In which the inevitable led me to a new friend. I died alone, and I don’t regret it. Not even once.
Death is a strange feeling to have: I expected it to at least haunt me or leave me wondering if I have unfinished business to take care of. I was expecting to cry my heart out and ask the Grim Reaper to take me to my family. But no: I just stared at my body and felt nothing. This is probably what happens when life doesn’t mean much and you consider yourself inconsequential. But before you think that’s sad, you’re not the first. Even the Grim Reaper couldn’t believe me.
“It must’ve meant something. Anything at all.” The Grim Reaper told me, except it wasn’t grim nor felt like a reaper. I was staring into the black cut-out eyes of a ghost covering itself with a blanket. Yes, the Grim Reaper looks like the Halloween costume of a ghost. Said that people felt less threatened this way.
“Don’t you at least want to see someone discover your body?” No. I don’t. The Reaper nodded its little bobbly head. Even under that blanket, it was terrible at hiding the fact that it felt sad I felt this way. I walked with it to what used to be my door without so much as looking back. I saw no point crying over my fate.
It opened to a swirling portal of black and purple. Reaper tugged at my sleeve one more time and pointed at my sister’s picture. She’s a year behind me and has always given me starbursts whenever she has the chance. All our lives, Noella had more of a spark in her heart while I followed the safest options my father could think of. Despite me being our father’s favorite, she graduated with an art degree and a specialization at painting.
We all thought she was going to starve her whole life, but now she makes six figures painting for a museum abroad while I struggled to find programming jobs that paid decent money. Don’t get me wrong, I was able to eat three square meals a day and stay in a nice apartment overlooking BGC, but I just didn’t achieve the success my father thought I could. Noella kept sending me more starbursts from the Unites States, thinking that it could help cheer me up.
What she didn’t know was that I haven’t thought of my father for the past ten years. My world only consisted of waking up, working, talking to her, ignoring my father, and forgetting everybody else.
I haven’t resented him nor thought of how differently he treated me and my sister. When Reaper asked me about him, I was surprised at what I said: I didn’t care to think of him at all. I can’t remember when I stopped seeing him as my father or as anybody important in my life. But when you put a prodigal child on a pedestal, cutting off whatever sleep-over or party that “distracted” her, and you expected something else in return, that child has already cut you off before her twelfth birthday. That’s just the way the world works.
I found myself overlooking a green pasture from what seemed to be the balcony of a castle. I looked back and the door was gone. What replaced it was a wide door with a bedroom peeping from the inside.
Why did anybody scare me from the afterlife? Not that I want to rush anyone into coming here (because that’s objectively awful). But since, well, everyone will get here at some point, and I’m already here, I can definitely say that it’s beautiful! There was this giant looming narra tree that looked as big as the Sunken Garden where I used to lie around at U.P. The narra tree’s branches covered the acres of green patches of land filled with sampaguita flowers and water lilies floating on crisp, clear water.
I didn’t trust what I saw.
“This looks too clean. Are there haunted traps I have to take note of?”
“No. And you can trust me on that. You want to sit under the tree? I think that’ll do you some good. You’d need this. Small offering.” The Reaper gave me a brown mushroom and pointed to the tree, like a child under a white blanket.
Along the way, we passed by a bustling market inside what looked like Intramuros. Except that it was cleaner, and it didn’t look as dead or as filled with tourists. It was alive, full of people who you wouldn’t think suffered before they came here. Fashion choices ranged from bowler hats and Maria Claras to gold-embroidered hijabs and bell-bottom pants and flower crowns from the ‘60s.
“Do you want to know why people have a different view of
the afterlife?” No.
“How about the meaning of life? Existence?” No.
“Well, you must want to know something. Everyone usually does when they end up here.”
Poor thing still thinks I’m upset. I asked for a hat from a nearby stall and put it on Reaper’s head. Like what John Lennon would’ve hoped, money didn’t mean a thing here. “Maybe some other time, Reaper. Or maybe never. I’m just content with how life panned out. I’m sure you’ve met other people like me.”
Then there was silence. Reaper never took its head from the ground, but I was happy it didn’t take off its hat.
By the time we reached the tree, a tiny diwata made a tree stump appear ou t of thin air. Right where the shadow of the branches ended, a small babbling brook glistened in the sunlight. I looked at the bridge we crossed to get to the tree and found that there was a portal right beneath its underbelly. A closer look and I found that it was the night sky casting a brighter purple light than the portal Reaper conjured up for me at my apartment.
I gave the tiny diwata a flower as thanks and, as I sat down, put the mushroom next to me. The ground swallowed it and gave me a flower in return.
