Don’t change

Don’t Change

I was talking to a friend on the phone as we walked into the “Ivie juice bar” in Orem. The lady behind the counter took our orders and I sat down to wait.
A lady walks out from the backroom to deliver a completed order to another sitting customer.
I got up once she returned with our order and engaged her in conversation. Something I wouldn’t have done in another life.
She laughed and noted that I cut off my friend in order to hand her my phone. She could see his picture on the screen. I said this was more important and he can always call me back. She appeared eager enough to give me her number. As she handed back my phone, my left hand which had been in my pocket up until that moment came out. Her eyes flashed very briefly at the hand and I saw her expression change ever so slightly.
I know that look and I know that smile that is a mixture of guilt and regret. May be it is 5% in my head, but I am certain it is 95% true.
I said I will call her as she walked away to which she nodded.
I sent a text the next day. No response.
I called two days after and let it ring until it went to voice mail. I didn’t leave any messages. There was no point.
You are different, you are special, why would you want to be normal when you were born to standout?
Don’t get me wrong, I subscribe to not being “normal”: be creative; be idiosyncratic; be colorful, be flowery; but be deformed (in any way) is not one of those normal you shouldn’t be. If I had the power, I would grow a normal hand with normal fingers. You would think at my age I would be used to it and sometimes I almost convince myself that I am, but events such as these are there to remind me that I am indeed different – not necessarily in a positive way.

Time proceeds without stopping and so must I – after all nothing is certain except death and taxes.

Death of an Innocent

“BarbaraO” over on Yahoo! said: “I have a poem I have had for years … In so many instances it’s the innocent one who pays with death…”

Death of an Innocent

I went to a party, Mom,
I remembered what you said.
You told me not to drink, Mom,
So I drank soda instead.

I really felt proud inside, Mom,
The way you said I would.
I didn’t drink and drive, Mom,
Even though the others said I should.

I know I did the right thing, Mom,
I know you are always right.
Now the party is finally ending, Mom,
As everyone is driving out of sight.

As I got into my car, Mom,
I knew I’d get home in one piece.
Because of the way you raised me,
So responsible and sweet.

I started to drive away, Mom,
But as I pulled out into the road,
The other car didn’t see me, Mom,
And hit me like a load.

As I lay there on the pavement, Mom,
I hear the policeman say,
“The other guy is drunk,” Mom,
And now I’m the one who will pay.

I’m lying here dying, Mom…
I wish you’d get here soon.
How could this happen to me, Mom?
My life just burst like a balloon.

There is blood all around me, Mom,
And most of it is mine.
I hear the medic say, Mom,
I’ll die in a short time.

I just wanted to tell you, Mom,
I swear I didn’t drink.
It was the others, Mom.
The others didn’t think.

He was probably at the same party as I.
The only difference is, he drank
And I will die.

Why do people drink, Mom?
It can ruin your whole life.
I’m feeling sharp pains now.
Pains just like a knife.

The guy who hit me is walking, Mom,
And I don’t think it’s fair.
I’m lying here dying
And all he can do is stare.

Tell my brother not to cry, Mom.
Tell Daddy to be brave.
And when I go to heaven, Mom,
Put “Daddy’s Girl” on my grave.

Someone should have told him, Mom,
Not to drink and drive.
If only they had told him, Mom,
I would still be alive.

My breath is getting shorter, Mom.
I’m becoming very scared.
Please don’t cry for me, Mom.
When I needed you,
you were always there.

I have one last question, Mom.
Before I say good bye.
I didn’t drink and drive,
So why am I the one to die.


NB: To be clear, the poem above was written by “BarbaraO”. It was in a comment on the following story at Yahoo! “–abc-news-lifestyle.html?bcmt=comments-postbox

The very first ghost

The very first ghost

This story is (not) true. This is probably the most ridiculous ghost story ever written. But still, it is how the first ghost came to be.
The ghost himself (or itself since in all reality Ghosts can not procreate but then since they still have their personalities and history, I guess it’s ok to ascribe sexuality to them).

Long long ago there was a relatively quiet man that died when he was middle aged. Which is really equivalent to people living to their eighties now if you consider that people died relatively early in those days due to a host of factors from disease to war.
This man died and was buried by his relatives in the village’s big burial ground.

The burial was low key, he was mourned for a month or two and people went on with their lives as should be: it’s just the cycle of life. Time heals all wounds and brings forgetfulness.
But while this man was alive he had a particular cousin that could talk the hairs off a live dog. For some strange reason, while the deadman lived, he had been the only one that seemed able to abide the other fellow’s nonstop chatter. The truth was that because he was a blacksmith which was more or less solitary work, he had not objected to the chatter-mouth cousin’s nonstop talking while he worked. The fellow appeared to require no responses and they seem to have arrived at some arrangement that suited both parties to the relieve of all the other people in the little village.

The talker somehow acquired news and scandals happening in the little village so people didn’t mind going to the blacksmith’s workshop to listen to him for a while before moving on. This probably benefited the blacksmith a little because with more foot traffic came additional business.

