The Wild Geese And Other Stories

You Can't Be Too Careful When You Answer The Door...

I went to visit Jeff on several occasions, when he went to live in Emmaus House. We were both film fans, so I usually took two or three DVD’s for him to watch. Action films were his favourites.

His room was surprisingly well-appointed: en-suite, kitchenette, table and chairs, storage space, and a decent TV and DVD player. It was tidy when he moved in, but now, clothes, bedding, books, papers and boxes were strewn here, there and everywhere. It wasn’t his illness (lung cancer, too advanced for an operation or other treatment): he’d lived like that since he’d separated from his wife of twenty-five years, occupying a small area of space in the middle of a circle of chaos. It might have been the same when he was with her, but I never went into their house, then.

The film he really wanted was “The Wild Geese”. I’ve never seen it. I don’t like war films in general, and the idea of Richard Harris, Roger Moore and - good grief! - Richard Burton as ageing mercenaries just didn’t appeal. But Jeff liked it. I couldn’t find it in HMV, so I ordered a copy online.

Jeff was pleased. “I was in that raid, you know.” Yes, he’d told me that before. “The real raid, the one the book was based on. They changed it, of course, but there’s a lot of what really happened. It should have made me rich, but…” He broke off and glanced over at me. “There are still people out there…if they knew where I was…” He left it at that, looking down again, shooting out his lower lip, then sighing.

I wondered whether that was before or after the time he’d spent in the desert, camel trading amongst the Arabs, becoming fluent in Arabic and living as one of them. Certainly it must have been after he left the SAS.

He coughed for a few minutes. He was pretty down, that day. “I’m not sure what I believe any more, after this has happened to me. Why me? Why me?” He shot out his lower lip again. On the coffee table, a few feet away, were the butts of a dozen or so roll-ups in an ashtray. I didn’t mention it. What would have been the point?

A friend of ours and his wife had met Jeff and Diane some years before. They were in a Christian coffee shop. Jeff was wearing Muslim dress, having become a convert to Islam. Eventually, the couple professed faith in Christ, and worshipped wherever my friend and his wife went. Jeff told me that he hadn’t been just any ordinary Muslim, he’d been an imam. “When I left, they put out a fatwa against me. If they ever find out where I am, I’ve had it. I never open my door without checking through the spyhole first.”

I was mildly surprised that his presence hadn’t been noticed; at the time he was living in an area of town with the highest population of persons of Asian heritage that you’d find anywhere in England. Hide in plain sight, eh? It must have worked.

Jeff had many other tales to tell. He and his wife had slept rough for a few years, down and out in London, before moving up North. At one time he’d been a chef in a top London hotel; he was a trained classical pianist; he’d been a Methodist lay preacher at some unspecified time in the past - presumably before becoming a Muslim; he came from a rich family, but he’d been disinherited when he’d gone off to join the Army.

It was sad when his wife left him. They accused each other of marital infidelity. I found that hard to believe. I’m no oil painting, as they say, but considering their age, appearance and state of health, it seemed a bit of a stretch. But what did I know?

We talked a little longer, and I tried to encourage him to put his trust in Christ, the one sure and certain hope of salvation - which is what he’d said, so many times, that he’d already done. We prayed together, and then I went on my way, and he went into the communal kitchen to talk to those drinking coffee there. He was a man who made friends easily. I wondered if he’d already entertained them with tales of his many and varied adventures.

Once, he showed me an old bible he’d picked up from somewhere, with Hebrew and Greek side by side with the KJV. He’d told me he knew both languages. I asked him to read me a little from the NT Greek. “No, that’s Aramaic, I can’t read that, only Greek.”

Then there was the chef story. It led to him being invited to do the catering on a church holiday, according to my friend. When they arrived, not only had he not ordered the food he was supposed to order, but he could hardly manage to open a can of beans.

He might have spent some time in the Forces - but when I gave him my Walther to examine, I was amazed to see him holding it with the muzzle towards his face and his finger on the trigger. I hadn’t told him it wasn’t loaded.


(In case you think that I’m the one making things up.)

Next time I saw him, he said he’d watched “The Wild Geese” half a dozen times. I was glad that it had given him pleasure. We talked and prayed again. Then he was in hospital, and then he was gone.

Am I going to offer a moral at this point? Some apposite application, perhaps? Perhaps not. I'll leave that to you, today.

I miss Jeff. I miss his cheerful company, and I miss listening to his stories. It didn’t matter to me how much of it was fact and how much of it was fiction. All that mattered was to do what I could to encourage him to have faith in Christ at the last, as simply and as surely as he was able.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgement throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

Augustus M. Toplady. 1740-1778.

Amen; and so we trust.