‘There’s a war going on out there, Ben. Today the battle is raging and you need all the help you can get.’
Man….he was right, even if he didn’t know which direction the battle was in. The over-large cycle helmet, trousers in cycle clips at the ankles, and functional backpack made him look like someone vulnerable. The thing he was clutching in his left hand as we talked looked like a wooden ninja star. I joked about it but he was deadly serious.
‘It’s a holding Cross,’ he said. ‘It wards off Evil.’
I stopped laughing. He was deep into it. Against all other failures to understand people, one thing I know is you should never piss on someone else’s religious beliefs, no matter how bat-shit crazy they may appear. I mean, fuck, who am I to judge anyhow? I’ve seen things flying about, heard voices, been tapped straight into some supreme being’s femoral vein more than once. Tolerance isn’t just something you know you should exhibit, it’s something you feel.
He was on my Team, I was his boss – laughable really – and he was a Police Officer at the end of a long and boring and fruitless career. Now, following a seventies conversion by the Rev Billy Graham at a huge open air Christian love-in, he was into his beliefs in a big way. The penny dropped when he told me about the holding cross.
‘Oh….yeah….I suppose. Martin, do you really think there’s a war?’
‘I have no doubt.’ He stared right at me with purpose and religious affliction. Unblinking, full of fervour and powerful New Testament gibberish. ‘Satan is testing us all. His time has come and we need to be ready to fight; mankind needs to be ready.’
I said I had to leave. Conversations like that were unhelpful at the time when I was heading back home to piss into a glass in an attic room for fear of coming out of the room and facing world. It was easier than having to talk to my girlfriend, and helped avoid those eyes of hers she always used like Jedi mind control. It was a self-imposed exile that was serving a purpose. I was getting sicker. What I didn’t need was to feed images in my mind of Satan rearing a thousand feet over my cul-de-sac while the dark early morning hours chugged by like greasy black slugs. No. Who does? Martin didn’t know my backstory, it wasn’t his fault. I liked him. He even bought me a bible one time – one of those expensive leather bound ones. He’d signed it “I’m so happy you’re in God’s Team now.” I couldn’t tell him I wasn’t. I mean, how do you go about making someone like him understand that you don’t believe what they do without that someone getting hurt? These things have, in my experience, a tendency to turn violent from time to time. Messy, protracted, shouting, shoving. All bad, however you look at it and whichever side you’re on.
I watched from my attic skylight that night. The sky was clear. I could hear my nearly ex-girlfriend downstairs in the bedroom on the phone telling the guy with the spiders how much she was looking forward to fucking him again. She really wanted his cock so badly, so she said. In my mind his member was already there and she was speaking those words right into it in the warm night. The stars were barely visible over the artificial streetlight dome cast up by our shitty new estate. I looked for Hercules with his sword and shield and belt and massive frame. He held sway over the sky. He’d deal with Satan alright, if he did manage to show a horn or two around here. I found the outline of his belt up there but couldn’t see much more than a bit of one leg. He was useless when faced with a couple of orange street lamps. Satan would murder him with less trouble than my girlfriend was going to have with that “huge, gorgeous, pulsating cock,” downstairs. Walk in the park. She was a fucking machine, when she was in the mood.
Next day, Martin took me to one side and told me he’d heard a sermon last night. The Preacher said we needed to get serious with our lives, the end was in sight – Fire raining from the sky; ‘Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed…Then they gathered at the place named Armageddon. Don’t forget that, Ben,’ he said.
I agreed, out of cowardice, but he was wrong. There was a lot of nakedness, and more, going on but there was no end in sight for me at the mercy of any fantastical being. Just the little man-made tablets I had stockpiled at home. Held in one trembling hand. Stigmata-free.