‘I have been in this business since 1975, and I have never met anybody as lazy and frustrating as you.’ He delivers the coup de grâce before slamming the door on me.

As I wait for the elevator, suddenly I feel all shook up. He had not as much as touched me, but I could feel that he was on the verge of doing me physical harm. When I get in to my car and drive out of there, my entire body is shaking and suddenly I am terrified.

●●●●

And then I remembered.

It was almost thirty years earlier that I had sat around a dining table in a suburb of London, talking, in a similar manner as we did during that first fourteenth of the month luncheon. Our hosts were Mr. & Mrs. McLain, who had invited a bunch of us foreign students for dinner. In what I had thought to be out of the goodness of their hearts, turned out to be an attempt by Mr. McLain to shove Christianity down my throat. It was obvious to me from the grace Mr. McLain had said earlier that the bunch had gotten together to talk about Jesus. And talk they did. I sat there listening and not saying a word for about an hour.  I respected what they all believed in and there was nothing to argue. That is, until Mr. McLain began to knock down all of the world religions in general and  Hinduism and  Buddhism in particular. When I no longer could stand his barrage, I stepped in, however unwillingly.

‘Excuse me, Mr. McLain, but you are lucky that it’s me and not my father sitting here at the table.’

‘How do you mean it Mr. Shah?’

‘Your berating other religions of the world doesn’t make Christianity any better.’

Friendly Mr. McLain’s face suddenly turned tense. In the next few minutes he became a different man, hysterical and furious.

‘We will pray to the Lord, Mr. Shah, that he forgives you your ignorance….’

‘Please don’t Mr. McLain, I can take care of myself.’

‘Mr. Shah!’ he screamed in desolation.

Realizing there was no sense in me belaboring the point, I excused myself and made a quick exit. Mr. McLain followed me out in the front yard, screaming like a maniac. Christ will never forgive you Mr. Shah, you will pay for your deeds, you will go to hell, your soul will never find salvation. I pretended he didn’t even exist. This made him even more violent, he even attempted to hit me.  Fortunately, his wife had followed us, and was able to hold him back.

I had walked to the station on that cold January night. As I waited for the train, I began suddenly to shake and break out in a cold sweat. Echoing in my ears were Mr. McLain’s Christ will never forgive you Mr. Shah, you will pay for your deeds, you will go to  hell, you will never find salvation. And now, Bob Benson’s outburst, out, out, this very minute. As I stand in the garage, all shook up and sweaty, it is a déjà vu with both their screams and anger super-imposed on each other — beating on my brains like the African drums.

● Shorter version of this was originally published in The Wall Street Journal.

© Haresh Shah 2015

Illustration: Celia Rose Marks

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