Well, after the blacksmith died, the cousin was the most miserable of all. He himself couldn’t have explained why he missed the blacksmith so much, but the truth was that it was the acceptance of the blacksmith he missed. He had a place to go and practice his “art” with at least one human being who at least didn’t seem to mind his nonstop talking even though he secretly believed the blacksmith wasn’t really listening to him (which in reality was the case).

So after a couple of weeks of wandering around the little village and being chased out of every house and shop when the occupants could no longer stand him, he wandered across the village cemetery and decided he might as well pay a visit to the grave of his recently departed cousin – the blacksmith. Well, he soon made himself comfortable and started talking at the headstone which had a bust of the blacksmith as if he were actually addressing the real person. He went on all day and only went home when the moon came out.
The following day he tried a few places and after he got the boot, he headed to the cemetery.
By the end of the week, he didn’t even bother with the townsfolk anymore, he just headed straight to the cemetery where he talked and talked and talked.

Now it is common knowledge that the dead have no awareness of anything. Which is true. Death is like a permanent sleep.
Well. The blacksmith might have been asleep but at some level the continuous droning of his live cousin six feet on top started filtering into his subconscious if you can call it that.
He literarily started turning in his grave. In reality, it was his ghost that started turning since the body was mostly decomposed. After several weeks of this semiconscious discomfort he suddenly became aware. The first thing he heard of course was his cousin’s voice. The man had succeeded in disconnecting the cord that binds the ghost to the deceased’s body.
The ghost who could no longer sleep found itself drifting to the surface where he of course found his cousin holding his one-man play of unlimited words. Not fully realizing his state, he tapped the cousin on the shoulder and the latter literarily fell off the grave. But after seeing that it did not appear that the ghost would hurt him, he was soon welcoming the dead cousin on his return from the dead.
The ghost wasn’t impressed.
“You know. If this goes on much longer I am going to have to find another grave. Your continuous chattering is wearing on my nerves”
The cousin was shocked and hurt.
“I thought you didn’t mind!”
“Well. Then I didn’t. I had other things to distract me. My job for example. But here, all I can do is wait for judgement day so I can have everlasting peace at last ”
“When is that?” He asked the dead man.
“No idea. Just go away and do no wrong.”
“I do no wrong already.”
“Good for you. Now go away and you are all set!”
“But I don’t have anyone to talk to in the whole village! You are my only friend!”
“Well. I wouldn’t exactly say we are friends. Relatives yes, but friends might be stretching the truth a little.”
But after a while the ghost relented and agreed to a visit of a few hours everyday. He considered that it couldn’t be too bad and it was something to do besides sleeping perpetually especially now that he was awake. He had looked in a few of the other graves and the occupants were still fast asleep and he was loathe to wake them up.

The arrangement seemed to work out well for the two of them. Everything went well for quite some time at least from the point of view of the ghost. But then over time the live cousin started to get dissatisfied with the allocated time. He still wanted to talk whereas the ghost kept time like a clockwork. One day after such a session, the live cousin he a little bit away and sat on another gravestone while grumbling to himself. It suddenly hit him that he could very well repeat the same steps he did with his cousin on any one of the hundreds of graves in the cemetery.

He thought he would have better luck with the recently deceased so he hunted around for a fresh grave. Soon he was seated and chatting away to whoever was “down” there.
The ghost soon noticed the cousin wasn’t as eager as before to hang around once his time was up.
It wasn’t long before he “woke” up the occupant of the new grave.
He of course told his new “friend” about his dead cousin. When he showed up the next day, he found the two of them hanging out together. He in effect had the same amount of time with them as he had when it was only his cousin. He decided to cast his net wider. Soon he was visiting about five graves per day.

But same as there is a grumpy in every seven dwarfs, there was at least one grumpy occupant of a grave in the cemetery. He took offense at being woken up. He complained about it to all the other ghosts who were up before him. He complained loudly over and over whether or not anyone was listening. He was going at it one such night when a couple of people happened to be passing by. When they came face to face with him and saw his transparent form, they ran away screaming. He was perplexed at first but then he repeated it a few more times and got very similar results. That became his past time and his disposition soon improved.

Time passed and the cousin grew old and was buried in the same cemetery. His friends soon came to wake him up. Apparently ghosts can’t wake up unless someone or another ghosts wakes them up.

To end this long winded story, the grumpy ghost soon introduced his favorite past times to the others and in the absence of anything better to do, more and more ghosts started scaring people. Over time, the reason for scaring people got lost and now ghosts just do it.

Note: I don’t believe in ghosts.

One at a time

One at a time

They say people don’t remember their early years. Especially before the age of four or thereabouts. But I remember mine. I remember the blood. Can’t really say I remember the pain. But definitely the blood. It was everywhere.
I had cut my hand on a large kitchen knife. How that came about was straight forward enough. I had watched my mum cut all sorts of things with that knife. I was fascinated to say the least. Some of those things I had tried my baby teeth on so I was surprised to see the ease with which she sliced them with the knife.
I had been warned off it a few times until she decided I had better learn the hard way under her watch.
So some day when I thought she wasn’t paying attention, my curiosity got the better of me and I had sneaked into the kitchen and grabbed the shiny knife. I looked at it in amazement then decided to see of I could split some vegetables like I had seen her do with it.
Something went wrong.
All I remember is the blood. It was red. It was everywhere. It was hot.
She rushed in. There was the trip to the hospital. The doctor. The big bandage which stayed on for a couple of weeks before the stitches were removed.
That was the beginning of my fascination with knives.

