THE DEVIL MAKES HIS APPEARANCE
I couldn’t think of ten things I wanted to do before I died.
I saw a movie once where the heroine is about to die, so she makes a list of ten things she wants to do before she passes away.
Ugh, what a load of crap. Maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh. But seriously, what even goes on a list like that? A bunch of junk probably.
How would I know that? Okay, look, I don’t really know, but I tried writing that stupid list and, let me tell you, I’m embarrassed of the results.
It all started seven days ago. I had this cold that I just couldn’t shake, but I kept going to work delivering mail every day despite it. I had a slight fever that was plaguing me and a pounding migraine on the right side of my head. Since I hate going to the doctor, I was just barely keeping myself together with the help of some over-the-counter drugs, but after two weeks with no improvement I finally caved in.
That’s when I found out it wasn’t a cold. It was, in fact, a brain tumor. Stage 4.
The doctor told me I had only six months to live, tops, but I’d be lucky if I made it another week. Then he explained my options—chemotherapy, anticancer drugs, palliative care … but I had stopped listening.
I was thinking about how when I was little we used to go to the pool during our summer vacation. One time I jumped into the cold blue water with a splash, and then sank slowly to the bottom.
“You have to warm up before you jump in!”
It was my mother’s voice. But underwater she sounded muffled. For some reason this strange memory popped into my head. It was a moment I’d almost completely forgotten until now.
I couldn’t be in the examination room any longer. I decided to end the appointment. The doctor’s words still hung in the air as I lurched out of the room, and I ran outside screaming and knocking into pedestrians around me, ignoring the doctor’s pleas for me to stop. I stumbled and fell to the ground. When I picked myself back up again, I ran through the streets with my arms flailing around wildly until I reached the foot of a bridge and felt like I couldn’t run any farther; then I sank to my knees and let out a sob.
* * *
Well, no, that’s a lie. Maybe that’s not exactly what happened.
The fact of the matter is, in reality people tend to be surprisingly calm when they hear news like this.
When I found out my diagnosis, the first thought that popped into my head was that I was one stamp away from earning a free massage at the spa, and also that I shouldn’t have stocked up on so much toilet paper and laundry detergent during my last shopping trip.
But it wasn’t long until I was overcome by a bottomless sadness. I was only thirty years old. Okay, I know that means that I’ve lived longer than Hendrix and Basquiat, but somehow I felt like I still had a lot of unfinished business. There must be something, I didn’t know what, but something on this planet that only I was meant to accomplish.
But I didn’t really dwell on any of this. Instead I wandered in a daze until I reached the train station, where I spotted a couple of young guys playing guitar and singing.
This life will someday have to end, so until that final day arrives,
Do what you want to do, do it, do all you can,
That’s how you face tomorrow.
Idiots, I thought. Now that’s what I call a complete lack of imagination. No wonder they’re wasting their time singing and panhandling their lives away in front of this god-awful station.
I was so angry I couldn’t bear to wait around for the train and listen to these two guys go on any longer, so I decided to head home on foot and take my sweet time to get back to my apartment. Once I reached home, I clattered up the stairs and opened the cardboard-thin door to the cramped little space that I called home. It was then that the realization of the utter hopelessness of my situation finally caught up with me. The outlook was bad. I mean literally, for I couldn’t see a thing all of a sudden, and then I fainted right there on the doorstep.
* * *
When I came to, I was still lying in the doorway. God knows how long I’d been there for. In front of me I could make out the shape of a blurry, round, black-and-white ball with gray patches. The ball made a noise: “Meow.” That’s when I realized it was a cat. But not just any cat; it was my cat, the one I’ve been living with for four years now. He came closer and let out another meow. I took this as a sign that he was worried about me. But since I wasn’t dead yet, I righted myself and sat up. I still had a fever and my head continued to throb. Then reality hit me again and I realized this wasn’t a dream. I really was sick.
Then, out of nowhere, someone’s voice bellowed from across the room:
“Hello! So great to meet you!”
