‘This isn’t special at all. I deserve better.’
‘Ha Ha ha… isn’t it?’
‘I am laughing at the memories. I lived the best 3 months of my life…’
My name is Salvador. I used to be a young, super talented, good-looking Head Chef working at a Michelin star restaurant. I know it sounded like a bio from my Instagram profile, but that’s me (except the Michelin star part. I was a Sous Chef at a three-star). Anyway, this is the story of the last 3 months of my life. Literally.
It was the month of September. I was staying back at my then girlfriend’s house. Our relationship was at the edge and that night we both decided mutually that I didn’t deserve her.
‘Go to hell’, she howled in anger, before throwing my jacket at me.
It was late. I picked up my leftover booze from her house and went to the public park, across from her building. I could have gone home, but it would be my twenty-seventh birthday at midnight and I didn’t want to spend it alone. Not that there were many people at this park. I gulped the whole bottle at once and passed out on the garden bench. A weird smell similar to rotten food woke me up. Scanning my surroundings, I saw a man sleeping on a bench a little farther from me.
Maybe the guy stinks or did he fart?
Chuckling at my silly joke, I stood and glanced at my watch. “Well, happy birthday to me,” I said aloud. With wobbly steps, I managed to reach home, a few minutes away from the park.
Splashing cold water on my face, I looked at my reflection. I was losing hair. My beard looked unkempt. My recipes were failing. My dream of becoming a Head Chef was only a dream.
Sighing, I went back to my room, where the smell of rotten vegetables wafted in again. Sniffing for its source, I checked under the bed. Nothing. Bathroom… I had spotted a lizard in the morning and had to skip my shower. Maybe it had died… But no, nothing. Kitchen. Nothing. It was wiped clean. Even after I opened the windows, the smell wouldn’t go.
My head pounded. I decided to call it a night. After spraying deodorant in the room, I crashed on the bed.
When I woke up, the smell still persisted and it irritated me. I had a day off from work, but I couldn’t sleep again. I made a breakfast of deviled eggs but didn’t feel like eating. So I went to the gym. I exercised, but my thoughts were haywire. There was this unease since last night that failed to leave me. And that smell… I kept cursing a lot.
Then an old lady came to me, ‘Son, why are you cursing so much? It’s not good for your mental health. Also, God is watching all of us and maintains an account for us. Every bad deed adds negative points to your account. How will you face Him?’
‘How will I face God? That’s bullshit.’ I snapped and moved to the restroom area. I felt guilty at my reaction. She appeared to be a new customer and I knew I had to apologize. Holding the basin for support, I looked at my reflection in the mirror.
‘What has happened to me? Why am I behaving like this?’
‘Oh, are you asking me?’ My eyes widened as I heard that. I gaped at my reflection; instead of imitating me, he responded to my question. I couldn’t believe my eyes and squeezed them shut. After a few deep breaths, I took a peek at the mirror again. Now, my reflection smiled at me. Am I that hung over to hallucinate?
‘Who are you?’ I managed to croak.
‘I am you.’ He answered.
‘You are me? What rubbish! Is someone playing some prank on me?’
‘Jeez, man! I couldn’t believe how stupid I was. I am YOU, from the afterlife. I am what you will become when you die.’ He said.
‘You are supposed to be my image and that’s how a mirror works.’ I replied, still unable to fathom the situation. I felt foolish for talking to my reflection.
‘Yes, but that’s not how a glass pane works, stupid. I am standing on the other side of the pane. Wait, let me come to your side. I came to visit you last night as well, but you were too drunk to notice me. I slept on the floor. It was pretty uncomfortable.’ He said.
As he drifted in front of me, I muttered, ‘You mean you are me?’
‘Yes, but after you die.’
‘When will I die?’
‘Not today buddy. It would be special.’
‘But why are you here? How did you get here? And why do you stink?’ The rotten smell wafted from my afterlife self.
‘So many questions… Do you know Lucifer?’
I narrowed my eyes at him. Of course, I knew.
He continued, ‘Lucifer offered me a lift. He went to Los Angeles for a vacation and I came here.’
‘Are you kidding me?’ My head throbbed.
‘Not really. I got this special permission to be with you. I was doing well out there, so they allowed me to come back for some time. It is like I am on parole.’
Enough of this nonsense. I threw a punch at him but met cold air. And then the rotten smell coated my hands.
‘Now you will have a gala time washing your hands…’ His laughter rang in the restroom.
Sighing, I asked, ‘So, what do want me to do?’
‘I don’t know. It’s your life, buddy. I came back just to chill. Now let’s go.’
‘Home? Where else?’ he said.
I left and came to the parking lot. I knew he followed me, that smell was an indicator. But I was becoming used to it by now.
