"Nice performance" said Clive as James sat opposite him, James looked at him with a quizzical eye but did not speak while he acknowledged the fading applause. a few moments passed, the lights faded and the crowd's attention moved once again towards the dais at the end of the room.
"Performance!" James asked, feeling free to express his reproach now they were safely screened from close scrutiny.
"Sorry, was that a poor choice of words? I meant you were really impressive, held the crowds attention. I didn't mean to imply any insincerity."
"That's OK, it's just that I get so many snide remarks, it makes you a bit..." James paused and was grateful when Clive acknowledged his reluctance to explicitly voice any vulnerability to someone he barely knew with a silent nod. "Where're the others?" he asked, as he looked at the empty seats in the booth.
"Gone outside for a fag I think."
"Typical," he moaned with feigned exasperation.
"Look..." said Clive, James sat back in his seat, readying himself for yet another contemptuous opinion with weary resignation. Mindful of James's assumption and anxious not to cause offense Clive paused while he reconsidered his words, "I agree with you..." that's a good way to start he thought, "..,self determination, self will, freedom, personal responsibility, I like all those things."
"But it's all just Ayn Rand or The Life of Brian," James interjected, preempting what he thought was coming.
"No, I'm not saying that..." Clive paused again and took a swig of his dark coffee. He seemed to ponder for more than a few moments then spoke again, "There's a story I know..." he paused long enough to let James give roll his eyes and groan, "...once long ago there was man who lived in the desert, he was a kind of a hermit but not a recluse. He was a sort of visionary who lived in troubled times and the people considered him to be a prophet."
"That's a bit rich, an atheist raiding bible stories," James smiled sardonically as he goaded Clive.
"Who said I was an atheist? but yeah, well done for spotting John the Baptist." said Clive and shifted his attention back to drinking his coffee, seemingly giving up on his story telling.
A few moments passed before it was obvious to James that Clive wouldn't recommence his fable without prompting, "You gonna finish that story then?" he asked.
"I thought we were done? You're not really interested in what a nobody like me has to say are you?"
"I'll listen to what someone has to say before I decide they're a nobody," said James.
"OK then -- This guy, John, he had a lot to say about the times he lived in. He told the people that there was a better way, that they could live a better life and not have to live under the heel of fear or their masters. And the people liked what he had to say because that's how they'd lived till then and they wanted something different. Wanting something different isn't the same as making something different. You can point the way but travelling on the road is something else and that's what John couldn't do, It takes something more than he had. Then he met this guy, I think he was Mexican but he was ginger and had blue eyes. He'd traveled a great distance to learn form John and John taught him all he knew. When he left he decided to continue Johns work but instead of telling people, there was a better way, he said: 'I can take you to the better place, follow me there but there's a price. You will have to give up everything you own and sacrifice everything you are to reach it with me.'' That's how he changed the world, he knew that to reach your goal, you have to tread the hard road, and see your blood drain away in its gutters, there's no change without tears and sacrifice."
James's sardonic look returned, "Render unto Caesar...!".
"I said he changed the world, not that that he was right" James spoke just as the absentees returned and made their way to the booth. "I see a lot of people like John, someone new almost every week here, they're as common as the salt on this table. The other guy -- well they're as rare as Mexicans with blue eyes."
"Someone going to Mexico?" asked one of James's friend as they took their seats with them in the booth.