I looked up and there I was. I mean, it was me, standing there, looking at me. Although technically it couldn’t be me because I was still sitting in the doorway to the apartment. Maybe it was someone who looked just like me, I thought. The word “doppelgänger” sprang to mind. I had read something about this sort of thing in a book ages ago. There’s another you who appears when you’re about to die.
Had I finally gone crazy? I wondered. Was my time already up? My head was starting to spin, but I knew I had to tackle whatever it was that was standing before me head-on.
“Um, who are you?”
“Who do you think?”
“Uhh … the angel of death?”
“I’m the devil.”
“Yes, the devil!”
And that’s how, in a surprisingly low-key kind of way, the devil appeared in my life.
Have you ever seen him? Well, I have, and he’s not what you’d expect. The real devil doesn’t have a scary red face or a pointy tail, and there’s no pitchfork in sight! The devil looks just like you. So I guess the real doppelgänger is the devil!
It was a shocking discovery and a lot to process in the moment, but what could I do about it? Here was the devil in my apartment, and surprisingly enough, he seemed like a nice guy, so I decided not to freak out and to just go along with it.
Upon closer inspection, I realized that although the devil looked exactly like me, we couldn’t have been more different when it came to our sense of style. I always dress in basic black and white. I mostly wear black slacks with a plain white shirt and a black sweater. Boring, I know, but that’s just who I am deep down—a monotone guy. I remember ages ago my mother once got fed up with my wardrobe choices. “There you go buying the same thing over and over again,” she’d complain, but to this day I still find myself sticking to my comfort zone whenever I go shopping.
The devil, on the other hand, dresses, um, shall we say, unconventionally? Brightly colored Hawaiian shirts with patterns of palm trees and classic American cars, board shorts, and a pair of Ray-Bans propped on top of his head—as if he were permanently on vacation. Despite it being freezing outside, for the king of the underworld, clearly it was always summer.
“So what are you going to do now?” he inquired.
“I mean, you haven’t got a lot of time left … you know, your life expectancy thing and all that.”
“Oh, that, right…”
“So, what are you going to do?”
“Well, I thought maybe I’d start with coming up with a list of ten things…”
“Ugh, don’t tell me you’re going to copy that old movie cliché, are you?”
“Yeah, sort of, I guess…”
“You’d really do something that corny?”
“You think that’s a bad move?”
“Well, I mean, sure, a lot of people do it and proclaim they’ll check every last item off of their bucket list … You know the kind, right? It’s a phase that everyone goes through at least once. Although I guess it’s not as if you get a second chance now, do you?” Holding his sides, the devil let out a huge guffaw at this last thought.
“I don’t really see what’s so funny about this…”
“Ah, right, right … of course. Hm … Well, I guess you never know until you try, right? Why don’t we draw up a quick list right now then,” he suggested.
So I got out a sheet of blank paper and wrote at the top of the page, “10 Things I Want to Do Before I Die.” Then I paused. I started feeling even more depressed immediately.
I’m going to die any day now, and here I am wasting my time writing up lists? You’ve got to be kidding.
It was difficult at first to organize my thoughts, but somehow I managed to cobble a list together, despite the fact that the entire time I was working I had to avoid the devil, who was constantly trying to peek over my shoulder. And not to mention the fact that at one point I also had to forcibly remove the cat from my desk, because like all cats he always thinks it’s good idea to sit on whatever you’re trying to work on or read.
So, after all that, here’s the list I came up with:
1. Go skydiving.
2. Climb Mount Everest.
3. Speed along on the autobahn in a Ferrari.
4. Indulge in a three-day-long feast of gourmet Chinese food.
5. Take a ride on a Transformer’s back.
6. Fly to Paris and fall in love.
7. Go on a date with Princess Leia.
8. Turn a corner just in time to bump into a beautiful woman who’s carrying a cup of coffee, then watch our passionate love affair unfold.