I guess growing up it was inevitable I would end up in a profession where I could use knives.
I did work as a chef for a while. I enjoyed it but the pay was not worth the hours spent roasting slowly in front of big gas-powered cooking ranges.
I also tried my hands at one of the abattoirs. I found out that though I didn’t mind the blood, I couldn’t stand the repeated task of killing literarily defenseless far animals over and over everyday. Before you jump to wrong conclusions, I love red meat. In fact I am glad I didn’t enjoy it, otherwise it could have been an indication of psychopathic tendencies.

I can’t tell you exactly how I ended up with a knife in my hand and a long list of dead people who might still otherwise be alive (but no guarantees of course. They could just as well have been run over crossing the street).
But that’s beside the point.
Death comes to all. Some get to pick how, some don’t even realize they are dead and well, some leave when people like me say it’s time.
Of course nothing is for free, I guess I enjoy it so much I could probably do it free half of the time – the other half to pay the bills.
Since the profilers have decided with adequate real life of people misbehaving badly in the throes of passion (think revenge, think greed, think spurned love) that using a knife implies a deep personal connection, it plays nicely into my MO.
Because it’s nothing personal to me. It’s just a job. So while the cops are looking for someone close to the deceased, someone who has an alibi cast in granite which even a truth serum can’t shake loose because the individual can’t reveal what’s he or she doesn’t know because I won’t take a commission when you are desperate to have it done – that’s the stuff mistakes are made of – costly mistakes that can land one on death-row or at the least a few decades in some high security jail with no guarantee you won’t leave in a six foot box. Guess what, the cops can’t be farther from the truth.
But don’t get me wrong, I go to church. I pay my tithe. I read the bible. I believe.
It’s against the law. What I do. I wouldn’t choose as a career if I had to make a conscious decision.
But sometimes life hands you a knife or a lemon or both and you don’t make lemonade without a few choice cuts, do you?
The commissions I take are bad people. Only their family would miss them. As it is said, no matter how ugly the monkey is, it’s loved by at least one person: it’s mother.

So I am doing my social duty. Ridding the society of evil: one scum at a time.
It’s not personal.
It’s business.
It’s just got a sharp edge.



It’s Sunday.
The double doors were open wide. I went in quietly and sat at the back.
The service was in full swing.
The pastor was in form as usual. Today is probably my 10th visit. I like the fact that they don’t do that “let’s recognize first time visitors” thing.
Anyway it’s no longer my first visit though I guess I am still strictly speaking, a visitor.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The service has ended. But I make no move to leave. I have business with the man of God.

I sat there and watched him hold court at the exit as the members filed past. Judging by the way he greeted them, it was obvious he knew everyone. Shaking each hand, a few words here and there: “How is the family; it’s been a while; The little one is growing really fast; I haven’t seen your husband in church in a while; You should come for the fellowship during the week; The men’s group is meeting next week; Don’t be a stranger now. …”

I have heard it all before. From him and many others just like him.

I know he holds a brief counseling session after each service when most of the parishioners have left except those who want to see him for one thing or the other.

He will attend to all comers for the next hour or so. Today’s not particularly busy. There was only one other person beside myself in the church.

I watched the old lady go into the little room. Thankfully she didn’t stay long.

As she walked towards the exit doors, the pastor stuck his head out the door and gave me an inviting smile.

Well. It’s time.

I got up and walked up to the door.

He greeted me warmly and offered me a seat.

“Hello sir. How are you doing this fine Sunday. I have noticed you during a couple of our services. It’s always nice to see a new face. You have probably noticed our church is not so big. I know almost everyone by name.”

“But forgive me. Can I offer you something to drink? But I am sorry we only keep soft drinks here. I keep the strong stuff in my quarters.” He said with a conspiratorial wink.

I smiled back and said no.

“Ok. So what can I do for you sir.”

“I am a sinner.” I said.

“Ain’t we all”, he interjected. “That’s why we have hope in the redeeming blood of Christ who has paid for our sins.”

“True. True.” I nodded in agreement. I let the quiet settle between us for a few seconds. We both appeared contemplative.

“So I have always wondered if all sins are equal. Because I am having issues treating them the same.”

“What do you mean?” He asked.

“Well,” I said. “Let me give you a couple of examples. I do business and a lot of times I need to grease the wheels of progress if I am to succeed. It’s either that or I pack up and go hunt moose or backpack across Europe or something. If you understand what I mean.”

“I also don’t see any harm in indulging in a little of this and a little of that. If you understand what I mean.”

“Well, I could say I do son. But can you be a little more plain on the second example.” He asked.

“Well, you know, a little weed from time to time now that it’s legal. A few pills to get in the party mood sometimes.”

“Ok. Well. I must say we can’t allow our standard to be the law of this world only. Some things are naturally wrong and our conscience convicts us accordingly if only we would listen.”

“What if I feel no pangs of regret afterwards nor any mental discomfort during the act?” I asked.

“I am glad you said that. Let me read something to you out of the bible. 1 Timothy 4:2. You see, we must let our conscience become seared.”

