BY PETER O’CONNOR
Copyright is held by the author.
IT WAS a leisurely Tuesday afternoon. I was licking the 46th second class stamp and sticking it onto the 46th rectangular brown envelope, when Mr. Barnett, barked me into his office.
Slumped in a chair, short legs twisting and untwisting, was a short, stubby man. Single parent I thought, wife run off with the plumber, needs us to handle the divorce case. But he’d need money for that, Barnett and Sons only handled the most expensive and media worthy of cases.
Mr. Barnett, his numerous chins supporting the phone, waved me over, making signals I sit. He’d never offered me the comfort of one of his leather recliners. This could be it, he’d finally seen my worth. I settled self-importantly into the soft caress of the cushioning recliner, and gave a nod towards the strange little man. He smiled and held his hand towards me.
“Jesus,” he said.
He started pumping my hand, my intuition whispering now would be a good time for a harmless little joke.
“Christ, that’s a weird name.”
“You misunderstand, Jesus isn’t my name.” There was a dramatic pause. “Jesus, is who I am.”
My hand tried to withdraw but he held it and kept pumping away.
“You probably know me as Christ or The Saviour or Jehovah or the Messiah. I’ve been called so many things over the years. I prefer Jesus, it’s short and snappy. My dad, who’s a bit of an old stickler, likes the more formal titles, Saviour Of The World, The One Who Died For Your Sins, that sort of thing. But you can call me plain old Jesus.”
He let go of my hand and the word loony floated, echoing into my subconscious.
“Nice to meet you, Ben,” he said. “I’m happy we’re going to be working together,”
“Er, Mr. Barnett you wanted to see me?”
Mr. Barnett tore his eyes away from Jesus and landed them heavily on me. You could see he was battling between his obvious love of this person and his primeval loathing for me.
“Mr. Jesus, needs our expertise, and has requested that you handle his case.”
Sweat broke out like a flowering rash all over his floppy face and his third chin took up a small independent vibration as he struggled with something he was obviously loath to put into words.
“His, his, his father recommended you.” He continued “Seems he knew your great, great, great, great, great, great, great . . . ,” He looked towards Jesus who nodded slightly and smiled. “. . . great, great, great, great, great, great, great,” Jesus held his hand up. “Grandfather.”
A tear dribbled from Mr. Barnett’s eye. His head shook in denial as his faith battled his evolution and both raged against his common sense. The tear rolled into a crease on the side of his nose, back across his cheek, down via a crease to the next level, back across to his nose, down, back, across, down, back, across. It finally formed a droplet on his fourth and smallest chin and fell exhausted into space. I almost shouted Ker-plunk as it splashed onto the mahogany desk.
“He,” Mr. Barnett said, his eyes rising skywards. “Said you showed great promise.” A gasp. A cough. “Your scepticism would be ideal for the task in hand. I’ve agreed to take the case on a, no, no, wi, wi, wi,”
Jesus and I leant forward as Mr. Barnett pounded three generations of commercialism into submission.
“A no win no fee arrangement.”
There, the words were excised from his body.
“Mr. Jesus,” he continued, “has assured me my faith will be amply rewarded.”
Time for another little joke, “I hope that’s in this life not the next.”
I laughed. Jesus looked down at his scuffed boots while Mr. Barnett (superstition being such a hard habit to break), crossed both fingers. He looked to Jesus for support, but he was studying his fingernails with great interest. Mr. Barnett, knew it was too late so he ploughed on, digging his own grave.
“He needs us to defend him in an up-coming case that will be brought against him. It will pivot on your proving that Mr. Jesus is ‘The Jesus.’ That’s why he’s here, he wanted to meet you face to face and prove to you that he is indeed ‘The Jesus.’ I’ve warned him that you’re a complete idio.. unbeliever. He says he needs to be able to convince you before making his presence here on earth known. Because, let’s be honest, if he can’t convince you, one sceptical human being, how on earth is he going to be able to convince the Church and his believers.”