9. During a torrential rainstorm, run for shelter under the same awning as the girl I had a crush on in school.
10. Did I mention that I’d like to fall in love? Just once …
“Ugh, what is this?” the devil asked incredulously. “Are you being serious?”
“Uh, well, you know…,” I stammered.
“C’mon, you’re not a schoolboy anymore! Frankly, I’m a little embarrassed for you.”
“Sorry! I’m so sorry.”
Yeah, I know, I’m pathetic. I had racked my brains and this was the best I could come up with. Even the cat looked disgusted with me. I could tell he was keeping his distance.
“There, there now…” The devil patted me on the shoulder in an attempt to cheer me up. “Okay, tell ya what, why don’t we see about taking that skydiving trip, huh? Just a quick visit to the ATM and then it’s off to the airport we go!”
Two hours later I found myself on a jet plane three miles up in the air.
“Okay, ready?” asked the devil, cheerful as ever. “Geronimo!” he hollered as he gave me a shove, and the next thing I knew I was falling out of the plane.
It was as I’d always dreamed it would be. The bright blue sky opened up, the clouds towered around me, and the earth’s horizon stretched on forever. I always thought that things would never look the same again after I’d seen the world from so high up, that I’d suddenly stop sweating the small stuff and realize that I need to grab life by the horns.
But that’s not how it went at all. Instead I instantly regretted my decision, before I’d even jumped. I was cold and way high up there on the plane, and the whole thing was just terrifying.
Why would someone go and jump out of a plane of their own free will? Was this what I really wanted? I pondered these things as I fell to earth, before a darkness consumed me once again.
When I came to, this time I was lying on my bed back home in my tiny apartment. Again, it was the cat’s meow that roused me. I struggled to sit upright with my head throbbing and feeling worse than ever.
“Do not make me do that again!” I screamed.
Aloha (I decided that the devil, decked as he was in his Hawaiian shirt, would henceforth be known as Aloha) was sitting on the edge of my bed, his brow creased with worry.
“My apologies for the inconvenience.”
“Hey, I could’ve died out there … Well, okay, I realize I’m going to die anyway, but really…”
Aloha was splitting his sides.
Unimpressed with his joke, I scooped the cat up and snuggled him against my chest for comfort. He was warm and soft—a smooth, fluffy ball of fur in my arms. I’d cuddled up with the little guy countless times over the years without thinking much about it, but now, for the first time ever, it occurred to me that maybe this little act of comfort was what life was all about.
“The thing is, there’s just not many things I want to do before I die,” I admitted.
“At least, I don’t think I could come up with ten. And the ones I can think of are all probably pretty boring.”
“Well, I guess that’s life, huh?”
“I guess…” I trailed off. “Well, actually, I was wondering. Could I ask you something?”
“Yeah, I was wondering … why did you come here? I mean, what are you doing here?”
Aloha let out an unsettling laugh, then asked deviously, “Do you really want to know? Well, then, I’ll tell you.”
“Uh … Okay, now you’re scaring me.” The sudden change in Aloha’s tone made me wince. I had a bad feeling about this. All my instincts were telling me that there was trouble up ahead.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
Did I really want to hear whatever he was about to say? I wondered. I took a deep breath to steel my nerves. It’s okay, I’ll be okay, I reassured myself. I’m just asking a question. Nothing wrong with asking a simple question.
“Nothing. It’s fine,” I said. “I’d like to know. So go ahead. Shoot.”
“Well, it turns out you’re going to die tomorrow.”
“Your time’s up tomorrow. That’s what I came here to tell you.”
I was stunned speechless. The initial shock was followed swiftly by a feeling of deep despair, and suddenly my entire body felt weak and my knees trembled.
“Hey, don’t be so down,” said Aloha in a cheerful tone. “Look at me, I’m here to help! This is your way out. I’ve come to make you an offer.”
“Way out? What do you mean?”
“You don’t want to die now, do you? In your sorry state?”
“No, I want to live … if I can.”
Without missing a beat Aloha went on: “Well, then, there is something we could do…”
“Do? What do you mean?”
