Feb 12, 2023
Michael Haggiag

1. Call me Dylan


A hyperactive teenager strikes an unlikely friendship with a Japanese gardener who seems to know more than he lets on.



Remember me? Your smiley face whiz-kid? I’ve become quite a good skateboarder. Been at it since I got that first Rasta Cruiser for my twelfth birthday. I’m fifteen years old now, almost sixteen. Not getting great marks at school. No, not very good marks, I’m afraid. Not good at all. Bad in fact. I was a lot smaller and rounder when you knew me. Angie says I was cuter when I was heavier and without a lot of hair in my face, but she thinks I’ll probably fill out again soon enough. I’ve grown so fast my ribs are sticking through my chest. People always worry I don’t eat enough, but actually I drink cartons of milk and stuff my face with pizza at every opportunity. It doesn’t seem to make any difference. The other day Mum gave me a new pair of shoes to wear. They actually fit me. I know they’re yours and I start thinking about you, and what it would be like to see you again.


Remember Robbie?  He was still a puppy when you were here. Well, he grew into a big long-haired Lurcher. A real Jack-the-lad. He liked to run off on his own and explore the neighborhood whenever we weren’t looking. Everyone spoiled him. He was very popular. One day he shows up looking like he’s been hit by a car. He’s panting and dragging both his hind legs behind him. We take him to the local vet. She’s a tall lady with a nice smile and big gentle hands, but there’s nothing for it. She gives Robbie a quick shot in his rump with a long needle and tells me to comfort him while he goes to sleep. So, I hold Robbie in my arms and tell him everything’s going to be OK. He looks up at me. His tongue is hanging out and he’s still panting but his eyes are full of trust. Then the light in them goes out, like somebody’s turned off a switch.  I hold him for a long time after that, but finally the vet tells me she needs to take him away and I should go home. 

I don’t know why I’m telling you all this. Except I’m easily distracted. Actually, I want to write this blog about the Buddha. That’s right, the geezer who started a religion in India a long time ago. He tried to teach people how to stop suffering and be happy.  I’m learning all about him from Jizo and Jerry, my skateboarding buddy. Jerry and I are good mates. Jerry’s also in my class at school. He doesn’t care for school any more than I do. He’s focused on skating and judo and almost nothing else. We skate together on the Embankment and sometimes in Victoria Gardens on the other side of the river almost every afternoon and on weekends. Remember that skateboarding park on the South Bank where you took me once?

This Buddha blog is so I can remember what Jizo says and what I want to ask him next, and also for you, so I won’t have to explain stuff to you later.  I wouldn’t want you to give me funny looks. I’ll be able to point you to these pages instead and you’ll know everything I know.

Jizo’s from Japan or somewhere. He’s an old geezer. I’m not sure how old because he’s in such good nick. But he has a bald head and a wrinkly face and when he laughs, which is quite often, his eyes disappear and all you can see are a lot of teeth. Jerry and I like Jizo because he doesn’t have an attitude toward us like other adults. He treats us the same way he treats anyone else. He doesn’t try to tell us what to do, either, even though he’s the grounds keeper for the whole of the South Bank.

It’s Jizo who does the planting on the terraces and the gardens on both sides of the Embankment. He loves his plants and he’s always looking after them. When we slalom in and out of the planters and grind the railing close to his flowers he could get very freaked out if he was a different sort of person, but he doesn’t. Once he shouted “look out!” at me - but it wasn’t about the plants. There was a toddler’s toy smack in my path, the sort that’s pulled along on a string. I could have killed myself.

Jizo’s always spotting things. That’s what’s so unusual about him. He sees stuff other people don’t. He likes to watch us skateboard and he knows all the moves we make and the techniques of how to do them, even if he doesn’t have the jargon.

One day I see him gazing intently at some flowers in a border he’s just planted and I ask him why he’s looking at them like that, so focused-like.

“If I look at them with no other thought in mind,” he says, “they look back at me and tell me what they need.”

Jizo says weird things like this all the time, but when he says them, somehow they always sound normal. He’s just a nice low-key kind of person, who makes you feel very relaxed whenever he’s around. But he’s a lot more with it than you might think.

Jizo is the first person to notice how gutted I am after Robbie’s accident. He asks me if someone I loved has just died and I say: “Yes. Did Jerry tell you?” Jizo smiles at me and gently shakes his head. “So how do you know?”, I ask. “I study the Buddha”, he said.

This makes no sense to me, but I can’t help wonder. “What’s the Buddha?” I ask him. “You mean who is the Buddha?”, he said.

Angie’s stage voice appears from nowhere. Whether it’s a bad flip off the wall or I’m catching a smoke she always shows up at the worst possible moment. Angie’s seventeen now. You’ll be glad to know that unlike me she knows what she wants and where she’s going. Two years ago, she was into wild dancing and Justin Bieber; last year it was acting, but Mum couldn’t afford the drama lessons. So, this year she’s all about exams. She has four As predicted on her GCSEs and she knows everything about everything. Or at least she thinks she does. She’s good at maths and Mum’s keen that she study economics so at least one of us learns how to make some money.

As far as Angie’s concerned I’m just this blockhead who has no other interest in the world besides my iPod and skateboard. She can talk - her real passions are: 1) Herself. 2) Boys. In that order.

Angie likes to make fun of me. "Don’t you know anything?” She smiles knowingly at Jizo as she says this, just to rub it in, but he turns to me, his voice lighting up with interest: "What is the Buddha? Good question! Buddha means ‘awakened one’, someone who is awake. It’s a title like ‘sir’ or ‘lord’. It was given to a very special person who lived a long time ago.”

Angie frowns. "We ought to be going. Mum’s expecting us for dinner. You can look all this up on the Web.” 

Jizo winks at me: "There’s a Buddhist film playing all this week at the NFT. Would you like to see it? I know the manager.”

Angie rolls her eyes at me. It’s like she’s saying, “What’s this old man want from you?” But we don’t have money for the movies anymore. And I’ve never even been inside the NFT. Anyhow I know Jizo’s O.K. so I say “yes” without another thought and that’s how this whole thing starts. 

The NFT is the National Film Theatre. It’s right next to the skateboarding practice area. The film they’re showing is an old one called The Cup but it turns out doesn’t have much to do with the Buddha. The whole thing is about young Tibetan monks dreaming of football when they’re meant to be studying. They live in a mountain monastery just across the border in India. They’re obsessed with football and do all sorts of stuff they’re not supposed to so they can see the World Cup on TV. It reminded me of school and skateboarding. Some scenes made me laugh out loud. None of them were much older than me. Their teachers were like my teachers, but a lot nicer. After a while it didn’t matter much that they had shaved heads and wore red robes or spoke in a foreign language. I could really relate to those monks.

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