Ever since I began telling you this story, I knew I had to get to this part. It’s the things that have already happened that we can’t run from.
You see, death is the only true constant in our lives. The only theme. Not love, but death. You can spend your entire life without loving anyone. Just like me. But you know you’re going to die. Sometime, somewhere, in a way you’ll probably never predict.
When we are born, the first breath we take, it’s not air but rather death that pours into our lungs. From the moment we are born, we begin to die. And everything we do in this world, we do it just because this life we have is going to end. Because we are mere frightened animals.
Everything in this world dies. Well, maybe except that squid thingy that keeps regenerating itself, but that’s something else.
Am I the only one that sees how trivial death is?
Sic transit gloria mundi, the Romans would say. Sooner or later, we all figure it out. We all understand that we are going to die; everything around us is going to disappear. Nothing can protect you from death.
Now, let’s get to the story itself.
You can live for so long on frozen dinners and fast food before you feel the need to eat something that doesn’t taste like plastic. Some real food. So one night I went to the most expensive restaurant we have here in Rubicon.
Next to me sat this married couple. One of those cheeky, cheery couples. And I hate cheeky, cheery people. He wore a black turtleneck sweater and had the mime of a profound thinker – one who likes to burp beer on a couch for ten hours a day. She wore a black dress, the fabric wrapping around her not so desirable form. If it wasn’t for the glittering tinsel on her dress, I would have thought they were coming from a funeral.
“What do you want to order, my little honey bunch?” he asked her with the sweetest voice he was capable of. He kept holding her hand and staring in her eyes with such affection and care that for a second I thought she was dying or something and he had taken her on one last date night. Her very own last supper.
He kissed that hairy, fat hand of hers. Was there any limit to insanity?
“I don’t know, dear. Everything here is so expensive.”
No, there was no limit to insanity.
The waiter came to their table. He seemed to be one of those guys who’d curse you and your entire family if you didn’t tip. And he could see that his two customers couldn’t afford to leave him a satisfactory one, so he didn’t bother to smile. It takes time to add an expression to your face, and we all know that time is money.
“What’ll be?” he asked.
“What would you recommend? Let’s say between pizza and pasta?” she asked with a concerned tone in her voice, as if she feared the waiter couldn’t possibly know the answer to such a complex question.
Wishing for something terrible to happen to us all was such a bad thing?
“Excuse me?” the waiter asked, furrowing his eyebrows.
“You heard the lady,” the husband intervened, clenching his teeth at the waiter.
“Well… those are two different kinds of dish.”
I guess it was a question too complex for the waiter to answer. For anyone to answer.
“I don’t care,” the husband said. “It’s our twenty third anniversary, so you recommend us something good.”
“No matter how expensive,” the wife added confidently.
“Well, if you like sea food, our calamares rellenos are quite…”
The lady, that grieving Christmas tree, sneered.
And then we all heard it. One of those heavy porcelain ashtrays smashed against the marble floor, breaking into tiny bits. Ash, cigarette stubs, and porcelain slid in all directions – a curling competition.
We turned around in our seats and saw the guy who had assassinated an innocent ashtray. He was just a kid, no more than nineteen years old. He looked at us and grinned like some kind of wild cat. His gums were as red as red can be.
He rose from his chair and ran a hand across the grease stained fabric of his white shirt. “If you don’t turn around, you’re all going to die,” he shouted, his eyes glittering in the dim light of the restaurant. “In three,” he said.
Everyone laughed at this stoner.
“One,” he added, raising his voice even more.
And some turned around and began making jokes. Laughter filled the smoky air inside the restaurant. Some, me included, kept staring at this wimpy kid, his hands hanging loose around his body.
Stoner. Wretched creature. Twenty first century scum.
But somehow our pulse kept accelerating.
The most absurd countdown ended.
This worm telling us that he was going to end our lives. He was no god, we could see it in his stoner eyes. He had no power, he had no magic. He was just like everyone else. He was normal, he was a stupid kid who thought that a husky voice can intimidate a room full of people. He couldn’t even count.
He was a sad human, he was empty, he was nothing.
He was, basically, no one.
And that abject being pulled out a gun and became God.
Everyone stopped laughing.
The most cheery, cheeky couple in the world hid underneath their table like scared dogs. And everyone in the restaurant thought about how much they would love to get out of this alive, but that insane smile was telling us that body bags were going to be the next trend in our quiet little town.
This wasn’t happening. Things like these never happen. We see them on the news all the time, but they never happen. We were so unlucky. We could have been in a million different places, doing a million different things. But no, we just had to eat at the most expensive restaurant in the entire town, just so a stoner could walk among us, waving a gun like it was a bank heist.
And I kept staring at his eyes. Even when he stood a mere foot away from me, glaring intensely at me, I couldn’t turn away from this oddity of nature.
But God didn’t like that. He didn’t like it one bit. He thought that I was defying Him. And God didn’t need a rebel for a son. He needed me to be as docile as possible. Like a cow on a plain.
