Sammy took extra care over his appearance that Saturday. He persuaded Anna to iron his blue shirt, the one with a collar, and he borrowed Jim’s pair of nearly smart black leather shoes. He even pulled a comb through his hair before leaving his room.
‘Sammy, you can’t go out without a coat,’ Anna called after him as he shuffled down the corridor towards the front door.
He took no notice. His trench coat stank, and his saggy brown cardigan would spoil the effect he’d achieved. He looked at himself in the full length hall mirror with approval. If he didn’t know any better, he’d think the slightly scruffy 43-year-old man looking back was just like anyone else.
Suddenly Johnny appeared, his grey scrunched-up face sneering over Sammy’s left shoulder, eyes glittering. ‘You’ll never be normal, you won’t. Look at you, can’t even button your shirt up right.’
It was hard to ignore Johnny, but Sammy managed it. He hastily adjusted his shirt and opened the door.
‘I know where you’re going. You’re pathetic. They won’t want you.’ Johnny’s voice whined in Sammy’s ear like a mosquito following the scent of blood.
‘Shut up shut up shut up…’ Sammy muttered to himself over and over again as Jim’s shoes rattled over the gravel path outside The Oaks. The wind lifted the tails of his shirt and swirled around his torso, icy teeth biting at his chest and belly. Sammy didn’t notice, not really.
He turned left along Oak Lane, trying to pick his feet up when he walked, the way Anna had taught him. It felt like Johnny was following him, but he didn’t turn round to see. He was afraid he would stumble if he looked up.
As he walked through the alley between the newsagent and the launderette, he strained to hear the jingling of tambourines and the joyous sound of singing voices. Maybe they weren’t there this week? He hadn’t been able to sleep the previous night for worrying.
When he heard the music, relief filled his mind, leaving no room for concentrating on his feet. He tripped, put out a hand to save himself, and was horrified when he felt it sink into wool-covered flesh.
‘Get off me!’
Sammy backed away from the indignant old woman. She glared at him, then wrinkled her nose, pushed past him and stalked away.
Johnny sniggered. ‘See, you do smell. No-one wants Stinky Sammy.’
It took all his willpower not to cry, but he managed it by focusing on the singing.
‘They do want me,’ Sammy said. ‘They do.’
He started shuffling towards the shopping precinct again, all thoughts of lifting his feet up forgotten in his need to reach the source of the music.
‘Jesus loves me, Jesus loves you,
Come rejoice, accept His love.’
Sammy stopped at the end of the alley, and an enormous grin spread over his face. There they were. A circle of people. Men and women, dancing and singing and clapping, and children waving tambourines in the air. He jiggled across the block-paved pedestrian area towards them, trying to clap in time with the music. He knew the words to this one, he’d listened to it for many Saturdays, so he joined their circle and sang along as loudly as he could.
Johnny was laughing so much he could barely stand up. ‘Oh, Sammy, you’re such a dickhead.’
‘Piss off, Johnny. You’re the dickhead,’ Sammy yelled. He’d finally come to accept Jesus’s love, and he wasn’t going to let Johnny spoil it.
The people around him stopped singing. Oops, thought Sammy. Jesus probably didn’t like bad language.
‘I’m sorry. It’s just Johnny, he doesn’t love Jesus like I do. Can we sing again please?’ Sammy started to sing another of his favourites. A couple of the children joined in, but the adults continued to stare at him, and a man with a bright red pullover walked quickly away.
‘What’s wrong?’ said Sammy.
A warm hand clamped around his arm. ‘I’ll tell you what’s wrong, sir, you’re disturbing these nice people,’ said a very large policeman.
Johnny chipped in, ‘That’s right, Sammy the dickhead’s disturbing the God-freaks.’
‘Shut up,’ Sammy shouted. ‘I’m sorry, Mr Policeman, but Johnny won’t shut up.’
The man in the red pullover said, ‘There’s no-one called Johnny here. He’s obviously one of those nutters from The Oaks. Can’t you take him back there?’
‘Nutter, nutter, Sammy’s a nutter,’ sang Johnny.
Sammy wasn’t quite sure what happened next. The man who’d called him a nutter somehow had red all over his face as well as his pullover, and Sammy was on the ground with the policeman on top of him, handcuffing his hands behind his back. Then he was being hauled past the shops, past crowds of people with cold eyes like Johnny’s.
‘Where are we going, Mr Policeman?’ he asked. ‘I’m looking for Jesus, I want to accept his love.’
The policeman jerked Sammy’s arms upwards. ‘I’ll show you Jesus’s love, you weirdo.’
‘Thank you, that’s very kind.’ said Sammy. He could hardly believe his luck. He’d thought the people singing would help him find Jesus, but he’d been wrong all along. He shuffled docilely through the car park and into the police station.
‘Is Jesus in here?’ he asked the policeman.
‘Can you keep a secret?’ said the policeman, grinning.
‘Of course I can.’
‘I’m Jesus.’ The policeman was laughing aloud now, obviously really happy that Sammy had finally found him.
‘Do you love me?’
‘Of course I do. Now go and sit in there.’
Sammy entered the cell and sat on the wooden bench. The door clanged shut, but not before Johnny slid in.
‘You don’t really believe he’s Jesus, do you?’
Sammy’s eyes were closed and his face was radiant. He couldn’t hear Johnny any more.
The policeman shook his head as he walked back towards the front desk, followed by Sammy’s quiet off-key singing.
‘Jesus found me, Jesus loves me,
Rejoicing, I accept His love.’
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