Guilty Of A Ginger Beard?
This is a short story I wrote on the train to London. It was inspired by a scary-looking chap who I took an instant dislike to because his head was clean shaven and covered in several tattoos. He didn’t have a ginger beard by the way! As the journey progressed, he and his girlfriend happily chatted away and so I stopped worrying that he might pull out a sword and skin me alive. It reminded me that we all carry around irrational prejudices and out poured this cautionary tale.
Why not let me read it to you? Forgive the stutters – it’s harder than it looks! I hope that you enjoy it.
As the train rattles along its tracks, I peer over my newspaper to see a ginger-bearded man lowering himself into the seat opposite. Hard as I try, I cannot look away. He sees me! I raise the paper barrier to disguise my shock.
I’ve always had my suspicions about men with beards. But this is more. The man’s dark aura exudes a stench that corrupts and thickens the air between us. Every breath I take causes me pain, as though I’m inhaling liquid bleach into my lungs.
There are those who hide their inner demons, and there are those whose true nature gushes from their pores. The man across the table is a gusher. A beady-eyed gusher, not sporting a small and tidy goatee, but a veritable unkempt hedge of fiery-red foliage – yes, ginger! Did I say that already?
The sun appears from behind a cloud and glints on the gold rim of his glasses, blinding me. He is determined to be an interminable distraction. When he removes his glasses to buff the thick lenses beneath the table with a handkerchief, I see a wanton look in his ink dots of eyes. The glasses had hidden the true nature of his depravity, but now I see it. What more evidence do I need? There is no doubt I am face to face with the worst kind of human debris: the paedophile.
But what does he want from me? Why, in a mostly empty first-class carriage, did he choose to invade my space, loiter in my obvious discomfort? In my early fifties, I am at least forty years past being his type, probably more like fifty years given the beard’s sheer extravagance and sheen. Does the heaving bush of orange, tangled wire begin to glow or is it the sun’s reappearance playing tricks with my mind? I shudder and, with extreme effort, suck in another deep breath of rancid viscous air.
It comes to me.
He is working. I am part of a recruitment drive. He is readying himself to ask me the questions designed to batter down my wall of virtue until he infects me with his disease. It is clear that I can no longer stay out of the fray.
No matter. I am prepared.
I take a deep breath, dip into my jacket pocket and open my large-bladed penknife. Today I’m going to make a difference, do the world a favour, and end this pervert’s reign of terror.
I wait for the pretty young waitress to sashay past with the snacks trolley before I casually stand and take a sideways step into the aisle. My eyes focus past the waitress, to the toilets, like I’m about to head in that direction with purpose. Movement in my periphery causes my gaze to deviate and settle on the most perfect set of youthful buttocks swaying hypnotically beneath the clinging, crimson skirt of the trolley dolly. What temptation! How I would love to lay my hands there.
I blink three times and send the devil packing. The air is more polluted than I thought.
I turn the blade inside my jacket pocket, point it in my target’s direction and grasp the handle tight. It is a move well practiced … at home. But today, my first foray into battle has my palms damp and my heart pounding. Just the nerves of the righteous, I tell myself. When I glance down at the sordid molester of innocents, he returns an infectious smile, a smile of such charming intensity, it has clearly been mastered for one purpose: to disarm prey.
Two short steps forward has me level with his position. I stumble and lean into him, like the train’s movement has interfered with my footing. He pretends he doesn’t notice, rolling luminous copper strands of beard between thumb and fingers as he reads an enormous book laid out before him on the table.
I glance behind me, draw my penknife and lunge at his chest. But the devil takes care of his own, and a lurch of the carriage knocks my hand against the upright of his seat, twisting the knife’s handle within my slippery grip. I cry out as my own forward motion plunges the blade deep into my heart.
I drop to the carpeted floor, clutching my chest, cheated out of my one good and selfless deed.
As I lie defeated and bleeding out, Satan’s servant kneels and claws at my shirt around the wound, his face a crumpled vision of anguish. Perhaps he had hoped to do me in himself, knowing I was on to him; perhaps I am a blot on his recruitment copybook; perhaps my murder had always been on his mind, a little light entertainment to pass the journey before returning to his sordid day job.
With my breathing more of a struggle than ever, I wonder if he’ll take my wallet before the waitress returns, but instead he strokes my brow with one hand and reads to me from his giant book.
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you…”
The gold-leaf words ‘HOLY BIBLE’ pulse like two shiny beating hearts on the blackest of book covers before they disappear, swallowed by a darkness so dense and terrifying it is far beyond the mere absence of light, and further beyond human understanding.
“… your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
His words are a distant echo reverberating across another world. Only the vague memory of a life lived in bigoted fear remains. Understanding and regret flickers, a dying candle’s flame in the black abyss of eternity.
And then I am gone …