“Excuse me,” she said, her angular, Billie-Piper-esque gob thoroughly filled with sandwich as she spoke, “Do you have a moment for a quick survey about religion?”
“No sorry,” I said, gesturing to the overflowing Sainsbury’s bag in my hand, “I have to get home, I’m cooking my flatmate dinner.” HA HA HA HA HA HA WHAT A LIE. Fuck me I am good sometimes.
“It’ll just take a … sorry, just finishing my sandwich. It’ll just take a few minutes.”
I was uncomfortable even continuing with the conversation while her mouth was so full. I stood there waiting as she chewed and chewed. It appeared to be a leather sandwich. Or perhaps, I began to think, there was no sandwich and this was an ingenious way to get my attention, by instantly making me feel like I had interrupted her. She finished; “it’ll take five minutes max, I promise, we just want to ask you some questions and then you can get home.”
It was a Friday night and I’d just come from a couple of drinks in a Tooting pub down the road, via Sainsbury’s, where I ironically picked up a loaf of bread, some sandwich fillings, and some very heavy juice and milk. I was feeling reasonably helpful, and she had rushed her sandwich to get my attention (or did she?); I was also mildly “up for” a discussion about religion with strangers. Hey, it was a Friday night about 9 o’clock and I was fucking sober, I need to get my kicks somewhere. “OK, if it’s just five minutes, guess my flatmate can wait.”
She drew me a little further along the pavement outside the Tube Station to where her male companion was waiting. This was no survey, I was clearly in for a God-bashing. These two South Africans fitted the profile. She was potentially hot but her face was weathered and joyless; her friend was blandly-dressed, gormless-looking, with an inexplicable air of self-satisfaction and contentment about him. They were the stereotypical religious zealot couple. This would not take five minutes. She asked my name, shook my hand and introduced herself as Christine. Her friend did the same and introduced himself as Chris. Interesting. I was hoping it was coincidence that they both had Christ in their name.
Now in this anecdote I will probably come across like I’m “God-bashing”-bashing. I am not against the idea of believing in God. I myself believe there is some kind of higher power out there, I have some spiritual ideas, I am very open to hearing people’s views on religion, and I don’t set out to judge people. I very nearly went to Church recently, because I fancied trying it out, and I am currently available for new hobbies. So they could have picked a worse person to chat to. It was theirs to lose really.
Chris, the guy, started. “So, Richard, do you believe in God?” Richard? Where the fuck did that come from, that doesn’t sound at all like Alan.
“Um, yeah I think I do, I believe in A God, but I’m not sure I believe in a particular one that has been decided upon, which may or may not involve the one you’re going to talk to me about.”
“And do you know about Jesus and why he was sent here?” he asked. It seemed like Christine was only there to pull in the punters.
“Again, I am going to have to assume that you’re coming at this from a certain angle. If you’re talking about the Jesus from all the God stories, I believe it was said he was sent to “die for our sins”.”
Chris proceeded to explain to me, in very little detail, a summary of how this came about – told to me like it was fact – and which resulted in me essentially getting the impression God sent his son to die because a man took some fruit when he wasn’t supposed to. I am not trying to be funny here, he really did explain it like that. Or maybe that’s actually what was supposed to have happened. Either way it sounded a little outlandish. He continued, “Can you understand why God did this?”
I had to be honest, “Not really, no, it does sound like he massively overreacted to the whole fruit thing. He could have made more fruit. Or he could have just made more obedient people. Or made the fruit higher. Or not had fruit. Or not had people.” I was giving this a chance but I had a feeling this was not going to be productive. Chris explained to me about sinning, and where we go when we die, and where I thought I was going, and he established that I was a serial sinner when I admitted that I had taken the Lord’s name in vain.
“Imagine, you got in a car, and you ran over someone deliberately. You would have to go in front of a judge, and you would be punished. If you have sinned like you have, when you die, God will judge you in the same way.”
“Hang on,” I gave Chris a chance to correct himself, “Are you trying to say that taking the Lord’s name in vain is just like going out and killing someone?”
“Yes, they are right there next to each other in the Ten Commandments.”
I was somewhat speechless, so I decided to be honest, “Look guys, right I was open to this but I think you’ve lost me right there, that’s just silly talk.”
Christine broke her silence. I had begun to think she could only talk with sandwich in her mouth. She started on this passionate speech about obeying God’s word and letting God into your life and having God in your heart, and being judged by your heart and not by your deeds (meaning, according to her, thinking your neighbour’s wife is hot is just as bad as shagging your neighbour’s wife).
It was a few minutes into this uninterrupted sermon that I noticed Christine only had one arm.
There was just a stump beneath the short sleeve of her t-shirt on her right side. Many, many thoughts popped into my head at this point and I basically lost track of what grip I had at all on what she was saying. Many gags also popped into my head but this was not the time or place. It was strange I had not noticed this before.
She continued for several more self-indulgent minutes as I tried not to stare at the stump whilst simultaneously staring at the stump.
Something wasn’t right and it took me some time to realise…
…I was sure I shook that hand when I met her.
Sure enough, eventually the arm reappeared. She’d either had a very persistent itch, or she had some weird tick where she put her arm behind her back when she talked about Jesus. She eventually asked for some input and asked me if I had any worries in my life. I said yeah sure. She started telling me about how God comes into your life and takes all those worries away, all the things that make you unhappy.
At this point she started crying.
She actually had tears streaming down her face telling me how God takes away all your worries and woes. He clearly has got some work left to do on her. She looked fucking miserable to start with and now she was crying about having her woes taken away. Christine went on, “All your stresses and troubles, think of them like a backpack that you carry around with you all the time.” Good analogy, we both had backpacks on. “When you find God it’s like he takes the backpack off.” She took hers off and lay it on the ground. Role-play. Interactive. Good. “And you realise how good it feels not to be carrying all that heavy baggage with you.”
As I’ve said I was not here to bait these people, but I was sorely tempted to point out that I did have a heavy backpack on, and a very heavy bag of shopping which I’d been standing holding for about ten minutes listening to them talking about this stuff. Some local vagabonds arrived nearby and Christine stopped talking and grabbed her backpack and put it back on. No supreme power was going to stop those hooded gentlemen from making off with her worries and woes if she just left them lying around like that…
It was really time to go, they had not done a great job of convincing me. Out of courtesy I asked if they had any literature. Chris gave me a card with his number on it. And asked for mine. I told him not a chance. I was starting to worry these people would follow me home. Chris asked if I had anything I wanted him to pray for on my behalf. Nice gesture. He said, any personal issues I needed help with, or anything on my mind.
I very nearly asked him to pray for a date for me with the perfect stunning girl from work, but I had a feeling that might sound a little trivial. But it was on my mind, and was a personal issue. Maybe I should have done it, if he’d have pulled it off I might very well have become a believer.