Bankers, politicians, solicitors, judges and other high powered individuals didn’t come here. No, the clientele here were mainly bus drivers and at this time of day all were out on the afternoon school runs. Jesus, and I had walked the quarter mile to the cafe in silence. Mr. Barnett, couldn’t join us because he had important somethings to do. I picked a table near the back of the converted bus.
“Tea or coffee?”
Jesus, scuttled into the seat nearest the window.
“Tea please, and something to eat, I’m starving.”
I bowed slightly, and walked to the wooden counter constructed between the twin rows of seats. Mertle, looked up from her stooped position as I approached.
Her hands were covered in yellow rubber gloves which were themselves covered in grey dripping fat.
“Afternoon Mertle, two large all-day breakfasts please, one with tea, one with coffee.”
She peeled off the rubber gloves and unhooked two large mugs suspended from a row of hooks above her head. As she filled the first she asked.
“Do you want black pudding with those? It’s something new I’m trying. I thought customers could do with a change, spice up their lives a bit.”
“Is it working?”
“You know this lot, they don’t like the routine upset. You’re an adventurous lad though, you want to give it a try?”
“Do you want to try black pudding with your breakfast?”
Jesus looked up from The Daily Sport.
“What’s black pudding?”
“It’s, it’s . . . what precisely is black pudding?”
“It’s some sort of pig raised on a secret recipe of herbs and spices. It comes vacuum packed in nice pre-cut round slices.”
That certainly did sound different.
“O.K, we’ll give it a try, you’re not a vegetarian or vegan?”
He lifted his eyes and shook his head.
“Good, two of those please Mertle.”
She pushed two cracked mugs over the counter, each filled to the brim with a dark brown liquid. Mertle’s teas and coffees were famous in the bus drivers world. It was almost impossible to tell one from the other even after tasting them. She pointed at one mug, “Tea,” then the other. “Coffee.”
I took a felt pen and wrote T on one mug and C on the other, she nodded.
“It’ll be 10 minutes,” she said, turning her humped back to me. “I’m in the middle of scouring out the fat fryer.”
She drew her rubber gloves back onto her crooked hands and picked up a fat clogged wire brush. I made my way back to our Formica covered table. Jesus re-folded the newspaper and took the offered mug. He nodded towards the paper.
“You don’t get much of that where I come from, it’s frowned upon somewhat by the older members.”
I watched as he took a sip of his tea. His eyes bulged, then watered, and a small string of snot involuntarily escaped from his nose.
“Yeah,” I said, “had the same effect on me. The drivers say it’s the only thing that keeps them awake on long trips.”
He placed the mug onto the table and drew his sleeve across his nose and mouth. He didn’t seem to be the least bit divine. You would think an omnipotent creature would be able to handle Mertle’s tea. I’d seen skinny bus drivers down a whole mug in a matter of seconds, yet here was the supposed Son Of God choking on a tiny sip.
Rain started to patter the window and the temperature dropped as the bright sunshine was dimmed by dark sulking clouds. The grey Thames water started to shift restlessly as the rising wind pushed at it like a bully.
“It’s amazing to think that all this could be gone soon.”
He drew a smiling face in the rising steam covering the inside of the glass.
“Such an awful waste.” He obliterated the face with a sweep of his palm. “All that effort for nothing.”
“I think they’re going to turn it into a fun-park or a shopping centre. It’ll create hundreds of jobs.”
He looked at me like I was a little kid and he was a grown up trying to explain something that was oh so simple.
“I didn’t mean this place,” he said, gesturing at the grey half empty bus park. “I meant THE WORLD. All the human race has struggled to build gone in a great flash of light.”
He made a sort of explosiony noise in the back of his throat and threw his arms wide.
“I think that’s a bit dramatic? I’m sure it won’t come to that. All it takes is a little give and take on both sides. I’m sure we could come to some mutually acceptable arrangement with your dad.”
He shook his head again and leant back into the red and black striped seat.
