Bible John 2
I clutch the handle of my holdall, with my purse secure inside. ‘I’m not sure,’ I say. I hold a leaflet out as a shield. ‘Perhaps she’ll get some of the answers she seeks here. You just have to be grateful to God for all that you’ve got.’
I feel awkward, both of them looking at me with the same expression. His arms are folded tight to his chest. My hand falls to my side and I pack the leaflet away with the others. ‘Perhaps we should leave?’ I say in an upbeat voice.
A tabby swishes into the living room. Its tail a whip, measuring distances between feet. It rubs its neck and head against his ankles and black shiny shoes. It purrs as it looks up at me. He bends and strokes between the cat’s ears and it playfully paws at his hand. The young madame is rocking herself slightly, her face doped by crying, but she grins for the first time.
‘He likes you,’ she says. ‘And she doesnae usually like men.’
‘Aye,’ he says. There’s a smile in his eyes. ‘I can understand that. I don’t like men much either.’
The cat decides enough is enough. It unwinds and unbinds its body, its tail a baton signalling its departure.
I shut my eyes momentarily and say a prayer for the poor girl under my breath. John ignores me.
‘You want a cup of tea?’ the girl asks him, getting up off the couch. The soft tangle of her hair catches the light, and for a second she’s too young and pretty to have such worries. I wonder what her children are like and where they are.
She glances at me. My presence an afterthought, her mouth a surly scrawl. ‘You want tea?’
‘No,’ I say. ‘I’m fine.’ I’d need to clean the cup first with sand and then disinfect it before I’d even consider it, but I curve the corner of my lips upwards into a smile and put a Watchtower on the arm of the couch. ‘We really, really, need to be going.’
He pats her hand. ‘Sometimes life doesn’t make sense until later.’
‘Have faith and pray,’ I add, edging towards the living-room door.
His cheeks puff and he lets out a long exasperated sigh, but his voice is gentle as he addresses her. ‘Whit she’s trying to say it’s okay with admitting life is shite, and you’ve done your best and it’s no your fault. That you need a bit of help.’
Her neck droops and her chin drops. She licks her pink lips and perches on the edge the couch. He sits opposite her and takes her long white fingers in his own and kneads and rubs them. She sniffs. Her voice is cotton wool. ‘We didnae really get on. Stayed together more through habit than anything else. He wiz an arsehole.’
‘I don’t believe in God,’ she whispers. And she’s tilting, like an untethered wigwam, and falling sideways across the cushions. He’s catching her and holding her upright and rubbing her back.
‘You don’t have to believe in God hen.’ He’s crying too. ‘He knows where you are and He believes in you.’
I back into the hall, lift the Yale and let myself out. A packet of Wotsits litters the bottom steps and scrunches under my feet into the stairs. The close is unwashed. I need to go home and have a soak and hot bath.
Later, I pray for guidance. I arrange a meeting with an elder in our church and we pray together. He walks to the window and adjusts the blinds. Letting in more light. He suggests I should give John another chance, swallow my pride, and turn the other cheek. I bow to God’s will.
John infuriates me, but he also intrigues me. I make an effort and wear a summer dress. We agree to meet at the high flats at Littleholm. It’s a trial run for both of us. Full of council house tenants that spit in the lifts, don’t meet your eye in the hallways or stairs. People that don’t answer their door, and if they do are uncivil and sometimes nasty and rude. A place that should suit him.
Perhaps because of the excessive heat, he’s wearing an old sweatshirt with some football team’s logo, denims and white sandshoes. The Watchtowers are tied in string and left in bundles. He carries them inside. We stand looking at the lifts and luminous numbers on the panels about the metal doors as if figuring out how they work.
‘We’ll start on the top floor and work our way down?’ he suggests.
‘That’s a good idea,’ I say. I smile. He smiles back. ‘What about that young girl? I haven’t seen her at any of our meetings yet.’
He does something with his mouth and claws and scratches at the back of his neck. ‘Aye, she’s gettin there,’ he says, enigmatically.
The lift door opens. A man in a white baseball cap steps out. Glances at him and then peers at me, his eyes sliding away. We step in. We stand like strangers. The bundle of papers between us on the metallic floor. He presses 14 and we jolt upwards.
I wait for a minute, until we’ve passed the fourth floor, before I speak. ‘What I mean to say is maybe you had ulterior motives.’
His head turns slowly. ‘Aye, I did. I wanted to help her. Whit’s your excuse?’
‘What do you mean?’ I can’t help the catch in my voice. ‘I prayed for her. And for you.’
He looks up at the luminous numbers. Nine, ten, eleven, twelve. When we get to 14 and the lift doors open we’re all out of words. He drags the papers out into the foyer, but I’ve no energy and feel like going home.
He stuffs his hands into his side pockets, face as hard as glass and his voice just as stiff. ‘Where dae yae want to start?’
‘Look, I’m sorry if I’ve upset you.’
‘Can I ask you a question?’
He shrugs and there’s a thaw in his stiff-necked gaze.
‘Why are you doing this?’ I shook my head and try to make what I am saying clearer. ‘Why are you doing missionary work?’
‘Because God spoke to me,’ he says.
The answer is so unexpected and ridiculous I cover my mouth and stifle a laugh. ‘What did He say?’
‘That’s between me and God.’
I consider this and try a different tack. ‘I don’t mean what did He say, say, but what was His general message to mankind?’
‘If God had a general message to mankind don’t you think he’d tell him that himself? His message was to me.’
I shake my head. I’ve tried being civil. ‘Let’s get started,’ I say. ‘We’ll go in a clockwise direction. But don’t expect too much.’ He picks up the two bundles of papers, steps aside, and waits for me to lead the way. I push through the door with reinforced glass and we stand in one of halls and rows of matching doorways. He bends down and uses his to teeth to untie the knot in the first bundle.
‘None of them work and most of them are on drink and drugs,’ I warn him. ‘Just stick a Watchtower through each letterbox. We’ll get in and out as quickly as possible.’
‘Hing on,’ he says, standing up and his eyebrows knit together. ‘If Jesus came back this is just the kind of place he would be. He might be disabled and be on benefits. Let God be God.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ I say. ‘Jesus’ dad was a hard-working carpenter. He’d be the same. He’d never claim benefits.’
‘Aye, you’re right. God was too busy creating the world to claim benefits, but maybe it’s not all about what we take, but what we give. Maybe we should take a wee look at ourselves first before we pull the trigger. Condemn some people to a lifetime of misery and pain, because it makes us seem more important. Makes us feel we’ve worked out passage by our own natural ability. That we are in fact chosen. But think about this. Maybe we’re deluding ourselves and the devil’s got the upper hand.’