Ah – oh, I’m sorry, I’m not sure I’m in the right place. I’m looking for…
Yes, yes. I know, it usually throws people.
Well, yes, I expect it … really?
Yes, yes. It’s me God. You were probably expecting choirs of angels, clouds…
Yes, well, I don’t do that any more.
It really isn’t – well, it doesn’t really get the reaction that one wants, if you know what I mean. So I’ve gone for this.
What do you mean, ‘this’?
Well, what you see.
A man behind a desk.
In a windowless office.
Like in a seventies sketch show.
Well, look, when time is as meaningless as it is to me, it’s quite hard to be bang up to date with the latest fad. I mean, what do you think would have been better?
Ermmm… Well, probably a cookery show. With people being voted off.
Well, anyway, how can I help?
To be honest, I’m frankly a bit astonished to be here. I mean – all I did was you know…
It’s the superhighway. Just installed it.
The superhighway? I haven’t heard that since 1998.
For two millennia all people have ever experienced when they try to speak to me is a vague sense that maybe someone might be listening, and perhaps there’s a chance that things might get better one day. I mean, Christ, the Buddhists have had that, and frankly, they had it first.
Well, if you sit under an olive tree, or whatever it was, and sit still long enough to hear your own thoughts, of course you start hallucinating that you know how the world works. Nirvana Schmirvana.
You probably have the same experience if you just sit on the toilet long enough. Don’t you?
Oh. Well, I do.
But you do know how the world works, don’t you?
Well, in theory.
Well, you know, all the quarks and the gluons, all that stuff, yes I worked that out, that bit is me, but frankly, the last two thousand years have all got terribly complicated. Ever since I decided to – you know – become incarnate of a virgin, and all that, I have frankly not been able to concentrate on anything else.
Could I get on with my prayer?
It’s fabulous, though, isn’t it? I mean you sit down at the end of your bed.
On the toilet, actually…
Well, wherever, and you just start to think about praying and –schoom – here you are.
Well, I had to knock on the door.
Yes, but I couldn’t have people just appearing before me. It would be so unnerving. Got to have some kind of queueing system.
Well, I think so. Anyway, as I said, about two pages ago, how can I help?
Well, I’ve been thinking about slavery.
Oh yes. What about it?
Well, I think it would be best if it hadn’t happened.
Are you thinking of a particular slavery?
Are there more than one?
Well, you know, the Egyptians had slaves, the Americans had slaves, the Romans had slaves, and I think someone called Cynthia Paine had slaves. Or something.
I think I’m really thinking of the American slaves.
Just the American ones. Right.
Well, I think. I think.
Still, the other ones were also bad.
I’m not sure that Cynthia’s were quite so bad.
No. But still…
Anyway, you say you’d rather it hadn’t happened?
And that was the essence of your prayer, was it?
You’d like slavery not to have happened.
You see, this is part of the problem with this new system. In the old days, the old yes, no, wait system, no one ever knew whether I was answering their prayers anyway. And frankly, if you want to ask for something like this, the answer was usually obviously going to be no.
Do you really not see?
I’m sorry, but no.
Well, what you seem to be asking for is for something that has happened, not to have happened. Is that right?
Well, you wish that there had never been any slavery – at least in North America, right?
And you do accept, do you, that actually slavery did happen.
So what you want me to do is not the ordinary run of the mill miracle where I, say, turn water into wine, or cause the transubstantiation of the bread and wine of the mass into my own body and blood, or make somebody’s amputated arm grow back – you want me actually to wind back time, and set the world up as if that thing didn’t happen. That’s right, isn’t it?
Yes. That is what I want. If that’s not too much trouble.
Well – since you take that attitude, I really think you should think for a moment about how much fucking trouble it is. I mean, look, I could dump you back in – what would it have to be – about 1501? I could stick you in the Americas and then spend the next few centuries making sure that everyone gets paid some kind of minimum wage for anything they do. Does this include women working for their husbands and families? Because that’s going to make it harder.
Wait, what? That’s not slavery!
It’s not quite as simple as you thought, is it? But look, my point is that you don’t want me putting you back in 1501, do you?
I don’t know. Life might be a bit simpler back then.
Hah. Careful what you wish for. Simpler it might be. Shit certainly is. By your standards.
What because I haven’t got Facebook and Twitter.
No, because you haven’t got running water, and will die before – how old are you?
You’ll probably die almost immediately. Of something or other.
Take it from me, it’s not the way to go. No, what you want, and what is why your request is, frankly, a right pain in the arse for me, is for me to go back, remove slavery from history, and reconstruct the present as if it had never existed.
You can do that?
I’m God mate, I’m fucking omniscient and omnipotent. I even knew that you were going to come here and ask it, and I knew that I’d be saying this to you, and that some git would be writing it down as if he were thinking it out for himself, and people listening to it as if he’d actually made it up. But it’s still a pain in the arse, and this is why I’m not going to do it.
What? That’s not fair.
Listen, what do you think happens if I answer your prayers?
The world is a better place.
Better, yes. Better. It’s still not perfect though, is it?
Well, you know. Baby steps.
Oh yes, absolutely. But you’ll go back to your lovely world, and do you think you’ll notice the absence of slavery?
Well, yes. There’ll be more fairness in the world. The liberal West won’t have hegemony built upon the wages of unpaid labour.
Oh Christ. What?
The liberal unthinking West won’t have been constructed upon the…
Oh shut up. No it won’t, will it? So you’ll be going back this evening to a world which is utterly unlike anything that you’ve ever seen. Will you like it?
I don’t know. Till I see it.
Of course you won’t like it. It’ll look just like the world has always looked to you. Will you thank me that I got rid of slavery?
Of course I will, God.
Of course you won’t. You won’t ever have heard of slavery, you imbecile. You’ll be back up here tomorrow with another footling complaint that you want fixed. O God, I wish there were no malaria, O God, I wish my puppy hadn’t drowned, O God, I wish men had equal rights. And you’ll never kno about all the other stuff I fixed.
So that’s why I don’t answer retrospective prayers.
My finger hurts.
You shouldn’t have whacked it with a hammer, then, should you?
Can’t you fix that?
I can make it gradually hurt less over the next few days. Deal?