“You don’t understand, my father doesn’t believe in give and take. You may not have noticed but he’s not a very forgiving man my father. I was surprised when he gave your race another go at it. I thought you’d had it that time. But no, he decided to give you the benefit of the doubt.
“I’LL GIVE THEM ONE MORE GO, IF THEY MESS THIS UP THEY DON’T DESERVE TO LIVE.”
“So he set you on the love thy neighbour, world peace, goodwill to all men, road again. I’ve never seen anybody go from pride to despair so quickly. I don’t think he could quite believe he’d made such an arrogant, conceited, self- destructive little species. It’s taken him two thousand years to finally make up his mind that somewhere he’d made a mistake. I think it was the last two wars that did it, two World Wars in thirty years that’s not bad going. But he couldn’t do it. He had the big book open at the eradication of species page. He’d rolled his sleeves up and was just going to let rip.”
“I CAN’T DO IT, YOU’LL HAVE TO GO DOWN AND SEE IF YOU CAN MAKE THEM COME TO THEIR BLOODY SENSES.”
What’s that saying you have, third time lucky. Well, I think your luck’s just run out. This time he means it. I’m your last shot. The final crack of the whip. Mess this up and well, poof, you’re history, but not your history because you won’t have a history. I think he’s on volume three.
How could this smelly little man sit there and preach to me. I know we aren’t perfect but we’d landed on the moon. We’d reached commercial stability, monetary union. We can genetically modify just about anything. We don’t need a God now. We can take care of ourselves thank you very much. Yes, we still tend to kill each other in huge numbers but, well, we are only human. Anyway, most of the wars were carried out in the name of his Dad. But this was my first big job for Mr. Barnett, I didn’t want to mess it up. I’d just have to humour the crack-pot until Mr. Barnett came to his senses. I’d have a word when I got back into the office.
“You don’t believe I’m Jesus do you? You think I’m some nutter whose duped your boss into paying for a free lunch.”
I blew onto my coffee pushing the drifting scum over the rim. It slid reluctantly onto the table and surrounded the base of the mug, I lifted the mug, Mertle’s scum tended to set like concrete if you didn’t get to it quickly enough, and wiped my finger through the sticky circle.
“If we’re being honest with each other, yeah, I think you’re as cracked as Mertle’s crockery. I don’t know how you fooled Mr. Barnett, but I’m not stupid, it’ll take more than you to convince me you’re Jesus. You’ve got balls though, you don’t go in for half measures. Most people just claim to be Napoleon, or Hitler, or some other megalomaniac. Here’s to you, I hope you get what you want, whatever that is.”
I tilted my mug towards him in a toast.
The rain, trying to escape the lashing of the sadistic wind, beat the side of the bus to be let in. The sky darkened into a mid-winter afternoon.
“I can understand your scepticism. I know I don’t look like the son of God. I don’t know what you expected. Did you want me to come down here in long white flowing robes? A little conspicuous on the streets of London don’t you think? What I’m wearing isn’t perfect but at least I can blend in with ordinary people. No matter what I’d have worn you still wouldn’t believe what I’m saying. So what will it take to convince you that I am who I say I am?”
Mertle, interrupted us before I could pick up the challenge.
“Two breakfasts with black pudding.”
She pushed the plates onto our table. Both were piled high with a wide selection of dead animal. What those animals were and where on those animals the cuts had been sliced from was one of Mertle’s closely guarded secrets. I’d seen it all before and dove headlong into the greasy pool of flesh. Jesus was a little more wary. He dropped his eyes and stared into the bloody carnage that had been arranged haphazardly on his plate. Mertle, seeing his obvious hesitation, leant forward and pointed towards a small, thick, dark object in the centre of the plate.
“Black pudding,” she said with pride. Hoping to entice him with her culinary verve.
“Oh,” Jesus said.
He prodded it with his fork. The prongs didn’t pierce the object, just compressed it a bit. It seemed to have the density of hard foam. I made sure Mertle wasn’t watching and hid mine under a piece of fried bread.
