Brother Giovanni is a Franciscan and lives in the Convento San Francesco in San Miniato Alto in Tuscany. He is short, tubby, bald and wears a plain brown robe tied with a white cincture; he has sandals on his bare feet. At the age of sixty-nine he is excused work outside the Convento in the lower Arno valley. He now welcomes Via Francigena pellegrini who are walking to Rome. This, he struggles to enjoy.
A recent addition to his responsibilities is to perform the role of Barista to the inhabitants and pilgrims. This he enjoys. When the owner of the Bar Contra de San Andres Fucecchio donated the coffee machine to the convent it was decided that Giovanni was the man for the job; his most obvious sins were a loathing of new technology and a passion for coffee. It had been imagined that being a Barista would mitigate these sins; it didn’t.
It is late afternoon as he makes himself a double espresso and ladles in as much sugar as the cup will take; another sin for which he will apologise at Compline, due within the hour. He takes his coffee out into the gardens that surround the convent and its great church where he sits on his favourite bench in the sun, looks up into the cypress trees, where birds sing, and sips his coffee. He was surprised to be made the Barista. He assumes it is because, as a twenty year old, in 1964, he’d been sent to Manchester to perform good works in Moss Side and thus spoke English, as did many pilgrims. This assumption is wrong; he learnt little English and what he had known he’s largely forgotten, but he remembers enjoying watching Manchester United and Georgie Best.
A bell rings announcing Compline. Hurriedly he finishes his coffee, returns to his cell, collects his prayer book and makes his way to the Cappellina Santissimo. He is the first to arrive and takes his customary place on one of the two-seater open wooden pews at the front. Other Franciscans soon arrive in their working clothes. One disappears into the presbytery and quickly remerges wearing a plain chasuble over jeans and working boots. Giovanni’s pulse rate increases; he knows what to expect.
The friar taking Compline stands at the lectern and opens an iPad to conduct the service. As is his custom Giovanni stands, offers his prayer book, and begs, Fratello, per favour usa questo. He is dismissed with a wave of the hand as if he were a wasp. As normal, he angrily storms out of the Chapel.
At the coffee machine he makes himself another double espresso but adds no sugar. In his cell he does penance. The coffee is bitter. He dislikes it but drinks it nonetheless; his love of coffee is greater than his love of sugar. His hatred of new technology is unabated.
He reads the prayers for Compline from his prayer book trusting his God will forgive him his sinful contradictions.
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© Phil Cosker 2021
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.