A smattering of polite applause. A sinister looking bloke in on a mobility scooter continues to just stare at me, his eyes never leaving mine. The teenagers stood around eating their McDonalds take the piss. One of them throws a piece of burger at me. I step down from the podium. And then he rushes me. He prods me in the chest.
‘What about me? He doesn’t love me’ he shouts. ‘Where was your fucking God when I needed him?’
The man stinks. Wild hair and eyes. The teenagers laugh at him. Another local nutter.
I try to calm him down. ‘Let Him in to your life, friend.’ Another piece of burger hits me. ‘You have to trust Him’ I shout to the man and my growing audience.
I found Him because of what happened thirty years ago. Prison. There was nothing in this city then. Not much more now. Thatcher’s fault. The woman had no compassion, no interest in a dying North. Me and Keith couldn’t find any work. We both had kids to feed, so what choice did we have? We turned to crime. Armed robbery. In and out quickly and nobody gets hurt. That was the plan. We invested in a shotgun. They were surprisingly easy to get hold of if you knew the right people. Or the wrong people. We watched and learned the routines. We eventually chose a bank in a small village just outside of the city. We knew they stored the money on site, ready for a weekly collection on a Friday afternoon. We didn’t know how to hot-wire a car, so we made up some fake number-plates and stuck them on Keith’s red Cortina. It was common enough and it would fool people. I was more nervous than Keith on the day. We made a pact. The car was left with the engine running and we both ran into the bank, balaclavas in place. Keith held the gun. We tossed for roles. He shouted at the single customer in the place. An old man. He shouted back at us, told us he’d served in the War. I told him to shut his mouth and handed a bag to the scared young woman at the cashier’s till. Told her to fill it with notes. She started to cry, but she did as she was told. The old man wouldn’t shut up, told us he’d served his country against the Nazis so we would have freedom, told us about serving in the dense jungles of the Pacific. Keith told him to shut up. He wouldn’t. Keith pulled the trigger. And you don’t walk away from that. We both went to prison for a long time. It was for the best, because that was when He found me.
For a moment, I think he’s going to spit in my face. He pushes me backwards, into my boards.
‘Fuck off, hypocrite.’
‘Give Him a chance’ I shout at his back. ‘Open your heart to Him.’
He turns to face me. More shoppers are watching now. I swallow. Start to sweat.
‘If he loved me, I wouldn’t be fucking homeless, would I? I wouldn’t be sleeping in a shop doorway, would I? My family would still be talking to me.’ He stepped closer, lowered his voice.
‘There’s so much hate for me. Can’t you and your fucking God understand that?’
‘You’ve got to let Him into your life. It’s the only way, friend. The only way to move forward.’
He stared at me. ‘Do you really believe that?’
I nodded. ‘I do.’
‘What if you can’t live with your mistakes?’
‘There’s always a way. He forgives.’
He took a step back and looked me up and down. Hate in his eyes. ‘Good job for you I was the one holding the gun, then, wasn’t it?’