“But I don’t think my conscience is seared because I do get those mental anguish when I do certain things.”

“Such as what?” He was somewhere between inquisitive and exasperated.

“You know. This and that.”

“Well. I really don’t know. Can you tell me plainly son.”

“Ok. But I think we are digressing a little sir. My actual question was if all sins deserve equal punishment.”

“I should think so. In fact that’s the case. There are no little sins and no big sins. All sins will be punished equally unless the sinner repents. Let me read a couple of passages to you. Romans 6:23. You see, the wages of sin is death and God commands us to repent and sin no more. In John 8, Jesus commands the woman he saved from being stoned to death to go and sin no more. Otherwise she would appropriately get death as the wages for her sins.”

“But I am still not certain. Let’s say I slap someone in anger and never apologized though I am wrong even though I think I am right. I personally don’t think that’s a sin if the person was acting the fool. But I guess a better example would be the young man that jumped ahead of me in a queue. I asked him quietly to, you know, step back in line but he had a mouth on him. So I took a brass-knuckle to his face. He didn’t die but he thought he did for a minute or two and I am sure he wished he had the following day. Now that I think about it I could have handled it differently.”

“Eh. Young man. You seem to have a violent bent. But violence never solves anything. It just escalates matters.”  The pastor was visibly becoming worried.

“Not really. With the right level of violence you will be surprised how quickly you can bring a matter to a satisfactory close. Of course not always satisfactory for all concerned. But you catch my drift.”

“I am really getting concerned about you son. I think we need to say a little prayer at this point.”

I humor him. He grabs my hand and went on for a couple of minutes. I said amen at all the appropriate places.

His hitherto discomfort seemed to have abated a little.

“Now young man as I was saying, violence is not a solution. But you were saying?”

“Oh yes. I was saying I don’t think all sins are created equal, but you are taking an opposing view it seems.”

“My point is this. Take the fellow I took the brass-knuckle to his face. Granted his features were never the same again, but at least he survived. I even heard he found a lady that could stand him enough to be his wife. Good luck to both of them. I guess that was a sin.”

“Do you think I should hypothetically speaking, suffer the same punishment for that as for shooting some fellow who was abusing a little kid in broad day light. Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t kill him. I just shot out his kneecaps. He’s been in a wheel chair ever since. I think it’s a sin that I did that actually. Because I took something from him that I could not give back. But I got rid of a greater evil with a little controlled temporary evil.”

The pastor was looking at me with a strange look in his eyes. His jaw was slack. But after I stopped speaking he realized where he was and quickly regained his composure.

“Young man. You do lead an interesting life. So much violence! You know the psychologists would say you are compensating for something. Was there abuse in your childhood perhaps?”

“Actually, no. I couldn’t have wished for a more adjusted and happy childhood. But we were discussing whether all sins are worthy of the same punishment.”

“Yes. Yes. Yes.” He said hurriedly.

“So what sort of punishment do you think those two sins will command?”

“The bible is clear on that point my son. The wages of sin – all sin – is death. Except the sinner repents of course.”

“Death is not such a bad thing.” I countered. Didn’t David say in the Psalms that there is no remembrance of anything for the dead?”

“True but that’s the Old Testament. It’s been overtaken by the New Testament. “

“So why do we still bother with it then?”

“Well the whole bible is written for our instruction and edification. You see there is no present without the past, so it would have been incomplete if we were handed down only the New Testament.”

“Ok. But if I may steer you back to the crux of our discussion.”

“Some matters son, are a little dicey you know. For example, you could have reported the child molester to the police. He would have been punished appropriately by the law.”

“Yes. But he would have been back out on the street in a couple of years. And who knows what he would have done next? You know crimes of that sort just get escalated by the perpetrators with every round that goes by. I think I put a stop to that.”

“But still. …” He was trying to marshal his thoughts.

I cut in: “You know you already said we shouldn’t limit ourselves to just the laws of this world. Now that I think of it, I believe I was executing God’s judgment on that chap. Just like Herod was consumed by worms on the spot when he ascribed God’s glory to himself.”

“Son, that’s a little different. A different regime and a different time. And an angel smote him if you remember.”

“Can you really be sure I am not an angel, pastor?”

“I am sorry son, but highly unlikely. Given the vices you listed earlier.”

“True. I am not an angel. Just following that line of thought to see where it might lead.”

“So pastor. As we were saying. Or as I was asking, I really do not think all sins ought to deserve the same amount of “reward” but of course I can’t claim to be a bible scholar which is one of the two reasons why I am here.”

“Which reminds me. A little side story. I used to be in the military. I left after I came back from my last tour. Because I realized I was fighting for a cause that was of benefit to only a few power hungry individuals in high places. But not only that, it was the atrocities we committed under the guise of liberating the country from the tyranny of its previous rulers. The problem was that in the paranoia of the war, it was difficult to know who was friend and who was foe. As to be expected, a lot of innocent people paid the ultimate price. People see some of the results of the carnage on their TV screens and cringe, but I tell you, living through it; actually being there; participating in it – you couldn’t even begin to imagine the horror.”