‘So where should I drop you?’ I joked, as he sat on the passenger seat.
‘Plot number 4 ¾, between the two circles of Anger and Greed, City of Dis, Hell,’ He replied.
‘What the f…?’
‘Oh, there is one landmark too.’
‘The country is in front of the Gate of Heaven.’
‘Oh. So, you live in hell? That’s sad.’
‘Sad for both of us. I live there and you will too. You forget things fast.’
I screeched the car to a halt. ‘What have I done in my life to deserve hell? I have never hurt anybody!’ I exclaimed. Then thinking I said, ‘Okay except for Sheena.’
‘Only Sheena? What about Ahana?’
‘Yeah, sorry I forgot. Sheena and Ahana.’
‘That aunty in the gym told the truth. God watches everyone.’
‘Is there anything I can do to change my fate? Our fate? I don’t want to go to hell.’
‘But it is not such a bad place. Yes, you do get fried in oil for a bath, receive stones and glass to eat, and you are flogged for every mistake you make, but it’s still a good place. Did you know, in the quality of life index by the Union Body of Afterlife, Hell comes in the second place?’
‘And how many places are there in that index?’
‘Two. Number one is Heaven.’
I stared at him, mouth agape. I could imagine being fried in a pan of oil and shuddered. ‘But how can you still call it a good place?’
He chortled at my expression. ‘It’s only a little worse than the room you live in, so chill. And don’t worry, you get used to the ambience.’
‘Doesn’t it hurt?’ I asked.
He rolled his eyes. ‘I am dead.’
‘By the way, how is heaven? Is it all white and beautiful?’
‘Naah, it’s white only, but not beautiful. At least, I don’t like it. I sometimes go there to meet my girlfriend but then I feel claustrophobic there.’
‘Who is this girl?’ I asked.
‘It’s none of your business.’
‘What, you are me only, right? Anyway, you didn’t tell me the exact reason why you are here?’ I asked again.
‘I just came to meet you.’
‘Have you time-traveled from the future? How is it possible? Or you came here from some other dimension like in Interstellar? Is this the crossover dimension between time and distance?’
‘Tell me, do we know enough science to understand all this?’
‘No.’ I said.
‘Then why are you asking?’
I kept my mouth shut for the remaining drive.
We reached my apartment and I had no idea what to do with this future self of mine. He didn’t even wish me a Happy Birthday. And could no one else see him?
I rang the doorbell of my house. Like every day, sour-faced Smita bai opened the door. She was good at her work, so I tolerated her tantrums. I hoped she could see this weird person following me. ‘Your time is up buddy.’ I said to him. He only laughed.
‘Bhaiyya, you late today. I clean all mess you make. You chef, only cook… Why not clean? Huh?’
‘Smita bai, easy. Meet my guest.’ I signaled towards him. He shook with laughter.
Smita took a step closer and sniffed around me. I was sure she could make out the rotten smell. She shook her head, ‘Bhaiyya, you drink daaru morning also? Drink nimbu paani. No one here. I want more salary. Your house very dirty.’ So, it was only me who could see him. I sighed.
‘More salary next month?’ Smita reminded me.
‘What more salary? Every two months you ask for more… I don’t have a money plant.’
‘I not come from tomorrow. You go jahannum…’ She muttered before leaving.
My afterlife-self was doubled up in laughter. Ignoring him, I went straight to my room and dozed off, hoping all this would end when I woke up.
After about an hour, I sat up with a heaviness in my chest. Am I dying? I thought. I glanced around for my afterlife self, but he wasn’t there. The smell had gone too, or maybe I had become nose-blind. I could now understand the reason why he was actually here. He was going to pick me up. Maybe this was some new rule… I didn’t know because it was my first time. I was sweating from head to toe and felt guilty at the same time. I could see my whole life playing like a reel in front of my eyes. I had always wanted to have someone holding my hand when I died.
As if hearing my thoughts, he appeared out of thin air. He held my hand in his and I knew he would take me away.
‘So, is this it?’ I asked him.
‘You came here to take me right? I am dying. I can’t bear this pain anymore.’
‘You are not dying. Its acidity, you fool. You ate a lot many kebabs last night, drowned yourself in booze, and then skipped breakfast. What did you think would happen? And I told you, your death will be special.’
‘Acidity.’ I smiled in relief.
‘Here is the deal. You spend the rest of your life without hurting anyone knowingly and God will think of putting you in Heaven.’
‘Yeah.’ He shrugged.
‘So, what exactly do I have to do to get to Heaven in my afterlife? This earth is already hell. At least I want some peace after death…’
‘Figure it out yourself.’ Saying so, he vanished.
That day I reflected on my life. Yes, I had made mistakes, but I wanted some enjoyment. I didn’t want to live like a saint. And it was my birthday. I was entitled to some fun. So I went to a club at night. I wasn’t going to spend my birthday at home like an old man, not in the prime of my life.
