ever again!”
Ye canni actually see the kiss oan the photie – so it mibbe isni true.
Tam’s convinced it isni: “The cunt’s pure lyin when it comes tae the kiss,” says he.
Tam’s the type that says whit he means.
He caws Tony Blackie an’ aw; an’ he caws his own wife his bitch.
He only says it, but, when she’s naw there tae hear it.
He says it when he’s up the stair wi Bernard, an’ the Gina video’s oan. His wife never wants tae go wi him. Disni want tae look at stuff like that.
Which is how Tam makes oot his bitch has loadsae hang-ups.
Was Tam got Tony the wee job at the Club. The cuttin-the-grass-job. Tam knows Joe, an’ Joe knows Kenny, an’ Kenny said jist to pop along, there’s always stuff needs doin. It’s cos he’s guidhearted Tam done that. It’s naw as if it’s his fault, sure: fact his bitch has loadsae hang-ups.
Tae tell ye the truth but: if ye’re askin me, ah don’t think she has. Jist cos she disni want tae see the Gina video disni mean the woman’s got hang-ups. Naw – she’s a class act, hersel, mair like. Sometimes, sure, when Tam’s up wi Bernard, ah gi’e it “Ahm away oot tae dae ma roons”. Ah used tae be a night-watchman, an’ as everyone knows: that means ye’ve roons tae dae. Ahm naw a night-watchman any mair, but ah hivni telt nay cunt. Bottom line is: when Tam’s up wi Bernard, an’ they’re all geed up for the new Gina’s “Best of”, ah know that’s me, like: know ah won’t be disturbed for an hour or so.
So ah gi’e it: “Ahm away aff tae dae ma roons” an’ doon ah go tae Tam’s wife. Already waitin for me, she always is, an’ all jokin aside, there’s nuthin – not a thing – Gina Wild could teach that wan. Which leaves me thinkin Tam’s mad: whit’s he daein, up watchin videos, when he could be doon here, daein this? Ah dont say nuthin but, naw even when she makes oot “it’s aw cos o Tony – Tam canni keep his eyes aff him, so he canni.”
“Hiv ye noticed?” she asks. “Hoo he’s always staring at the boy?”
The only thing ahv noticed is hoo Una frae the basement stares at Tony. It’s naw as if it’s any wunner. She’s three weans, Una – aged six, eight an’ ten, aw by different men.
“Every single wan o them fucked off,” says Una, “an’ left me wi the weans.”
They left her in the basement flat, where Sandy used tae have his offices. The basement flat’s awright, it’s jist a bit dark. That’s how, any time ah drop by tae check everythin’s okay, the lights are always oan. Ah always give it, “That costs money an’ aw, ye know – ye don’t get electric light for free,” but she jist gives it: “Whit am ah supposed tae dae, like – sit aroon in the dark? Sit in the dark till His Royal Highness happens tae have a meenit?”
Hiv tae say: Tam’s wife is less hard work than Una.
She’s also mair fun.
Ah see it as ma duty but. An ye only get oot whit ye put in, eftir all.
Same goes when it’s a buildin ye’re sharin.
Ye hiv tae give as well as take – that’s whit ah say.
Sandy doesni see it that way. The boy used to drive a Porsche. Used to figure everything oot doon in the basement: aw the tax stuff he done. He’d a hedge fund, whitever that is. Rosie disni know either. Yir man came up, but, one day, she telt me, an’ the tears were trippin him. Said he wis goney shoot himsel, he did. He wis greetin like that cos aw his hard work wis aw doon the drain, he said. For a while there, folk kept comin roon: they were wantin tae shoot him an’ aw. Ringin oor doorbells, they were, at all oors o the night. Livid, they were. Tam said tae Tony wid he plant himsel at the front door – that wid frighten them off. Tony’s well-built, ye see. The boy didni want tae but. Ended up: naebody shot Sandy an’ he didni shoot himsel either. Wan time eftir that but, Rosie suddenly said: “Ah shoulda done it!” That wis the time Sandy confessed the company wis in her name. Suddenly, she’d a loada debt roon her neck. She came up tae ma flat an’ gi’ed it: “Ah shoulda! ah shoulda flattened the bastard.” Frae that moment onwards, she didni want tae dae it any mair. Or mair like: she did, only for money but, an’ ye had tae pay up front, in cash. Jist cos that bastard was givin it: “Go on up, if ye want tae. Jist make sure ye come back doon wi dosh but.” Ah tried tae gi’e it: “Ye canni dae that. Ye canni ask for money eftir aw these years.” She insisted but, an’ that wis me: up shit creek.
