I still remember it clearly. Central Station Sydney, a mid-60s woman staggers back, as if physically assaulted, from the young man she’d been talking to, and shrilly screams, “You’re evil, and must be stopped!” She lets out a sharp sob of anger? frustration? horror?, and staggers away. People hurrying about their business stop for a moment, see that there’s nothing else to see, and keep going about their business. It’s a Sydney thing. It’s a city thing: unless you’re on fire, or being attacked, someone shouting random statements tends to be shunned.
It was either 1994 or 1995, making me around 21. I was not one of the observers. I was obviously not the old woman. I was, in fact, the young man that was the focus of the woman’s cry, “You’re evil, and must be stopped!”
What terrible, vile thing had I done? Had I actually assaulted her? Had I been rude? Had I bumped into her and refused to apologise?
None of the above.
I was sitting in the concourse, minding my own business. I’d been up since the wee hours of the morning, travelling from Parkes to Newcastle, and had a break at Sydney waiting for the next train. My eyes were sandy and red – I’d not slept much the night before. Maybe that increased my evil rating. I was tired, uncomfortable from travel and eager just to be back home in Newcastle where I’d be able to shower, grab something to eat, and have an early night.
In some ways I should be thankful to the old woman. I was just starting to doze. I’d waited almost an hour since I’d arrived, and if I’d fallen asleep I would have missed that next train to Newcastle, and my journey would have been even later.
“Ahem” – or something like that.
I blinked a few times, looked blearily around, and found a mid-60s woman leaning over me. At that stage, I’d not learnt how to quickly wake up – that wouldn’t come until after I had been doing on-call shifts for a while. So I smacked my lips once or twice – I was pretty thirsty, and didn’t have any money on me for a drink, and asked, “Hi – can I help you?”
“I’m wanting to see if I can help you”, she replied.
My immediate thought? I already knew by that stage that most times when I’m asleep I have nightmares, so I was already wondering whether I’d been looking odd while dozing off, and I discretely checked my mouth to make sure I’d just not dribbled in my sleep or something equally embarrassing. No dribble – didn’t remember any particular nightmares. Whatever could she mean?
And then she held out the pamphlet. A4, tri-fold. A big picture of some guy nailed to a cross on the front, with a bold headline, UNDERLINED TWICE, proclaiming “JESUS DIED FOR YOU”.
One of those people.
“Sorry I’m not interested.”
“Oh but you should be.” The pamphlet gets waved closer to my face. “Everyone should be interested in what their saviour did for them.”
I closed my eyes for a moment. Maybe she was the nightmare. Opened them again – no, she’s still there, still waving the pamphlet.
“Look, I’m really not interested. I’m just passing through, I’m not from here.” Why I thought not being from around here might send her on her way, I really don’t know. Years later I’d remember it and follow through with “I’m an alien, and I’m older than your planet”, and watched some Jehovas Witnesses scuttle back down the path to the front door as fast as they could.
But I didn’t there, and I really hoped that she’d go on her way. Some hints though can’t be taken, particularly by those who spend their time being obsessed with the state of other peoples souls so they don’t have to inspect their own. So the response was “You need to know how much Jesus loves you and wants to be part of your life.”
And so I pulled out the big guns. No, I didn’t swear at her. I was polite. I certainly didn’t punch her, or push her away. Instead, with the quiet dignity that can only come from a miniscule amount of sleep and a sore arse from interminably long bus and train rides, I simply replied, “Look, I’m gay, and I’m an atheist. I don’t think your Jesus is very interested in me, and I’m certainly not very interested in him.”
And so, that mid-60s woman staggers back, as if physically assaulted, from me, and shrilly screams, “You’re evil, and must be stopped!” She lets out a sharp sob of anger? frustration? horror?, and staggers away.
It was also the last time I travelled without headphones. Whackjobs don’t get far when you either can’t hear them, or pretend you can’t.