“He will see you now”
Faith is a misconstrued notion.
Her life, and everything that followed, had shaped her mind to be dismissive. It was her irrevocable belief that beliefs become as fragile as the agony one endures, or one decides to endure. That was her faith, not because she wanted to spite the deity but because she needed to know, with absolute certainty, that there was no higher power at play, no chances of divine intervention, no one to ease her pain. Except of she herself.
But all of that was life. And this was, most likely, after.
“It’s okay to be nervous hon’ ”
This was definitely after. She was sure, not because she hadn’t seen a baby with wings before or comforted by one like that one over-affectionate aunt in every family, but because she felt an irresistible urge to cuddle the little thing. And that was an odd feeling, otherworldly even, especially since she despised babies, sometimes hated the very sight of them.
“Follow me sweetie”
Dazed she stood up from the waiting desk and staggered behind the flying baby. Gold dust emanated from its flapping wings and scattered all over her dress. She hadn’t noticed up until now that she was wearing her yellow daisy frock, the one she wore to her first date with Ishan at Café Bodega, the presently tattered ends of which had got caught in her wheelchair. As she brushed it off of her, though in vain, she gingerly leaned forward to peek beneath its tiny butt.
“You won’t find what you’re looking for”
Embarrassed, she reverted hastily and tossed an awkward smile towards it.
“We don’t have genders, if that’s what you’re wondering”
“Please don’t mind, it’s just that….. you’re awfully cute!” she squeaked.
It turned its chubby face which now had an adorable smirk and said, “I know hon’, I know”
“Can I touch your cheeks?”
“I’d rather you don’t! What’s next? Sniff my head, rub my belly?”
“Right, right……I mean sorry…I’m sorry” she mumbled as they took a left down the hall and faced a door. It was a door shaped door, with woodish polish, devoid of aesthetic carvings, and a sticker which said ‘MANAGER’ written in the least innovative font possible.
She pushed the door inwards to find herself in a corporate office saturated with bureaucratic clichés. There was a cushioned chair on either side of a glass table which was stacked with plump files. The obvious authoritative chair was empty while an old man, who had just tilted his head towards her, sat on the other one.
“Ömisha Baptista!” a heavy voice echoed throughout the office, “Do you know why you are here?”
“I’m not sure…sir…ma’am” she stuttered trying to locate the source of the voice.
“Miss, I have received a complaint from the HR department. You have an otherwise clean record, but this grievance, I’m afraid, tarnishes your entire file”
“It was that one time only, I swear, and that’s just because the doctors said I wouldn’t live long enough to get married” she said nervously.
“Pre-marital sex isn’t my concern, it never is. What does concern me is that you tried to take a life”
A sudden rage surged within Omisha. She stood there silently with eyelids clenched, teeth gritting against each other and fingernails burrowing in her palms, in an attempt to stop her emotions from spewing like hot lava. That moment flashed in her mind and she remembered what had happened. Never in her right mind would she mean to do it, but the pain, and the anger from the pain had taken over her – the very anger and hate gnawing at her right then as she stood shaking inside the office. She wanted to scream her truth, that it was an accident. But she knew, in her heart that it wasn’t. She was aware of what she was doing, and all the wrong reasons she was doing it for. And yet, after everything, it happened anyway. Now, all she did, all she could do was apologize.
“I’m…sor…sor…” she muttered.
“Sorry? You did not have the right to do what you did, that life wasn’t yours to take”
“But…but….she was fine, they survived!”
“And that makes everything right? What about the pain you caused them?”
Pain. Omisha was all too familiar with it. It stayed with her from the very beginning, like an eternal enemy, or perhaps a miserable friend. It was indeed too heavy a weight to put on her shoulders, to be accused of being the giver of pain when in her whole life she had always been at the receiving end of it. The unbearable burden made her let go of her emotional sphincters and in a fit of hysteria she began laughing. The absurdity continued for a while. The old man dug his face within his crossed arms and the heavy voice condensed in the silence of the air, before she stopped, abruptly, and looked straight at the empty chair.
“You’re all about life and creation huh?” Omisha tossed a firm retort, “Then why was mine yours to take? Why was my pain yours to give? Where were you when I was puking down the toilet every single night? Where were you when they made fun of my wig at school? When I drew eyebrows with paint, ate food from pipes, peed in plastic bags, breathed through smothering masks? You give and take as you please; nobody to look over the mighty shoulders of ‘THE MANAGER’, right?”
The air reverberated with her emotive allegations and a second phase of silence settled down.
“Very well then….” the voice said breaking the quiet, “….if you have nothing more to add, I would like you to wait while the board deliberates over your case. For the time being, Mr Gonus here would take care of you”
“Yeah right….” she mocked.
