The older man was in his thirties. A time served craftsman with a wife and three children who had abandoned his trade to pursue a college course.
There were ten years between him and the younger man. Two years out of school, he lodged nearby and was beginning the same course.
The gulf between them in age and circumstance was easily surmounted by a shared sense of humour and recognition that each had a desire to be the best at what they were pursuing.
Older shrewdly knew that the younger was more in tune with the way things went at college and would be a useful friend.
Younger respected older as he could see the risk he was taking in order to better himself. It would not be easy with a family in tow.
They quickly established a hierarchy within the small group of students. An atmosphere of competition was fostered and time spent at their desks became a badge of honour. They worked hard to outdo each other, each leading the group in turn.
It was a healthy rivalry and their friendship grew. Younger and girlfriend were invited to dinner. Older and wife showed off their maturity and skill as hosts, the younger couple were impressed.
After the first year there was little between them academically, with each having produced work they were proud of. They continued to enjoy each other’s company. Older liked to share his life experience, younger valued his opinion.
After the second year the bar was raised, more complex work, wider ranging subjects. By now they were close, planning ahead, considering what work they might do after college.
The third year came and went in a blur, the older faltered. The dog peed on his homework, a lovingly airbrushed painting of a car. It seemed like a joke but he presented the soiled piece with little humour.
In the last summer break something changed.
They had always shared a joke and on returning the younger presented the small stock he’d picked up during the holidays. They fell on stony ground, the older po-faced.
Jesus Christ, younger said, what’s the matter with you?
I’d rather you didn’t blaspheme said older.
Younger laughed, very funny, found god have you?
No, he found me.
It was a verbal slap in the face, his friend was serious. He explained that during a difficult summer he had reached a point of desperation. He’d gone to wash his hands one morning and found the face of Jesus staring back at him. An epiphany, he said.
You sure you hadn’t just forgotten to shave? said younger, immediately regretting his glibness.
He formed the opinion that the older man had suffered some sort of breakdown, but kept it to himself. He resolved to see how things developed and got on with his work.
It didn’t get any better, the older challenging the lifestyle and morals of the younger at every turn and trying to persuade him to join him at church. The younger reinforced his opinion of religion being a form of mental illness.
The pressure grew and the younger rebelled as young men do. He put up the shutters on their friendship and withdrew. Over the next few weeks the older doggedly redoubled his efforts to convert his friend and eventually the younger snapped petulantly,
Go on, tell me, what’s the difference between us then?
There was a pause as the older man drew his bow, aimed carefully and killed their friendship.
I’m going to heaven and you’re not.