The most notable thing about Alexei’s black leather jacket was the zip. The interlocking pins were curiously oversized and enamelled in pure white to look like shark’s teeth. He liked to wear his jacket half-open to reveal a garish red shirt with a white ringed collar and, from a distance, it might look as if his head was about to be swallowed whole by a ferocious beast.
Below his waist, he wore black leather trousers with shining black winkle-picker boots. Above his shoulders, he wore his hair in asymmetric grandeur with the left back-combed and hair-sprayed into rigid straight edges while the right was dyed red and allowed to cascade over his shoulders like the fresh flowing blood of a sacrificial virgin. His heavily made up eyes were darkened to look like the empty sockets of a skull.
Rarely had any man lacked sartorial imagination so entirely, for this was all he ever wore and all he ever wanted to wear. His name was Alexei and Alexei was cool… for a preacher. He savoured the rush of adrenalin as he marched into the chapel then lifted his arms high above his head as he called out “I feel Jesus!”
“PRAISE THE LORD!” came the fervent response.
“Does anyone else think it’s cold in here?” Alexei asked, shivering bodily as he closed the zip on his jacket, even though the sun was scorching the pavement outside. He raised his eyes to address them with the sincerity of a devoted friend. “It’s the cold, cold wind of intolerance that makes me shiver. But we are all one in His eyes. The tall, the short, the plain… the colourful…”
He winked and indicated himself with a flowing sweep of his hands, then allowed them time to chuckle at his self-mocking before he continued.
“God is bigger than this town. He sees further than the end of the road. They may be strangers to us, but they are somebody’s family. They are God’s children too! Why would He care if they call him by a different name or pray to him in a different language? He is all-knowing, all-seeing, almighty God. Praise him!”
The enthusiastic response from the congregation made it all worthwhile and justified his little white lie about the God thing. Alexei could not describe himself as agnostic because he had no doubts. Neither could he describe himself as atheist; nobody could define the God he was meant to deny in sufficient detail for him to make such a bold statement.
Instead, Alexei was ignostic. He knew that the correct answer to any part of his belief was wholly dependent on his personal interpretation of the terms at the exact moment that the answer was composed. This allowed for the utmost subtlety in theological discussions and enabled him to communicate his message with confidence in each of the seventeen small towns he had visited this year.
That is not to say he had no belief. Alexei believed very strongly in the value of religion and the importance of free speech. His sermon was heartfelt, and he hoped they would hear his message. He hoped also that he was right to trust the aim of the white-robed man who had just entered the chapel, and who was holding a worryingly large handgun that was now pointing at Alexei’s chest. The man’s face was hidden beneath a white-pointed hat.
“Can I help you, my son?” Alexei asked.
“You preach lies and welcome scum. You defile His church.”
Alexei allowed time for his congregation to turn to see the intruder before replying; “I welcome all God’s children and my love for them is an exultation of His church.”
Alexei saw the smoke before he heard the deafening explosion as the man fired. The impact dazed him as it threw him back against the altar. By the time he opened his eyes, a crowd had formed around him and the man, he knew, had fled.
“Our lord has saved me!” Alexei called out. “Praise the miracle, praise Him!”
Alexei didn’t much believe in miracles, which was why his leather jacket was built around a bulletproof vest. Although the bruising from the gunshot made it difficult to continue preaching, the enthusiastic rain of cash into the collection plate at the end made it seem like a fair exchange. They had paid for his, and his assailant’s, accommodation for the next two weeks. In return, they had benefitted from a sermon on tolerance that they were unlikely ever to forget.
Gaius Coffey has written full outlines for two sit-coms, several novels, a couple of screen plays, a stage play and a radio play. He has even completed some of them. His flash fiction story “Alone, Not Lonely” was shortlisted for the 2010 Fish Publications One-page Story competition. His story “Terry and the Eye” was Every Day Fiction’s most read story in March, 2010. He lives in Dublin with his wife and two cats.