TUESDAY: A Brief Encounter with Death

BY RIZWAN ASAD

Copyright is held by the author.

YOU PROBABLY won’t believe me when I tell you I’ve met Death. But I have, and she’s nothing like you’d imagine. Or at least, she’s nothing like I would have imagined, so I assume she’s nothing like you’d imagine.

Not unless you imagine her to be a four-foot-something Asian girl that decides to one day, without warning, invade your kitchen.

Obviously, I didn’t realize she was Death straight away. I came down the stairs on a Saturday morning, turned into my kitchen, and thought I’d found a lost child. Or maybe a runaway child. Either way, a child…who was trying to steal my Fruit Loops, but failing. Did I mention she’s four feet tall?

Where was I? Right, so there I was, wearing nothing but boxer shorts, and there was an unknown Asian girl standing on a chair in my kitchen, crying because she still couldn’t reach the Fruit Loops.

My Fruit Loops.

“Hello, little girl.” I said. “Where are your parents?”

She looked at me quizzically, hopped off the chair and marched right over to me. Her shoes had unicorns drawn all over them, and she carried a faint smell of brownies. I would’ve sworn she was some lost child except for the way she looked at me.

Usually I don’t pay attention to glares and the like. But it’s hard not to notice when someone a whole two-feet shorter than you is looking down at you.

“What’s your name? What are you doing here?” I said.

She ignored my questions, took me by the hand, pulled me into the kitchen, and pointed at my Fruit Loops. Now, I don’t want you to start thinking of me as the type of man that wouldn’t feed a hungry child, but I really look forward to my Saturday morning Fruit Loops, and there really wasn’t very much left.

I suggested she have a banana instead. She accepted. And I thought that would be the end of it. But the moment she took her first bite, a voice clicked on behind me.

Congratulations, dear Mortal!

It was coming from my microwave. There was a picture on it too, like a video of a TV from the 50s. But on my microwave.

You have fed Death her first meal of the day. She’s rated it “Passable”, and in thanks, she will refrain from causing you a needlessly painful and utterly grisly demise. The screen clicked off. I turned back to her, she was pointing at my Fruit Loops again.

“Did…did the microwave just call you Death?”

She look back at me, unamused. A moment of static, and another click.

Yes. Mortal. Your feeble eyes look upon the Great Finisher of Things. You speak with Death herself. The Lord of Finality. The Purveyor of the Eternal. The Bringer of All Ends — Death. The little girl squinted her eyes at me. And Death demands sugary delights.

“Wait, sorry.” I said. “I have a few questions.”

Ask them quickly.

“Which one of you is Death?”

Stupid Mortal. You gaze upon Death.

“Yes, of course. But are you Death? Or is my microwave Death?”

The little girl pointed to herself, unamused. Personally, I thought it was a fair question. After all, my microwave had never spoken to me before. In fact, I had never known it to speak to anyone. And I said as much.

Death speaks through your device. Were your pitiful mortal ears to hear the honey-like voice of the Ever-Ending, you would melt.

Death leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table.

Any other questions, Mortal?

“Actually, yes,” I replied. “Why are you here?”

Death is on Her lunch break. She pointed at my Fruit Loops again.

It wasn’t something I had really thought about previously, but it occurred to me then: Death is a persistent little bitch. Also, who takes lunch at 10.30 in the morning? Uninvited, in my kitchen, no less.

“Listen, Death” I said, puffing up my chest as best I could. “While I’m certainly not the type of man to suggest that you shouldn’t be allowed a lunch break — I’m quite a forward-thinking type, after all — I’d like to know why you’re in my kitchen? Surely, there must be some divine cafeteria in the underworld that you can go to for lunch?”

Heaven.

“Sorry? Did you say Heaven?”

Death lives and works in Heaven.

“Right. Well, I’m afraid that’s just not on. I didn’t move halfway across the world for Death, who lives and works in Heaven, to hang out in my kitchen. I’m afraid, I’ll have to insist you leave.”  Death looked towards my kitchen sink, a dirty butter knife began to rise and float towards me, as if it were being pulled by an invisible string. It stopped in the air above me. 

She sighed, and pointed her little finger again, but this time at my toaster. A card popped up. I moved towards the toaster slowly, and as soon as I picked up the card, the butter knife dropped behind me. Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m minimizing the situation, but ‘death-by-butter-knife’ was not the way I wanted things to end.