“So, who are you supposed to be, His assistant or something?” Omisha asked as they walked towards the white van.
He laughed heartily.
“Two scoops of cloud nine, rainbow jelly extra” he said to the woman in the van, “Best Ice-cream in the multiverse. It is to die for!”
“I see your sense of humour is as immature as your choice of ice cream Mr Gonus” Omisha jeered, “….and what kind of a weird-ass name is Gonus”
“The Greek kind, but I’m known by Proto around here” he said while taking the cones from the van.
“Well then Proto, you still haven’t answered my question”
He broke the layer of colour and burrowed into the vanilla before licking it off of his fingers. His face caved into several wrinkles as he tried to recover from a brain freeze. Omisha looked at him curiously and tried a bit of it herself.
“I’m sure you have many questions. For now, just know that He cares about you”
“Oh! I get it. You’re not his assistant, you’re his bitch!”
Proto gave out another roaring laughter.
“He didn’t care enough to show his face. Let me guess, he’s busy planning another plague on humanity”
“It’s the whole omnipresent thing” Proto said gulping the vibrant cream, “and He doesn’t take pleasure in your pain dear”
In front of them rolled a giant meadow loosely fenced on either side, along the length of which there was an assortment of food trucks. Omisha was not able to indulge in the basic pleasures of eating during her time on earth, and she often suppressed her short-lived cravings by rubbing her gums with salted guava juices or lick syrup laden earthen pots and the red ants along with it, though not without throwing up later. The tastiest thing she discovered she could eat without regurgitating was imli achaar which her father had brought for her mother during pregnancy. But this wasn’t Earth and she was feeling much better, much more ambitious at least. The smell of nutmeg, mace and white pepper drifting against the contrast of ghee hinted at a fresh helping of biriyani. Omisha inhaled the aroma like a prisoner breathing freedom. She followed the trail of scent into a more complex, but tempting blend of flavours. Her inexperienced palette couldn’t fathom the variety of eateries beyond the monotony of liquid diet. The spices and sauces touched the tip of her tongue and a stimulus reached her heart before the stomach, so that Proto could see a beautiful smile cleaving into her cheeks.
“Arsalan makes the best pizza out here” Proto said, indicating the pizza truck.
“Really? Where can I find the best biriyani?”
“Luigi’s of course. If you’re in the mood for some mean American burgers Eun Jung’s your girl. Xavier serves the freshest Sushi and Kwame makes this exquisite veal loin which melts in your mouth”
“Time is catching up to you old man, you’re confusing things”
Proto looked at Omisha with a certain wisdom in his eyes. Grinning gently he said, “Am I though?”
After Omisha had had her fill of the delicacies, they began walking towards the garden. She walked almost in a state of trance with her stomach struggling to process the ambush. So it wasn’t entirely clear to her, however conspicuous, that the people walking around the garden were completely naked. By the time she had gained full realisation, her limbs had frozen and instead of closing her eyes, which she would have normally done, Omisha widened them and stuttered.
“Because dear, they have nothing to hide”
Proto took her hand and guided Omisha, who now had her eyes reluctantly shut, towards a bench in the garden and practically crashed on it. The leaves of the small tree overlooking the bench unfurled promptly and began swaying on their own. They slowly retired on the seat, which Omisha felt was the cosiest thing her back had ever pressed against, as cool breezes waved over them.
“Hey Omisha, have you never seen a naked man?”
“In person? No” she said opening her eyes, “….. well technically I have, I guess”
“Right! You were crying about it in the office. It must have been a special feeling”
“If you consider me passing out before going all the way ‘special’, then yeah, it was freaking mind-blowing!”
“Poor Ishan. Your boss really did cheap out on my share of luck” Omisha said as a bitter laughter faded into tears.
“Firstly, He’s not my boss. And secondly, I think in this case the person truly with bad luck is Ishan”
“I know right! And it’s only because he chose me.”
“On the contrary, my dear, I believe it’s because he couldn’t keep choosing you everyday”
Omisha arched to look at Proto. He reached her palms and held it tightly. Her eyes watered again, this time for a different reason.
She pushed herself up to take a look at the people strolling by- men laughing with women, men holding men, women kissing women and their skins hugging one another like long lost friends. It was in its entirety somewhat odd to her, but beautifully so. She turned back to see Proto fidgeting with Ketchup stains on his shirt. And at that moment she realised how lonely she had been all her life, and how good it felt to have someone to eat ice cream with. Like Proto her grandmother had been there, oiling her hair and coating her face with multani mitti masks in the false hope of her knight in shining armour. Like her, her father had been there all the time when they drank iced tea at volleyball games and vocally cussed the visitor teams. And like him, her mother had been there with her, eating pickles and ogling hot-bod foreigners in the beaches of Goa. She was lonely, for no one could really feel her pain, and the vulnerability that came with it. Unquestionably she was lonely, but undoubtedly, never alone.
