I stood and watched this man for a while on Scarborough’s main street and he stayed quite still, exactly as you see him on the photograph, for the whole time. It was a strange sight- like something beamed down from the past. He was not trying to attract attention, just standing silent and expressionless holding his leaflet out. He had made himself into a living sculpture, an embodiment of his beliefs and fears. All around him the “blind sheeples” who he was trying to warn were hurrying past, avoiding his eye. He and his message were an encumbrance, an embarrassment, something that they would rather not think about. Wasn’t it strange people like him who boarded aeroplanes with bombs in the heel of their shoes? He does have a beard after all…….. Was he dangerous, a bit weird or just confused? Perhaps he needed help- don’t get involved, move on past. Nobody took the risk of engaging with him or, perish the thought, challenging him- you never knew what that might lead to. Anyway, whatever you thought of what he was doing it still wasn’t pleasant to be told that you were going to die- and maybe quite soon- while you were out there having a look round the shops for the afternoon. That wasn’t what you wanted to hear before you went into Poundland for your bar of chocolate. He was left to stand in the busy high street without any evidence to show him that what he was doing was in any way having the effect that he wanted. Yet still he waited. He waited just for one person to take that leaflet from his hand as they walked by. Just one.
I didn’t challenge him either, which is a shame because there were things that I really would have liked to ask him. What was it that made him trundle out his mobile sermon and take up his stand on the street week after week? Was he just representing himself or a religion of some kind? Did he have people at home who loved him? Was he happy? Most of all, how on Earth did he come up with the fact slung around his neck. Did he make it up? “Most people will die 1335 days before the end of the world.” It is astonishingly specific, but unless you actually know when the end of the world will be it will never be wrong. He can safely wear it around his neck for years.
It is easy to mock, or feel pity, but standing there alone in the face of a rush of indifference and incomprehension he is taking a considerable personal risk. There is a kind of bravery in what he is doing. Bravery which may lead to all kind of potential trouble, the kind of bravery which can sever families and wreck societies. Perhaps it is just as well that nobody takes that leaflet from his hand. You never know where it will lead.