The wind had lost none of the vindictive intent on its fifteen hundred mile journey from the frozen north. The chill permeated deep into Joe’s bones. It drew a constant stream of water from his eyes and stabbed needles into his cheeks and ears. Pulling his collar tighter around his neck he looked up to the sky for signs of respite. But the dark shroud of cloud hung heavy as a shameful secret, jealously denying a glimmer of any of heaven’s lights. Joe put his head down and continued to walk slowly on. There was no hurry. He had no destination. His past would be there waiting for him wherever he went. Doorways offered shelter but Joe knew that time flowed thick as treacle in a doorway. At least the wind and rain offered a foe to rant and rail against, some purpose to his existence.
Despite the weather the doors of the hall were wide open. Joe stood looking at the shimmering yellow arrow of reflected light guiding his attention to the entrance. The prospect of warmth and the chance to get dry were attractive. The idea of having to interact with the people that would inevitably be in there wasn’t. But for some reason he felt drawn to the light. Against his nature and his better judgement Joe made a decision. Follow the Yellow Brick Road, he thought to himself with humourless irony and trudged along the illuminated path.
As he drew nearer, over the roar of the wind, he could just make out singing. This stopped abruptly and somebody started talking, the voice authoritative and learned. Joe stopped at the doorway and watched the small group, each of them engrossed in the words of the speaker.
A barrier prevented him from crossing the threshold. Invisible yet, to Joe, tangible and impenetrable. His presence would pollute their world, he knew. To enter would be a crime against common decency. His place in this world was the leper colony of social exclusion. He wanted to turn and walk back into the rain but the intention didn’t reach his feet. He stood and stared at the alien conclave.
The speaker, noticing Joe’s presence in the doorway, curtailed his talk. Realising their instructor’s attention was fixed on something at the back of the hall the group slowly turned to stare at the framed figure. Fear choked and paralysed Joe for a few eternal seconds. Somebody separated from the group, approached Joe and gently drew him by the arm into this unfamiliar world.
He was taken deep into the hall, far from the open door. They slipped off his coat a sat him, steaming, in front of a heater. Sodden shoes and socks were gently removed and someone appeared with towels to dry his feet and hair.
‘I’m sorry. Your meeting...’ he guiltily tried to offer an apology for being the cause of the premature end of their programme.
‘That’s OK,’ he was told with a reassuring smile.
A pang of panic swept through Joe as he remembered kindness had always come with a price tag attached. He turned to the speaker. ‘I suppose you’re going to tell me I need Jesus,’ said Joe, part question, part statement.
‘No, I hadn’t intended to,’ came the reply. ‘Not unless you want me to.’
One year later a forlorn, bedraggled figure appeared at the open doors. He wiped the rain from his eyes with the back of his sodden sleeve and watched. The group chattered happily and took occasional sips from steaming mugs of coffee, seemingly oblivious to the privilege and affluence these simple acts afforded. One of them caught the eye of the man in the doorway and started walking across to him. Expecting an abusive dismissal the man was met with a smile that cried with empathy. He felt a gentle but resolute touch on his arm and was lead through the doorway in to the radiant glow of the hall. ‘It’s OK,’ said Joe. ‘Come in and get warm.’
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