“Hey sir, have you heard about the prophet Joseph Smith—” The door slammed shut before my partner could even finish. We both stared at the closed door in disbelief before laughing.
“Father in heaven help us,” Sam said, shaking his head as he stepped down from the step. I just gave him a pitiful smile, shrugging before letting out a sigh. It was early noon, and we were asked to go out sharing filers, and asking if anyone would like to keep in touch with us.
“I should have said Jesus, everyone knows Jesus,” Sam said, smacking his acne-ridden forehead as he groaned, lamenting like it was the most obvious walk around to people slamming doors shut whenever they saw us.
“But we’re supposed to be teaching people about the apostasy, and our church. So yeah, we must bring up Joseph Smith at some point,” I said, watching as he shrugged before adjusting his black tie. Our uniform was simple, a white long-sleeved top over black slacks and black ties. Sam’s clothes were a little bit too big for him, but I guess it didn’t matter much.
“Also,” I started, looking out into the empty street. When we had started coming in there had been some people about, but it seemed like they disappeared into their homes to avoid us. “I don’t think many people here even are Christians at all,” I finished, turning back to Sam who was now nodding. Unlike most of the other towns returning missionaries spoke about, our church was the only one in sight.
“We should head back for today, maybe look around the street before ours before we do,” Sam said, folding his hands. Small beads of sweat had started to form on his forehead. It was a hot day, and it was only going to get hotter if the rising temperatures were a sign of any sort. We started heading back, talking together and handing out fliers when we met people on the street. They would smile and nod their heads at us when we talked to them, but the sight of someone rolling up the flier we had given them and tossing it away right after made me feel terrible. I guess it was the same for Sam, but he kept smiling. We were doing our best after all.
“Okay, we can knock on doors in this street before heading back to the station,” Sam said, stopping at the turn to the street just before ours. I hadn’t really noticed this place before and we’d been at the station for about three days. I even jogged past it from time to time.
“Okay,” I said, and we walked into the street, moving from house to house. For the most part, people didn’t answer. Most of them pretended not to be home, but we knew better. The sound of people drawing their curtains close and shuffling from the inside wasn’t hard to miss. After a while of knocking or pressing bells, we would sigh and give up, leaving a flyer in front of the door before heading to the next house. I noticed that most of the houses here were in a conjoined building style, or they were lowly battered looking flats.
My nose scrunched up at the smell of smoke at one person’s door, but Sam persisted and continued knocking. After a few minutes of knocking and ringing the bell he stopped, and we just settled for dropping off a flyer and leaving.
“Sam,” I called out as we headed for the next door. He turned to me, humming a bit before looking back at the dirt road ahead of us.
“When you smelt the smoke, you should have realized the person was a smoker. It could even be drugs, but you still knocked,” I said, biting my bottom lip. I wanted to add something more to what I had said. I wanted to add that it was kind of obvious the person wouldn’t want us or our preaching at his front door.
“No one’s beyond saving, Mathew,” he muttered in a lone tone before shaking his head like I had said something silly. We were at the next house on the street now, and we climbed the small staircase leading to the door of the flat. The building looked old and a bit unalive, like not many people lived in it.
Mathew pressed the doorbell, and he seemed rather surprised when we heard the sound of someone saying they were coming to open the door without asking us who we were.
“They’re going to open the door?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Mathew muttered, rearranging his tie before taking out a book of Mormon and a flyer he was thinking of handing to whoever it was.
A few minutes later the door flew open, and my eyes went wide. Standing in front of the door was the man from the mechanic’s repair shop. He has taken his braids out and packed his curly hair into a low puff. He stared at Sam for a while, not looking impressed before turning his gaze to me. He rose a brow, and it seemed to me that he could at least vaguely remember who I was. I looked away, staring at my black polished shoes.
“Well?” he asked after a while of all of us just standing in silence. “Is there something you want?”
“Oh,” Sam suddenly said like he had come out from a daze. “We wanted to talk to you.”
The man just nodded.
