In a small bagel shop in the city of New York, a young, striking woman with red hair in a dark green Armani business suit entered. Two men sitting at a booth waved at her.
“You’re late. We already ordered for you,” the Old Man said. He was dressed in a simple gray suit with a yarmulke covering his white hair.
“Cross-town traffic is a bitch,” the woman said.
“You should know better than to try and drive in New York City,” the younger man said.
“Still rockin’ the homeless look, Joshua?” the woman said.
“There’re more important things than vanity, Lucy,” Joshua said.
“There’s vanity, and then there’s not showering in a month. What did you order me?”
“Raisin bagel, low-fat cream cheese, and black coffee,” the Old Man said.
“The only tolerable thing in this dive,” Lucy said.
“I’ll have you know that this is the best bagel place in all of the world,” the Old Man said. “And I should know. They have the best lox with the little capers. Amazing. You should try it sometime. Maybe it would improve your attitude.”
“If my attitude improved, I couldn’t do my job,” Lucy said.
“What a pity that would be,” Joshua said.
“No,” the Old Man said. “No discussions of business until we eat. It feels like forever since I’ve had a decent meal.”
“Fine by me,” Lucy said. “And it has been forever.”
“And we’re better for it,” Joshua said. “We don’t need dead animals anyway.”
“True, but I do miss the mutton,” the Old Man said. “And the fresh baked bread. Speaking of which…”
“Lox and cream cheese on an garlic onion bagel,” the waitress said. She set the plate down in the front of the Old Man. “And hot coffee with two sugars and cream.”
“Bless you, child,” the Old Man said.
The waitress smiled. “And for you, Sir, our Kosher Vegan Breakfast Sandwich.”
“Seriously?” Lucy said.
“It’s ethical,” Joshua said. “And delicious.”
She rolled her eyes and the waitress put her bagel and coffee in front of her, smiled and left.
“Such a nice lady,” the Old Man said.
“None of them are ‘nice,’” Lucy said.
“What’s wrong with Sarah?” the Old Man said. He took a bite of his bagel.
“Nothing,” Joshua said.
“She cheated on her husband three years ago,” Lucy said.
“They were going through a separation,” Joshua said. “She was lonely.”
“Doesn’t change the fact that she cheated,” Lucy said. “And she doesn’t pay for her bagels.”
“She makes $9.50 an hour,” Joshua said.
“And that entitles her to something that doesn’t belong to her? No. She’s a thief.”
“She needs food,” Joshua said.
“Then let her apply for welfare,” Lucy said.
“You know she and her family don’t qualify,” Joshua said.
“I don’t make the laws,” Lucy said. “Besides, that’s one more piece of evidence that humans suck. They won’t even take care of their most vulnerable.”
“Some of them do,” Joshua said.
“Most don’t. It’s the same as it’s always been, Old Man. Things haven’t changed down here since you had your prophets yelling at the Jews for failing to care for the poor. The poor still suffer while the rich take everything. Where’s your vaunted compassion, Joshua? What are your billions of followers? I’ll tell you where, they’re fighting to kick out the stranger. They’re fighting to keep oppressing the oppressed. They’re voting to tighten the screws on the people they think are unworthy of the basic necessities of life. They’re voting to keep their own power and wealth at the expense of the poor and hungry. And then they feel better about themselves because they give a can of green beans to their church food drive once a year. Face it, your experiment has failed. It’s time to end it.”
“Whoa, Lucy,” Joshua said. “End it?”
“That’s why we’re here, isn’t it? We don’t have my annual reports down here unless some serious shit needs discussing.”
“Is she right?”
The Old Man took another bite of bagel, chewed, and swallowed. “I am considering it.”
“You can’t be.”
“I can’t argue with her, son,” He said. “Despite what she thinks, I’ve been looking down on them a lot lately. Their inhumanity, their culture, the murders, the rapes, the apologists for the worst behavior… I’m not happy with how things are going.”
“But think of how much progress they’ve made.”