“What’s this?” he asked.
He lifted what looked like a piece of bacon and pointed to something lurking under it.
“Egg,” Mertle said.
“Oh, very novel, I’m used to them being more of a yellow hue.”
Mertle, mentally checked that hue wasn’t a swear word. “They were on special at the wholesalers.”
“I bet they were.”
She looked to me for assistance.
“Lovely,” I said, round a mouthful of bacon.
She left satisfied. Jesus watched me load another pile of mashed and mushed meat into my mouth and seeing I wasn’t coming to any discernible harm started to eat. It took ten minutes of silent cutting and chewing to finish the breakfasts. Jesus burped and wiped his mouth with the bottom of his shirt.
“Not bad, the grease tends to camouflage the taste of the other things.”
I nodded and finished my coffee.
He swilled the last dregs of tea around the bottom of his mug and swallowed the remainder in a huge gulp.
“Thanks, it grows on you doesn’t it?”
I collected the plates and mugs and walked back between the empty rows of seats, the bus swaying in the building gale. I looked out of the rear window and watched as the sky gave up any pretence of summer and a gross dark cloud swallowed the sun. So much for the weather forecast “bright and sunny all day with temperatures staying in the mid-70s.”
“Another tea and coffee thanks Mertle.”
She took the offered crockery and threw them into a huge steel sink about the size of my bath. As she poured hot water onto the coffee granules she nodded over my shoulder and said.
“Who’s your friend?”
Steam hissed from the ancient boiler as it spurted scalding water over the triangular bag.
“He says he’s Jesus.”
“What, the saviour of the world type Jesus?”
“Yeah,” I said.
Mertle, squeezed the T-bag against the side of the mug with a T-spoon and threw it overhand into a black bin-liner.
“Not what you’d expect for the saviour of the world is he. Looks a bit foreign to me, a bit dark round the gills, good English though, very eloquent. Do you want any puddings? I’ve got spotted dick in the steamer and custard on the stove.”
“No thanks. I don’t think we’ll be staying long.”
I returned to our table, shook a cigarette from a half empty pack and drew in a lung-full of smoke. I offered one across the table.
“No thanks, I’m trying to give up,”
I took in another gulp of smoke, holding it deep, letting the nicotine scurry up my back and into the front of my skull. It arrived, lifted me slowly upwards and dropped me gently back into my body. I tipped my head back and let the depleted, acrid blue smoke out in a long rolling cloud. It drifted upwards towards the cracked yellow skylights.
“Make a jumbo jet disappear.”
“Make a jumbo jet disappear. That would convince me you are who you say you are. No, hold it, that American magician did that and he made the Statue of Liberty disappear. Can you walk through the Great Wall of China?”
“I don’t know, it’s something I’ve never tried.”
“Well, that American can, did it live on Channel Four last year as a Christmas special.”
We both jumped as lightening flicked across the sky and thunder rolled booming over our heads. The rain roared to be let in.
“Where the bloody hell did this come from? It was scorching earlier.”
The thunder rattled the windows and the wind rocked the bus gently on its twin axles. Jesus looked through the skylights as lightening flicked the dark afternoon to a stark white.
“You’ll have to be quick he’s warming up. What can I do to convince you I’m the son of God? And please no flashy trick stuff. Something humane and dignified would be nice, something real.”
I looked around the bus. “Not a lot of choice in here.” Then it hit me. “Heal Mertle.”
He looked past my shoulder at the stooped figure bent over the sink.
“How long has she been a hunchback?”
“Does it make a difference?”
“Yes, you’ve got to be careful. A big thing to have a disability removed. Some people need time to adjust. If she’s been disfigured from birth it will take longer. I would need more time to prepare her. What is it a bone deficiency?”
“I don’t know, I’m not her bloody doctor.”
“Do you know if she’s religious?”
“I didn’t realise you needed a consultation before performing miracles. I thought you just went up and laid the hands on or whatever, and that was it, one healed person. If I’d have known I’d have got her to fill in a questionnaire.”