“I came back disillusioned and for a couple of years I was lost and haunted by the eyes of those I had killed. Time truly heals all wounds. Because with time those eyes faded away and I could begin to function properly in the society again. But I wasn’t really the same person that went to war. I had lost something. I guess you could say it was my innocence. Coupled with the fact that I couldn’t get any reasonable job after I returned, I just drifted into what came naturally.”

“Which was? Sorry. Is?”

“You know. Do for people what they are too scared to do for themselves.”

“Like what?”

“You know. Every – thing.” I put emphasis on the word.

“Sorry. That went over my head son. But it sounds illegal. Is it?”

“Well. I guess it depends on whose point of view you are looking at it from and also whose laws. If you catch my drift.”

“Em. Huh. I am a little confused as to where this is heading. Not sure you are really here for counseling. Are you?”

I think he is trying to get rid of me.

“Well. True. How did you know? You are truly perceptive.  Must be the training. You know, a man of the cloth such as yourself.”

He beamed a little despite himself. Flattery does wonders.

“Which of course leads to the second reason I am here.”

I leaned back a little. He followed suit.

“So pastor. Certain people in your congregation despite how small the church is, believe you are a stumbling block that’s preventing the church from growing.”

“Now I am not a man to take an assignment lightly. I do my own research and only accept a commission when I am convinced of the merits of the case.”

“Pastor. You have been dipping in the church till. If it was only a little here and there to tide you over, I wouldn’t even bring this up.”

His face was starting to take on the look of a trapped animal.

I continued: “But you have been really naughty. That condo by the beach. And the Maserati parked in the garage.” I shook my head from side to side.

“Not to mention Angela who is neither your wife nor your staff but lives free like a queen on the regular anonymous (you think) transfers you send to her. There are at least three people in the know now – you, Angela and myself. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, you have been coveting some of your parishioners’ wives under the guise of spiritual guidance. That one, only you, myself and the ladies concerned know about.”

“But I guess you are still wondering where all this is going.”

At this point, I sat up, slowly brought out my gun from my jacket and placed it on the table. His eyes brightened with fear. His mouth moved, but no sound came out. His eyes were fixated on the gun.

“You see I am in a dilemma. I have never killed a man of the cloth before. And while it should just be another job since you have aptly demonstrated you are a man as fallible as any other, there is still this little part of me that screams out in protest against what I have set my mind to do. That bit in the bible that’s so often misquoted and taken out of context comes to mind: do my prophet no harm. But luckily, you are not a prophet by any stretch of the imagination. But that still leaves me with the fact that you have a flock to look after spiritually and I see you haven’t done too badly there. You know that saying – do what I say, not what I do. That’s what you have been preaching and really, you have helped quite a few of your members you know.”

He nodded eagerly. Maybe he thought that might be his salvation.

“I was almost decided in my mind, but you have truly helped me. You have put my mind at ease now. Really. Because if all sins are created equal, and the wages of sin is death, then you deserve what’s coming to you.”

I got up. Cocked the gun and leveled it at him. The scope was dead center between his eyes. I know the path the bullet will take – in through the front, straight through his brain to exit at the base of his skull. Even if by some earth-moving miracle he survives, he won’t be in a position to do any finger-pointing or do anything for that matter.

He first began to whimper and plead for his life. Then he was literally bawling with snort running down his face.

“Pastor. You have committed a great sin. And I have chosen to be the punishment of God unto you. If you had not committed so great a sin, a punishment like me would not have been sent to you.”

He cried even louder.

“Ah. Pastor. I am disappointed. I expected you would take it like a man or better still; take it like a man of God. Here we go.”

I fired two shots. Everything went silent. I walked out the room and shortly thereafter I was out in the sunshine. It was a bright day – it was a good day to be alive.

I really should stop doing this. Someday someone was going to force my hand and things might turn out ugly. There are real bullets in the gun. But was I really ready to go all the way?

Behind me I could hear him in the church. His distress was audible in his voice but the only thing he kept repeating was “Dear God!”. I could picture him on his knees rocking back and forth in front of the beautiful cross above the altar. I hope I had scared him straight enough to change his ways or at least enough to lose the robe.

I brought out the little book and put a little tick next to his name. The list was still long. I won’t be back in this church for a while. But I will be keeping an eye on him – that is, if he remains there.

I walked slowly away. Little children were running after butterflies in the park a little distance away.

It was so long ago. On a day such as this. When I proudly uttered those same words as I brought carnage and destruction, and some said the hordes of hell, to the lands of the east. Like Herod, I thought I was a god and so I would announce to my conquests, “I am the punishment of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.”

Now I have been cursed to wander the earth until the second coming in order to atone for my sins.

You see, my name is Khan.

Kublai Khan.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

NOTE: the “punishment” quote was actually made by Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan’s grandfather.

