Thursday, 16 December 2010

Short Story: Heaven (Part 2 of 2)


I tried not to let my frustrations show. After a brief pause, I changed  the subject once more: “What about Jesus?”
“What about Him?”
“I’ve been His devout follower all my life. Can I meet Him?” I could hear my pious and reverent voice hardening but was hopeful that the situation might improve if I could meet Christ in person.
Gabriel sat down somberly in an invisible armchair, and signalled me to do the same. I lowered myself cautiously into a sitting position. I couldn’t feel any supporting furniture, or the strain of hunkering down. I finally let go completely, and came to rest in a sitting position. There are some neat things in Heaven after all.
“You have a son right?”
“He’s also a preacher,” I replied with pride.
“Have you ever, say, disagreed?”
“Of course. But by the Grace of God, I always managed to find the weakness in him, and helped him to come around. I’m his father you see.”
“The Son and My Lord the Infinite Mercy have similar divergences every now and then.”
“Archangel Gabriel, I’m not sure I understand. Junior and I are faulty mortals. God,  Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are three Perfect Beings in one. How can they have squabbles?”
“Well, they do,” Gabriel said blandly, raising the frosty eyebrows again to elevate his vexation to the surface. “Being bound in trinity with one’s Son kind of gets to one after a few aeons, as you might well imagine. Closeness tend to breed contempt if you know what I mean.”
“I don’t,” I said curtly, surprising myself. 
I desperately needed to sigh, so I took a deep breath. But the inhalation vanished. I drew in a bigger one. That vanished too. This must be No Sigh Zone. For the first time, I felt dead.
The Archangel watched me baffled by my transmogrified respiratory mechanism with a supercilious sneer, then said in a deliberate tone: “The Son’s in Hell.”
“What?” I jumped up from the non-existent chair.
“Calm,” he ordered softly. “It’s not what you think. He went there voluntarily. Tired of life in Heaven, said it sterile, and that he was sick of praising His Father the Lord God of Shinning Truth non-stop. Young man in relative term after all, you see. He wanted to go where He’s most needed, where there’s a high concentration of condemned souls. He went to Earth for exactly the same reason, so it wasn’t the first time.”
“Bu-bu -” I’d suddenly developed a stutter.
Gabriel continued, ignoring me: “It was good for everyone in the end. Those two were at each other’s throat ever since they had the big fight over the great Egyptian plague. The Son never forgave His Father for massacring the firstborns. Since then, He had bugged our Lord of Limitless Magnanimity for every single massacre He had devised. His Son’s a softie, always been.”
“Bu-buh-but -” It took me more than ten “buts” before gliding over the roadblock in my larynx. “But damnation’s eternal! Hell is eternal! What’s the point?”
Gabriel raised his eyebrows again, then pulled the lids down without relaxing his forehead. I was beginning to find the diversity of his contemptuous facial remarks amusing rather than irritating. He then asked dulcetly, keeping his eyes closed: “Surely, Reverend Kelvin Lee, you must know that in the soul saving business, it’s the effort, not result, that counts. Did you not take that missionary position when you went to Hong Kong  five times?”
He knows! God da-da-da . . dit, he knows! 
But I had thoroughly repented, and repeatedly, superfluously . . . 
NOT FAIR!  Fu-fu-fu . . . fullelujah! 
I felt my cheeks burning for the first time since rigor mortis.
Gabriel waited for my mental shrieks to die down, then lifted his lids halfway. Radiation of smug satisfaction leaked through. He tossed his wings out a little - fluff - and adjusted himself in the imaginary chair. 
“Keep an open mind Kelvin,” he said in a kinder tone. “Heaven’s just how you’d pictured it, but failed to contemplate the details. That said, there’s no better place to spend eternity once you’ve come to terms with the mysterious ways in which Our Lord the Ultimate Magic and Indescribable Kindness moves.”
The way he spoke and praised God, I could not be sure whether he was being wicked, or just quaint and officious.
“Will He be back?” I finally asked.
“You mean Jesus? Of course. He comes home for the occasional Christmas with his virginal Mum.”
“May I ask what’d happened to the Trinity then?” 
“Nothing,” Gabriel said, nodding thoughtfully. “If you’ve bought a box of cereal, and it comes shrink-wrapped with a tube of toothpaste and a Hello Kitty sticker, the three have become one right?”
My mind kept drifting back to the incredible fact that he knows about my trips, and that I repented for years in vain . . . Hallelujah!
“But it doesn’t mean they’re equally important and inseparable.” He appeared pleased with his cleverly human analogy, and didn’t mind my mental digression. “The box of corn flakes will always assume the utmost priority. Fine, some might find the toothpaste useful, but nevertheless secondary in the Divine order of things. As for the cute little sticker? Yes it’s in an odd way part and parcel of the Trinity, but if you chuck it out, nobody would even notice.”
I couldn’t believe I was listening to the Archangel comparing Christ to a tube of bonus toothpaste. “There’s no point asking the Holy Spirit’s whereabout then.”
“That’d be very insightful of you Reverend.”
Gabriel flexed his wings again with manifest boredom, then collected them around his body the way women in big flared dresses do before sitting down. “So, Reverend, any more questions?” he asked.
“No Archangel, you’ve been most kind.”
“Very well then. In that case, I wish you a good stay.”
Gabriel was just turning to go when I remembered my neighbour Peter who died before my accident. He was Buddhist. An OK guy, a good guy in my view, but stubbornly heathenish, and morally indolent. Kind of weird too, and vegetarian. Now that there really is heaven, and God does exist, I feel vindicated yet sorry for him, and was curious if his sceptical soul was crackling in Hell or being purified in purgatory.
“If he’s Buddhist, then he’s probably neither here nor there. He might have reincarnated or gone to Nirvana. God knows.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. “You’re kidding me right?”
“I kid you not Sir. Buddhists don’t come here. They don’t believe in God. You don’t want a bunch of chanting atheists loitering about do you? Only good Christians and Muslims come here.”
I wished I could faint to take a break from all these nonsense. Muslims and Christians in the same Heaven while Buddhists get reincarnated. I took another deep breath, and felt it vanished.
Gabriel faced me again and explained. “Mystery is infinite Reverend. Up here, we know many things that they don’t down there - but we don’t know all either. Otherwise it wouldn’t be infinite would it? It seems that after death, you end up somewhere that resembles whatever you believed when alive. You believed in God the Everlasting Truth so bless your soul and here you are. Granted, some are surprised by the details, mostly because of their own failure to contemplate carefully.” 