The bus lurched to the left, tipped slightly then rocked back. The hanging mugs clattered above Mertle’s head.
“Call her over,” he said.
“You go and get her.”
“Please, I need to see how she walks to get an idea of where the problem is.”
I was beginning to regret my idea. Mertle was a lovely soul, what if this weirdo upset her? It would kick my discount out of touch. But what if he was Jesus? Did I want to risk the future of mankind on my 25% lunch discount? They did a pretty good breakfast down the burger bar. I called to Mertle.
“Mertle, could you come here for a sec?”
She raised her head from the sink.
“What? I couldn’t hear you over the thunder.”
I raised my voice to a yell.
“Could you come here? My friend would like to have a word with you.”
She peeled her rubber gloves off, smoothed her hair down and hobbled towards us. The bus shifted violently on its springs. The rain tried to batter the aluminium sides into submission and flooded down the large glass windows in a continuous curtain. It was impossible to see further than the ring of weak light the fluorescent tubes cast out into the artificial dark. I’d never seen anything like this before. I hoped I’d remembered to close my dormer window or my bed would be soaked. Mertle arrived at our table and clung to it as the bus rocked again.
“What was it you wanted sir?” She said to Jesus.
He shimmied his way out of the cramped seats and stood beside her.
“I just wanted to thank you for a lovely breakfast.”
He raised his right hand and placed it on Mertle’s temple. It looked like he was giving her one of those Vulcan mind meld things. She jerked and went rigid. He moved his hand slowly over the right side of her face, looking for something, pressure points or nerves maybe. As the bus continued to shift in the howling wind Mertle and Jesus swayed like an intimate couple locked in the last dance of the night. The lightening provided natural pulses of light as they rocked and shifted together. The thunder hammered out a gut wrenching bass beat while the twitching crockery and cutlery added to the syncopation. I started to feel like an intruder as Jesus pulled Mertle closer, his left hand sliding over her deformed back. But something was wrong.
“Are you alright?” I shouted above the clatter of the storm. He didn’t answer. Mertle had turned grey and pasty.
“Come on mate you’ve had your fun. Let her go.”
I stood up and edged my way out of the seat.
“Come on, let her go!”
I grabbed his arm and pulled it away from her back.
“No!” He screamed. “No! Let me alone I can do it. I’ve done it before. It’s a simple matter of re-arranging some of her nerve endings and regenerating the wasted muscles. It’s simple. I was doing this sort of stuff when I was a baby. It’s easy, but something’s wrong, something’s wrong.”
He jumped at Mertle who was now leaning heavily in my arms.
“Who are you? What are you? Why are you doing this?” he screamed.
I hit him. Sod Mr. Barnett. The Jesus freak landed on his back in the central aisle. He couldn’t believe it.
“You can’t hit me, I’m the Son Of God.”
I lowered Mertle onto a seat.
“You’re a nutter that’s who you are. What were you trying to do kill her? You’re a sick little man.”
He sat up feeling the bruise that was already swelling on his cheek.
“I was trying to cure her. You don’t understand, she’s not what she seems.”
“That’s two people in here who aren’t who they claim to be.”
He stood up.
“No, it can’t end like this.”
I placed myself in front of Mertle.
“I’ll tell Mr. Barnett, you changed your mind and won’t be needing our
The lightening screamed into the artificial night. The thunder applauded its display and the rain cried for more. Jesus saw I meant it. He turned and walked towards the double doors.
“Such a waste, such a terrible, terrible waste,” he said, as he stepped into the storm. The rain stopped. The lightening stopped. The thunder stopped. He was gone.
“It’s coming! It’s coming! It’s coming!”
She shifted, her body shimmered. Horns?
“Oh hell,” I said.
“YESssssssssssssss,” he said. “It will be, forever.” The big ball of light hit and we all went poof.
Pete lives by the coast in South Devon, U. K. He has been writing for many years, only now, getting enough of his life in order to be able to send his stories out into the world.