Praying in The Stock Cupboard
If he’d smoked he’d have called them his cigarette breaks, but he didn’t smoke so he called them his “sanity breaks”. He’d slip out of office for five minutes of “fresh air” on the fire escape when things in there were getting too heavy, like they were now. Ruth and Hermione were having another turf war in the middle of their open plan office. This time they were arguing over who had the more important projects, the project managers’ equivalent of “mine’s bigger then yours.” Joe had to escape that.
He always took a roundabout route to get to the fire escape, going past the minor stock cupboard, in a hope no one would notice him, which they never seemed to. As he past the cupboard, its door a-jar, he thought he heard someone crying. He stopped in his tracks and listened. He’d been right, there was the sound of someone crying coming from the cupboard. Quietly he pushed the cupboard door open and glanced into it.
There, crouching in the middle of the cupboard’s tiny floor was Francine. She was actually kneeling there, her hands clasped together, and muttering to herself. The sight was so strange and unexpected that he just stood there and stared at her. What the hell was going on?
After a moment Francine looked up at him, her lank hair parting little a curtain to reveal her round and freckled face.
“Are you all right?” Joe asked, it seemed the right thing to say.
“I’m praying,” she flatly replied.
She was the office’s Christian, in the same way as he was one of the office’s gays, Candice (who he shared a workstation with) was one of the office’s blacks or Traci-Anne was the office’s Essex Girl. They seemed to like to pigeonhole people with a simple label, usually as part of a minor or small group; but Joe didn’t care. He could hide so much behind his label.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt,” he muttered, starting to take a step back.
“Don’t go,” Francine replied as she jumped to her feet, surprisingly quickly in her long woollen dress. “What are you doing on Saturday?”
Was she asking him for a date? This was Francine and he was one of the office’s gays.
“The usual, going out with my mates.”
“My church is having a Victory in Jesus rally; it’s an evangelical rally to drew-in new members. You’d be very welcome and we’d love you to come along,” she said, her words rushing out of her mouth.
He’d seen the pamphlets and tracks that she kept leaving around the office, which talked of sin and damnation and “sexual perversion”, and they had left him feeling cold with distaste. He knew this kind of hard and judgemental religion and he wanted nothing to do with it. Those pamphlets had told him what they felt towards his sexuality so he knew it was a mutual distaste.
“No thanks, it’s not me,” he told her.
“Joe, you have to,” Francine said, taking a step towards him, her hand reaching out for his arm. “Pastor Isaac, my church’s minister, had a prophecy that I would be the lynch-pin of this office. That through me this whole office would be led to the Lord, to repentance and turning to Jesus. But that was six months ago and I can’t get one person to come to church with me. People at church are saying that I’m disobeying God, but I’m not but everyone keeps turning their backs on the Lord. I just need one person to come to church with me so that I can show how faithful I’m being.”
The desperation on her face was naked and deeply unattractive, the pleading of someone drowning when he couldn’t rescue them. Joe actually took a step backwards, away from her and the stock cupboard.
“No, it’s really not my thing,” he said, trying to sound more resolute.
“But you really need the Lord; you live such an immortal life. God can redeem you and make you normal. I knew He can and you’ll be such a better person,” her voice was pleading and yet also with an excited tone.
“I’ve really got to go,” Joe replied and positively leapt back from the cupboard.
He almost ran down the corridor and also jumped through the fire escape door. He didn’t stop until his back was pressed into the corner of the fire escape and he was staring at the closed door. He waited, his body tense and his mind was racing, for her to follow him; for Francine to come out onto the fire escape and to carry on begging him to come to her stupid church; but she didn’t.
When, minutes later, it was obvious that she wasn’t following he finally relaxed. The awkwardness of it all was passing. God that was fucking weird, Joe told himself, and yet also sad…