The Inkwell’s Half-hour Challenge for May is themed “Salvation”.
Popular wisdom says one should never discuss religion or politics with a friend. Jed and Mark were definitely not friends and threw insults at each other, across the office, all day, every day. It had all started as a theological discussion but no one could remember when. Little Mark was a devout Catholic, and incapable of allowing any opportunity to profess his faith pass unfulfilled. Jed Smith, built like a carthorse, loathed all things religious with a burning passion. These were two minds that could never meet, nor indeed agree to disagree. So the status quo was protracted jibes at each other’s beliefs, whilst their colleagues laughed and pointed. No one seemed to mind: this sideshow eased the dreary days of accounting practice on by.
When Arthur, the company secretary, retired, they all went out for a beer. A dozen employees commandeered an alcove of the pub and swapped anecdotes of Arthur’s peccadillos from forty years’ service; all good-natured banter. It was getting late when Mark overheard two lads outside their circle discussing crucifixion in a not too reverent manner. Off like a lurcher, Mark was out of his chair, citing blasphemy laws, quoting gospel chapter and verse, wagging his finger. The lads were clearly taken aback. Mark returned to the group, looking smug, but saying it was probably time to “call it a night”.
Mark said his goodbyes, shook Arthur’s hand and ambled out of the front door. Jed noticed one of the lads nudge the other and follow. Jed couldn’t have told you why, but something in their demeanour had the hairs on his neck erect. On instinct, he followed too.
Outside, Jed looked up and down the High Street: no sign of Mark or the lads. Then a noise, maybe a muffled voice, drew him to the alley at the side of the pub. Pinned against the wall, little Mark looked up terrified into the faces of his tormentors.
It was all over in seconds. The lads looked up at Jed’s challenge, saw his huge frame nigh-on blocking the light from the High Street, and took to their heels.
Monday morning, to an outsider in the accounts office, nothing had changed. Jed and Mark still belittled each other’s beliefs at every opportunity. But the passion and hurtful edge had gone, replaced by a “this is just a game” undercurrent, a performance for the benefit of the onlookers.