“I’m Elder Samuel, and here with me is Elder Mathew,” Sam said, gesturing to me. I raised a hand, waving slowly, and I even dared to give the man a small smile. “We’re Latter-day Saints. Err, that’s the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and we would love to share our ministry with you,” Sam said, and the man let out a sigh before folding his hands and leaning against the edge of the door stile.
“What’s your name if you don’t mind sharing?” Sam asked.
“Nathaniel, most people just call me Nath for short,” the man said, cracking his jaw. He was in a pair of grey jogging pants and a blue tank top.
Taking the man’s silence as a permission to keep talking, Sam went ahead with the lines we were taught to say but skipping the Joseph Smith line. “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?”
“No.” The man’s answer was short and straight to the point.
“Well, at least you know who Jesus Christ is?” Sam asked with a nervous laugh and the man nodded, looking away for a bit to stare at the dog running by before returning his gaze to us.
“Well, what if I told you all churches apart from our church lost the ministry along the line?” Sam asked, and the man didn’t give him a reaction, so he carried on. “We’re the one true church.”
“Every church says that,” the man said plainly, smiling at us a bit before staring down at his feet. He was wearing indoor slippers. He looked bored and a little irritated, but he wasn’t asking us to leave.
“Well...” Sam trailed before laughing. “If you let us in we could sit down and have a chat. We could also answer any specific questions you have.”
“I don’t think you want me in your church,” the man said, making Sam smile a bit. “I’m gay, you’re wasting your time.”
“Well, it doesn’t really matter we can still sit down and have a chat,” Sam said, the polite smile still on his face. “We just want to share our ministry with you.”
“And I’m not interested,” the man said, mirroring Samuel’s smile.
“Well...” Sam trailed, running a hand through his hair. “Will you at least consider taking this,” Sam said, putting the book of Mormon and the flier he had in his hands forward. The man stared at it for a bit before nodding and reaching out to take it.
“Can we have your number so that we can ask you about the book?” Sam asked, and the man shook his head.
“I’m not giving you my number, this is enough,” he said, waving the book in his hand before walking back into his house and shutting the door behind him.
“Well then, that went well enough, don’t you think, Mathew?” Sam asked, turning towards me. I nodded, not having much to say. I had just watched the conversation play out in front of me instead of chipping in like I should have been doing.
No, I had been staring at him — at the man — at Nathaniel, as we had come to know him.
My mind was blank when we knocked on the last few doors on the street. No one else opened up for us, and we called it a day before leaving the street and heading back to the station. Sam and I shared a room, and when we got in we said a little prayer before showering and heading down for a fellowship with the rest of our mates.
There was a church downstairs as well as multiple separate rooms for fellowships. Men and women had church service together before splitting into Sunday school that was male or female specific. Men moving to one dedicated to the priesthood, while women moving to one dedicated to sisterhood and motherhood. There were fellowships we could all attend together, and the one we were in now was one of them. A person led the fellowship, and we had a class like setup were someone taught and we all had discussions afterword.
There were some new faces here that were probably people missionaries had convinced to come visit us. They seemed shy, but after a while, most of them opened up and took part in the discussions. There was a step by step way we introduced potential converts to the church, and even with the gradual introduction, it was often a hit or miss.
“Mathew, concentrate,” I heard Olivia scold me. I blinked, apologizing as I sat up in my seat before looking over at the chalkboard a sister in a long flowing skirt was writing on now. We were talking about the last days. It was quite a popular topic. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why people loved talking about the end days.
“Is something wrong?” Olivia asked in a low tone, leaning into me a bit so that I could hear her in the middle of the noise in the room. It seemed like a mini-debate had broken out. I shook my head, but I wasn’t being honest. I should try to stop lying. Why am I doing it more often? I asked myself as Olivia leaned away from me without asking me any more questions.
I was thinking about that man again. Wondering how he could live so close by when his workplace was far away. Or maybe it wasn’t that far away, and the bus ride had just seemed unbearable long after we left the mechanics’ repair shop for some reason?
I don’t know, but what I did know was that I couldn’t get him out of my mind. I wanted to hate that, but I just didn’t.
The man had come off as cold but polite, but I could see the bitterness in his brown eyes under all that pretense of composure and calmness.
He had been more than irritated. He had been angry.
And for some reason, I wanted to know why.