“Well, you could call it a kind of magic. I could, perhaps, prolong your life span.”
“But there’s one condition, and you must accept this one fundamental law of the universe.”
“And that is?”
“In order to gain something, you have to lose something.”
“What does that mean exactly?”
“Oh, nothing too complicated. It’s just a matter of a simple exchange.”
“Exchange of what?”
“All you have to do is remove one thing from the world, and in return, you’ll get one more day of life.”
“You’re kidding. That’s all?” I might have been desperate, but I hadn’t completely lost my mind. I wondered what gave Aloha the right to make such an offer in the first place.
“Now, you’re probably wondering what gives me the right to do that.”
“Uh … No, what makes you say that?” Was he for real? Did Aloha have ESP? I wondered.
“Of course I can read minds! Hello, I’m the devil, remember?”
“Of course you can.”
“Anyway, I don’t want to rush you, but we don’t have much time, so you’re going to have to get on board quickly. Are you with me? A simple transaction is all I ask for.”
“So says you.”
“Okay, then, since you don’t believe me, let me tell you how this transaction came to be,” he said, lying back and making himself comfortable next to me on the bed. “You’re familiar with the Book of Genesis?”
“You mean the Bible? Yes, I’m somewhat familiar with it, but I’ve never actually read through it.”
“Oh, that’s too bad. This would have gone a lot faster if you had.”
“Whatever, it’s fine. I’ll just give you the highlights. First of all, God created the world in seven days.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard this part.”
Aloha continued, “On the first day the world was covered in darkness; then God said, ‘Let there be light!’ and then there was day and night. On the second day, God created the heavens, and on the third day he created the earth—now that’s what I call one helluva creation! Next thing you know the oceans swelled and plants took root.”
“Pretty impressive,” I agreed.
“You’re telling me!” Aloha continued, “And then, on the fourth day he created the sun, the moon, and the stars in the sky, and the universe was born! On the fifth day fish and birds were created, and on the sixth day he created animals, and made man in his own image. That’s when you enter the picture!”
“Yes, I remember it now. The creation of heaven and earth, the cosmos, and then humankind makes an appearance. And on the seventh day? What happened?”
“On the seventh day he rested. Even God needs to take a break now and then.”
“And that’s Sunday, right?”
“Exactly. Now isn’t that incredible? He did all that in just seven days. This dude is just awesome! You know, I have so much respect for him.”
I’m no expert, but it seemed to me that referring to God as a “dude” was a tad disrespectful.
Aloha continued, “The first man’s name was Adam. But God thought he might be lonely since he was the only human around, so he created a woman, Eve, from Adam’s rib. But then the two of them were just hanging out without much to do, so I decided to spice things up a bit. I suggested to God that I get them to eat the apple.”
“Right. See, the two of them were living in the Garden of Eden, which was a kind of paradise where they could do anything they wanted and eat anything they wanted. But that’s not all, there was no such thing as aging or death. There was just one thing they weren’t allowed to do—to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That’s where the apple comes in … the forbidden fruit.”
“I paid Adam and Eve a visit and suggested to them that they eat the apple, and y’know what? They actually did it!”
“Wow, you really are evil.”
“Now, now, hold your applause. So, the two of them were driven out of paradise. Which meant that humans would be fated to experience aging and death, and so began a long history of conflict and struggle.”
“Man, that’s diabolical.”
“I appreciate your admiration, but it really wasn’t that big of a deal. Not long after all this went down, God sent his own son, Jesus Christ, down to earth, but not even that could persuade human beings to take a cold hard look at themselves and repent. Then, to top it off, the humans go and kill this Jesus dude.”
“Oh, yeah, I’ve heard about that part.”
