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The Prayer Seeker


change the friendship between them. The church Paul became involved in wasn’t part of
the mainstream, something Michael was familiar with by default as both his mother and
his grandmother were regular church attenders. No, Paul’s church was a small
independent evangelical one, and Paul was, as a result, keen to talk about it to whoever
would listen. Michael remembered not taking much notice, but being pleased at how
happy his friend seemed to be about it. Perhaps a little jealous too, but not consciously.
Twice, he went along with Paul to services and found them startling and not at all what
he remembered from the odd occasion he’d attended church with his own family. At
Paul’s church, they sang choruses instead of hymns, and the sermons lasted a good half
hour, perhaps more.
Once, during the post-service socialising, the leader of Paul’s church took Michael to
one side and began almost hectoring him, telling him that God was waiting for him to
respond and he must do so before it was too late and the “end times” were upon them.
Michael had felt trapped, unable to leave because of Paul and unable to say anything to
stop the man speaking. Each time he tried, the church leader would come back with some
other argument, over and over again. Finally, Paul had had to rescue him, and Michael
had felt nothing but relief at the escape, though they’d not talked about it afterwards.
He’d been glad of that.
Later he remembered picking up one of Paul’s Christian books in his bedroom and
flicking through it. His friend had encouraged him to take it home, and he’d read it, in
some puzzlement, and with the growing suspicion that Paul and his church were waiting
for him to become like them. He didn’t think that would ever be possible. He had no
wish, even then, to be a tally on anyone’s quota.
There’d been other factors too, in the lead- up to what had happened. Every Sunday
night, Michael attended the local youth group. The man running it, a quiet reassuring man
called Tony, had been connected to the church but had never, not once, challenged
Michael about his lack of faith or questioned his non-attendance at services. But even
now, Michael could recall that aura of calm acceptance that hovered round the man,
making him easier to talk to than anyone religious he’d ever known.
Then, during the summer, his mother had married again. His father had died when
Michael was a child. He liked his new stepfather well enough and, in all honesty, it was a
relief that his mother would have someone to be with when he was at university. They’d
been on their own together for so long. So Michael welcomed the July wedding, stood as
the one giving his mother away and cheered them off with as much enthusiasm as the rest
of the small party of guests when the two newlyweds departed on their ten-day
honeymoon in France.
That Saturday night, he was finally alone in the house. They’d eaten a late lunch as
the wedding itself hadn’t been until 2pm so he wasn’t particularly hungry. Still, he made
himself cheese on toast and sat down in the dining room to eat it. He couldn’t be bothered
to turn on the television or switch on the radio so he simply ate in the silence. It was then
that the thought occurred to him, as if from nowhere, that he could if he wished go to
church the next day without having to e xplain himself to anyone.
No, it was ridiculous. He wasn’t a church-going type. He didn’t even believe in God,
or did he? Suddenly, he wasn’t so sure. He carried on eating his toast. When he finished
it, he laid his plate to one side and walked into his mother’s front room. He tore off a
sheet of paper from the telephone pad and opened the Yellow Pages. He then proceeded
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