Three Months

Three Months

I was in downtown. Feeding a flock of pigeons at some random park I had wandered into.
A much older man came to stand beside me. I looked his way and he gave a slight nod with a smile on his face. I smiled slightly as I nodded back.
“I hope you don’t mind if I bothered you a little.”
I looked his way again and with a little shame I must admit my mind registered quickly that he was very well dressed and looked in no way like a druggie or destitute.
“You see. I have only 3 months to live. Cancer of the prostrate.”
I noticed now that he was sort of pale and quite lean as well. But still his “lines” started like the opening gambit of a “con”. But I didn’t have any “real” money and I was off for the day so I didn’t have anything to lose.
I wasn’t sure what to say to him after the “Sorry” I muttered quickly.
“Nah. That’s ok. I am cool with it. I am actually luckier than most. I had time to empty my bucket list.”
I went on feeding the pigeons and he went on standing by my side. I could tell the uncomfortable silence was from me as he looked completely content just standing there.
“If I could impose a little on you. Coming from a stranger, It’s a strange request I know but I thought I would ask all the same. Do you think it would be possible for you to arrange for a headstone for me?”
I glanced over and my mind was still processing what he had said when he went on quickly.
“Please. I will cover the cost for the headstone. It won’t cost you a cent. I really couldn’t tell you why at the moment. And yes, I do have a family.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. Yes or no or maybe.
“Please say yes.”
He dipped his hand in the pocket of his jacket and brought out a cheque for several thousand dollars which he handed over with a business card.
I couldn’t actually do anything else but accept the cheque and the card from his outstretched hand. The card indicated he was a lawyer. He was obviously one of the partners in the firm. I stood there with the cheque and card in my hand.
“Oh. You can put those away.”
I hesitantly shoved them in my pocket.
“How do I actually know when you … and where the grave will be.”
“Oh. That’s easy. I should be dead in about 3 months. You can call in to my office around that time.”
“By the way, I would really prefer if you use Mark’s Marbles over on 53rd and 4th. They do an excellent job. Besides, Mark is an old acquaintance.”
“Em. Ok.” My mind was still not fully decided on how to proceed.

“You know I fed those pigeons for quite a while in the past myself. It’s actually a way to relax and get your mind off everyday stuff for a while. Besides, this place won’t be the same without them.”
“Hi guys. Why are you back so soon?” He said to two young guys in suits who suddenly appeared and stood about three yards away.
He turned to me and said with a smile “My minders. I guess it won’t be nice if I just keeled over in public.”
“Well. Young man, it’s a pleasure.”
He extended his hand and I shook it.
“Ok boys. Let’s go.”
The two guys fell respectfully to either side of him.
My mind was in a blur as I watched him go. I wasn’t sure of what it was but it seemed I needed to say something.
“Hi Sir. Why me?”
“Well. If you are kind enough to feed the pigeons, I think you will remember a small request from a tired old man.” He said with a smile.
“What should I put on the tombstone?” I asked.
“Anything you like. Maybe some part of our conversation today. It doesn’t really matter. It was lovely making your acquaintance. I should say see you later but we probably won’t meet again. At least not in this life time. Be good!”


I kept the cheque safely under some clothing in my room. I tried to put the matter out of my mind but every few days I would remember the old man, the cheque, and the request.

Fast forward three months or maybe more appropriately go forward mentally excruciatingly slowly three months.
I made the call.
“Hi. Oh yes. So sorry. He passed away a couple of days ago. It was peaceful. There is a remembrance service for him on Saturday in case you would like to come.” The voice on the other end of the line said.
I wondered what would have happened if I had called two days earlier. But I had kept making the call literarily to the day three months later.
I went for the remembrance service. The church was full. Several of his associates and friends gave short eulogies. No one cried as far as I could tell. Lots of smiles and back pats. I don’t know if it’s appropriate to “enjoy” a remembrance service.
I thought briefly of trying to make contact with some close member of his family. But I couldn’t think of what to say to them that won’t make be sound like a con man or some nut job.
He had indicated that a week or so after the burial should be about right to go place the order for the headstone.
So one sunny morning, I took a short break and found my way first to the bank to cash the cheque and then on to Mark’s Marbles.
It appeared they were expecting me.
I was ushered into the inner office of a gentleman I suspect would be about the same age as the dead lawyer.
A brief exchange of pleasantries during which I discovered he was “Mark” and it was on to business. He asked me to tell him about my encounter with the old lawyer in as much detail as I could remember.
I did.
“May I see the money?” He asked.
I handed over the cash. He barely looked at it. Instead he looked at my face curiously for a while. He tapped the edge of the bundle of notes in his hand on the table. He appeared to be thinking.
Then suddenly he dropped the money on the table. Pushed it across to me.
“That’s yours.”
I indicated I didn’t quite understand as the money was meant for the headstone.
“Don’t worry about it. He got a headstone shortly after his burial. You can go look for yourself.”
“Also”, he said as he pulled out the top drawer of his desk.
“This is for you.”
He handed over a cheque.
I took the cheque hesitantly. Something was not quite right. First I didn’t have to order a headstone. Second, I got the money back. Third, I am getting a cheque?
I couldn’t believe what was written on the cheque. Same figure as the cash I just got back but with four extra zeros tacked on behind it.
“Is this real?” I blurted out.
“But of course.”
“He had a sense of humour, a large heart and the way he saw certain things changed a lot towards the end.”
“It’s all yours. Looks like a lot. In fact it is a lot of money. Invest it wisely. But just as important, don’t be a slave to it. Enjoy yourself. You will be surprised how easy it is to lose something like that. I guess he mentioned his bucket list to you.”
I nodded in the affirmative. I was lost for words.
I got up to go. But I couldn’t help ask a couple of questions that came to my mind.
“Do you think he gave this to many people?”
“Yes. Ten I believe. His social experiment.”
“How many have been claimed?”
“Two including you.”
“The more interesting question is how many of the original cheques have been cashed.”
“How many?” I couldn’t help being inquisitive.
“Seven as at the last count.”
“If the money isn’t claimed in six months, it goes to some of the non-profits his foundation supports.”
“I don’t believe I will be seeing any of those other five, but one can always hope. Also there are still three others out there.” He said with a smile.

