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An Encounter with the Jehovah’s Witnesses

Shattered after my Phlegraean excursion, I decided to have a lie-in. But someone else had other ideas. The doorbell rang for a second time, then a third. Whoever it was was clearly not going to go away until they got an answer and no one else in the house seemed inclined to go and open up. Behind the door was a man with a slick suit and a blotchy complexion. His glasses made him look like Milhouse out of “The Simpsons”, and he was wearing an idiotic grin from ear to ear. Behind him was little church mouse of a woman, dressed in grey and brown. She, too, was smiling, although much more naturally. “Buongiorno!” they chirped in an obscenely cheerful manner for so ungodly an hour. “Buongiorno,” I returned, trying not to display my displeasure. I had hardly enunciated the final “o” when the man introduced himself as Riccardo and let fly with a well-worn spiel of which I understood not a word. I held up my hands and protested. “Non parlo the old Italiano, mate.”

But Riccardo’s tongue had worked up such a speed that it took a while to decelerate and come to a halt as he cottoned on to what I had just said. He and the church mouse blinked, turned to face each other, and then looked back at me, still blinking. “Deutsch?” said the church mouse hopefully. “Deutsch, ja!” I retorted and now it was her turn to start spouting. They were, of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and were doing their door-to-door bit. The church mouse was called Manuela and she had spent all her life in Cologne until she had married Riccardo some years previously. I invited them into the kitchen and mischievously offered them a beer. To my amazement they accepted. In my ignorance, I had been convinced that Jehovah’s Witnesses did not drink alcohol, and certainly not at this time of the morning, but I had obviously confused them with someone else. The Mormons, perhaps. 

The gist of the conversation was that they wanted to come to my house – or I could go to theirs, and I would, of course, be welcome to stay for dinner – and study the Bible with me, along with a whole lot of other biblical bumpf published by the Watchtower people in Brooklyn. Now, in 1993, I was far less world-weary and cynical than I am now, and I simply found it difficult to tell people to “fuck off”. It was partly this, and partly the fact that Manuela was German, and as you will no doubt have gathered by now, I have a soft spot for Germans, that induced me to accept their invitation. Besides, it would certainly be interesting. I had recently developed something of a fascination for the Catholic Church and really wanted to hear what these people had to say on the subject of Catholicism, particularly in its Neapolitan incarnation, with its claptrap and superstitions and mumbo-jumbo. They were welcome to try and convert me if they wanted to; it would be tough, though, I warned them of that. But they were happy to take up the challenge and we made an appointment for Wednesday evening at 6 o’clock.  

I presented myself on their doorstep at 6 o’clock sharp in my best work clothes and with a bottle of chilled white. I was glad that they drank after all as I have always had a deep mistrust of people who don’t partake of alcohol. The evening passed very enjoyably, not least of all because Manuela turned out to be a fine cook and, rather than doing any structured study as such, we simply got to know each other better through a discussion of life, the universe and everything, that moved at a snail’s pace, as Manuela had to translate everything from German to Italian and back again; Riccardo and I had no other means of making ourselves understood. 

One thing, however, was immediately becoming apparent. The Jehovah’s Witnesses were obsessed with dates, numbers and statistics, along with a very, very literal interpretation of the Bible. Should the number 144 000 appear in the Bible, then it meant 144 000, not one more or one less and to hell with symbolism. As the weeks wore on, I noticed that the same Bible passages cropped up again and again – usually something that corroborated their theory that a certain event would occur on such and such a date. I began to get the impression that theirs was a very selective study of the Bible indeed, and I found it hard to believe in any of it, which disappointed me a little as they predicted imminent catastrophe for the whole of mankind, and I’ve always been a sucker for the excitement of a crisis. But Riccardo and Manuela seemed like nice people and I agreed to meet them the following Wednesday, rejecting their invitation to accompany them to the Kingdom Hall on the Sunday, on the grounds that I needed more time to reflect before throwing myself headlong into a full-blown community. Besides, I wanted the weekends left free for exploring. 

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