Biking home in the gloaming, I stopped at Lake Street and 13th Avenue. A prostitute worked the corner across the road and her pimp lounged on a bench next to me, his baseball cap pulled down over his face.
An extremely inebriated man who was weaving vaguely across 13th Avenue saw me coasting to a stop at the light, stopped dead in his tracks, and performed his best imitation of a beeline for me.
I looked at him and waited. Drunks love me. I am their lighthouse, their safe harbor; their hope. Their succor.
He saw someone coming toward us over my shoulder, thought better of approaching me, and lurched away. The pimp retreated further under under his cap brim. Only the prostitute seemed unafraid, focused as she was on drumming up business, peering into a car that had slowed to turn the corner and smiling into it like she saw an old friend.
Uh oh, I thought. Only one category of people can scare off a drunk and make a pimp look nervously away (no category of person can intimidate a street prostitute).
‘Jesus loves you,’ said the woman who frightened everyone, and handed me a tract.
Like most agnostics, I have dealt with proselytizers in various ways over the years: invitations for the person to immediately engage in vigorous acts of onanism, a refusal to accept the tract combined with a stony silence, a tight-lipped dismissive smile as I took it, head turned away.
Each time I did any of these things, the proselytizer would take this as an invitation for further engagement.
This time, I looked her in the eye, smiled like she had given me money, and said brightly: ‘Thank you! Jesus loves you, too!’
In that moment, for whatever reason: the light, the foiled commerce across the street, the wandering alcoholic, the proselytizer’s heartbreakingly awful fanny pack– I meant it.
And she said: ‘You must be a believer! Give that to someone who needs it!’
‘I will,’ I said earnestly, folding the tract in half and tucking it into my bag.
AND SHE WALKED ON.
I felt like someone had given me a secret handshake. Everyone on the corner relaxed. The light changed. I stood on the pedals and moved on, the cool breeze of the evening rushing tenderly over my bare shoulders.
I loved everyone, like Jesus does.