“After that, human beings just became more and more selfish. They started using all their time to make all sorts of newfangled objects—you know, all those little doodads you’re not sure you really need. They made more and more of them without any inclination of stopping. So I made another suggestion, you know, to God. I said to him, ‘Look, how about I go down to earth and help those humans decide what they really need and what they don’t?’ And then, I made a deal with God. I said, ‘Whenever those humans decide to get rid of something, as a reward, I’ll extend their life for one day.’ I was given the power to do that, and ever since then, I’ve been doing a lot of hunting for prospective clients, people I can do business with. And that’s how I came to you. I’ve made deals with all kinds of people. As a matter of fact, you’re number 108.”
“Number 108, huh?”
“That’s right! Not that many, eh? Only one hundred and eight people in the entire world accepted the deal. You’re really lucky, you know? By simply making one thing disappear from the earth, you can extend your life by one day. Isn’t that great?!”
It was such an unexpected and ridiculous offer. Aloha sounded just like a used-car salesman, desperate to sell you something. How could you possibly extend your life by making such a simple swap? Although, setting aside for a moment the question of whether I actually believed him, I wasn’t exactly in a position to refuse. Either way, I was going to die. I didn’t really have a choice.
I started to think through the terms of the deal. Aloha said by making something disappear from the world, I could live for one more day. Let’s see now, that would be thirty items a month, 365 per year. It would be simple. The world is basically drowning in crap anyways. All those small, silly, useless things like the parsley they put on an omelet, or the promotional flyers they’re always sticking on your windshield. Or how about those lengthy user manuals that come with your new fridge or washing machine. Or watermelon seeds. All kinds of unnecessary things spring to mind. If you really think about it, you could come up with at least one or two million things the world could do without.
If I’m supposed to live to seventy, that would mean I have forty more years left on the clock. So if I get rid of 14,600 items, I could die a natural death at the age of seventy after all.
Aloha had a point: For thousands of years, humankind has done nothing but make useless things. So if something were to disappear, no one would notice. In fact, the world would be a simpler place. People would thank me for this!
I mean, just take a look at what I do for a living: I’m a postman. Pretty soon, postmen will be extinct because no one writes letters or postcards anymore—we’re becoming obsolete. When you think about it, there must be all kinds of things cluttering up the world that are borderline unnecessary. Maybe the entire human race is unnecessary and the world we live in has no meaning at all.
“Okay. Fine.” I agree to the exchange. “Go ahead and make something disappear. I want to live longer.” I accepted the terms. Once I’d made the decision to give up some of the things in my life, I suddenly felt a lot bolder.
“Oh, wow, really?” Aloha seemed bowled over by my decision. “Great! Now you’re talking!”
“So what should I erase?” I asked, looking around the apartment. “Hmmm, let’s see … First of all, how about we get rid of these stains on the wall.”
Aloha stared blankly at me and said nothing.
“Ooooh-kay, then, how about the dust on top of the bookshelves?”
“I know, let’s get rid of that mold growing on the bathroom tiles!”
“C’mon now, what do you think I am, the maid? Let’s not forget that this is the devil you’re working with.”
“Oh, am I not thinking along the right lines?”
“What did you expect? I’m the one who gets to decide.”
“And how do you decide what to get rid of?”
“How? Well, now that you ask, I suppose it’s just a feeling, or it depends on what mood I’m in.”
“Uh-huh. So what’s it gonna be?” Aloha said as he surveyed the room. I followed his gaze, the whole time silently pleading: Don’t touch that figurine, and not those limited-edition sneakers!
I was being given my life in return for anything he might take. This is exactly what they mean when they talk about making a pact with the devil—it’s not supposed to be easy. What if he chose something really big to make disappear? Like the sun or the moon or the ocean or the earth itself? Would that be enough for him? Just as it was dawning on me what a big deal this really was, Aloha’s stare settled on something sitting on the table.
“What’s this?” he asked, grabbing the small packet and shaking it. A rattling sound escaped from the box.
“Those are chocolate chip cookies. You know, Chips Ahoy.”
“No, Chips Ahoy.”
This didn’t seem to make any sense to Aloha, who tilted his head and looked puzzled. “Okay, then what’s this?” he asked, picking up a similar-looking box that was sitting next to the first one and giving it a shake. It made the same rattling sound.
