Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
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by Nurul Fateha

Sometimes when you hit someone by the roadside because you're texting your sister while you're driving (read: speeding) and your car swerves to the left and hits the divider along with someone standing by, of course you get out of the car to see if the someone is still alive. You also come to be in such an urgent need of a sign that, if only it could, holler for all the world to hear like 'Yeah, I'm okay. Here, let me kick your ass for running into me with your car, thanks for texting while speeding.'

Which is exactly what he says as he gets up from the road at the spot where he has fallen earlier. He dusts his clothes and dirt falls of in puffs, all the time grumbling.

"Nothing broken?" I dare myself to ask.

He looks at me and I can see swear words running through his eyes; first in English, then German, then something else. "I'm fine," he replies, with ice and thorns in his voice. "Guess I can update my resume that I have had the privilege of being hit by a... let's see... damn nice wheels, a white Beemer 320i coupe, while the driver is texting and driving. Or speeding."

"Sorry, man. I am really sorry."

"Couldn't you wait until you got to a service station, or at least pull over before you starting fumbling with your phone?"

I don't answer. I don't have an answer. All I have are excuses. I know I should not text while driving (or speeding). I know I should have pulled over to the shoulder but I did not. I always believe (perhaps I have been delusional all this while) that in fact, I am able to text while driving. In my defense, everyone does it anyway.

But then again, if you're doing 160 on a 110km/h lane, of course you're asking for trouble. Catastrophe. Calamity. Unfortunate events. Accidents. You know.

"Uh, where are you heading? Let me drive you." I try to offer some sort of compensation. Hell, I'd take him to the other side if that's what it takes.

"Oh, that would make you less guilty, wouldn't it?" He raises a brow in sarcasm.

I have no answer again. All my years in the courtroom are no help at all.

"Well, you can't get me there, anyway," he said confidently.

I know he's angry, but can't he just let me take him wherever he's heading, for god's sake? I'll throw in whatever compensation he asks for. Lunch at Ritz, an Armani suit, a horse, a job.

"Come on. Please. I'm already guilty as hell." I am already begging.

"You can't." He earnestly shakes his head. "Look." He adds, and points to somewhere behind me, towards my car.

Fancy how the things you don't realize in a matter of ten minutes could turn your life 180 degree for the next ten and more. When I turn around to where he is pointing, the traffic has turned into a crawl. Everyone is gawking at the mess that I have crafted. The front of my car is all crushed, the windshield cracked up. Two policemen are desperately waving for the cars to just move. A fire engine arrives and three firemen jump out with their paraphernalia for disasters. I walk to the policemen and as I am about to say something to them (I am trying to think of excuses), I see me in the driver's seat, my head in a bloody waterfall of red and in a very nasty, if not bad, shape. I can no longer see my own face. My hand is still holding my cell phone. My hand has not even hit the 'send message' option.

I have read this in books, seen this in movies- how you're the last person to be aware that you're dead.

But..."How come I'm all bloody like this and you don't have even a scratch?" I walk back to the person I have hit, looking him up and down.

"I'm Death," he says, as if I should have recognized him from a billboard or a pictorial Oxford dictionary. It is only then that I see the scythe that he slings over his back, its blade gleaming under the sun.

"I am...?" I can practically feel my eyes almost popping out.

"Dead as a doorknob. A lamp post. A ..."

"A doorknob? Come on."

"Sorry, I'm still getting the hang of this. You're my first assignment as Death. But, yes, you're dead." We're still there by the roadside watching the firemen getting the other me out of my car. An ambulance has arrived now. As one of them carefully retrieves me from the driver's seat, he shakes his head to a paramedic and the two policemen.

"Fella doesn't even wear the seat belt. Fancy wheels like this and couldn't even bother to plug the damn thing in." He shakes his head and I can read genuine concern written on his face.

"Ouch." My companion-victim-Death frowns. "You weren't wearing the seat belt?"

"Apparently." I shove my hands into my jeans pocket. At least I don't look messy as a dead man. I could still smell my cologne, though now it is laced with the looming presence of decay, the kind of smell that you get when your cheese goes stale in your fridge because you forget to eat it.

"Let's go." He says, and starts walking. I take one long look at my car and finally follow him.

"We're walking? Where are we going?"

"To the other side. I can get you there in a blink. I just need to walk a bit," he says.

I walk alongside him, keep glancing at the scythe on his back. Save for the scythe, he is dressed unnervingly like a regular human. A shirt, jeans, hiking boots, a Tissot watch.

"Is getting hit part of your assignment?" I ask.

"What? Oh. No. You did not hit me. You just hit the divider. I just happened to be there to take you. I saw you coming speeding like that, I just lost my balance and tripped. Fell in front of your car which had already hit the divider."

"Oh." I frown. "But you said..."

"I figured you were in such a shock. I babbled around before I said you're dead."

He makes sense. I turn back to look at my car.

"Who were you texting that you had to reply while speeding?"

"My sister. She caught her husband with his secretary number 5."

Death nods. "Tough shit. Sorry I had to take you this way."

"Shit happens, they say," I reply, and just like that, just in being able to say it out loud without being ashamed of a mistake not even mine, I begin to laugh. I laugh with a relief for after this, there would be no more matrimonial hanky panky that would send me running around trying to save people and cleaning their blunders, doesn't matter that the marriage and all the shit they pledge 'in health and in sickness' are not even mine. Now I can start looking after myself. Except that I am dead.

"This other side. What's it like?"

"I have no idea. Doesn't come with my job. Don't worry. You can explore later. Plenty of time now you're dead." He says,"Plenty of girls, too," as if this is mighty comforting for me. It could be.

Hello, I am dead. Nice to meet you.


© 2011 Nurul Fateha

Bio: Nurul Fateha appreciates good books, music, food, money and solitude, and looks forward to someday getting a ride in a submarine.

E-mail: Nurul Fateha

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