Jesus in Jeans: Josh and Zack

28th February, 2024

Zack lived in a bachelor pad on the quayside, he didn’t venture onto the estate he grew up on very often. Well not in his free time anyway. His mum still lived in the same old house, but she was clearly embarrassed by how her son had turned out. He’d only wanted to be successful.

As teenagers Zack and his friends had been stopped, searched, pinned to the ground, pushed up against walls and generally treated with suspicion and contempt by the police several times, so he knew what he was getting into when he joined. Lads from the estate simply didn’t become police officers, especially not black lads. Yet, here he was, lording his power over his neighbours, roughing up fifteen year olds simply for being outside and looking suspicious, just as he had experienced as a teenager. Over the years his old friends had watched him arrest homeless people, throw tear gas into crowds of peaceful protesters and use excessive force on women holding a vigil for their murdered sister.

This wasn’t only what had made him ‘persona non grata’ around the estate. There would always be disapproval of his collaboration in a system most saw as ‘the enemy’ but it was what came next that really upset people. No doubt it hadn’t been easy for Zack in the early days, his neighbours calling him ‘turncoat pig’ and then nicknaming him ‘Babylon Zack’ whilst he tried to make a career as a black man in an organisation that was institutionally racist, but he’d clawed his way through the ranks and now, as a 45 year old rarely needed to leave his desk. Yet Zack lived a lifestyle way beyond the affordability of a police officer’s salary, even a Chief Inspectors salary, and everyone knew where the money came from. Bribes. Zack wasn’t just a police officer, now overseeing a system that remained as contemptuous to his people as it ever had been, he was a corrupt police officer.

Zack seemed untouchable. The flash car, the designer clothes, the gold watch, sitting in his fancy apartment, watching his massive TV, enjoying wealth gained at the expense of the people who had raised him, and they hated him. Every single one of them. Zack didn’t care. He’d made it, he’d escaped, he’d worked hard for this money and he deserved it, they, he reasoned, were simply jealous.

There had been some stirrings in the community recently and he’d heard some of the officers at work talking about trouble brewing. People were starting to listen to some influencer, Joshua, who seemed to be working them up, apparently he’d been handing out food at the foodbank willy nilly, without checking if people were eligible, he’d been critical of authority figures and talked about a new world order overthrowing the rich and powerful, and now, rumour had it, he was planning to be in town on Saturday. Zack had the riot team on standby. Yet Zack was curious, who was this guy? Just another socialist loser with a YouTube channel? Normally he didn’t bat an eyelid at these idiots but something about this guy seemed to pique his interest, though he couldn’t explain why, he felt a strange excitement at the idea of seeing him, the kind of excitement he’d have felt as a child if his favourite celebrity was coming to town, and yet, he wasn’t a child and he didn’t know the first thing about Joshua. He just knew he had to see him, he had to know what all the fuss was about.

Saturday morning Zack was full of nervous energy. Pulling his coat up around his neck and trying to hide under a baseball cap he wandered into town, hoping he could remain unnoticed whilst still being able to see what all the fuss was about. He’d never seen the town centre so busy, people lined the streets trying to catch a glimpse of this one man who seemed to have come from nowhere. Zack clocked the additional police presence but despite all the crowds, he felt that they wouldn’t be necessary, there was a sense of peace, despite the noise and the hubbub. Suddenly someone shouted “He’s coming,” the crowd surged forward to see, and Zack found himself jostled to the back, which wouldn’t have been so bad had he not been such a shortarse. Standing 5’4” tall he couldn’t see a thing. Before he knew what he was doing Zack found himself under the control of his inner ten year old, shimmying up a tree. He didn’t know his knees could still do this. Quickly clinging to a sturdy branch he looked down and saw Josh. There he was, confidently striding through the crowd, stopping every so often to talk to people, he looked so ordinary yet he exuded something unexplainable, something that just made Zack feel drawn to him. Zack was trying to fathom this when Josh stopped, right in front of the tree he was sitting in. Josh turned, lifted his head and caught Zack’s eye, a warm smile flashed across his face, as he called “Zack!! There you are! Great to see you.” Time seemed to slow down as Zack watched every head turn to see him, saw the smiles disappear from their faces and turn to looks of disgust and anger, so much for hiding. How did Joshua know his name? “Come on” Joshua called “Get down from that tree, I’m coming over to your place for dinner”

Bewildered Zack slowly inched his way down, how on earth had he managed to get himself up here? Aghast the crowd fell silent for a moment until someone shouted “That’s Babylon Zack!” and another called “Hey Josh, you know who this guy is right?” Josh just smiled and held out his arms to Zack, as Zack’s feet touched the ground Joshua threw his arm around his shoulders as though they were old friends. Zack didn’t know what to feel, but despite the palpable venom coming from the crowd he felt safe, and it most certainly wasn’t because of the presence of his dumbstruck colleagues watching from the corners.

A week later Zack’s flat was on the market. He’d resigned from his job, handed himself over to internal affairs for all the bribes he’d taken and provided vital information that had led to the arrest of several druglords. He’d emptied his savings accounts and donated all the money to local charities investing in the estate he grew up on and he’d started volunteering at the homeless shelter five days a week. More than that though, the change in Zack was deeper, unexplainable, he exuded joy, wherever he went people felt lighter, he became a man who didn’t care for money but loved life, and loved people. Nobody ever found out what happened when Joshua visited Zacks house, all they knew was that it had completely changed Zack’s life.