When he pressed the gun against my temple, I realized how stupid I had been. God chose me because I was just an imbecile who couldn’t bow. He didn’t need our prayers, He didn’t need for us to worship him. He just wanted us to bow down on our knees. To be as humble as possible. To have nothing, except the hope that He was going to redeem our sinful souls.
“On your knees!”
They say that in our last moments our entire life flashes before our eyes. But during those moments, with my body engulfed by so many weak heartbeats and echoes of terror, my mind was as empty as my fridge. I couldn’t remember any prayers. And I thought that there was no time for praying. And what for? If I had forgotten about God, odds were that He had forgotten about me as well. And what was the purpose of praying to a God that resided somewhere in the clouds, when the God that stood in front of me had a nine millimeter gun?
I had lived for a long time doing nothing. And still, I did not want to die.
No one wants that.
I couldn’t help but find it amusing that during our lives we waste years and on our death bed, well, in my case, my death floor, we beg for moments. Just another heartbeat, just another moment of chaos flashing through your brain.
God slapped me just to show me who was in charge. He waved the gun around one more time, and all the women in the restaurant screamed from under the tables.
“Are you afraid?” God whispered to my ears, his warm breath caressing my cheek.
The most important thing for us is to be alive for as long as possible. We want to survive. Even though we sometimes forget, we all die. The way we die divides us into heroes, martyrs, or commoners.
Huh, commoners. People who slowly consume Earth’s natural resources, who slowly destroy this planet. People who shouldn’t even be buried in a cemetery. Like suicides. Commoners. The real sinners. They opt to do nothing because they’re too scared to live, but they fear death as well, so they spend their lives in this strange lethargy.
Commoners. People who believe everything they say on TV. People who never read a single book in their entire life. People who watch only romantic comedies. People who believe Sherlock Holmes was a real person. People who believe that the Internet’s sole purpose is porn. And these creatures are so dangerous, not because they have nothing, but because they want nothing. So they buy everything they can.
I guess we all realize at some point that there’s something wrong with this world, but few of us realize that it’s so because we are flawed, because we are like some defective toys that should have never made it out of the factory.
God scratched his head with his gun and repeated the question. I raised my head and looked at him. Except for the pain that arched its way up my back towards my neck, everything was fine.
And I thought that God chose the wrong guy to mess with.
God shoved the gun barrel in my mouth. “Are you afraid of dying?” he shouted, his voice shattering inside my head like a stupid porcelain ashtray on the floor of a fancy restaurant.
The tip of my fingers touching the floor and God’s sneakers.
In an instant, with that gun going down my throat, I reached the bottom of that shaft we call life. I could go up or I could die. Only fear running through my veins, my cheeks burning hot as tears came sliding down, I tried to express the pain and agony that I felt, I tried to cry harder than ever before. I tried to get the terror out of my soul, so God could see that I was afraid. Very afraid. I tried to express something that words couldn’t. Something that was buried deep inside my soul.
When a stoner shoves a gun down your throat, you’re reduced to nothing more than a chimpanzee. Only growls and snarls coming out of my mouth – a cave-man’s prayers.
When confronted with death, commoners resemble frightened animals. They’re interested in one thing only: their own survival. And they are willing to do anything for it.
We hang onto life in any way we can. Whether we’re happy or not, Heaven can wait. We’re never ready for the eternal afterlife that we’re promised, never ready to get answers to the questions we can’t answer ourselves. And that is simply because we are broken, and because we are broken, we believe until the very end that even the most miserable existence can be changed. It’s never too late to start living. To be happy, to love and be loved back.
And that, my dear sir, is what separates us from animals. The belief that no matter how much you suffer in your life, somehow things can always change for the better.
With the gun still pointed at me, God said, “Stand up!”
Inside the barrel I could see death, agony, pain, suffering. All that resided inside a small object that man had made with his own hands. That’s why we need light so much. That’s why every city is filled with lights and lamps and billboards.
Ancient people feared that every time the sun went down under the horizon, it might never rise again. Now we fear that it might explode. We always need something to be afraid of. We need an enemy to fight against. Every single one of us needs to fight for something.
God kept his hand steady, his finger arched on the trigger. He wouldn’t hesitate to blow out someone’s brain, someone who pretended to be better than Him.
“You’re not free when you have nothing to lose. You’re free when you have nothing to gain.” Those were God’s words, smashing against my body as a heavy, cold rain. He caressed my cheek. “This shall be your creed, my son.” Those were his exact words.
And then he ran out of the restaurant, in the process stomping on two of the customers that were lying on the floor like the docile sons they were.
God vanished after He made the prodigal son return. After the rebel was tranquilized. Or maybe he just broke the few chains that still kept him from being free. Made him feel every moment as a blessing, as something wonderful. Or maybe he just made him fear death more than anything else, made him to be terrified to go out, made him see every moment as a curse.
All those people kept staring at the rebellious son with absurd compassion scribbled on their faces. All those people that couldn’t hear him scream inside, that couldn’t see how every single pillar that supported his soul had collapsed in just a few moments.
He was so alone, among so many of his kind. He was so alone that he thought his heart had stopped beating.