“Hey Proto, if people here are always naked, then why aren’t you?”
Confused, Proto steered his attention towards her and then stood up with the friskiness of a young man. He looked back at Omisha with his fingers on his shirt buttons and said, “Why indeed!” and continued undressing until Omisha shrieked and begged him to stay clothed.
After a peaceful slumber they got up and started walking further along the meadow. At its centre there was a gigantic tree. Its flaccid branches limped from its apex and gently pushed into the soil forming a cage around its length. The leaves were an intimate mixture of red blossoms and green. They wavered in swift harmony providing relief to the people rested against the drooping branches. At the base of the main branch was an albino man with a guitar in his hand. He strummed along with his singing while the people gathered around his presence and choired joyfully.
Proto and Omisha walked towards them and found a place against a branch. She looked up at what was supposed to be this place’s sky and got lost in the unfamiliarity of the view- the red stars, the greyish-blue clouds and the strawberry shaped sun.
“What were you doing in the office anyways Proto?”
“My reincarnation was pushed ahead. He was debriefing me about that matter”
“If you don’t work for him, something I still don’t believe by the way, then who exactly are you?”
“I’ll tell you if you tell me what I want to know”
“Why did you want to hurt her?”
“Who?” Omisha asked, her voice trembling.
Omisha didn’t move her stance but kept on gazing at the sun. She sat there silently but her eyes told tales far more chaotic. Her nostrils flared as she tried to breathe in the smell of her burning heart. The pupils of her eyes soaked the ethereal view but all she could see was nothingness. There were faults in her forehead which descended to her eyebrows and slowly pushed those inwards. Her throat struggled to swallow the words which her soul wanted to spit out. And suddenly, but inevitably, fear poisoned her lips. There was nothing else she could think of but the depths of fiery hell that awaited her.
“I’m scared Proto. I’m afraid that if I tell you, He will send me to the hell I know I deserve to go to”
“Do you think that’s where your mother would want you to be?”
“I can’t say for sure, for the last thing I saw was her dreaded face before both of us laying on hospital beds. But what if she did, what if she does? Would that be so wrong? Seems befitting if you ask me…..” she scoffed while steadily lowering her head, “The two disappointments banished to abyss by their parents, to be punished by the never-ending cycle of torturing and being tortured”
“Lucifer was a troubled child, yes, but He took no pleasure in punishing him”
“Oh Proto! You’re too old to be this naïve”
“Trust me Omisha, He loves His son despite everything, just as your mother loves you regardless of the mistakes you made”
Omisha dried her eyes and gave out a mild smile. She turned towards Proto and looked at him with the intention of telling her truth.
“It was the baby. The doctors had just informed us that I didn’t have much time. They gave me a year. Right about then my parents decided to have the baby. I guess that didn’t sit well with me. I hated the thing even before it came. Things got worse when they found the sex of the foetus. My very religious, sacrilegious grandmother would announce to anyone who would listen that she was going to have a grandson. My father didn’t show it, but I knew he was glad the “Baptista” name wouldn’t die with me. And I guess mom was just too tired of my constant sickness. People flooded our home with the bearings of congratulations. And suddenly everybody forgot the pain I was in…”
“So you were jealous? You thought the baby was replacing you”
“I don’t think it was that simple you know. They should have been taking care of the child who is, instead of a child who doesn’t need to be”
“Is that why you hated the baby”
“I guess I hated the feeling that I had when I felt hate for my baby brother. And the feeling when I saw how happy my parents were after so long a time” Omisha paused as she moved closer to him. Her words became sharper as they started to reach the truth.
“Say it Omisha, you don’t need to be afraid”
“There was so much malice in my heart, and for so many people. But the person I hated the deepest, the most unapologetically was me! I hated myself for being sick, I hated myself for being a burden, I hated myself for I couldn’t be granny’s grandson, I hated myself for I knew I couldn’t pass on my father’s name, I hated myself for I made Ishan a part of my mess” Omisha spoke incessantly, her breath loud and heavy and eyes as red as the burning star.
“And?” Proto softly asked.
Omisha tilted her neck towards the sky and cried, “And I hate myself for pushing her down the stairs, I did not want to, but I did. I did it! And I hate myself for it! I hate myself, I hate myself, I hate myself!”
