When you die, where do you expect to go?
Heaven or Hell?”
was always his opening gambit.
The Heaven or Hell Man cycled to the city every day–
three miles each way–
and standing in the same spot,
locked the public in, or tried to,
by asking how they planned to rot
and whether they’d been lied to.
I shit you not, his name was Odin.
“Nothing weird like what you’re thinking,” he said.
“It just means ‘Friend of God’.”
Thank God it’s nothing weird, I thought.
Norwegian, retired, clinically depressed,
born-again (still clinically depressed),
with a rattish face, aged by the race against time.
“Any one of these people could die any second!
My witness could affect where they spend eternity.”
The logical conclusion of exclusivist religion
would weigh on anyone’s mind.
Odin had a peculiar way of gripping people.
In my case, by the shoulders.
He stopped me an awful lot
but never remembered the previous times.
I suppose I have a kind face
or gullibility in my eyes.
Trying to call me to repentance
was never a sustained effort.
I think he came to the streets for an audience
because his church friends
found him too intense.
Instead he rambled, as though I was on his side,
about the many weaknesses in Christendom today.
How the churches here either emphasise Word or Spirit,
but never the unity of the two
(unlike those excellent American ministers
who you see on GodTV).
How more Christians should be out here evangelizing!
How even atheists show more charity than we.
But he never looked more dejected, more useless
than when joined by another evangelist.
He was handsomer, younger, armed with picket signs.
One said Jesus Loves You–friendly enough–
and on the other side,
the word PORN
crossed out with a thick red line.
The young man’s other sign read, ‘Real men
love Jesus and hate sin.’
Well I don’t want to sin and I love Jesus
but I shudder at the thought
of being a “real man.”
Maybe Odin felt the same.
My intention is not to tell you that this man wasn’t a dickhead.
One day the Hare Krishnas were about, Hare Krishna-ing around.
He shouted, MY FRIENDS!
YOU CAN BELIEVE ANY FALSE RELIGION YOU LIKE!
IT WON’T HELP YOU!
How refreshing!, I thought,
A heartfelt evangelical expression
of religious liberty.
Then who should emerge out of that chaos?
In a navy medallioned silk scarf and rust v-neck jumper?
Professor Stephen Hawking. The Professor Stephen Hawking.
“God created the universe, professor,” he spat.
“You have to answer him soon!”
What a cunt. Still,
seems like he knew that the Prof
could only type one word per minute,
so courteously gave him a statement, not a question.
Both his carers smiled sarcastically.
They get this a lot, I bet.
Over time, he heard my changing reasons
for why I’m bound for the unquenchable flame.
But if Odin could see where I meet for worship now
he’d be more than happy for me to be
a Gay Marxist Mormon again.
And over time, I noticed a change in his attire.
At first he wore flannel shirts. Then worse flannel shirts.
Then t-shirts, then the same light grey t-shirt every day,
But always caped in a hi-viz vest.
Last time I saw Odin, he had no shirt on at all.
With a neutral expression with his arm in a bin
he fished around for a half-eaten chicken-wrap
or some other morsel.
Had he taken a vow of poverty
or fallen on hard times?
It couldn’t stop him preaching:
he was still in signature fluorescent green,
his bike tied up on a lamppost nearby.
Most likely he forgot to bring a snack that day
and, afraid to leave his post,
stayed and ate what God had gave.
How could he walk away?
God might be mighty to save, but,
the work of salvation rests solely
on the sloping shoulders of Odin,
the Heaven or Hell Man.
You’ll notice I’m only guessing here.
Well, I had a bus to catch,
so I did nothing, in my hour of decision.
I pray sometimes that Odin’s alright,
certain that he’s not.
He’s dead I’d guess, or if alive,
in prison. Or ‘someplace’:
reluctantly pleading insanity,
having defaced a Catholic grave.
The religion shit was just a cover.
There’s something baser, I feel, in his devotion,
his desperation to win souls.
Everyone’s got their pet theory or obsession,
but nobody seems to care or listen
when you don’t know how to market yourself.
It’s rarely about the theory.
Strip all that away and all he wanted
was to be loved and heard,
which everyone deserves,
even the Heaven or Hell Man.