“Those are Butterfingers.”
“No, not butter … fingers, Butterfingers.”
“That makes no sense.”
“Sorry. They’re chocolate treats.”
“That’s right.” I had won the boxes of treats in a raffle at the grocery store a few days earlier, and they’d been sitting there on the table ever since. I had to admit, though, that we did give pretty weird names to some of our snack foods. It was no wonder the devil was confused.
“Ah, yes. I’ve heard about how much humans love chocolate. Okay, well then. Shall we do the chocolates?”
“We’re deciding what’s going to disappear from the world! Don’t you remember?”
“Isn’t that kind of a random, impulsive choice?”
“Well, it is your first go at this…”
If chocolates disappeared from the world, how would the world change? I tried to imagine what it might be like.
Let’s see, chocolate addicts around the world would grieve, cry, and scream. Then their blood sugar levels would fall, and I suppose they would live out the rest of their lives in a state of lethargy.
In a world without chocolate, would marshmallows and caramel just take its place? I wondered. Probably not—I don’t think they have the same appeal as chocolate—and besides, people would probably just get right to work on coming up with a new kind of sweet thing to replace chocolate. It just goes to show how insatiable we humans can be when it comes to food.
The cat sat next to me, munching on the Meow Mix that I had poured for him that morning. As I watched him, I realized that for the most part we just call cat food “cat food.” But humans, we’re not satisfied with calling all our food “human food.” No, we’re much fussier than that. We need names for all of our different meals.
Human beings put a lot of time and effort into what we eat—finding the right flavors, preparing the ingredients, even forming the food into beautiful shapes. Chocolate is a prime example of this. Some chocolates are covered in nuts, while others are chocolate-coated wafers or shaped like little hearts. Chocolate seems to have really inspired humans to come up with all sorts of new ideas. Perhaps that’s what drives all human progress: an insatiable desire for new things. It kind of made me feel like I’ve been lucky to have tasted chocolate at all.
However, I would be crazy to stand up and proclaim, “I would gladly give my life up for chocolate!” I don’t think there’s anybody in the entire world who’s that stupid. If giving up chocolate can save my life, then why not? If that’s all it takes, then let’s do it! There must be loads of similar things that I can easily give up to buy me more time.
Just as I was beginning to feel like this deal might not be such a bad thing and started to see a speck of hope in my future, Aloha spoke.
“Does this stuff taste good?” he asked, gazing at the boxes of chocolates.
“Not bad,” I answered. “Have you ever tried it?”
“Here, have one,” I offered.
“No, thanks. Human food doesn’t agree with my stomach. It’s just not my cup of tea.”
“Oh, that’s too bad.”
I was about to ask what his normal diet consists of, but then I thought perhaps that was something I didn’t really want to know the answer to. Meanwhile, Aloha’s curiosity seemed to be getting the best of him. He grabbed the box of Chips Ahoy, took a whiff, then stared at the cookies. Slowly, cautiously, he brought the cookie to his lips, then scrunched his eyes shut and shoved it in his mouth.
The room echoed with the sound of Aloha’s muffled chewing.
“How is it?” I asked, but Aloha kept his eyes closed and stayed silent. “Not good?”
Aloha let out a soft groan.
“Are you okay? Should I call an ambulance or something?”
“Mmmmff … wow! That’s delicious!”
“What do they put in these things? They’re just too good! Are you sure you want to get rid of them? That would be such a waste!”
“Wait a minute, this was your idea.”
“Well, I stand corrected. I didn’t realize that chocolate would be so tasty.”
“But if I don’t get rid of something, I’ll die! Isn’t that what you said?”
“Mmmm, well, you could put it like that.”
“Okay, then good-bye, chocolate!”
“Really?” Aloha asked again, sounding crestfallen.
“Yes, really,” I replied with certainty, even though I was beginning to feel sorry for him. But my answer was final.
“Okay. But just one more!” Aloha exclaimed.
“I just want one more. That’s all. This’ll be the last one, I swear.”