Morally, ah mean.
Ahm naw that well aff, am ah?
Wi the new benefit regulations, nae cunt’s that well aff.
So across tae Tony ah goes tae ask can he help me oot?
Had he therty quid he could gi’e me?
Ah gave it tae her, ah did.
An’ that’s the way it’s been ever since. Ah keep thinkin: it’s naw right. Me payin aff Sandy’s debts, like. Ah end up doin it again anyhow but – an’ head o’er tae Tony’s tae scrounge therty quid aff him.
The boy’s at the table, hunners o books in front ae him. Scribblin in an A4 pad, he is, an’ watchin the telly – baith at the same time.
They boat people are on. D’ye mind they refugees? Wans that landed in the Canaries? Wans that sailed frae Africa? Well, they’re the wans they’re showin. An’ Tony’s watchin it.
“Teneriffe,” the boy oan the TV says, an’ ah gi’e it: “Ahv been there an’ aw.” Wi Senga an’ the weans, it was. A long time ago.
That’s naw even true, actually.
Tony points at the screen an’ says summit that sounds like Hulahula.
His patter’s naw frae roon here, that’s for sure.
Tellin ye: he is a bit strange.
“Whit did ye say?” ah go – an’ he’s like that, “They shid stay at hame.”
Tony gi’es it: “It wid be far better if they aw stayed at hame.”
Ah go: “If you’re sayin that, it must be true. Can ye len’ me therty quid, by the way?”
He gi’es me it, an’ ah take it o’er tae Rosie – who hauns it straight tae Sandy.
An’ so the three tenners stay in circulation.
Which is mair than can be said for me. Since aw that hassle wi Senga, ahv hardly been oot ae the hoose. Ah leave it tae go tae the playin fields, aye, wi Tam on a Sunday, mibbe; or noo an’ again tae go tae the Unemployment Office that’s no’ called that any mair (the name has changed – nuthin else has but, needless tae say). Every noo an’ again, ah’ll go up to see Bernard, or droap in oan Tam’s missus. Ah should show my face there mair often, but ah don’t feel like it any mair. The need to’s gone. Disappeared – just like the therty quid.
Anyhoo: Tony’s at the table, writin somethin.
He’s a strange wan, right enough.
Then it’s nighttime an’ there’s a pure racket oot in the street. We’re used tae hassle, of course, frae the days when Sandy’s clients were aye wantin their money back. Part frae that, it tends tae be quiet aroon here, unless there’s a dawn raid – then there’s a racket, awright. It’s nighttime but, as ah say, an’ naw the crack o dawn, an’ there isni a function in the chapel hall, far as I know, an Sandy’s clients have aw calmed doon or hung themsels, in the meantime. Nevertheless, there’s a total racket but. First, there’s a racket at the stair door, then there’s a racket in the stair, then there’s a racket across frae me cos some cunt’s kickin the door in: Tony’s door. There’s shoutin an’ bawlin an’ aw. A blue light’s flashin, oot in the courtyaird. Tam comes runnin oot, an’ so does his wife who looks at me right angry, like, cos ah stood her up again. Suddenly, Sandy’s staunin there, an’ Rosie, – an’ Bernard comes doon frae up the stair. All he’s on him’s his Y-fronts, an’ he’s Gina in his haun. Una comes runnin up frae the basement an’ aw – in a nightdress that’s seen better days – an’ screams “Ur yis mad? Ur yis mad? There’s weans tryin tae sleep doon they stairs, so there is!”
A guy comes ootae Tony’s. He’s a tie oan. There’s loadsae folk in uniform an’ aw.
“You’ve ten minutes to pack,” the guy wi the tie shouts, intae Tony’s hall. “And not a second more.”
Una goes, “You got a problem, mister?” an’ the guy gi’es it somethin involvin illegally an’ deportation an’ assures her things’ll be back to normal in ten minutes.
“This will be the last time you’ll have this kind of bother, Madam,” he says. “You won’t object to that, I take it?”
Tony appears, wi a wee suitcase in his haun. Way he looks at us, ye’d think he wants tae say summit. He doesni but.
Then he does say summit, eftir all – tae me: “They books in there, maybe they’ll be some use tae ye. Dictionaries, they are.”
