(Author’s Note: Wrote this story way back in matric and came across this again last year. Fairly pedestrian, but frankly, I still enjoy it.)
As he waited for his name to be called, Mr Raza was getting anxious. After all, it is not every day that the fate of one’s eternal life is to be decided. Mr Raza had good cause to be nervous; a retired bureaucrat, he was not exactly the portrait of an honest officer. Prone to sudden and prolonged bouts of acute laziness; he seemed to be under the impression that government service mostly entailed having tea and conversing with fellow officers. The number of people waiting for his attention could only be matched by the number of cigarettes he smoked while neglecting them. Serving the people was a secondary afterthought to our indolent employee. At least that used to be his thinking.
Being dead for four days has a way of changing people’s minds.
Now, as he waited for his case to be brought in front of The Great Adjudicator, Mr Raza was quite nervous. Finally, his name rang throughout the great hall. He started walking towards what seemed to be the celestial receptionist with great trepidation. Justifiable, given the circumstances.
“Ah! Mr Raza Majid. We’ve been expecting you.” said the guide.
With this brief introduction, he simply nodded to his fellow chaperones. Mr Raza was then led by two escorts to an unspecified place. Sweating through his bones, he was reasonably certain that this was not going to be an altogether pleasant experience. Imagine his surprise when he was led to a lush green field full of the most beautiful flowers one could imagine. The breeze calmed the nerves, the smell soothed the mind and the sun shone a bit too brightly for his taste but he wasn’t about to complain. He had been expecting considerably warmer surroundings. His ethereal escorts guided him to a room where he was to change into his celestial robes. As soon as he had put on his velveteen garb and had fastened his luxurious shoes, his escorts gave him a file and told him that if he intended to have access to a house, he should get his papers signed by the relevant department. While normally this would have confused our poor Mr Raza, these were not normal circumstances. Here he was, fully expecting that he was about to be thrown into some bottomless abyss or being boiled in some infernal pot of oil. Instead, he was being handed papers which would allow him to have his own mansion! You would not blame the poor guy for being ecstatic. He took the papers and inquired the directions to this “Department Of Heavenly Construction”.
A rather tiring walk later, Mr Raza stood in front of the office. The sun’s heat had become slightly uncomfortable. Mr Raza walked inside the building. What he was greeted by was a line that would not feel out of place in any subcontinental office. If any one of our esteemed readers has had the experience of visiting the bank at the date when bills are due, I am certain they can visualize what Mr Raza was seeing. Furthermore, it seemed to Mr Raza that air conditioning was a concept that had not yet been introduced to this place. Sighing heavily, Mr Raza asked an angel (who seemed to be the heavenly peon) where he should submit his documents. The peon of heavenly construction affairs merely looked at him from head to toe and nodded to the serpentine queue in front of him. By this time Mr Raza was feeling quite foolish indeed. Blaming the heat for his current lack of wits, Mr Raza got in line. Or he would have if somebody had not pushed him out of the way to get in line first.
“Such disgrace!” he thought, “Even in this place, people display such savagery!”
Swallowing his pride, Mr Raza got in line. After what seemed to be an eternity, the desk where he was to present his documents was in sight. By now, his velveteen robes had started to feel uncomfortably suffocating. His luxurious shoes seemed to bite his feet and as if that wasn’t enough, the sun seemed to have gotten warmer. The line moved at a snail’s pace. Had he not been rather preoccupied in his current misery, Mr Raza would have surely wondered why there seemed to be no change in the sun’s position during this time. However, as it happened, Mr Raza was rather occupied in silently cursing the celestial desk attendant present in front of him. Even in Heaven, it appeared to Mr Raza, bureaucracy existed solely to drive one nuts. He would have started to give the divine desk manager some very mortal titles, had he not reminded himself that he too had been a bureaucrat. Instead, he chose to focus his attention on his neck which had been itching rather furiously. Actually, that would not be entirely true. Everywhere the robe had come in contact with the body, an itch had developed. And not the usual “scratch-here-because-it’s-sorta-itchy-and-red” kind of itch, mind you. This was the sort of itch that makes one scrape flesh from the bones. The steadily rising heat was doing him no favours either. At this moment, he saw that only one person remained between him and the Approver of Heavenly Structures. Still struggling with his itch, Mr Raza braced himself with the fact that he would soon be enjoying the good life in this place.