He paused to stretch his wings yet once more and crane his neck at the same time like a swan. “Muslims and Christians believe in the one same true Him: God, Allah, Yahweh are the One. You are people of the same Book. You share holy stories, Archangels like my humble Self, prophets, and a passionately entwined history. So, all ye faithful come here if you’ve been provisionally good, same Heaven. Where else?” 
He then added as an after-thought: “Mind you, the verdict’s still out. Michael is supposed to work on the logic and logistics of the Last Judgement but he seems to be taking his time . . .”
“But Muslims are fundamental extremists! Terrorists!” I interrupted, shrieking. I’d forgotten to breath while he talked. Luckily, asphyxiation no longer harms me.
“See? You even have the same epithets for each other. Brothers are brothers.”
“And Buddhists end up somewhere else?”
“Probably.”
“How’s that possible!”
“Kelvin,” Gabriel said in a loud sigh, showing off there are things only the Archangels can still do in Heaven. “With your kind permission, I shall repeat myself this one final time for your benefit: We don’t exist in the mind of atheists, so how in Heaven’s name do you expect them to come here? They get recycled down there, then, one day, enlightenment! and off they go to Nirvana.”
“And where’s that?”
“How do I know? Reverend -” he raised his voice a few ominous decibels “- if you’re sitting in an Italian Restaurant, being patiently introduced to Chef’s Special by the Manager, don’t you think it kind of rude to enquire persistently what the Chinese Restaurant down the road might be serving?”
“I suppose -”
“Excellent! You should be happy and proud that what you’ve believed all your life is true.”
My words, like the air I breath, had also vanished.

Gabriel turned to leave without another farewell, mumbling audibly to himself: “Always like this isn’t it? The more you tell, the less they know, and the more they ask, on and on, as if there’s nothing else to do in eternity . . . “
__________________
After Gabriel fades out of sight, I let out a heavily muffled mental murmur: “So long you prissy feathery prig . . .” The juvenile remark, so unlike me, feels great. For the first time since arrival, I’m alone in my final resting place. Ironically, now that I’m here, I find Heaven unbelievable.  
I look around. There’s nothing to see.
I think about my life, my recent death, and this morning. Somehow, the pieces refuse to fit. I contemplate my surrealistic situation and the meaning of perpetuity, and feel emptily nauseous. 
Every now and then, an angelic zombie drifts by like a lone sea-horse in a bare aquarium with murky water. Most have wings but none flies. Perhaps they’re for decoration rather than aviation. A few are wingless and bemused like me - newly dead. I don’t feel hungry, or thirsty, or tired. These sensations have ceased. Good, there’ll be no need to find a bed if night should arrive. Doesn’t look like it will though. That’s right: In Heaven, there’s no darkness. How many times had I said that in sermons? I was right!
About thirty yards away, a man with scruffy wings moonwalks by. He’s  rapturous, as if high on something. 
I don’t s’pose they have bars around here? Boy, for once, I need a drink. 
That man’s in bliss. He’s in Heaven, no question about that. I try to ask his secrets. Excuse me . . . ? Again, the words can’t come out. Oh well, I’ll ask later. Perhaps in a million years or two. What’s the hurry?
“Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!” He yells happily, waving and smiling, blowing kisses in my direction.
I smile back out of politeness. Then, almost involuntarily, I holler: “God is Great! Brother!” My voice has returned with a deep and objective vibration. The words echo on powerfully. Perhaps only praising and respectful words can come out? It makes sense doesn’t it? There’s no end to everlasting life. If we’re allowed to speak freely, a slip of the tongue might happen once in a million years. What if we slip into something seriously blasphemous? Eternal fire will no longer be an option! Our words are therefore purified before leaving the tongue. How clever of our Father Who Lives a Thousand Eternities with Wisdom Shinning Through a Billion Universes! 
The man twists away merrily without registering my response, waving hands above head as if belly dancing, clapping his wings and wriggling his bum rhythmically. 
Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Huhuhuhu Akbabar!
Suddenly, my smile explodes into an unstoppable guffaw. I’m roaring, shrieking, bellowing rapturously to sum up my first day of Eternal Life.
YES!  There are no tears in Heaven.
__________________
Posted 16 Dec 2010 on Guo Du Blog
Merry X’mas Everyone!


中文版本“天堂”上集: http://guo-du.blogspot.hk/2010/12/blog-post_09.html


Heaven is available in printed form in the "Hong Kong Stories - As We See It" anthology:


4 comments:

Anonymous said...

You have a knack for story telling.I am thinking of sending this story to a preacher friend of mine,but he is prim and proper and might not take too kindly to my tastes in story telling. Sigh.......
alex6500

Anonymous said...

I like your story. If we only could see that Heaven and Hell are all the time with us and everybody is facing his or her God in his or her Heaven.

xiaomihu

Anonymous said...

Hilarious!

Christina said...

Enjoyed this thoroughly, James. Peace be with you!