For any complaints, and concerns. Please call us toll-free at 1-800-HEAVEN.

In smaller print, the card had a series of extensions, and specified that they’re only open from 10 am to 11am, every Saturday morning. Standard government office hours.

Not wanting to hanger her further, I gave Death an apple, and excused myself into the living room.

I called the number on the card – 1-800-HEAVEN . . . Administration — Extension 666. And, if you can believe it, an enthusiastic voice named Morty backed up her story. She’s Death. She was on her scheduled break. And if I were to hear her true voice, I’d melt into a puddle of something or the other dark-grim-grimness. Well, I wasn’t having it, not when my Saturday morning Fruit Loops were at stake, so I said I want to speak to the manager!

And then without so much as a “goodbye”, there was a click, and the line had disconnected.

I was about to turn around and give that little girl a piece of my mind, but when I did, I found myself someplace new. White above me, white below, I was surrounded by bright light, and there appeared to be a door ahead. Honestly, I understand the show and dance of it all, but if Heaven really wanted to be HEAVEN, don’t you think they’d drop me off in the manager’s office? Or at least have conjured me wearing a pair of trousers?

Anyways, I walked towards the light, opened the door, and found myself in a pristine office. A young man appeared to be filing his nails at the counter. You know the type—glass window with an awkward little hole; like they have at banks.

“Are you Morty?” I asked. His head popped up, his hair was exquisite.

“Why, no Sir.” He replied disappointed.

“That’s okay, I just have a simple ques —”

“I’ll get Morty for you, Sir.” His voice was really quite sad. “The last thing we want is for you to have a less than perfectly lovely experience. And Morty really is quite a lovely fellow. Much lovelier than I could ever hope to be . . .” He sighed loudly, and ran a hand through his hair as he stood up.

“No, no, it’s really OK . . .” I said.

“It’ll just be a minute, Sir.”

It was not just a minute. But when Morty finally arrived, he greeted me with the same enthusiastic telephone voice as earlier.

“Hello, Sir!” He said, “Welcome to Heaven’s administrative offices. I believe you’re here to speak with us about Death. Is that correct?”

“Why, yes it is.” I said, finally we were making some progress.

“Excellent, Sir. I more than understand how difficult this situation must be for you. And I’ll do everything in my power to get it sorted, right and proper — as they say in your homeland!” He pulled out a large stamp from behind the desk. “Could you please handover your completed Complaint Form? I’ll stamp it for you, and you-know-who will take it from there.” He pointed upwards.

“Oh,” I said. “I’m afraid I haven’t got a complaint form. Could you just call you-know-who anyways? I’ve not had any breakfast yet, you see. And . . .”

“Oh, that is quite terrible, Sir! But unfortunately, until we receive the Complaint Form, we cannot get in touch with you-know-who.” He pointed upwards again with a wry little wink. “Due process, I’m afraid, Sir. We’d be like the animals without it.”

“I see. Could you tell me where to find this Complaint Form?”

“Why, of course, Sir!” Morty seemed more excited than someone behind Plexiglas giving directions ought to be. He pointed behind me, “Simply walk towards the light. Don’t stop at go — that’s a little Heaven humor for you, Sir — and you’ll come to a crossroads, you want Office A. They have the Complaint Form.”

Not seeing any other choice, I followed Morty’s instructions, and found my way to Office A. I entered. The room looked almost identical to the last, right down to the sad man with exquisite hair behind the plexiglass barrier.

“Hello again” I said, trying to sound as cheerful as possible. “I’m here for a Complaint Form.” His sad, perfectly coiffed, head looked up at me slowly.

“Of course, Sir.” Still miserable. “Could you please tell me the nature of the complaint?”

“Well, you see. Death seems to be taking her lunch break in my kitchen. It’s making me rather uncomfortable. I’m also quite hungr —”

“Oh dear!” He said, suddenly alive. “Did you say that Death made you feel uncomfortable? That is unacceptable, Sir. UNACCEPTABLE!” He stood up, brandishing his fist in the air. “We will have to take this matter to HHR. Office E. Please walk towards the light, and at the crossroads, make sure to take the path that says Office E. Let them know I sent you, and that this is a harassment issue.”

“And what’s your name?” I replied.