On that note, he actually tried to remember how is it that he is here? By all accounts, he was certainly not the most obvious candidate for eternal deliverance. By all accounts, he had been a rather enterprising fellow. It was beyond him how he came to be here. In the end, he surmised it must have been his habit of giving alms to the neighbourhood mosque. After all, what matters is that he had given them, the fact that they had been procured from his ample supply of bribes was, frankly, inconsequential.
It was the heat that brought him to his senses. Itching furiously, he went forward to the desk where the Manager of Heavenly Construction Affairs sat. He presented his file and breathed a sigh of relief. In hindsight, he probably shouldn’t have. The Administrator of Celestial Construction took one look at his file, another at his clueless face and took out a red stamp. Fortunately, Mr Raza had come back to his senses.
‘Sorry, what are you doing?!?!” inquired the bewildered bureaucrat.
“What’s it looking like? I’m rejecting your request.’ was the answer.
Now Mr Raza was angry, to be precise, he was enraged. Delivering each word with unconcealed annoyance, he said,
“May I know what the problem IS?”
The attendant was not to be beaten at this game. Flashing a smile that was pure poison he replied,
“Not a big deal. You only have to secure approval from the Afterlife Residential Planning Office. The office is down the hall, two corridors to the left.”
Positively FUMING in rage, Mr Raza grabbed his files and went to the mentioned office. His anger was perhaps compounded by the fact that his clothes seemed to have started constricting him. The heat, too, bore unbearably upon his neck. And one could almost feel sorry for Mr Raza………. almost- had he not done the same to countless others in his brief mortal life.
I wish I could say things got better for our recent initiate to the afterlife. I really do, but the truth is that things got a whole lot worse. For starters, the queue at this office seemed to never end. And as if that wasn’t enough, his robes appeared to have been inspired by straitjackets. They seemed to constrict all flow and movement. And his shoes were no help either; they bit his feet and had made them quite sore. The sun shone brightly on his back and he was sweating by the buckets.
As if all this wasn’t enough, the line was being handled by a particularly slow attendant. Mr Raza could have sworn he had been in this queue for hours but the sun showed no signs of setting. If anything, it seemed to have gotten brighter. It certainly was warmer. So there he stood, itching, sweating, silently cursing, and thoroughly tired out of his wits. His only solace as that it would soon be his turn.
He was wrong.
You see, as the person in front of him left and he moved forward, the Attendant of Afterlife Residential Planning Office said four words which positively infuriated Mr Raza.
They were, “It is break time.”
Mr Raza was beside himself in anger, he reached forward and grabbed the Attendant by his divine collars and said through clenched teeth,
“What did you just SAY?!!!”
To be brutally honest, I don’t understand why he created such a fuss. After all, he too had taken many such breaks at many such inopportune moments and he, too, had taken pride in doing as little work for as much time as possible.
If anything, the Celestial Attendant was following standard bureaucratic procedure. What the attendant did next was also standard procedure. He looked at Mr Raza and simply nodded to the guards present. They grabbed Mr Raza by the shoulders and dragged him away. What happened next wasn’t very pretty. It involved some rather painful sticks and a positively crying Mr Raza.
“DAMN YOU!!!…….. DAMN THIS ALL!!……. If this is heaven, I wonder what the other place is like?!!!!!!!?” he said between sobs.
Hearing this, the Attendant rose from his desk and, with absolute calm, approached Mr Raza. As he came close, Mr Raza noticed that his eyes seemed to be burning coals. And when he smiled, the Attendant’s teeth had a certain fang-like quality. Still smiling, the attendant said, in a voice dripping with malevolence,
“You don’t quite yet understand, Mr Raza. This IS the other place!”