Proto pulled her close to his chest and let her escape into the comfort of his embrace. Omisha cried until the overwhelming weight of guilt eased off of her shoulders. The truth, her truth, which slithered inside her like venom, was thrown out into the open as the elixir of her freedom. Proto held her like a little lamb; he slid his fingers through her hair and tidied it in a bun. Caressing her back he said,
“Everything’s fine now. It wasn’t your fault dear……” proto whispered as Omisha drained her stream into his shirt, “…the baby is not supposed to replace the pain you think your presence created, but the grief that your absence would have caused. They love you Omisha, your mother loves you and I love you!”
Proto kept her wrapped in his reassuring arms. His words made a gradual sense of self-love within her, she considered the possibility that she was worthy of forgiveness. Omisha did not know what to say or what to feel, but whatever it was, it felt right. It was true they loved her- her grandmother, her father, her mother and even Proto. The red stars now shone a brilliant white, the clouds birthed a rainbow and the sun revealed to be a perfect sphere. The guitar was strummed, the song was sung, and liberation was achieved. The truth had set her free. Omisha didn’t feel pain anymore. Her skin felt warm, her eyes saw clarity and her ears heard the song.
“Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door”
“This isn’t fair! A deal’s a deal” Omisha ranted.
“Let’s just say I’m a friend” Proto answered. Omisha crossed her hands and stood there firmly with disappointment in her face.
“Fine! Don’t tell me. I know anyway”
“Is that right? Do enlighten me dear”
“You’re his spy. He sent you after me, not to keep me company, but to find something to convict me so that they could send me to hell. And I just handed you my confession, so you’re obviously good at your job”
“I don’t work for Him for His sakes! I am just like you. I’m human. I live. I die. I reincarnate. And hence goes the cycle”
“Then why do you look so old?”
“Well, I’m an ancient human Omisha. If it wasn’t for the setback it would have been my hundredth time on Earth”
“But…” Omisha paused at hearing a voice calling her name. She couldn’t make it out at first but as the voice became louder she recognised it.
“Hey hon’, I’ve some news for you” the flying baby angel yelled as it flew towards them.
“What is it?” Omisha asked.
“The board has decided to grant you access into heaven” it said as it took her arm an pressed a stamp on her wrist, “There! Show this at the heaven’s gate and they’ll let you in”
“Any updates on my front?” Proto asked the flying baby.
“Ah yes! I almost forgot. You’re good to go. He wants me to escort you to the department of transportation right away”
“I’ll be with you in a minute” Proto replied.
Omisha looked at both of them with utter confusion. She examined her ink stamped wrist and then stared at Proto.
“Aren’t you happy? You get to go to heaven Omisha” Proto said.
“Wait a minute, if this isn’t it, then what is this place?” Omisha asked.
“Well dear this is a holding cell of sorts, a holy junction if you will, for the ones whose files have minor discrepancies”
“Then what does actual heaven look like?”
“That’s for you to find out Omisha”
Proto and Omisha walked together up to the gate wherein she flooded him with questions of his past lives, which he mostly answered in vague sage-like remarks. When they reached the gate, Omisha was as underwhelmed as she had been to see the manager’s office. It was a gate-shaped gate, with woodish polish, devoid of aesthetic carvings, and a sticker which said “SILVER CITY” written in the least innovative font possible. She went forward and showed her wrist to the gatekeeper. He scanned her stamp and asked her to fill a form which had a bunch of jumbled up letters and numbers at the bottom and the words ‘Confirm humanity’ at the top. She completed the formalities and went back to Proto for a quick hug. The gatekeeper pressed the red coloured buzzer in his hand and the door began to open. Proto stepped back one foot at a time as Omisha stood fascinated by the dramatic unfolding of the gate. Omisha turned around to face Proto, who was slowly moving backwards, and gave him the sweetest smile she had ever given to anybody. Proto raised his withered arms and bade her farewell, before turning back and walking away from her.
Omisha, the girl whom everyone hated, but who learnt to love herself, and to forgive herself now walked into her heaven, where it didn’t hurt anymore. Omisha, the girl who dreamt of knights with her grandma, who badmouthed volleyball players and drank iced tea with her father, who ate imli achaar and shamelessly objectified outsiders with her mother, now entered her paradise clad in her yellow daisy frock, brand new this time, towards her first date with Ishan in Café Bodega.
And Proto, the old man who everyone loved, who taught a young girl to love herself, and to forgive herself now walked towards his preponed reincarnation, to a home whose void needed to be filled with hisT cries, to a Grandmother who anxiously waited for her grandson, to a father who needed his name to be carried on, and to a mother who needed to replace the grief which her daughter’s absence had caused.