Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I was waiting at the bus stop on Brixton Water Lane for a number 3 when I noticed two men standing near me. They were waiting for a bus together, standing near each other, whispering and giggling. They were just like schoolgirls. At first I paid little attention to them; immature men are no rarity. However, my attention was solicited by extraordinary regular interruption to this manner: every minute or so the silly sniggering would cease, they would turn away from each other slightly and stare with a stern face at the pavement or hold their hands over their eyes as if with a headache. These calm interludes would last only a few seconds and then one of them would usually poke the other and mumble something apparently hilarious. I thought perhaps they were hangover and these bouts of silliness were the fatigued laughs of one who remembers the outrageous exploits of the night before. That would explain the serene intermissions: headaches and nausea are certainly a common hindrance when one wants the party to continue the morning after. But the sheer mania, the excessively jubilant, almost unnatural, bursts of uncontrollable giggling suggested something more than just a happy hangover. I suspected that they were under the influence of mind-altering drug, perhaps mushrooms. I am however, hopelessly ignorant in this field having had very few experiences myself so I shall speculate no further, leaving the description at that: it seemed to me more than just a hangover.

The bus arrived and I boarded it followed by these two men. I took a seat upstairs and opened my book and I was soon lost within its pages. Not five minutes could have passed before I was disturbed by the voice of an African woman. She was addressing the seated multitudes, a bus packed with people. I could not see her. She was downstairs but her voices carried upstairs clearly.
“Good morning Ladies and Gentleman, I’m talking to you on behalf of Jesus Christ. I’ve come here to tell you how your sins can be alleviated. I have come here today to tell you that you must have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ…” The woman continued in this manner.

One of the men who I had scrutinised at the bus stop was in a seat right next to the stairs. As the African voice downstairs was droning on about ‘the Lord’, ‘redemption of sins’ and so forth, this man half stood up, leaned over the stairwell and shouted “We don’t want to know!” in a heavy French accent and sat back down with a grunt of self-satisfaction. The preachers voice continued without the slightest pause or change of tone, as nothing had happened. On noticing this, the Frenchman sighed heavily, expressing great irritation and leaned over again to shout “We’re not Christians! We don’t want to know!” At this, his friend who had sniggered with him at the bus stop began to snigger again. This provoked a sparse wave of sniggering throughout the bus. The Frenchman joined in with another smug guttural emission. But still the sermonic tones floated up clear and unencumbered. I was now unable to read my book. I shut it and observed the following with a mixture of mild irritation and intrigue.

The Frenchman engaged in some melodramatic huffing and puffing and then repeated his attempts at silencing the preacher with the same heckles as before “We’re not Christians! We don’t want to know! … We don’t want to know!” His entreaties went completely unheeded. Those that had formerly sniggered with him on the top deck were beginning to lose interest in the frantic Frenchman and settle down under the auspices of their new self-appointed priest. Refusing to become a compliant member of her congregation, the Frenchman rallied his inner troops and let fly a further volley of ammunition. “Come on… leave us in peace!” he whined, “We don’t want to hear what you have to say!” I marvelled at his apparently uninhibited ability to speak for the whole top deck of the bus: it was always ‘we are not Christians’ or ‘we don’t want to hear it’. He continued shouting for some time and the African voice downstairs remained astonishingly unfazed by it. It was almost as if it were just a recording of some preaching. The thought crossed my mind that it might actually be so. For all we knew it could be, it didn’t look to me as if the Frenchman could actually see his antagonist: whenever he leaned over to hurl abuse down the stairwell his eyes didn’t appear to be trained on anything in particular.

Eventually the exhausted Frenchman appeared to give up. The oration downstairs was calmly persisting. I joined many of my fellow passengers in turning to watch the Frenchman, we were all curious as to his next move. Had he given up? Would he sit quietly and relent? He hunched his back and sat with his legs twisted uncomfortably like a sulking schoolboy.
“The lords is part of your life whether you know it or not,” continued the voice, “He is loving you always. Let Him into your life and love him in return. Your reward shall be eternal.” The voice paused for a short while and the Frenchman wriggled out of his unwieldy position and jumped up to lean over the stairwell and shout something. I saw his lips open, I saw him inhaling, planning his abuse. But the voice started again, apparently before he had thought of anything to say:
“Now ladies and gentleman I want to ask you some questions.” she began again “Who controls your life?”
“Myself!” the Frenchman barked.
“Who controls the devil?” said the voice, still in perfectly untrammelled tone.
“I do!” he screamed, daftly. A few laughs were heard scattered about the top deck.
“Who controls the world?”
“Nature!” he offered at a less frantic pitch.
“Do you want to go to heaven?”
“No!” he hollered loud and steady, pleased with his chance to retort to such inane questions.
“Do you want to go to hell?” asked the voice, and this time I thought I detected a more inquisitive quality in her voice.
“Yes!” He spat, beaming at his own rebellion.
After a pause the voice warned almost pleadingly “But hell is eternal damnation… fire burns your flesh and guilt engulfs your mind… forever” there was pity in her voice. Now, of course, I knew it was not a recording. The woman downstairs was just very good at ignoring hecklers. He had finally got to her though.
“I don’t care,” he said quite softly, in a voice that seemed really not to care. “I’m an atheist” he boomed proudly, “ none of that bullshit is going to happen to me!”
“God is willing to forgive non-believers” the voice resumed its former insuperable manner and finished what she had, apparently, written down or prepared to say originally “In the name of the father…”

The Frenchman was now sitting contentedly with his arms crossed, smiling and nodding mockingly at the preacher’s words. Concluding her lecture, the priest of this rolling church said “thank you very much everyone and I will see you again soon my friend”. It was clear that she meant the Frenchman. Accordingly, he waved his hand in a dismissive manner and mumbled “Yeah yeah yeah…”

3 comments:

david cano said...

you are a great story teller.... really

a lady said...

post more, william.

Lil' Danes Picklescott said...

Another fine vintage. It's treats having access to this back catalogue.