“Feel free to come around at any time. I can’t guarantee any world changing advice but at least you can benefit from not repeating certain mistakes I made in the distant past.”

He offered me lunch but I declined. I needed to be alone to process what had just happened to me properly. Besides my stomach was in no state to absorb anything. I promised to talk to him soon though.

I sat there in the dark and thought of the old lawyer. I remembered his face and the last thing he said as he walked away with his “minders”:

“I should say see you later but we probably won’t meet again. At least not in this life time. Be good!”

A requiem for love

A requiem for love

In the confluence of minds
In the primordial soup
In the Mariana Trench
In the frozen wastes of Pluto

All across the galaxy
From the birth of all there is
Is it true that none seeks God;
No, not one?

A little leaven leavens the whole
A drop of oil on white linen
A dictator among sheep
A fox in the hen house

Hezekiah faced the wall
The Lord sweated blood
Moses despaired
Lot was exasperated

Play a ditty
Sing a dirge
A medley for a sad soul
A love song for a lonely heart

Hear the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God; keep his commandments:
Thus the duty of man.
Who thus this duty do?

The headstone – ready
The grave – dug
The priest – somber
The occupant – flitting as the wind

As surely as the day breaks
As constant as man’s evil
If it lies still in death:
Will there be peace at last?



I wish I would die.

Five years ago the thought wouldn’t have crossed my mind. Not even four, or three, or two. Not even one year ago. But now I can’t wait to be out of my misery.

How is it possible that a year ago I was living across the square at the top of the most luxurious hotel in town. Now I can still see the light from the window of the room I once occupied. I can detect movement inside if I try hard enough. I hunker down in the cold corner of the square for the night. Hoping the security detail from the hotel won’t come to harass me and all those other unfortunates I used to mindlessly toss a coin or two whenever I strolled by with not a single care in the world except for what color of tie I should wear to the get-together to which I had been invited.

I shiver uncontrollably. The weather forecast had been bleak. Unseasonable cold expected for the next couple of weeks. I had seen it looking through the front glass window at an electronic shop downtown. Before the shop’s security detail came out to ask me politely to move along.

I wish I would die.

I have tried a couple of times. Once I almost succeeded. I don’t understand why the state is concerned enough to save me from an attempted suicide but not concerned enough about where I would get my next meal or a place to sleep for the night. I saw the white light. I moved towards it as the blood drained from the gash in my arms I had made with the broken bottle of the cheap hooch I had bought from some shady individual at the neighborhood park. But it was the bright hospital light overhead as some intern closed the wounds in my arms that brought me back to the reality of my sorry existence. A trip to the hospital’s psychiatric section where the doctor was more than eager to declare me competent once it was realized I had no health insurance saw me outside the hospital as soon as I could walk on my own. They should have let me die.

I wish I would die.

The wind lifted the corners of my ragged overcoat. Crept up and grabbed hold of what was left of my withered form. I shivered again. If I was a believer I would have thought the devil was a one inch sore on my left shoulder: it itched like a “mutha-fu***r”.  I only believed in myself. I could do anything I wanted. I could have anything I wanted. I believed in myself.  Until I lost everything. The local RedCross rep gave me a cream for it. Maybe I am not using it properly. All the while she was explaining how to apply it, I was busy looking at her smooth light skin, her lovely face and beautiful teeth. She reminded me of someone else. A girl I had met by chance in a bank. She won’t be coming again for another month. In my previous life, we probably wouldn’t have met, but if we had, I would have had her hanging on my every word while treating her to all the best things the town had to offer. But that was another life in the distant past. I ignored the pity or compassion I saw in her eyes. She kept me company in my head while I built castles in my dreams. That kept the cold at bay for several nights. But after a week or so her face faded into the mist of vague shapes that drifted across my mind every time I close my eyes. I tried to will her back. But I failed.

I wish I would die.

I hear the sound of the refuse truck in the far distance. I opened my eyes. Just enough time to beat it to the back of the hotel where the leftovers of the day would be waiting for disposal. But I couldn’t feel the hunger. I couldn’t even feel my stomach. I didn’t move. The truck trundled past. How much time had passed? Maybe 10 or 15 minutes.

I had gambled everything away. Everything. Everything. I didn’t even own the cloth on my back. They are castoffs. My only possession is my briefs,  and I couldn’t get anyone to pay me 5 cents even if I wanted to sell it.

I looked down at my feet. I can see why they felt so cold. New holes in the old over-sized shoes. The only protection they offered was for the soles of my feet – I might as well have been wearing a pair of slippers.

Time to take a walk round the square. Pretend not to be homeless. Just another shopper looking in closed shop windows. But the only thing taking up space in my pocket is a lottery ticket. Well. It was that or a pack of smokes. It wasn’t much of a choice.

