Short story: Afterwards

Afterwards

The room I was in was for waiting, and the person that stood over me was saying: “Ray Gupta, Peter will see you now.”

I said “Oh.” and accompanied her through a glass door that I could have sworn was from work. On the other side was a maze of cubicles. The sounds of phones ringing, of hurried typing, so much of it was recognizable. The hundreds of cubicles were not. “What office is this? Did I make an appointment or…”

She interrupted by stabbing my shoe with the tip of her heel. I screamed and no one seemed to care. She explained: “Sorry but I have to hurt you if you ask me questions.”

I almost asked why.

She motioned me to follow, so I did to a cubicle with a man inside and a single chair.

Peter said: “Sit!”

I held my foot and again the question pulsed: Why?

Peter said: “It’s your head! You tell me! Maybe it’s a metaphor- think of it as pain guiding you here, or something. All questions lead to suffering. Etcetera. Besides you’re dead, literally, so don’t worry too much.”

He had a point.

Peter said: “Actually, you still have a little bit you have to worry about, or at least some choices that need to be made, concerning your severance package.

Before I could phrase another question he answered: “Look, just go with it. Focus on how comfortable this environment is. How familiar. Don’t ask questions, it’s too late for all that. And don’t worry about the people you recognize. It’s perfectly normal.”

Peter got down on his knees, on the computer brought up a spreadsheet. “Let’s see now.” He said. Over his shoulder I saw tiny black marks, thousands of words in a too small font. I croaked: “Peter…can I…leave…please?

Without looking back he said: “Don’t worry you’ll be gone soon. You just need to go through your review, and poof, you’ll be done.”

“What do you mean…gone?”

“You know exactly what I mean.”

So I was going to die, or I was already dead, or oblivion was next. Peter said: “Exactly! Here, we’re going to start now, so you understand why you get what’s coming to you next. Unless you prefer we skip this?”

And expedite my non-existence? Fuck that. Peter said “Typical” and brought up Youtube.

“You have internet here?”

“No it’s an illusion. We have something better.” He typed: Lowest point before 30.

One hit only. In the screenshot I saw myself lying on a bathroom floor, two plastic prescription bottles in one hand, a Gideon’s bible in the other. Peter pressed play and I beat my head bloody with the bible. I watched myself tear out random pages, terrified of Peter witnessing me committing what was probably sacrilege. I tried to explain: “I didn’t know, okay? Sorry, so sorry, I didn’t know the bible was…I mean I’m not even Christian!”

“Just watch. We’ll turn up the sound.” He did and we heard a voice speaking, though the high-definition image of my mouth remained shut. I heard my voice, the way it sounds normally, inside my own head, say: “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t get up again. No reason to. No one to see me rise. No point in doing anything.” Then the tears started. “Fucking lonely stupid loser. Fucking FAILURE of a man. Deserves nothing. Deserves to die.” There was a murmuring sound then, too quiet to make out.

Peter said: “Ah, need to turn this part up, it’s a background thought, very hard to hear.” And he fiddled with the controls till we could make out what I thought, which was: “Beccy cares. Arjun cares. Other people suffer too. Don’t give up on them.” Then blasting out, so loud I covered my ears:

“JUST TAKE THE PILLS AND SLEEP THE GOOD SLEEP REST FINALLY REST FINALLY FUCKING REST…” and Peter muted it.
With the volume down I looked like somebody lying on a bathroom floor, clearly miserable, but seemingly doing nothing for an hour or so. Then with the volume up I heard myself find hope and choose to flush the pills down the toilet. Peter showed me other scenes after, and how they all linked, one into the other. He watched me watch myself being decent to strangers, showed me how I affected then, how their lives were indirectly improved by the hope I had found on that cold floor. He showed me how my kindness had been kindled by suffering, and how with my everyday actions I saved people- for eons he showed me videos of them remembering what I’d done or said and thus finding the strength to get back up themselves.

He showed me all the ways I’d suffered and the empathy inculcated by years of torment.

Afterwards I was ready. I told Peter I could die now.

He told me to wait, that we had to go into his office. On the way I overheard someone say “Sex is good, fuck, sex is GREAT, but the money, it’s empty- so let’s try having less.”

Inside Peter’s office I wondered: Do I get heaven now? Or is this it?

He said I would be gone, one way or another. I thought I was supposed to be Hindu, and that this was not the karma I had been taught about.

“Don’t worry Ray!” Peter said. “All that’s left is this…” And he produced a blank paper pad and a pen. “Now Ray, in case it wasn’t abundantly clear, you did good. As far as this department is concerned you did good with what you had.”

“So I won then?” I asked, the tears finally pouring out in this absurd and twisted version of the afterlife.

“Yeah you did great Ray, real super. So, here’s the deal.” He put the pen next to the paper, pushed both towards me.

“Write your own cheque Ray. You decide the circumstances of your next life. Completely up to you! For example…that…ah…K-pop guy you heard outside- you want to be like him? Sex, all the sex you’d ever want, or money, security, fame. You want it, you got it. A soul mate maybe? Meet her, or him by the time you’re say…twenty-three? Done and done. You get the idea. Write it out Ray, and your next life, that’s it.”

So I stopped crying and wrote something down.

Handed Peter back the paper.

He stared at the three words I’d written:

One more time.

I explained: “I want to suffer the same way.”

“Ray? I don’t think you understand how this works…”

“No, I do.”

“You people…Okay. You’re the boss”

We left the office and I wandered the cubicles for awhile, watching others, hearing their last requests.

Questions came whilst we walked back to the front door, which Peter held open for me. Will I remember any of this? Is this real? Does it matter? I looked in front of me at the darkness, said “Goodbye Peter.”

“Only for now. But I have to ask…why are you choosing pain, again?”

“Because I think it’ll make me kind.”

It was the last thing I said to him. Never got to hear what he thought about it.