He looked at me sadly.

“Office A, Sir.”

I was getting rather tired of this, but I suppose Heavenly Human Resources would be the place to go in situations like this. I took a deep breath, stepped into the light once more, picked Office E at the crossroads, and found myself in a dimly lit room. A sign behind a window read: ON BREAK, BACK IN 5-15 YEARS. PLEASE GO TO OFFICE C.

Well, that just wouldn’t do, so I went towards the light one more time, and found my way to Office C.

“Hello there,” I said. “A sign in Office E told me to come here.”

“Are you hear to file a harassment complaint?” said the young man behind the counter.

“No, no, my dear friend.” I replied. “You’ve misunderstood me, completely.”

“No?” He looked puzzled. “Because if you were to want to complain about some inappropriate behaviour on the part of one of our employees, I would be very happy to help you . . . as soon as you provide me with a copy of your stamped Complaint Form.”

“No, no, you’ve got me all wrong!” I said, trying to sound as enthusiastic as Morty. He truly did have a lovely way about him. “I’m looking for the Compliments Form.”

“. . . the what, sir?”

“The Compliments Form, of course! I’ve been sent by you-know-who,” I pointed upwards, “And I’d like to fill out the Compliments Form, with a list of all the excellent Offices, so that you-know-who gets to hear about what a great job you’ve all been doing.”

He scratched his head for a moment before finding a reply.

“Well . . . then . . . the Compliments Form . . . yes, of course, Sir! Right away. I’d better get that for you straightaway.”

“Excellent.” I replied. “I believe you can find it in Office B. Walk towards the light, and make sure to take the path labelled B at the crossroads.” He nodded in acknowledgement and hurried towards the bright light.

This was my opportunity, I rushed behind the desk and looked around for anything that could help . . . stamped complaint forms? There weren’t any. There was however a stationary kit, a half-completed book of Sudoku, and a little red stamp.

Well, I thought to myself, desperate times call for desperate measures. I grabbed a white piece of paper, and in my best cursive wrote: “Complaint Form. Death is having lunch in Dilbaker Banerjee’s Kitchen. Address: 249 Inseeming Place, Whirlwood.” I stamped the page —I t was a picture of a smiley face. I figured, what was the worst that could happen? What would Morty do? Call me a liar? This is Heaven, there can’t possibly be any liars here.

Quickly, I rushed back into the light, and found my way back to Morty.

“Hello again, Sir!” Goodness, his smile was infectious. “As I mentioned, all you need to do is head over to Office A, and get yourself the . . .”

“The Complaint form, Morty?” I interjected. “Got it right here!” I waved the paper about triumphantly.

“You . . . do?” Morty’s face changed from beaming to bewildered.

“I most certainly do, my young friend.” I pointed at the happy stamp. “Already stamped too.”

“Oh, yes . . . so it is . . .”

“Morty . . . ?” I said.

“Yes, Sir?”

“This is the Complaints Form, correct?”

He hesitated.

“You have seen the Complaints Form before, haven’t you?”

“Oh yes Sir! Of course I have . . . and that’s most certainly it.” His smile was beaming again. I didn’t think it was possible for that room to feel brighter, but somehow he made it. “I’ll put that through straightaway!”

He took the paper from me, had a quick gander, nodded with what I can only assume was approval, and placed it into a small white fax machine. The machine only had one number on it: 1. He pressed it, and it responded with a chime, and grunt, and a small cough of sparkly dust before sucking in the paper.

“Will there be anything else, Sir?”

“No, no . . . how long till you-know-who will be able to address the issue?”

“Oh, hopefully not long at all, Sir. But you know how the upstairs works, Sir.”

“And how is that?”

“In mysterious ways, Sir.” Morty smiled. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Banerjee. I hope you’re happy with our service. We’ll see you again soon, Sir.” He smiled again, something seemed different.

“How soon?” I asked, but before I could get an answer I found myself back in my living room. It was as if I had never left. I turned back to my kitchen. No voices came from the microwave, no one sat at the kitchen table, and when I checked, no Fruit Loops on my top shelf.

Now I’m not saying that you-know-who ate my Fruit Loops, but Death was four feet tall, and from our time together, I highly doubt she would’ve left me the note saying “I owe you one bowl of sugar-frosted miracles.” Mysterious ways, indeed.

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