Mosquitos are whining in my eyes and my trainers are thick with mud. We left a week ago, in such a hurry of religious fervour that none of us thought to pack a tent or a change of clothes. Now I’m still trying to keep the faith, but there’s a definite chance that this New Jesus is a right numpty. He keeps talking about how sacrifice and abstinence are the way of the Lord, but I feel a few loaves and fishes would brighten up this trek no end.
“The star shall lead us on,” he keeps on saying. When we first started out, I was excited about that star; we were on a mystical journey, guided by the heavens. Then after a couple of days of tramping through stinging nettles and ditches, I started to get a bit sick of it. On the third day, Kevin muttered,
“I bet it’s just a satellite,” and I couldn’t stop giggling. The New Jesus gave me glowering look and then carried on, sandals clapping against his feet, white dressing gown catching on tree branches.
Thinking about it, how is it possible to get anywhere by following a star? Don’t they just track across the sky every night, very slowly? If we keep going long enough, we’ll walk right round the world and end up where we started. I didn’t think about any of this at first, I was too giddy with joy and my trainers weren’t clinging like sodden, muddy rags to my poor feet like they are now. Then a few nights ago, we were sitting in a very makeshift camp in a field when the cynicism started to set in. We were trying to open a can of baked beans with a stone, when someone piped up,
“Surely the first Jesus was born under the star and other people went looking for him? He didn’t go in search of his own star, did he?”
With beady eyed petulance, the New Jesus boomed,
“I am not the first Jesus.”
Morale was pretty low for a few hours after that, then he put his arms to the sky and a streak of lightening shot down and split the tree in two, revealing a store of roasted chestnuts inside. I used to love it when he did stuff like that.
Then last night I looked at him, really looked at him as he gave his sermon. Watched how he kept flicking his hair out of his eyes and doing his weird wavy-finger gesture that looks like he copied it from a magician. He looked ridiculous, and I was embarrassed that I ditched my old life to follow this pranny. I’ve felt hopelessly disillusioned ever since. But what can I do? Walk home? Tell my boss,
“Oh yeah, sorry, you can remove your job from your arse now, because it turns out he wasn’t the New Messiah, just some gimp in dressing gown.” I should have thought harder about all of this before I left. Still, I’m not the first person to be taken in by a bit of charisma and a few magic tricks. He did get that woman’s boils to disappear, after all. It’s the way of the world today, isn’t it? We all want to be the ones there at the beginning, the first to gaze at the shining face of a glorious saviour. We all want to believe it when he tells us to throw away our mobile phones and dance naked in the forest like children. Then as the cold starts to bite we realise, I don’t know where my trousers are and I’ve got no phone to call a taxi. So we keep going out of inertia, one squelchy foot in front of the other.
So now we’re walking through someone’s garden and Jesus stops and stares up at the star. I just know he’s going to say something irritating because he always likes to build the tension when he’s going to be profound. Of course, we all stop to listen, it would be strange to just ignore the New Jesus and carry on walking without him. Tempting thought though, there has to be a pub round here somewhere. I could stage a mutiny, maybe one of the other followers has his own company and I can persuade him to give me a job. A couple of these guys have expensive suits on, they must have walked straight out of their executive boardrooms.
The New Jesus turns so that we see his profile, the line of his nose and his strong chin. That’s something I’ve noticed, every pretender to the celestial throne has a strong chin. I suppose it contributes to their delusions of grandeur.
“I know that some of you are weary and your faith grows thin,” he says with typical understatement.
“How about a miracle for these blisters?” mutters Kevin and I get the giggles again. Jesus looks over sternly at me, I don’t want to hang my head, but the reaction is automatic, I’ve seen him drop birds out of the sky with that gaze. He may not be the Messiah, but he’s got something.
“I know that some of you are doubting your Lord,” he looks at me again. “But the time draws near. The star will guide us to the Holy place. Once there, all your fears shall fall away like the petals of a dying flower. And then, my children, you will understand.”
I can tell that some of the suited fellers don’t like being called children, and this isn’t the first time their feathers have been ruffled. When the New Jesus changed the traffic lights to red so that we could cross, I heard one of them mutter,
“Very irresponsible,” and the others made throaty noises in reply.
As we keep making our way across the gardens, there isn’t much concern for where we’re walking, only that we follow the star. In the beginning that made sense, after all we were walking with the saviour, what’s a few delphiniums compared to that? But now we move more apologetically as we trample over a fence. We try to push it upright again, but an irate woman doesn’t appreciate this and comes storming out at us, her face blotchy with rage. The New Jesus puts his hand on her shoulder and her mouth goes instantly soppy, like when someone gets drunk. She shudders a little, then falls into step behind us. She’s the third one to join us like that, The New Jesus doesn’t have much concern for private property. Or free will, really.
“Look, the star’s getting bigger!” shouts the young kid who was cured of his stutter. He’s right.
“Is it coming towards us?” asks one of the suits. We all stop and look up. It is getting bigger quite fast, like something falling at a great speed straight towards us. Even the New Jesus starts to shuffle a bit from foot to foot, ready to leg it to the nearest shelter.
“It shouldn’t be falling should it? I mean, it should stay in the sky shouldn’t it?” says the newcomer lady, trying not to panic. The New Jesus says something in reply, but I can’t hear him because of the great whooshing, whistling sound of a giant star falling right towards us.
Most of us dive for the alleyway down the side of the house. I’d like to say that the New Jesus stands with his hands raised as he waits for his star, but actually he leaps over the low fence at the back of the garden. The star lands a few moments later with an impressive thud that uproots two rhododendrons and a stone statue of a badger.
As we all creep back out of our hiding places and cough our way through the dust, someone says,
“That’s not a star!” It’s the youngest of the group, a girl of about fourteen with a pierced nose and eczema, “that’s a ball!” she is absolutely right, I’ll give her that. The thing we’ve been following is a sphere made of solid glass. I look over at the New Jesus, hoping for a little reassurance, but he looks as dumbfounded as the rest of us.
“Oh for God’s sake! This whole thing’s been a complete farce from beginning to end!” splutters one of the suits in disgust.
“Yes, following a bloody glass ball, I’ve never heard of anything so stupid.” adds one of the women. The New Jesus is looking very sheepish now, staying low behind the fence, pretending to look at the moon.
“I’ll stick to evangelists off the telly next time” says a young woman.
“Yeah, he didn’t even fix my eczema,” says the teenager. So we all trudge wearily out of the garden and into the street, each of us wishing that we hadn’t thrown away our mobile phones.