The next morning at the restaurant, I immersed myself in cooking. I could sense his presence too, but chose to ignore him. The ingredients for the broccoli soup were ready. I switched on the stove. The moment I turned to place the pan on it, I yelled. It was me, standing in that flame! My hair singed, my eyes welled in tears, and my skin peeling… I continued to yell. My co-workers were startled and they kept asking me if I was burnt. That image lay imprinted in my eyes. Was it an omen? Was my death upon me?
After that, any bad incident made me feel like I was dying. I imagined my death in so many ways… a car crash, fire at the restaurant, accident at the gym… I woke up screaming most nights.
So I tried to be a better version of myself. I started donating wherever I could- money, leftover food. I quit smoking and reduced my alcohol intake. It was tough, but I couldn’t forget that image on the stove and those nightmares. I stopped cursing too. I started visiting my parents regularly. Such good people they are!
I sent a sorry note to all my ex-girlfriends and told them about the spiritual route I was taking. I started going to temples, mosques, churches, and Gurudwaras. I wanted to impress all the Gods and I think I did it quite well. All through this, my future self was always with me, guiding me and sticking to me like a shadow.
Such a good soul he is! After all, he is me only… That thought comforted me.
Three months passed since I first met him. I was glad to have him by my side. He gave direction to my unhinged life. I stopped anticipating my death and wasn’t afraid of it anymore. I knew it would be special, like he had said. I had a fixed daily routine- wake up, go to the gym, come back home, take bath, go to either Church/mosque/temple, come back, go to work at the restaurant, offer food to the homeless, and then back home. I hadn’t visited a club in more than two months…
That day too, I followed my routine. Returning from the gym, I went straight to the bathroom. As I lathered myself with soap, I saw it. My nemesis. The damn lizard! Shrieking, I jumped to grab my towel. My foot slipped over the soap on the floor. I fell and cracked my head on the tap. The bathroom spun around me and I could feel blood oozing from the back of my head. I knew it was bad, but then I spotted my afterlife self laughing at me.
‘What happened? Why are you laughing?’ I asked him.
‘It’s time, buddy.’
‘Time to go.’
‘Where are you going?’
‘We are going.’
‘But where? Hospital?’
‘To the stairs that lead up.’ He pointed.
‘Am I dying?’
‘You have died. Look at the blood.’
‘This wasn’t special at all. I deserved better. ’
‘Ha Ha ha… wasn’t it?’
‘I was laughing at the memories. I lived the best 3 months of my life… Oops… our life…’
‘It is the most stupid death one can have. I don’t want to die like this.’
‘I can’t reverse it. This is it.’
‘To hell with your special death, you idiot, selfish person or whatever.’
‘Joke is on you buddy.’
‘At least I’ll go to heaven.’ I laughed.
We both started our journey. It was a big escalating stair that felt like it was never going to end. I lost the sense of time.
‘So, if you are me only after my death, how come you are still here?’ I asked him on the stairs.
‘We will become one when we enter the ultimate gate.’ He replied.
I don’t know whether it took us days or months to reach our destination, but finally, we did.
It was a huge ground. Half of it was covered with beautiful flowers and the other half was full of stones. I could see the two gates on the opposite sides of the ground. The gate of Heaven was guarded by two angels. On the other hand, two ugly men were guarding the gate of Hell. I only had eyes for the gate of Heaven and started moving in that direction.
As I reached the gate, one of the angels asked, ‘Yes?’
‘I need to go inside.’
‘What’s your name?’
‘No, sir. Your name is not on our list.’
‘What? I did all the good work. My name should be here. Please check again.’
I glided towards my unusual buddy.
‘Why are they saying that my name is not there?’
‘Yes, because as I said, we are going to Hell only.’
‘No, I am not going there. You said that if I will do all the good work, God will consider it, and I did everything right. You know it. You were with me. So why this now?’
‘Yes, you did everything right these last three months, but you committed the biggest sin.’
‘You did all of it because you wanted a place in Heaven, not because of anything else. It’s called greed buddy. You committed the sin of greed.’
‘What? No… I wasn’t greedy.’
‘Listen to your words again.’
I remained silent.
‘So why did you never stop me? Why were you motivating me when I did all those things? At least I could have enjoyed my life on earth!’
‘Yeah, you forgot, once again. Do you know what people from Hell are called?’ Smirking, he blew a flying kiss toward me, ‘we are Devils for a reason.’
And then we became one.
Nimbu paani- lemonade
Pic credit: LeonadroDe Carvalho, Pixabay
Team: Devil’s Ink
Authors: Sandeep Jumrani , Arva Bhavnagarwala