An’ ah think tae masel: whit wid ah want dictionaries for, but ah gi’e it: “Course, mate. Ah’ll see tae them.”
Whit ah said disni make much sense, ah know.
Then they ones in the uniforms take Tony between them an’ make tae go doonstairs.
That’s when Tam gi’es it: “Jist a meenit!”
Tam gi’es it: “Who’s goney cut the grass, like?”
Tam gi’es it: “That’s Tony’s job, an’ he manages tae get the lines totally straight.”
Tam gi’es it: “Naybody can match that boy.”
The man wi the tie looks at Tam an’ goes: “Have you tried using a goat, Sir? Or doing it yourself?”
The wans in uniform grin. There’s nay jestin wi Tam but, when it comes tae the fitba.
“There’s a game on Sunday,” he gi’es it, “an’ the grass is still tae be cut. Tony’s gaun naywhere.”
An’ Una gi’es it: “An’ ah need Tony for the weans’ hamework. He writes Colum’s essays for him. An’ he does Marie’s algebra. Tony’s gaun naywhere.”
An’ Sandy gi’es it: “An’ he’s still figurin oot the new hedge fund. No way am ah hivin a repeat o the last time. Tony, yir country needs ye. Yir gaun naywhere.”
An’ Rosie looks at me an’ gi’es it: “It’s no jist his country needs him. Ah fuckin need him. He’s gaun naywhere.”
Ah pure hate the way she looks at me.
An’ Tam’s wife gi’es it: “Sactly. He’s stayin where he is. Ah need the fucker an’ aw.”
Ah like that even less.
“Right, that’s it, folks,” the guy wi the tie says. “Back to bed, everyone. Have a nice day – what’s left of it.”
They stomp doon the stairs wi Tony between them, an’ Tam goes: “Shit, whit ur we goney dae noo?”
Bernard looks at his Gina video as if it holds the answer. Then he goes: “The chapel! Sanctuary!”
Bernard goes: “Sanctuary! O’er in the chapel! Oor Lady o Perpetual Help an’ aw that! Ah mean, if she doesni help us noo, when wull she?”
Rosie nudges me wi her foot an’ gi’es it: “On ye go, you! Dae summit!”
Why’s it always me? ah think. Since aw that hassle thon time, ahv naw done fuck all. Ah jist stood an’ watched Senga get intae the car, sure. Wan turn o the ignition, an’ off she went, wi the weans. Watched an’ did fuck all, ah did.
Rosie, but, gie’s it: “Wakey, wakey!” an’ ah can hear an engine runnin, doon below.
So ah runs doon, an’ aw the others run doon an’ aw, an’ when we get there, ah wallop the guy wi the tie on across the heid, an’ ah hiv tae admit, it felt good. So ah thumped him another wan, for Senga an’ the weans, an’ wan for the new benefit regulations, an’ wan for the machine that noo does ma job, an’ wan for the night-watchmen job ahm suddenly tae auld for. Sandy kicks wan ae the cops, that was for the fund that went doon the drain, ah reckon. Una’s tearin the hair frae the head ae anither wan, for the dark basement flat, wi three young children in it. Tam bites wan in the finger cos nuthin angers him mair than a fitba pitch that isni tended tae. His wife gets completely the wrang idea as usual an’ kisses the wan that has Tony by the neck, but that works an’ aw cos the cop lets go. Bernard grabs Tony by the arm an’ we run across an’ hammer the door ae the chapel. It nay sooner opens than we’re safe inside.
Bernard’s shoutin: “Sanctuary! Sanctuary!” an’ we laugh an’ hop roon Tony like bushmen roon a totem.
That’s where we’ve been livin ever since.
Six months has passed, an’ ah hiv tae admit: livin in a chapel isni bad. The block we lived in’s empty, the cops are keepin guard, anyhoo, but. Bernard sneaked across wan time an’ came back wi aw the videos an’ the machine. So we’ve summit tae dae noo. We watch Gina Wild. The priest does an’ aw.
It’s only Tony disni. He does the hamework for Una’s weans but, helps Sandy tae figure oot the hedge fund, an’ sneaks off intae the sacristy every noo an’ again wi Tam’s wife, Rosie or Una. He tried tae slip me therty quid wan time. Ah didni want it but, naw any mair. So he took it an’ forced it intae a collection box. Forced them aw the way in, he did: three bloody tenners.
Hiv tae say: he’s a bit strange, that wan, right enough – Tony.