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.
I am for the most part incredibly embarrassed to admit to anyone that I write. It is a far throw from there to claim in any capacity that I am a writer. You see I am terrified like so many others of all the wrong things.
Kind reader whoever you are that has stopped here to peruse these sentences, you would not believe the amount of things I have written, that nobody has read. I mean I will not show people, have not shown people- I am so afraid of what they will think, as if could ever know that.
These things I will not show people fill reams of notebooks. They take up tiny kilobytes of data on old hard drives and USB’s. I do not want to waste people’s times with them- that is what my demon tells myself.
This is one of those things, the poem below.
I have for the most part listened to that demon my entire life. I’ve almost finished my novel, just about written the end, and all the time the demon says: “So what? Who cares?” The demon pokes me and jabs in the early morning with horrible, self-degrading thoughts. It uses fear to keep me in line, prevent me from saying things I feel, or writing down the words and showing them to people.
I’ve learned a few things about that demon, in the process of writing this book. Chief among those things is fact that just about everyone who has ever dared anything has had to face that demon. What seems a solitary fight is in fact a universal one, and this is not a fact the enemy would like shared.
It would much prefer we remain afraid and question nothing.
Funny thing about fear, it can be used against the enemy. All you have to do is follow it back to your foe and you’ll know where to fight, whom to confront. So in that spirit for the few dozen that may see it, here is
The weight of dreams
If I had the power to grant your dreams
I would scoop aside a piece of garden,
A waterfall with singing reeds,
And place a chair and birds for company,
For you to live for an eternity,
In solitude and unruffled peace.
If I had the power to bring you solace,
I would wisk you far away from those that promise,
Tonight it won’t hurt.
I’d build a castle with ramparts strong,
And foundations fair to hold your truths unassailed,
Knights to slay that terrible dragon.
If it were within my grasp to give you,
Love’s weight in gold and comments,
Eyes to recognize your struggles,
Applause for all those secret moments,
A family of devotees that sing,
Your name and deeds If I could bring,
That one back who understood you so,
Revive with music regret’s foe,
Take you back in time to laughter,
Your past and present forever after
One and the same till all became
That perfect day with her again,
If I could grant you some few words,
For the world to pause and your heart be heard,
The fighting to stop the blood contained,
A chance for all to stop and change,
And listen to truths that you have seen,
For all these fools to have never been,
If I could give you the bullets you need,
To drown the evil and end the seeds,
Of weakness and pathetic misery,
Allow you to judge, execute and oversee,
These silly fools born of mediocrity,
Would I grant these prayers for you,
or for me?
If I could surround you with ones dear,
Drown you in sounds instead of tears,
If I could allow you to destroy those near,
That are not who you are nor will ever fear,
The apocalypse slouching so near,
You power hungry fools that never see,
You world burning madmen whose dreams rest,
On pillars on pain for all that fail your test,
The world would collapse under all our dreams,
That war between words, behind eyes, silently,
That wake us to our need to be devotees,
To impose our wills upon all that disagree,
In spite of those that once spoke for Liberty,
‘Tis a word oft spoke rarely understood,
‘Tis a world much salted by spilling of blood,
Till it’s heard softly woken in the tears that should,
Give pause to those who swing their clubs,
Determined to sculpt us all like the mud,
They use to mold their perfect earth.
If I had the power of all your fictions,
If I was your God of violent conviction,
If this lone man was immortal too,
To rip, rend, and tear so many hearts if you,
Prayed to me and demanded solace,
If you frothed for fervourous murderous promises,
If you sacrificed all that was yours and another’s,
I would still rather die than take on the cover,
Of a white beard, a turban, many hands, some weapons,
To conceal your tiny fears and cries for eden
To obscure your eyes from the desert we live in,
To deny another’s attempt to never deaden,
Their dreams in spite of all your lessons,
I would rather stand tall than kneel before heaven,
And evaporate into nothing and embrace oblivion,
For my words to ring however short and silent,
That I am proud to be merely human.
And my brothers are those whose fears bravely glisten,
And my sisters are the ones who stand alone within,
Those sensitive enough to embrace quiet wisdom,
Sagacious and bold to display honest ignorance,
And one day we will rise, we few, hatred’s children,
To hold the line from you priests, you mad politicians,
Be you president or king, lawyer or banker,
Be you teacher or mother or soldier or manager,
You cannot stop the sane few that strive on still,
To dream despite how many you imprison, crush or kill,
We are the future, we are the best of the heathens,
Who carry your heaven inside our eyes and actions,
Though we are isolated, outnumbered, enemies of the destined,
We that walk in darkness, to serve the light,
We are legion.
And if I were your God I would weep for my children.