Sunday, July 20, 2008


So it turns out there is a Heaven after all. Yeah, I know... I was pretty surprised about it too.

But there I was one morning, in a gleaming light breathing that thin and unsatisfying oxygen you get at the top of mountains. I saw a long, white fence, so I started to walk towards it. I figured it was heaven, but something was a bit off - up close and personal, the Pearly Gates weren't really all that impressive. And what's more, it wasn't really made of pearl but that kind of knock-off cultivated mother-of-pearl that adorns two-dollar made-in-China souvenir trinkets. You know the stuff. Plus the guard was seated at the kind of plywood table you find at church raffles and craft shows. He had a pin on his lapel - "Hello! My name is St. Peter" - but he was fast asleep, his hands still clutching a "People" magazine. I decided to let myself in.

You know, Heaven is huge, absolutely huge. I do a lot of wandering but there are still entire districts, entire subdivisions I've never set foot in. It's not like it really matters, though; it all looks the same. It's just dirt road after dirt road with rows of interchangeable pre-fabricated shanties-cum-mud huts. Heaven looks an awful lot like Mexico City.

Surprised? Yeah, so was I. With St. Peter fast asleep, there was no one to give me the grand tour, but luckily I met a guy from late 19th-century Nigeria who showed me the ropes. He must have seen how lost I looked, so he came up and shook my hand. "Newly dead? Welcome to Heaven, my friend. St. Peter asleep at the wheel again?" I nodded. He smiled and said, "Oh yeah. Happens all the time. So how did you die, my friend?" I shrugged. "Hm...," he mused, "must have been in your sleep then. Well, they always say that's the best way to die."

A thought that had been building in me suddenly sprung to life and forced its way out of my mouth: "But I was never a very good person. If this is Heaven, why am I not in Hell?" At this, my acquaintance laughed that deep heartfelt laugh you hear so often from African mouths. "Hell? Ah no, my friend. This here is all that there is. Hell's just something they made up to frighten the little kiddies. You know, like the bogeyman. Or... you don't believe in the bogeyman as well, do you?" He laughed again before suddenly shouting, "Boo!" and completely collapsing in hysterics.

I stood there waiting for him to regain composure. As his laughter subsided, he wiped a tear from his eye and suddenly got very serious. "No, man. Heaven's not about good and evil, punishment and reward, Christian and Pagan... Heaven's just a big dumping ground for all these souls. A soul's got to go somewhere when it dies, right? So it comes here. Spiritual landfill, man, that's where we are. Have a nice afterlife!" He smiled. I didn't.

"So... is one of these, er, houses mine?"

He shrugged. "Sure. Just take any empty one. Those ones over there are pretty new, so just help yourself. We're all supposed to be assigned housing, but nobody ever really comes round to check."

I took his advice and opened the first unlocked door I could find. It was pretty grim inside, with just a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling, an old folding chair with a broken leg and a damp, musty smell in the air. The only thing that looked reasonably new was the harp resting against the wall in the corner.

Oh the harp. The damned harp. It turns out that Jesus, who is King around here after all, has a bit of a thing for the harp. He figures he's creating some kind of mass harp orchestra to raise the heavens for Second Coming or something. So every now and then the loudspeakers will crackle to life and announce a round of compulsory harp lessons: attendance mandatory. But he's the only one who seems much interested. I must have been to a hundred of the lessons and still I can barely pluck out "Mary Had a Little Lamb". There's a guy around here who can play a mean "House of the Rising Sun", but apparently that's not Jesus's kind of music.

I always figured if there was a heaven that it'd be a place for grand reunions with dearly-departed loved ones. But the thing is that it's just too overcrowded and disorganised here. There is a directory, but it hasn't been updated since 1986 and, anyway, people keep moving house and they wander about aimlessly here. The closest I've come to a tear-jerking reunion is meeting some old lady who figures she might have been in a quilting circle with my great-aunt Lucy back in the fifties. But she's not sure. Apart from that, it's all fleeting friendships and one-night-stands as we while away the hours of Eternity.

There's a canteen nearby. Of course, being dead and all, you don't have to eat, but sometimes you miss it and want to. Mostly though, it's just surly women ladling lukewarm manna from giant vats onto chipped and stained porcelain plates. Though there is fish on Fridays. Sometimes Jesus will whip up a little water-wine, but all we ever get is a small Dixie cup full of it, and it's not that great. Turns out Jesus can only transform water into the kind of cheap hooch that they sell in Tetra-Paks. Who knew.

Still, it's a little something to help you while away the days up here in this underfunded afterlife. There's a big list of urban development plans - things like asphalt roads and indoor plumbing - but the bureaucracy is terrible and it just keeps getting delayed.

Oh well. Eternity is a long time, after all.


Anonymous said...

I always wonder what people will do after the first quintillion years of eternity when they are faced with the fact that they are back at the beginning of eternity again.

How many games of solitaire can one play forever?

Laurie said...

That was hilarious!

Thanks for visiting my site. I might see you around on the Nexus :-)