The dapper chap coming the opposite way noticeably sidestepped as we came abreast of each other: he could have been me 10 months ago. I ceased to wince a long time ago. The shame and embarrassment long disappeared into a dark abyss from which I could no longer call them forth.

I wish I would die.

There is very little human traffic at this time of the night. Though it wasn’t that late really. I was king of all I surveyed – as long as I looked but not touched. The journey felt short tonight. I am almost doubling back now, but there is one more detour to make. The small corner shop which wasn’t necessarily on the corner. The mom and pop shop that sold all the little things one could want in a hurry: a pack of cigarettes, a pack of gum, bars of chocolate, newspapers and magazine: you get the idea. It was closed and dim inside the shop but there was always more than enough light reflected from the street to see the winning numbers  displayed on the inner-side of the glass front doors. Tonight those numbers looked vaguely familiar. Could it be? I must have stood there for several minutes. I fingered the stiff piece of paper in my pocket but didn’t bring it out. I tried to remember where the numbers were printed on the paper. I ran my fingers over it as if it was a piece of some braille document. In my mind I tried to remember the numbers. The wind howled down the side street while I stood still like a mannequin. All of a sudden I was hungry, tired, sad and happy at the same time. I felt faint. I was almost sure of it. Those numbers starring back at me were the same ones I had played early that morning. I was back! I could already see myself in that room at the top of the hotel in the square. A couple of pretty young things at my beck and call. I would ask for the manager to come up for a chat – just because I could. I don’t like caviar but would order it anyway. Along with the biggest, oldest bottle of Champagne from their underground cellar: a place I had been privileged enough to visit when I was still an honored guest. Suits from the most exclusive tailors in town. I was really back! With that all-or-nothing ticket in my pocket, by this time tomorrow, I could do no wrong! I looked over my shoulders up and down the street before bringing it out – I couldn’t afford to be mugged at this critical point – but there was not a single soul within shouting distance. I straightened out the little piece of paper and went through the numbers one by one. My heart beating wildly as each one matched the one on the glass window in front of me. Except the last digit! It couldn’t be! I was sure I had played a nine, but there on my ticket was a six. I turned it over and it became a nine, but holding the ticket the right-way up, it was a six. i must have checked it at least 20 times, but the six on my ticket and the nine in the window refused to change. The vista of fine food and wine and girls disappeared just as rapidly as I had constructed them in my mind. Replaced by the dank dark lonely street with the wind carrying the little scraps of paper past doorways and behind rubbish bins.

I wish I would die.

29/12/2013 (15:30pm – 18:20pm)

Be Still

Be Still

“Tunde tell God about your problem and listen to His still small voice. He will guide u aright.” so the SMS says.

I know you pray but will it pay?
I have strained hard.
But I haven’t heard.
Did I ever?
Or was I just clever?
Commune with thine heart upon thy bed

Yesterday I was lost in a dark place
A journey with no aim found me at the cantonment
“Halt!” said the soldier at the gates
I had trespassed. And I was ready for my recompense.

“Stay. Talk with us.
To war tomorrow we go.
Who knows if we will be back or not.
Maybe yours will be the last friendly face we’ll see.
Tell us your name and we will tell you ours.
Per chance we meet again, then not as strangers but as friends.”

So I tarried with them
And took their minds of their troubles by telling them mine
“We will gladly trade places with you friend
But we are committed and we must go
Do not think less of us if we say fear is our bedmate
We will still do our duty to man and country

And so we were till the Sun came up
And the stars went to bed
I made my way wearily home
But home is not a structure planted in the ground made from bricks and mortar
But there I went all the same

And the years went by
And I grew in age and in girth
Life got better then worse then better

On a day as strange as today
I found myself once again where I should not be
“Halt!” said the soldier at the gates
I had trespassed. And I was not ready for my recompense.

With a torch in my face and the deep black at my back
I could not see past my nose
But I heard a familiar voice
And a name sprang to mind
I whispered it lest I was wrong
But it carried all the same on that still night air

“Speak up man. Was it a name that escaped your lips?
Or would you rather lose your teeth.”
“I used to know a soldier. Perhaps it is you. A friend he was on the night he went to war.”
“It is I indeed friend. Many years have passed but nothing changes.”

I remember we met on a night just like this
Before we went to war
You look worse for wear
But who am I to talk?
Have I gained in rank or in wealth?
Or is it the gray that I hide under die or the fat that forms my second belt?
Yet I am here and many are not.
For of those you met that strange night only I remain.

I have not mourned for them.
Maybe I waited for you: for one who knew where we went and how we felt.
Will you tarry and listen to me?
I will tell you about fear and foes
About guns and ghouls
About death. Ye. Mostly about death.

So I tarried again in that place so strange.
And he told me how death came and starred in the faces of men
And took their breaths away
Some went in the rain that refused to stop
And some went in great pain
But to no one was it gain
And mourning those who were no longer with us
We passed the night with a thousand shades

And so we were till the Sun came up
And the stars went to bed
I made my way wearily home
But home is not a structure planted in the ground made from bricks and mortar
But there I went all the same

18-11-2012? (updated 6:35am 02/Mar/2013)