Aloha’s eyes began to well up with tears. He looked so pathetic. He had really taken a shine to chocolate. Stealthily, when he thought I was distracted, he grabbed a few more cookies out of the box and stuffed them into his mouth, savoring the taste. When he was done chewing, he spoke again.
“Mmmm, yeah, y’know what? I just can’t do it.”
“It would be a crime to get rid of something so delicious.”
“You can’t be serious!”
How could he change his mind so easily? I mean, this was my life we were talking about here! I thought I’d come to terms with the fact that I was going to die soon, but now that I’d been offered a way out, I found myself willing to try anything, no matter how ridiculous it seemed.
I’d always thought that when my time came, I’d go quietly, peacefully, and with dignity—that’s how I always imagined it would happen. But when death stares you in the face, you find yourself willing to accept a helping hand from anyone, even the devil, in order to stay alive. It’s basic human instinct. Dignity and respectability fly out the window at that point.
“I’m not entirely okay with this,” I protested.
“What’s this now? Not having a crisis of conscience, are we?”
“What do you mean? Of course I’m having a crisis! It’s my life you’re dealing with here, and you think you can decide whether I live or die based on what you happen to crave?”
“Why not? I mean, I am the devil.”
This was too much for me to handle. I was speechless.
“Oh, c’mon! Don’t look so depressed. I’ll think of something else. I’ll come up with something right away. ASAP!” Aloha’s eyes quickly darted around the apartment. You could tell he was trying to make up for having changed his mind the first time around.
Not that impressive for a devil, I thought as I gave him an icy stare while he continued scanning the room.
Then, all of a sudden, my mobile phone rang. Someone was calling from the post office where I work. I looked at the clock. It was well past the time I usually begin my shift. The voice on the other end of the line belonged to my boss, the postmaster. Sounding slightly annoyed, he pointed out that I was late. However, just the day before when I’d left work early to go to the doctor, he’d actually seemed kind of worried about me.
“I’m going to be okay, boss, but I need some more time off to recover. Could I maybe have the rest of the week off?” After he agreed to give me a week of sick leave, I hung up.
“That’s it!” exclaimed the devil.
“That, right there.” Aloha stabbed his finger in the direction of my phone. “Now that looks like something you don’t need.”
“You mean my phone?”
“Yes! Let’s get rid of it,” he cried ecstatically. “What do you think? One day of life in exchange for your phone.”
If phones disappeared from the world, what would I gain and what would I lose? I wondered.
Just as my thoughts began to race, Aloha leaned in toward me, uncomfortably close, and asked, “So what are you going to do?”
I weighed the pros and cons. One day of life or the phone. Hmmm, I wondered …
“Use it or lose it!” Aloha warned.
“J-just give me a minute!”
“Okay, I’ll give you twenty seconds.” He paused. “Now … ten seconds, nine, eight, seven…”
“Okay, can you cut it out with the mission-control thing? Whatever, fine. Just go ahead and make it disappear! Get rid of it!” I wasn’t entirely sure that I was making the right decision, but it wasn’t like I was in a position to be dithering about it. My life or my phone. Obviously, I’ll choose life.
“Okay! Here we go!” The devil sounded like he was having a blast, as usual.
In that moment, I suddenly remembered that I had never got around to calling my father. I haven’t seen or contacted him since Mom died four years ago. I had heard that he was still running his little clock-repair shop in the old neighborhood not far from where I live now, but I’d never thought of visiting. Not even once. I’ll admit, it felt kind of odd not bothering to drop your own father a line, especially when your time on earth is limited.
I don’t know if Aloha sensed my hesitation just then, but he suddenly shot me that big grin of his and said, “There, there, I understand. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. When it comes to actually erasing things from your life, it really makes you start to think. That’s why I always include a special offer.”
“What kind of offer?”
“Just before we seal the deal, you have the right to use the thing you’re about to erase one last time.”
“Oh, I see.”
“So, you’re allowed to make one last phone call. You can call anyone you want.”
