Following a successful exhibition opening and a late night of celebration, with not nearly enough sleep on a friend's couch, Jac was nursing just enough of a hangover to make public transport feel like an ordeal. The air was damp, humid, and their headache was not helped by the rantings of a preacher who had positioned himself next to the busy bus stop for maximum impact and doom-spreading.
"You're waiting, always waiting, passive and ignorant, when you should be preparing for the end! The Lord has warned you and you didn't pay attention. Now he will unleash punishment of the worst kind on the unbelievers! You might look the other way now but soon you will be forced to face the consequences of your lack of faith. Soon you will—"
A little boy in the queue at the bus stop buried his head in his father's jacket and started to cry quietly. Everyone else looked around awkwardly, not sure where to direct their eyes.
Everyone except Jac, who took a step towards the preacher and said calmly, "Excuse me, but you're frightening children and making people feel uncomfortable. I understand the strength of your belief, but please don't shout like that."
"Young man, or woman, or whatever you think you are—" the preacher attempted to respond.
"My gender is of no relevance," interrupted Jac, still speaking gently, "and it's not OK to invoke the Lord's name to scare people, and especially not to upset children. If you're concerned about the eternal fate of strangers, this is not the most effective way to go about expressing that concern."
The little boy in the queue had stopped crying and was now standing behind his father, peeking around, dark eyes wide, cheeks still wet with tears.
The preacher began again. "Who are you to argue with the word of the Lord? Jesus said—"
"Jesus said people should love one another, and be kind." Jac's hands were shaking in their pockets. They encountered preachers often enough but had never stood up to them before, instead preferring to ignore them in the hope that a lack of attention would serve as discouragement. Driving fear into people's hearts was not acceptable though. And making little kids cry was the worst.
The entire bus queue took a step forward, behind Jac, a supportive structure. The little boy had taken more than a step. Standing in front of his father now, his expression shifting from fear to courage.
He took a deep breath and announced to the preacher, "Your Jesus is mean and Jesus isn't mean. And you're mean too and you're shouty." His father stood solid, hands resting on his son's shoulders.
The preacher turned away, muttering under his breath. "Aye, you people always stick together, don't you?"
Jac clenched their fists in their pockets and stood up straighter, taller, squaring their shoulders. Confrontational. Strong. "And who are 'you people'?"
"You, and them. People from wherever you're from. Coming here, shooting your mouths off."Jac gritted their teeth, fighting to control a temper which rarely surfaced but blazed like a forest fire when it did.
"I'm from Edinburgh. I don't know where that little boy is from, or his father, or anyone else standing here, and neither do you. And you know what? It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter where anyone is from. You've no right to start assuming things about people to justify your own antisocial outbursts, OK?"
The little boy's father took a step forward to stand beside Jac. A petite woman in over-alls with oil under her fingernails had paused on her way to the bakery on the corner, waiting for a moment to find a path past the queue. She moved to Jac's other side.
"The Lord will have his—"
"Oh, stop it," Jac interrupted. "Just stop. Life's hard enough and no-one needs you making it any harder with your threats. You're not speaking for God or Jesus. You're not speaking for anyone but yourself." Jac's voice was almost raised now and more people had gathered, some ready to lend their support and others just happy to see a preacher being properly dealt with for a change.
The preacher refused to back down. "You will be punished! You are not the Lord's people, none of you, and he will not save you."
The little boy's father spoke up, deep voice smooth and measured. "We've been saving ourselves for years and we'll keep right on doing that, whatever happens. Now, you're going to turn around and walk away or I'm going to call the police. Are we clear?"
Growing mumbles of agreement and encouragement came from the bus queue and the small crowd that surrounded them. Faced will a wall of people unwilling to put up with his ranting a moment longer, the preacher shuffled off, muttering things everyone was thankful they didn't have to hear.
Jac took a deep breath and a smile began to shine across their face. They crouched down and addressed the little boy. "Thank you. You're very brave. My name's Jac. What's yours?"
"I'm Koman. And this is my daddy."
"Jamal," the man introduced himself. "And thank you."
The bus arrived while Koman gazed in admiration at his new friend, Jac's hangover began to lift and Sarah continued on her way to pick up lunch for herself and Marj.
The preacher was forgotten, as he deserved to be.
YOU ARE READING
Car ThievesScience Fiction
In the world of the immune, survival is taken, not given. The year 2027. Edinburgh, Scotland. Disease has swept a deadly path through society. A nightlife mogul with a violent past, a sadistic drug dealer, an artist craving companionship, a privileg...