“A cloud? I can stand on it… It’s so bright here. Is this fog?…”
With no reference to any visible horizon his body tilted, and he felt himself falling to the side. He reached out, but there was nothing to grab onto. With a soft thump, the “cloud” arrested his fall, as if it were a thick, plush mattress. Confused, he looked around again, and the brightness of the surroundings began to relax. What seemed like fog, or smoke – separated. He was lying on pavement, in what looked like a street in London.
“Concrete… ” He touched the surface with disbelief. It was rough, but clean, leaving no residue on his fingers. Looking around, his eyes adjusted to the new surroundings. A narrow street, between two rows of buildings. Pavements on either side. Shops with large windows, with items for sale on display. Above, two floors more, just like most parades of shops he’s used to seeing. Average colours, but pleasant… spotless actually. As if someone built them yesterday. The weather was sunny, with pleasant warmth showering his confused mind. No cars on the road. No people… but… wait…
The sound of his name jolted him to a higher level of awareness. Where did it come from? He’s raised himself on his arms, attempting to sit up. Tap, tap, tap, tap – the high heels of the swiftly approaching woman announced their presence.
– It’s OK, don’t stand up yet.
She knelt down beside him, trying to support his shoulder, whilst he wriggled himself into some sort of sitting position.
– There’s a bench here, come on, I’ll help you up. Oopsie, daisie, up we go… there, that’s better, isn’t it…
She smiled at him, whilst touching his shoulders, face and arms as if making sure he’s sitting firmly. He was quite a bit bigger than her, as he used to enjoy going to the gym. He obviously liked his evening beers too judging by the belly – not overly pronounced though… He finally looked at her – this stranger out of nowhere, in a place devoid of people. A dress – silky and shimmering, an evening gown actually. “Carmine? Is that a colour?” He’s a man, he couldn’t demand from himself to know one colour from another. Dark-ish skin tone, large brown eyes, pronounced by an eye-liner, with thick lashes, but natural-looking, unlike the fake ones he’s used to seeing. A petite, attractive, young lady, with long, black, wavy hair. Her soft hands were holding his.
– I’m very sorry – he said – but do I know you?
– It’s OK. It’s been many years since you last saw me, and I looked very different then. We used to go to school together. You were in the last year of secondary school. I was two years younger.
His brow produced an even deeper frown. Still confused, he kept looking at her, but his mind offered him no memories to help out.
– Do you remember how the school organised a party for the student that was going through chemo? It was so lovely of them. There were so many people that came up, and gave me the warmest hugs. You did too…
Memories began to fill the empty space. There was a girl in his school. He didn’t really know her until the party. She was very skinny, frail… her head was covered with a scarf. Chemo took all of her hair. That was about ten years ago. It was the first time he was so close to someone who… wait, this is not possible…
– Sandra? But… – he took a breath in, and out trying to center himself – didn’t that girl… die in the end?
– She did… I did… – Sandra kept looking into Jake’s eyes, and holding his hands, with the warmth of an angel; somehow managing to prevent him from jumping with fear and running off… to where? This pristine street, eerily quiet, with no sign of life other than the two of them. Life… He looked down at himself. He was wearing his black t-shirt, worn out jeans and some kicks. What he should have been wearing was his two piece leathers, boots, gloves, and a helmet…
– So, I’m… dead?
She nodded gently – I’m afraid so…
He loved riding his bike. He used it for commuting, for travel, and for general spins around to have fun, but that night he needed to vent. He knew he shouldn’t go out in that state, but he felt he needed to get away. Controlling his anger was never his strong side, and his girlfriend was no better. They had a huge fight, and he couldn’t even remember what started it. Whatever… he had the bike. There was fuel in the tank. So what that it was raining, and close to midnight? The leathers were waterproof, and traffic at night was nothing. He only needed to get out of the town centre to open her up, and release his frustration. His mind felt as if it were on fire. Blood rushing in, pushed by the adrenaline fuelled heart. The van driver had no chance to see him coming as he pulled onto the road. No-one blamed him. Who would have been able to see a bike doing 85 Mph in a narrow country lane? He called the services, but there was nothing they could have done. Jake’s neck was broken in three places.