Aloha’s offer only made me feel more confused. One last call to anyone I want? Of course the first person who sprang to mind was my dad. But I couldn’t help remembering what had happened between us four years ago. And now that so much time had passed, what would we even have to talk about? I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
So who will it be instead? I wondered. Who gets my last phone call? Maybe someone I’ve known my entire life. A close friend like K.? He was definitely a great guy, and if only we could find the time to hang out again after all these years, I’m sure we would still get along great. But on the other hand, we never really had any deep, meaningful, or serious conversations. How would K. react if I called him out of the blue to tell him that I was dying and that my phone was about to disappear, which is why I thought I’d give him a ring just now? He’d think I’d lost my mind. He’d assume it was some sort of joke, and my final phone call would be wasted. That didn’t seem like the best way to use your last phone call ever. Back to the drawing board.
I thought of a close friend at work, W. He was always easygoing and helped me out anytime I could use an extra hand. He was a bit older and wiser than me, always willing to give me some advice, whether it was work-related or general life advice. He was like my work big brother. But I don’t know … it being the middle of the workday and all … I didn’t really want to bother him. Just the fact that I was worrying about bothering W. with no warning gave me the feeling that maybe I should be using my last phone call on earth to get in touch with a different kind of acquaintance in my life. In fact, when I really think about it, W. and I never really talked about anything important either. Sure, when I was drunk and having a good time out with the guys I work with (which happened often since I’m a cheap date and can get drunk on just one beer), I might have thought we were really confiding in each other, but when you really get down to it, we weren’t. We might have thought that we were talking about stuff that really mattered, but I can’t really think of an example of any meaningful heart-to-hearts we had.
I pulled up my list of contacts on my phone and scrolled through them as fast as I could to rack my brain. Names of friends and acquaintances flashed before my eyes one after the other. Each name seemed to carry a hidden meaning. Countless people with whom I seemed to have had some kind of a relationship, but when push comes to shove, I didn’t actually share much of a connection with them after all.
Here I was standing at death’s door and I couldn’t think of a single person I cared enough about to call. I’ve connected with many people over the course of my life, but the relationships were ultimately all superficial. It’s really depressing—too depressing—to realize something like that at the end of your life.
I wasn’t keen to talk to Aloha about how I was feeling, so instead I left the room to go sit alone on the stairs, my fingers clasped tightly around my phone. Then all of a sudden a number began to surface in the back of my brain. It was her number. A number that wasn’t saved in my contacts list, but it was as if it had been tattooed on my body all along. Slowly I began to dial …
* * *
After a few minutes, I finished the call and reentered the room, where I found Aloha playing with the cat. Actually it was more like they were roughhousing with each other. Aloha seemed to have completely forgotten about me, so I watched in silence for a while as the two of them rolled and tumbled around on the floor together. Minutes went by before Aloha was finally aware of my cold stare.
“Oh! You’re back,” he said, sounding somewhat embarrassed, and pulled himself up off the floor. He turned to face me, making an effort to put on a serious face. “Are you done?”
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The prince of darkness likes to play with cats? There was no use in him trying to act all cool and pretend like I hadn’t seen anything. But despite this I didn’t say anything and stifled my laughter. I composed myself and answered him calmly: “Yes, quite finished.”
“Okay, let’s get to work. Let’s make that phone disappear!”
Aloha looked delighted and attempted to give me a wink, but it was kind of a pathetic wink since he didn’t seem to be able to close one eye at a time, so he just squinted both eyes in my direction.
Suddenly the phone that had been in my hand just a minute ago was nowhere to be seen.
“All right. Done. See ya tomorrow.”
When I looked back up, the devil was gone and the cat let out a sad meow that echoed off the walls of my apartment.
* * *
I was going to see her again—the person I had called. Her, I thought later that evening as I drifted off into a deep sleep.
And that’s how my seven-day odyssey began.
Copyright © 2012 by Genki Kawamura
Translation copyright © 2019 by Eric Selland