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One Minute With God

by  Alexshaw

Posted: Sunday, January 29, 2006
Word Count: 2030




It was September 3rd, and God was signing autographs in the High Street.

The queue snaked from a colourful striped tent by the fountain in the town square all the way down to the car park, where even more excited and apprehensive people were gathering. Tim had been standing in line for three hours now, and despite his anticipation, he was becoming irritated in the afternoon heat.

Susan, the girl behind him, was so alarmingly sunny and cheerful that Tim wondered where she was getting the energy to smile so broadly and consistently. She had not stopped talking all afternoon, mostly to the young boy behind her, Peter, who did nothing but nod along with her. She wasn't nearly as awful as David, though, who stood two places in front of Tim and glowered at everybody who walked past. The only person Tim had spoken with directly during the procession was Meggan, who held the next position up the line to him. She had a dry sense of humour and seemed ambivalent about the whole situation. Tim was wondering why she had come.

"Ooh, thirty people left!" sang Susan as she added up the places left in the line until her turn. She had been counting aloud the number of people left since one hundred and twelve. "I'm so excited. I'm going to kneel before Him immediately and thank Him for every wonderful gift He's given me so far."

Tim caught Meggan's eye and they both grinned. He suddenly felt a little shy of her, as if merely thinking the same thing was somehow an intimate exchange.

"It's just so fantastic to be here, because it confirms that everything I've always believed is completely true," Susan continued.

"What, that there is a God?" piped up Meggan, seemingly unable to contain herself after hours of listening to the girl.

"No, I mean everything," said Susan.

"Everything?" Meggan repeated. "What does 'everything' include?"

"Well if God really wrote the Bible, then that must mean everything we've ever read in it has to be true. I mean, He's here, isn't He?" Susan said, not defensively but with a flicker of doubt in her voice as to Meggan's commitment to this fact.

"You believe every word of the Bible, then?" Meggan pressed. Susan was silent for a moment and her eyes flicked to the tent up ahead and back. To her, this was clearly a test of faith.

"Yes, I do," she said.

"Even the King James Bible?"

"Yes."

"That's great. I have some questions, then," said Meggan.

Susan sighed. Clearly this disagreeable girl was having some problems with her faith. She would endeavour to help her and guide her to the light. Tim had noticed David eyeing Meggan sharply through all this, but kept quiet to see what she would ask.

"OK, here's my first question," Meggan ventured. "Noah's Ark. Noah takes two of every animal on board for forty days and forty nights."

"Right," said Susan.

"What did the lions eat?" Meggan asked, her face a mask of innocence. Susan stared at her for a while, her expression blank.

"Well...what do lions eat?" Susan asked, as if it wasn't a question but an answer.

"Gazelle," Tim said suddenly. Meggan glanced across at him and a smile flickered across her face.

"Bingo," she said. "Gazelle. Live gazelle, specifically."

"Then Noah brought some gazelle," said Susan resolutely.

"Hold on," continued Meggan. "Think about it. If there were two lions and each of them ate a gazelle a day for forty days, that's eighty live gazelle Noah would have needed on board, along with enough extra hay to feed them for forty days, not to mention the additional two gazelle that God ordered him to collect to repopulate the earth with."

"What are you asking me?" Susan demanded.

Megan smiled. "I just want to know if the Bible mentions the food for the animals on the ark. If the lions alone needed eighty gazelle to survive, imagine what all the other animals would need to eat, not to mention enough drinking water to sink the ship a thousand times over by its sheer volume." They all stared at Susan and awaited her answer.

"Well, obviously Noah had enough food for the lions because we have lions today!" Susan said, with a terrifying conviction.

Meggan doubled over with peals of laughter. "Genius!" she cried. "And that's why the dinosaurs died out. Because there wasn't enough food for them!"

Susan regarded her coldly. "Actually, yes, that makes sense," she replied and turned away to speak to the boy behind her once more. Tim repressed his own laughter and turned to Meggan.

"Why are you here, then?" he asked her, smiling. "If you don't believe in God, I mean?"

"I'm a scientist," Meggan replied. "But that doesn't mean I don't believe in God."

David muttered something behind her back. "What was that?" she demanded.

"I said, 'You'll have plenty of fun with your science in limbo'," snorted the older man.

"Oh, Jesus," groaned Meggan, and he reacted with vigour.

"Carry on like that, young lady, and you'll be in Hell for your blasphemy."

"Yes, I'm sure I will," snapped Meggan. "Eternal damnation for a life of sin."

"Laugh all you want," snarled the man. "You will not be saved, as I will." He puffed out his chest. "I have dedicated my life to spreading His good Word and even people like you can still turn back. I just care less and less these days when you don't."

"Back from where? I believe in God!" Meggan shouted at him, so loud that many people glanced across at her from either end of the line.

"Not in mine, you don't," David said with withering coldness. He turned his back on her and focused on the tent, which was drawing closer by the minute.