– Come on – Sandra stood up, gently pulling Jake’s hand – let’s start walking. I’ll tell you what I know about this place, but there’s no point in staying here. There’s more interesting things to see.
Jake got up, and they started walking towards the same end of the street Sandra initially appeared from. They locked arms like a couple, and strolled slowly as if time was non-existent.
– Jennifer… – he suddenly remembered his girlfriend – my mom, dad… everyone… they don’t know that I’m fine, just here… they’ll be sad… well, some of them, I guess…
– I guess they won’t know, not until they get here themselves. I haven’t seen anyone yet. You’re the first person I actually knew… well, sort of…
– What about my grandparents? My dad’s dad, he passed away when I was five? Where is he? Aren’t we supposed to meet them after we die, or something?
– I’m not sure. I wasn’t met by my relatives either. They’re here though… I can feel it. Haven’t seen them yet for some reason…
– Who came to you? And how did you find me? There must be billions of people here… and more coming by the minute…
They slowly reached the end of the street. It was more shaded than the place Jake initially arrived at. It turned slightly, obscuring the view of the opening, but once they turned the corner, they saw that it terminated onto a large cobble-stone square. It was surrounded by cafes at the bottom of buildings resembling some European town. Before Jake was able to take in more details, a subtle sound made him look back. As he turned, he saw his entire street, with buildings, road, the bench gently turn into fog, and vanish into the air. Nothing was left of it, and they were able to see the opposite end of the square, with its cafes, full of people.
– That’s how I saw it appear as well – said Sandra – just like that, a cloud came out of nowhere, and expanded into this street. I knew I was meant to go in there. I felt it coming for some time.
– When you died, did you land in this street?
– No, I was in our school. In the same hall as the party. I didn’t know the person that came to see me. She didn’t know me either. She said that she used to teach in the school, and that she felt compelled to walk into there when it appeared to her – just like the street appeared to me. Perhaps we are connected, but in a weird way… She said that it wasn’t the first time she’d helped someone in. It seems to be something that we do here.
– So, wait… hold on… what is this place exactly? Some sort of afterlife, right? Shouldn’t there be some judgement? A stern looking old man with a long white beard telling us how we were terrible in life, and handing out punishments?
– I see you’re coming around, and getting your wit back – Sandra smiled, and gave a small laugh, getting Jake to relax, and laugh in return. – I don’t think anyone knows exactly what this place is. It’s not like there’s a rule book, or people, angels, or anyone really to explain anything. We know that it’s been going for quite a while. We know many things about it, and we feel even more when necessary, but we have no clue who, or what created it, or if it even has been created. Kind of like in real life, just without the struggles. It’s all good vibes here. We can even change things we don’t like.
– What do you mean? – Jake looked at Sandra with disbelief.
– Magic… – Sandra looked back at Jake with a cheeky child look and waved her fingers at him whilst she said it. He gave a chuckle, relaxed and laughed out loud.
– Oh my word… this is absurd… how is this all possible…? Am I dreaming all this? I know I didn’t take any drugs… – he stopped walking, and buried his face in his hands. He rubbed it a couple of times, and looked at Sandra again. Breath in, and out. Sigh, and hope she could tell him all the answers to the questions that were flooding his mind. – So, IS there a God, Allah, Buddah, or whatever, or not? What are we supposed to do, and how long are we supposed to be here? Where do I stay? Do I need money? Do I need to eat?
– Chill, chill, it’s all fine. Come with me. I was in this bar overlooking the square when I felt your arrival. Let’s go in there, have a glass of wine and chat. – she pulled him by his hand, and they entered the outdoor area of the bar. There weren’t many people there, although other venues on the square were quite full. One of the tables had a glass of wine on it.
– What would you like to drink? I’m going to finish my wine – she smiled her beautiful smile again. Jake couldn’t help but trust her. What else was he supposed to do?
