Róisín Ingle: ‘I was just wondering,’ the caller said, ‘do you believe in Jesus?’

I mean, I know the pandemic has killed small talk, but this was on another level

There was a knock on the door and I thought, what I wouldn’t give for an unexpected visitor. File photograph: Getty Images

There was a knock on the door and I thought, what I wouldn’t give for an unexpected visitor. File photograph: Getty Images

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It was Saturday and somebody was knocking at my door. We don’t have a doorbell. It broke long before the pandemic and we haven’t bothered replacing it. We don’t have a door knocker either. When I write the word “knocker” down here it makes me think of the sadly departed Knobs & Knockers shop on Dublin’s Nassau Street.

They famously sold knobs and knockers there for 40 years until high rents and the Luas forced them to set up elsewhere. For decades, the sign above the shop provided merriment to local and international admirers, everyone from Slash of Guns N’ Roses to television’s Conan O’Brien.

The city centre’s loss was Dún Laoghaire’s gain, apparently. And these days they are online if you find yourself in need of a knob or, indeed, a knocker.

'I smell, I’m just warning you in advance,' my friend said when we met for a rare socially-distanced coffee down at the docks

I listened to the knocking on the door and I thought, as I do every day: “I need to get a doorbell.” Our old one, before it broke, was a digital device that could be set to different ringtones to inform visitors about what was going on in our world at any given time. At Christmas we would set it to play a carol and when there was a birthday in the house, it played Happy Birthday. When we were feeling fancy we’d choose a classical tune.

It was an audio version of our neighbours Barry and Laura’s window across the road. It won’t be long now before shiny decorative shamrocks start appearing in their front window. And when the shamrocks have been carefully packed away again, it’ll be time for the hopeful-looking yellow chicks and colourful Easter eggs.

Barry and Laura keep the avenue straight in terms of the passing of time and seasons. And in the absence of any real-life holidays, festivities or gatherings, their front window now serves as a reminder of better days.

It’s exciting when someone knocks on the door at the weekend in a way it wasn’t before. It used to be a bit of a pain. An unexpected visitor calling around for a random chat when I was still in my jammers and hadn’t washed my hair for three days felt like an affront.

Unwashed hair

The world has caught up with me in this regard. The pandemic has seen people letting themselves go in delightful ways and now many formerly polished types know what it’s like to be in their jammers with unwashed hair for days on end. Bliss.

“I smell, I’m just warning you in advance,” my friend said when we met for a rare socially-distanced coffee down at the docks. “We all smell,” I told her.

I know one woman who exclusively wears tie-dyed pyjamas now. Pyjamas she has tie-dyed herself using one of those hobby kits. It’s Woodstock every day in her house. Even I am not that brave.

Did I believe in Jesus? It’s been a while since I’ve had to think about that

There was a knock on the door and I thought, what I wouldn’t give for an unexpected visitor now. A friend or family member just popping by for a chat about nothing. A coffee at the kitchen table with some biscuits the children made.

The children who would be out somewhere at the trampolining place or at music lessons or making a mess in somebody else’s house. We’d sit and have coffee and we wouldn’t have a clue how lucky we actually were.

Because there’s no knocker, you have to knock on my door with your knuckles. Or thump the door with your fist if that’s your way. This knock sounded like a knuckly one. Knock, knock, knock. Before answering, I looked down at my pyjama top, which was actually an Abortion Rights Northern Ireland T-shirt, and decided I would just about have time to change it for one that was not stained by recently consumed scrambled egg.

Smiling stranger

Knock, knock, knock. “Hold your horses,” I muttered remembering that the other door-answerers were out skateboarding in the park. When I opened the door a tall, dark, smiling stranger stood there. He didn’t have a package or a letter in his hand, which made me wonder what business he had at my door. It turned out to be Jesus business.

“I was just wondering,” he said, explaining that he was from a local evangelical church, “do you believe in Jesus?”

Small talk

I mean I know the pandemic has killed small talk but this was on another level. This was big talk if I’d ever heard it.

“Do I believe in Jesus?” I asked him. I was killing time here and also thinking thanks be to Jesus I changed my T-shirt. Did I believe in Jesus? It’s been a while since I’ve had to think about that.

“Yes, Jesus. Do you?”

“No,” I said, and then immediately felt rude. “I mean, yes. As an idea, a concept, as in he sounded like a good person with principles I admire but, you know, I’m not really into organised religion myself.”

“I’m not either, but I believe in a beautiful world beyond this one, eternal life, and Jesus can help us get there . . .”

“I’ll have to stop you there,” I said. “I don’t really believe in an afterlife and also I’ve got a shakshuka on the stove that I really need to look at.”

“You’ve lovely blue eyes, they really stand out,” he said then, a last ditch attempt to keep the Jesus chat going.

The absolute cheek of him.

I hope he knocks again next Saturday.

roisin@irishtimes.com