“Oh yes, they’ve made excellent progress at being worse to each other. Used to be if you wanted to kill a man, you had to be a better fighter. Now you can murder hundreds with the simple pull of a trigger,” Lucy said. “If you wanted to steal, you had to have the guts to do it in person, now you can sit in your corner office and plunder the retirement funds of the widows or charge ridiculous usury fees to the poor or sit in front of your computer and defraud the naïve and stupid. Such amazing progress, Joshua.”
“That’s not true for most of the world,” Joshua said.
“But it’s quite true for your ‘Christian’ nation here, Joshua,” Lucy sneered. She looked at the Old Man. “Just say the word and I will end these blasphemous apes and wipe the stains of their sins from the universe.”
“Your problem, Lucy, is that you never look for the helpers. You don’t see the kind gestures. You don’t see the doctor waiving his fees to help someone. You don’t see the men running into the war zones to help the wounded. You don’t see the widows sending money she can’t afford to help the homeless. You don’t see the children taking their allowance and giving it to a hungry man. I do. I know they’re not perfect, but they are getting better. They deserve a chance to continue to evolve. Wasn’t that the point when you gave them the gift of your spirit? When you breathed consciousness into the first humans and lifted them up above their ape brethren? Let it continue. See what they become. They have the capacity to become like us. Let them grow.”
“I don’t see the helpers? You’re right, I don’t. I didn’t see a helper when a child was being raped by their priest. I saw a cover up. I didn’t see a helper when the child saw their parents murdered by a bomb. I didn’t see a helper when a homeless man froze to death in January. There are tens of thousands of small and great injustices every day, and I still don’t see the helpers, Joshua. Where the hell are they? Where the hell are you, Joshua?”
“You don’t think I feel it? I know their pain. I took on their pain,” Joshua said.
“Then do something about it!” Lucy said. “Stop sitting on your ass waiting for them to get better and take control!”
“Quiet down, you two,” The Old Man said. “You’re disturbing the other customers. You are both right. There are many wicked ones, Joshua, that don’t deserve your compassion.”
“Every human being made in our image deserves our compassion.”
“Which is why I love you,” the Old Man said. He looked at Lucy, “He’s right. There are good people here too, Lucy. You may not see them, but I do. I don’t want to hurt them.”
“Then take them,” she said. “Take your good people and leave the rest to me. You asked this world to love you? Now it’s time to make these stupid hairless apes fear you again. They deserve it.”
“No one deserves that,” Joshua said.
“Enough,” the Old Man said quietly. “It’s enough. We’ve let this go on for too long. Make your preparations, Lucy. It’s time.”
“It’s time, Joshua. I will have the angels gather the helpers, but for the rest, it’s time for them to see the error of their ways.”
“I won’t be a part of this,” Joshua said.
“Well, now, that’s surprising. What happened to, ‘Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven?’” Lucy sneered. “You’re starting to sound like me.”
“I’ll never sound like you,” Joshua said. “But I won’t be a part of this, Father.”
“You love them so much you would defy me?”
“I’m hoping you won’t ask me to make that decision,” Joshua said. “I will remain here and I will show you that there is hope for them.”
The Old Man looked away from his son and nodded, “Do what you will, but I must do the same.”
Lucy smiled. “I better get to it then. I’ve got an apocalypse to plan. Enjoy the view from the front row, Joshua.”
“I’m not going to let you win,” Joshua said.
“It’s not personal,” Lucy said. “It’s just the job.”
“I think it’s a little personal,” Joshua said.
“Maybe a little. Ta-ta for now.”
She vanished with a flourish leaving the two men alone.
“Finish your breakfast, son.”
“I seem to have lost my appetite,” he said. He faded with a sorrowful glance at his father.
“I hate being in charge somedays,” the Old Man said. He left a twenty dollar tip on the table, for all it it would matter now, and faded out of sight.
None of the other customers noticed the fight or even remembered seeing anyone sitting at the booth that morning. But the waitress took the large tip and cleaned up the remains of breakfast.
As she was getting off work, she later saw a homeless man sitting on the corner outside of the shop.
“Here you go,” she said. She handed the young man the twenty dollars. “You need this more than I do.”
“Bless you, ma’am,” Joshua said.
He watched her leave.
“Look for the helpers, Lucy,” he said. “Look at the helpers, Dad.”