“Get out of my way, shrimps!”
Arthur Jennings rarely had to repeat his threats. The gang of four boys scattered, abandoning their nearly finished chalk drawing. They watched with barely suppressed fury as the older boy stood in the middle of their pavement sketch and slowly, deliberately rubbed it out with his feet.
“That is so unfair,” hissed the smallest of the boys. “He could easily have walked around us.”
“Keep your voice down or he’ll hear you,” warned one of the others. “Jennings is dangerous.”
But the advice came too late. The boy shrieked as the bully’s powerful hands reached down and grabbed hold of his shirt. Moments later he was staring into the cruel face of Arthur Jennings, his toes barely touching the ground, and his bladder threatening to bring further humiliation at any moment.
“Did you say something, rabbit breath?”
The boy merely shook his head. Arthur looked at him in disgust, thought about teaching his friends a lesson in respect, then dropped the boy in a heap on the ground.
“I’ll need your lunch money tomorrow,” he snarled, turning his back on the terrified boys and heading for the school gates…
“Would you like a lollipop, sonny?”
Arthur stepped back in surprise. He hadn’t seen the old woman standing there by the bus stop. She looked harmless enough, not like one of those perverts his mother was always warning him about. One hand was thrust out, proffering a selection of colourful, wrapped lollipops.
“What’s the catch, lady?”
“There isn’t one, sonny,” she replied. “They’re free in the name of Jesus. I have a leaflet here that explains more about God and his love. Would you like one?”
“Sure,” said Arthur, snatching the sweet and the paper before the crazy woman changed her mind.
He dropped the plastic wrapper at his feet, sucked noisily on the lollipop and opened the leaflet. It seemed to be talking about love but the language was antiquated with words like ‘thee’ and ‘sinneth.’ Arthur wasn’t at all sure what it meant. In frustration he turned around, tossed the leaflet on the ground and screamed “Loser!” But the old lady was no longer there. Her bus had arrived and whisked her away.
“Huh, what does she know about love?” muttered Arthur angrily. Love was for wimps, for people not strong enough to earn the respect of others…
“I’m home, Mum!”
Arthur shut the door, threw his school bag in the corner of the lounge and picked up the remote control for the television. The set was already on but it was programmed for the Shopping Channel.
“Leave that alone!” shouted his mother, stepping out suddenly from the kitchen. A glass of whiskey was in one hand, a cigarette in the other. Dark glasses failed to hide the livid bruise on her left eye, a going away present from the latest in a string of boyfriends.
“I had another phone call from your principal today. Says you’ve been fighting again, that you lost your temper and broke someone’s arm. Is that right?”
“Might be,” replied Arthur defiantly. “Only got what he deserved. None of the teacher’s business.”
“Is that right?” snorted Mrs Jennings. “None of my business either, I suppose.” She paused for effect, her every word barbed. “You really are a waste of space, Arthur. Just like your Dad. He was a complete waste of time and you’re no different!”
Arthur felt his hard facade cracking. The words found their mark but he was not going to let his mother see him cry. He stormed upstairs to his bedroom, slammed the door and threw himself on to the bed. The sobs came uncontrolled - anger, resentment and self-pity all mixed together in one unpalatable cocktail.
“I hate her,” he raged. “I hate them all.”
It was nearly ten minutes before Arthur managed to calm down. What did he know about love? Nothing. But he knew plenty about pain. And the next day he would find some boy and beat the living daylights out of him. That and that alone would make Arthur feel better.
“All his days [man] eats in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger.” (Ecc 5:17 NIV)
The Arthurs of this world are born in affliction, raised with frustration, and they live their lives consumed with anger. It is not easy for the Church to reach such lost souls with a message of real love - but for Heaven’s sake we must try.
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