The first thing I noticed was the silver hair, and the second thing I noticed was the collar. The third thing was the smug slightly superior expression on his face when this fifty-some-year-old official apostle of the Lord’s truth could engage with one of the lost misguided young apostates.
The room was nice; bland; a mix of modern office and Edwardian sitting room. A pair of ox-blood Chesterfield armchairs next to a dark lacquer coffee table, beneath a tall narrow book-case burgeoning with leather-bound books and tomes. On the other side of the room a light-tone modern desk, an ergonomic office chair, and a Macintosh which had a screen-saver going. Over it all the smell mixture of lemony detergent and leather, and possibly an acidic hint of tea.
His first question was whether he should call me Andrew, or if Andy would suffice, referring to that the only thing he knew about me beforehand was the slip with my full name on it. Andrew Colin. I set him straight on the name, and was then invited to have some tea before we started our business. I must be nice, and interesting, and engaging enough to allow him to give me the part-time job I was there to try and get, and so I nodded along and smiled and chit-chatted like the best social chameleon ever.
While I was pretending to be nice, I kept coming back to whether he would start to talk about God and that, and how I could handle it. I didn’t want to ruin my chances at getting this job because I would not work for him; I would work in a charity book-shop which he managed from this room. Being fed excellent tea in see-through fine china with blue floral patterns and a dry biscuit seemed inappropriately off for a possible religious rebellion I hadn’t expected.
Of course, then it hit me that he would possibly ask about my girlfriend, and that I would have to tell him about Mark, and then I wouldn’t get the job. That was followed by anger and shame because my instinct was to think about the stupid job, instead of standing my ground against official religiously sanctioned bigotry.
But as of yet, the condemnations restricted themselves to the weather, and whether I had been inconvenienced by the flooding, something I could assure him I had not. Then we touched on the double murder in the neighbouring town where an eighty-two year old apparently shot and killed two women and a dog. Local gossip; chit-chat that allowed for the usual oohs and aahs, and further damnation of the wickedness of the world sometimes. Wasn’t it time to get to the point?
And then it came, and he stood up and took out a leather copy of King James’ bible, and asked me about it. As a literature student, I would surely know a few things about it, and could I please tell him what I thought about it? Dry mouth; this was it. The man was going to start badgering me with religion. My worst fears seemed to come true. I stammered something about the importance of its language to the development of English, and to the history. Bland stuff; as bland as the office itself with the leafy thing that stood behind the desk next to the window. A fern of some kind; long leaves, shooting up, then gently folding outward. It was all I could look at. Why was he putting me in the spot? I only wanted to sell books for him.
Some say it’s the finest transcription of the Lord’s words into English, he says, and has never been surpassed before or since. I stammer that I wouldn’t know. I don’t believe in God. Won’t have anything to do with that sort of thing. It’s the only thing I can say because I want to stop him right there. If I’m losing this chance for a job, let it end here, I think, before we waste more time.
A little more back and forth; he digs for my true opinion, and I cement myself in my apostate stance. Then he smiles, gets up and the interview is over. Before I go, he says that he doesn’t think it will work, and I’m actually stung by it. Then he says that he doesn’t think it would work having me sell religious literature if I don’t have any interest in the subject. Wait, what? Religious literature? Yes, the job was for curating and handling second-hand and rare bibles and other religious works. Didn’t I know? Hadn’t I read the ad? I had but I still had no idea.
At home, Mark rolled on the sofa, laughing at me. He laughed and laughed and laughed. I was standing there with the ad that I had responded to, and true enough. While the text of the ad says nothing about bibles and catechisms and works of christian philosophy, the name of the place surely speaks volumes since it contained clear religious words. Except I had never gone that far down the ad before replying. No selling bibles for me then. Or no job of any kind because if I manage to screw up this badly, I should probably give up the whole thing.