The Ledger7 mins 379 7 mins 379
Amit sat alone at a table for two. He glanced at his watch, a Cartier, a perfect balance of understatement and elegance. He had bought it just recently, after getting a promotion.
It was half past seven. He glanced towards the café door. The door swung open, and a couple entered. They sat down at another table for two near the road-side window. Amit was not interested in the couple.
He looked around. The warm red lighting accentuated the dark brown furniture and patterned walls of the café extremely well. The café had filled up during the five minutes he had spent enjoying the soft music being played. The café was mostly populated by couples. The two longer tables in the middle were taken up by noisy college kids. They were enjoying themselves, oblivious to the occasional annoyed glances being shot towards them.
Amit remembered all the time he had spent occupying those tables with his friends. That was during college. A lot of time had passed since then. Now he had an office across the street from the café, and he only visited the café today. He was sitting alone at the table for two. It had been long since he had last sat at a table for two.
Having finished surveilling the café, he looked across the table, and his heart jumped to his mouth. A man was sitting in the previously empty chair in front of him. Amit hadn’t seen or even heard him approach his table, or draw the chair, or sit. It was as if the man had appeared noiselessly out of thin air.
The initial surprise of his shock appearance having worn off, Amit observed the man from his head to, well, his torso. His lower half was hidden under the table. He seemed to be a smart fellow, with a long pointy nose, a proud brow, and twinkling eyes. He was wearing a sharp black suit, and under other circumstances, Amit would have asked him where he had got the suit from.
At this moment, however, all Amit said was “Excuse me.”
The waiter standing near the next table promptly asked Amit. The waiter was staring at the back of the man’s neck, but Amit had a funny feeling that he was looking directly at Amit, through the man.
“He cannot see me.” The man said.
Or at least, that’s what Amit assumed, because though he could hear the words, the man did not move his lips. Cold sweat gathered on Amit’s brow, and his heart started to pound faster than it ever had.
“Sir, do you need anything?” The waiter asked again, and waited politely for Amit to respond.
Amit could almost hear his heart bouncing against his rib cage, and his hands started to shake. He could feel a panic attack setting in, an attack worse than those he normally had, upon seeing the sensex take its customary plunge.
“Menu please” Amit managed to somehow get the words out. The waiter nodded and left. The apparition stared at Amit without a word. Amit dabbed his sweaty brow with a paper napkin, and clenched and unclenched his fist. He began noticing things, noise, and smells to ground himself in the moment and fight the panic rising inside him.
His phone buzzed.
“She’s going to take ten more minutes.” The voice in his head told him. “Meghna. She is stuck in traffic. It’s a pity. She won’t get to meet you”
Amit did not understand why Meghna won’t get to meet him. However, he had other matters to solve first.
“Who are you?”
“An angel of death.”
The face of the apparition was grave.
“Is this some sort of a joke?”
The apparition did not reply, it simply stared at Amit until he realized the futility of his question.
“Why are you here?”
“I’ve come to inform you that you have… two minutes to live.”
The angel produced an ornate hourglass from under the table and stationed it in front of Amit. There was some sand in the upper chamber, none in the lower chamber. Somehow the sand was not trickling down as of now. Amit realised that the whole café had gone silent; everyone stuck to their poses as if a café-wide mannequin challenge was going on.
“But why? What’s wrong with me?”
“It doesn’t matter. You cannot do anything about it in two minutes, and I have another duty to perform.”
“To inform you that your ledger is balanced, and that is a problem.”
Amit didn’t have a clue what that meant, and he made that clear to the angel. The angel knew that, he (he may have been a she) had stopped the time so that he could explain the concept of a ledger to Amit.
The angel said that a book was maintained for each person, a book in which all the good and bad deeds a person performed during his lifetime were recorded. At the time of death, the two sides were weighed to decide whether a person’s soul would be sent to heaven or hell.
“What happens when a ledger is balanced, like in my case?”
“The soul gets stuck in limbo. It’s a rare occurrence. And a soul is too precious a thing to be stuck in the limbo. That is why I am here to give you chance to do some act, good or bad, to swing the scales one way or the other.”
While the angel was talking, Amit saw a vision of the limbo in his mind’s eye. It was indeed horrifying. The angel tinkled the hourglass with his finger, and the sand started to trickle down in a steady flow. Amit panicked.
All around him, the tableau had exploded into action, as the music resumed, and people went about their business, but everything seemed strangely muted, distant. His mind started to work furiously, thinking of ways to do something within the remaining two minutes of his life to save his soul from a cruel fate.
“No. Tipping the waiter won’t count.”
It seemed that the angel could read Amit’s mind. Amit cast his mind around in desperation. He had to think of something fast, the time was running out... It was as if he could hear the sound the sand made as it trickled down. His task was made difficult by all the memories that flooded into his brain. His mother, his father, his friends, his triumphs, his losses, fights… and Meghna. Tears welled into his eyes.
He blinked to fight back the tears, and to clear his mind. The sand in the hourglass had almost hit rock-bottom when something clicked.
He snatched a paper napkin, and hurriedly scribbled something on it with his golden pen. He put his signature under the lines and kept the pen on the paper as a weight. Then he slumped down on the table. The angel glanced at the note on the paper napkin, and his lips curled into a smile. He was a little sad to see this young man die. He vanished into thin air.
The waiter remembered that he had been asked to bring a menu-card, and when he came, he saw Amit sprawled on the table. He tried to wake him up to no avail. Soon the other waiters thronged the table. It was Meghna who noticed the note on the napkin. She read it, and it bought tears to her eyes.
Amit was sitting on a chair in a bare white room. The room had no doors, no windows or any aperture of any kind. He had simply found himself in the chair. He did not remember how much time had passed since he came here. Sometimes it felt like only a few minutes had passed, and sometimes he felt he had been here for months.
He was not surprised when the angel appeared in front of him.
“The papers have gone through. The deed is done. I’ve come to take you to heaven.”
Amit got up. The angel smiled at him.
“That was a good idea, donating your organs after your death.” The angel presented his hand to Amit. Amit clasped his hand. “You are an intelligent man, Amit. Why did you wait until it was almost too late, to do the thing you could have done at any time? What stopped you? What were you waiting for?”
Amit had no answer to the question.
What are you waiting for?