“How did you know that you could offer the mushroom like that?”
“Yes. You did.” As Reaper said this, a translucent chair made of grass and ghoul conjured itself up for the ghost’s comfort. With its hat proudly on its head, it asked me another question.
“Are you sure you haven’t been here before, Ruella?”
“Here. In the afterlife. You’re not surprised by anything and it’s like you know what to look forward to.”
“Look forward to? I don’t think I’ve looked forward to anything aside from moving on to the next bits in life. Now that you think about it, it’s like a bootleg video game.”
Reaper jumped up from its seat. “AHA! That’s means you’re still looking forward to something! Answer me this: this is the end of the road. How, in any way, will you move on when you’re technically done with life? Hm?”
“I don’t know. I just do.”
Reaper slumped in its seat looking desolate. “Okay.”
Then in the moment of what seemed like it was recharging energy, Reaper bounced back. “Well…do you believe in reincarnation? A second life? Maybe you died in the past? I could answer that and look it up for you! We have excellent libraries of scrolls and books and–”
“Easy, Reaper. Not now. Or ever. Has it ever occurred to you that, maybe—just maybe—we don’t need to have everything figured out? Or have all of life’s questions answered for us? I honestly don’t think you have it all figured out yourself.”
Reaper looked at me with whatever shock a ghost blanket could convey. “You’re the first to ever tell me that.”
I continued calmly as I adjusted the hat on Reaper’s head. “You know, for an entity that seems to hold everything scary about death, you’re awfully optimistic about the life you carry people away from.”
“Well, I’ve never had a life like any of you creatures have. I wasn’t born, per se. I just popped up along with this tree. Next thing I knew, I carried people over here. Not that I hate it. I don’t. I love knowing the kind of life people had.”
“I bet that wasn’t always the case.”
“Yeah.” It answered mournfully.
For a while, Reaper didn’t speak. It seemed to enjoy the silence of sitting beside me and not having to contemplate such deep questions. I looked up at the sky again and realized that I haven’t seen any of these colors before. Up above was the sky the color of lavender auroras softened by mists of clouds. The sky wasn’t black at all. It was like looking at a crystal mural of some ancient deity retelling the story of how life came to be. Not that I wanted to analyze every bit the way an archaeologist would, but if only I could show Noella this without having her to actually come here.
The last time I went cloud gazing, Noella and I were twelve. It was a small window in our lives when, for once, we could wander in our heads like the children we were–right before father told us to go back studying. But just when I was about to lie down with my head under the tree stump, Reaper quietly broke the silence.
‘Were you at least happy?”
‘I was alright. It didn’t start out okay, but I had my sister. I guess you could say she was the only thing that mattered.”
“Isn’t there anything you want to say to her? You know, you can go back and, uh, leave clues so that you don’t regret anything.”
“But I really don’t regret anything. I never left any stones unturned with Noella.”
“I don’t buy that for one minute.”
‘She doesn’t have to know everything, Reaper. Some things are better off taking to your grave. I know that she’ll be sad that I’m gone, but I guess I’m luckier than most. I have someone to be myself to. Not everyone
has that chance.”
“Still. You want to see her again?”
“O uija boards aren’t my thing. In her own time, Reaper. As pretty as this place is, I can’t just wish everyone to be here. I’ll let you do the job of bringing her to me when the time’s right.”
Reaper nodded and gave me some blades of grass. “They smell nice.”
What an innocent thing. Reaper’s not little, but it definitely could be. And for someone that carried millions of people here, I’m surprised that it hasn’t turned corrupt.
Reaper carried on. “Could you at least tell me more about your life?”
“Don’t you know all about it? Don’t spirits usually see what’s going on?”
“Well, not me.”
“How about this? Would you be able to tell me the stories you’ve been told? At least the ones you’re comfortable sharing.”
Even if I can’t see its real eyes, I can sense them light up. “Would I ever?! I’ll go get my scrolls!”
“Wait, Reaper! I do have a question, after all!”
“Finally! I’d be happy to answer that!”
“Can I…eat? Anything? Here?”
“That’s a stupid question!”
“What? It’s harmless! Don’t tell me I’m the only person who’s asked.”
“Bah! I’ll just get the scrolls!”
As I laughed my heart out, and as Reaper headed to wherever it was going, the tree stump slowly disappeared. I felt the whisper of the wind at my temples and couldn’t relax anymore. I already knew the tree was watching me. But at that moment, the thought of it didn’t sit well with me. At all.
I guess I have deep questions, after all.