You see him on the bridge when you pass among the midday crowds. Alone among the moving multitude, he stands stationary, his voice raised as he addresses us. In his hands is a slim black volume with cheap plastic covers. He reads, rather, he declaims from this book words of prophecy and of admonition.
The preacher’s voice is thin and high pitched, too feeble an instrument to serve his purposes without help. He augments the thin piping of his voice with a little microphone which emerges like the head of a small serpent from somewhere near his collar. The serpent’s head stays firmly in place within cooee of the preacher’s mouth, a mere kiss away, without visible support.
Assisted by this miracle, the preacher delivers his text. His voice starts high and ascends higher. The higher it rises, the softer it becomes. Eventually, the voice reaches its zenith where all sound ceases, then it falls again to shoulder height to begin the ascent of the next phrase.
Alone among all the movers at noonday, I stop to listen and to learn.
Verily, verily, I say unto thee –
The preacher’s voice has disappeared. It comes again for the next phrase, proof of resurrection:
Except a man be born again –
The voice has disappeared, gone to a better world. Sensing that the prophecy is incomplete, I stand and wait, a mortal man of flesh, hoping for redemption.
He cannot see the kingdom of God.
This is big news. If I’ve got the message right this is bigger news than cosmetic surgery, bigger than the solarium, the gym and all the wonder diets; bigger even than Viagra – bigger far than all of those frantic grabbings by the desperate for crumbs of immortality. The preacher here is offering the complete package.
And I, I alone, among all Melbourne’s multitude, stand and listen and ponder.
How can this be?
Standing back a little, I regard the preacher. Intent upon his reading, he regardeth me not at all. Absorbed in his cantillation, he simply reads, delivers his text, and reads on. He is as dispassionate in his delivery as the man who brings unsolicited advertising material to my letter box.
As befits a man responding to a higher calling, he dresses with decorum. The fabric of his trousers is a modest herringbone; his jacket is black, buttoned chastely at the waist, apparently to subdue lust.
There is more to hear.
Profound, inspired, often poetic, the words are declaimed like a laundry list:
…whosoever believeth in him should not perish,
I pay attention now because nobody else is doing so.
but have everlasting life.
I look around me. The good citizens of Melbourne move on, some of them in pairs, heading for carnal haunts in the parklands; some in suits, to pursue Mammon. They appear neither to know nor to care about life eternal.
Then comes a warning:
And this is the condemnation –
Listen up folks, this is bigger than 9/11.
…that men love darkness rather than light
He means you, o people of Melbourne –
because their deeds are evil.
The preacher is small, his figure slight. He is about two score years and ten. I figure he only has another score of years to pass upon Princes Bridge before he can shuffle off the mortal coil and go to his reward and to his Maker. So long as it doesn’t rain, he should be ok.
But the people of this mercantile town have hardened their hearts against his message and his news. Is it a stubborn strain of convict blood, perhaps, that runs through this community, tainting it with the sin of the fathers, even unto the last generation?
What does this man do for sustenance? I pass, and I pause, and I listen and watch, but nobody hears, no-one comes near. Not even the ravens of heaven nourish this lonely man.
Eventually I realise that the prophet is a man in a reverie, singing the three notes of his musical mantra in a state of detachment. His text is far from his mind, his mind simply floats upon the smooth surface of his song. He has no bodily needs: he never drinks, and like the descendants of King Ahab, he pisseth not.
Indeed it is hard yacka to be an holy man trying to bring the good news to Melbourne.