– Uum… I don’t know. It seems like it’s still day time… Too early for wine for me. A diet coke perhaps? – as he voiced his cautious choice, Sandra gave a laugh.
– What? Are you afraid you’re going to get fat here? – she chuckled – you can have anything you like, and look as good as you wish to look. How do you think I got my hair back after the chemo? You can drink or eat anything you want – she continued – and there is no need to go to the bathroom. If you decide you want to keep your belly, keep your belly. If not, you can be as skinny as you see yourself perfect. There’s guys and girls here that walk around with zero fat on them, but that’s not to everyone’s taste.
– OK then, how about a beer?
– Which would you like?
– I don’t know… what do they have here?
– Just think of your favourite, and look on the table in front of you – Sandra pointed to the empty space.
– Fine. I’ll have one Old Speckled Hen, please.
The moment he finished saying that, a perfect pint of cold, honey colour liquid in a regular glass, with the brand name appeared in front of him, surrounded by a bit of the cloud/smoke “magic” he saw at his street a few minutes before. The smell test appeared to confirm that it was in fact an ale, and a sip and a taste later gave him the confidence that this really was exactly what he used to drink when he was alive.
– Wow! This is smooth. Much more than the real thing. So pleasant. I could get used to this. – he looked at Sandra with a happy, child like curiosity – what else is here? This is amazing! I mean… It’s sad, that I won’t see any of my family or friends until… you know… they die… but, other than that… what else could you tell me about this place? What do you know? Tell me everything…, please.
– Well… I believe this is our “forever” place. Apparently this is where we spend the eternity after living on Earth. It’s,… it’s quite amazing. I mean… you can do anything you’ve ever dreamed of, and couldn’t, because you lacked money, or time. Neither exists here. You’re here forever, so you can do everything forever in turn. You can fall in love all you want, and then change, and be with someone else. It’s perfect! There’s no war, no disease, no blooming cancer!
– So, there is no after-after life? You can’t have an accident, and “die” and go elsewhere?
– No, I don’t think so. I mean, people have tried, but they simply bounce like rubber balls, and get up like nothing happened. This seems to be it. We’re on permanent holidays, and we can do as we please.
Jake looked onto the cobbled surface of the square, right next to the place they were sitting. He seemed to go into his thoughts, but with a purpose. He’s always been curious, and liked adventure. Trying new things never scared him. Sandra stopped talking, as she noticed that he turned away from her, and focused onto that spot on the pavement. A little cloud appeared, then gently began to swirl up, and expand in front of them. As it grew larger, they saw inside it an object take shape. Black, silver, yellow, clear elements morphed and solidified into what appeared to be a motorcycle.
– Wow! – shouted Sandra, and gave a clap – Bravo! Is that your bike? It’s beautiful! So sleek and sexy!
They both stood up, and walked up to the machine, now casually standing in front of them. The remains of the fog dissipated.
– So, you’re saying people tried killing themselves, and failed? – asked Jake, whilst taking a seat on the black street bike.
– What are you thinking of Jake? You’re not wanting to test this, are you? I mean, yes, but do I know for sure? I never tried myself… – Sandra began to worry, as her newly found friend was looking outwards in search for a target.
– Do you think that wall there is solid? – The engine started without hesitation as Jake pressed the red button.
– Whoa! You just got here… – she couldn’t finish…
Kick stand, clutch, first gear, foot break, slight twist of the right hand. Release brake and clutch, left leg back onto the peg. Before Sandra could stop him, Jake was on a clear trajectory towards the obstacle. The loud noise of the exhaust got the attention of people in the square. Moments later Jake and the bike rammed straight into the wall. Sandra ran up as fast as her high heels allowed. The bike was a pile of junk, whilst Jake got up, brushed himself off, and then looked at her like a kid at his worried mother. He touched the wall again.
– It felt like landing on a mattress – he beamed at her.
Sandra finally gave a sigh of relief, and started laughing. Spontaneously, she cuddled up to him, to which he responded by hugging her back.