Tim put his arm around Meggan, who was now shaking with rage. He glanced back at Susan, who seemed shocked and sympathetic. Peter looked at the ground. No one seemed to be sure quite how to respond to David's icy certainty.

After a quiet, apprehensive period of time they finally reached the tent and the two angels standing outside. Both of them looked very professional, but also very bored. They had been saying the same thing all day and were getting very tired of the repetition.

"Stay in line, you'll be going in one at a time. You get only one minute with the Almighty, and He will sign one autograph. You may ask Him one thing and then you will leave by the exit at the back."

David, shivering with self-righteousness, finally got his turn and strode in to the tent. There was an awkward moment as Meggan turned to Tim, suddenly afraid. Tim patted her on the back reassuringly. They heard a sudden commotion from inside the tent and a great deal of shouting. They heard David roaring, "You are not my God!" over and over.

Oddly, this reassured Meggan a little. If David hated what he saw because it was not what he expected, then there was a good chance he was wrong about a lot of other things. They waited, but David did not emerge, so the angel on the right waved her in and passed her a card to have signed.

***

Tim stood for what seemed like forever. He turned to Susan and whispered, "I'm not sure why I came." She nodded supportively, encouraging him to continue. "I don't actually think I even believed in God, until today that is. Obviously, someone is in there," Tim continued. Susan was silent but Peter suddenly spoke.

"I think not being sure if He exists is normal. I think - we just hope He does." Tim waited, half-expecting something more profound; but then, the boy was only about nine.

The angel on Tim's right began his patter about the 'one minute, one question' rule. Tim nodded, took his card and entered the tent.

Before him stood a table, flanked by two angels, more formally dressed and seemingly more official than the two outside. They were Gabriel and Michael, but Tim could only guess as to which was which. Between them sat God.

He was a middle-aged man with neat, greying hair and a craggy face, displaying both wisdom and a weight of unfathomable years. He had a beautiful black pen in His right hand and He reached out with His left to take Tim's card.

"Tim," He said and scribbled down a series of letters. Tim eyed the signature. It said simply, "To Tim, all the best, God." He suddenly realised he had no question to ask. It was originally going to be related to how the Almighty signed His name, but he had seen enough people of different races and creeds in the line to realise that it would probably be Allah, Jehovah, Jaweh or whatever, depending on whom the autograph was for. Tim's mind went blank.

"You have ten seconds," said Michael. "What would you ask of God?" Tim stared into those fiery, placid eyes and his mind came to rest on a single point.

"What would you ask God?" Tim said to Him. God sat back and thought hard, His eyes boring into the boy's soul.

His answer made Tim cry.

***

As Tim made to leave the tent he looked back for a moment. He opened his mouth to speak but Michael ushered him out.

"You have had your time, man," said the angel coldly and directed him out into the street. Tim wiped the tears from his eyes dejectedly, and searched for Meggan. She was standing over by a pizza restaurant and sobbing. In fact, pretty much everybody in sight was either crying, or wiping their eyes, or trying hard not to show emotion. Now that the queue had ended they seemed to wander about the place with no purpose, vanishing off at random down side streets and alleys. The sun had disappeared and the streets were now misty, dark and cold.

Tim sat next to Meggan.

"Nobody seems to be happy that they met Him," he said. "I guess it's like all celebrities. They can't possibly live up to our expectations."

Meggan nodded.

"What did you ask Him?" Tim said.

"I couldn't think of anything," she replied. "So I asked Him that stupid question about the Ark."

"What did He say?"

"He laughed."

"That wasn't very nice of Him."

"No, it was a good reaction. He wasn't laughing at me," she sighed. "He told me some people cling to things too hard, and that sometimes our only goal in life is to let go."

Susan appeared from the tent, some distance away. Her face was white as a sheet. They beckoned her over and she sat down beside them for a moment before collapsing onto Meggan's shoulder and sobbing her heart out. There was no sign of David anywhere.

Peter eventually emerged and looked about himself in a forlorn manner. He had no parents with him. That seemed odd, somehow. Tim had just assumed he came with Susan.

Suddenly a thought eased its way into Tim's head. It was both subtle and dreadful. He simply tried to remember where he had first heard that God was signing autographs and couldn't. He could remember driving to work that morning, but not getting there.

"Guys," he whispered. "The angel told me I had had my time." They were both silent as the realisation grew in them.

"So this happens to everybody, then," said Meggan at last.

"I think so," said Tim. They looked up as Susan jerked to her feet, her face wracked with the sting of betrayal.

"But I was so good," she cried out. "Why does it have to be like this?" She burst into tears once more, her hands clasped tightly over her face as she sobbed. Tim sat back and concentrated hard. He didn't know why, but something inside him was growing stronger. Slowly, gradually the mists began to lift and the sun shone through the clouds above, bathing the three of them in warmth.

"I think we make our own way from here," Tim said.