We are only shadows, the DNA replicas of our ancestors. Our Individual destinies are true pattern of universal symphony. But what if everything is predestined and we are merely serving our purposes? The world operates on fundamental physical laws. These laws govern the behavior of every object in the world; human behavior is no exception to that. In that regard, love is a set of extremely small quantum particles; their behavior is apparently swerved, unpredictable. Love is the randomness in a preordained system, a rather deterministic gear in a big physical machine.
In the midst of the most chaotic and devilishly lunatic moment of my life, I fell in love. As all things do, it began in the dark. For five consecutive seasons, my father had been physically impaired. But lately it had gotten so worse that he could barely function, hence required my complete attention. In any case, one night, as I was visiting him in the hospital, as had become my habit, something strange happened. The elevator jolted to a stop somewhere between 7th and 8th floor and everything went pitch black.
I remember myself rambling in the confined space of elevator. With each second passing by, I had my hope raised and dashed. The only sound I could hear was of my heart, pounding in the rib cage. I stretched out my arm, ran my fingers over the bank of call buttons and randomly pushed some looking for the alarm button.
“In here! I am in here!” I shrieked, but no one came.
“Are you alright, ma’am?” a husky voice came from outside of elevator.
It took a moment for my brain to defog and realize what he was asking.
“I am far from alright mister,” I replied.
“That much I guessed, but screaming ain’t gonna do a damn bit of good, so don’t do that no more. It’s a late hour…”
I interrupted, “Can you get me out of here?”
“Sorry ma’am, but that I can’t.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Look, here is the deal; I can’t move this damn elevator, I’m done calling the fire department. Now it may take a while, so why don’t you sit tight?”
The presence of that mysterious simpatico companion had proved to be strangely accommodating for me. I stretched out on the floor of elevator to make myself comfortable. Despite lack of visual reference, I felt drawn to tantalizing odour of his after shave.
“My, oh my, you’re at 7½th floor,” he initiated conversation to break the ice.
“I reckon you haven’t seen Being John Malkovich, have ya?
“Not that I recall.”
“Listen to me carefully, it’s interesting. Between 7th and 8th floor, there is another floor; 7½th floor. Now it ain’t about the movie or architecture, but the thing that explodes a bombshell is the idea of existence of a strange half floor, in the midst of a normal building in a normal world.”
“I see the analogy. You know, it may serve as a strange paradox. Does this so called 7½th floor really exist or is it just an illusion? The answer to that question can be found in another question. What is the symbolism behind the physical structure of 7½th floor? It is an anecdote, a probabilistic theory, a question with no answer. It is neither reality, nor illusion, but a middle ground between them.”
What I said then was totally uncalled-for. Perhaps I needed to unburden myself from the affliction of my father. Anyway, despite hesitation of my mind, my slippery tongue once again intervened on my behalf,
“My dad is dying.”
“Well, aren’t we all? Whole our life, we’ve been preparing ourselves for death.”
“I know we are all going to die and nothing lasts forever, but in the end, what wouldn’t we do not to lose what’s ours? It’s just that I am not attuned to that grief of loosing someone.”
“See, I’ve been working here since ages, in this hospital. Sometimes I wonder how this place is different from a battle field. I’ve seen people fighting for their last breath; I’ve seen ‘em falling into the valley of death. I rapturously breathe in the odour of fainting life. But Death ain’t that bad, it’s just another elevator, one that we all must take.”
“You are a complete weirdo, do you know that?”
“I’ve heard that before.”
“But you’re right. Sometimes death is not the worst thing that can befall a man. For instance, take an example of my daddy; he is entrapped in his own body. His whole body is rotting, he can barely move his finger, and he gets covered in his own sh*t. When it comes to living like this, dying is the easiest part, it’s like swallowing a bitter pill, one that would tranquil you for eternity. But even in its worst condition, life is worth living.”
“I don’t mean to put a bug in your ear, but I oughtta tell you; if life is worth living, then death is worth dying. The thing that tears me up is that mankind has always been afraid of death and what it may bring. We fear the solitude of eternity, but who’s to say that there is anything to fear? Ain’t nobody has ever come back from dead to tell his tale, and nobody will.”
“By the way, who are you?” I couldn’t help asking him.
“I’m a guy who gets the sh*t done. Generally I’m referred as Maintenance guy, but you can call me whatever you want. I don’t give two cents for that no account.”
As I leaned my head towards his direction, I felt a strange chill. Life was raging all around me and every moment was empty with such fullness, it was magical. That feeling might be transient, but isn’t it what we live for?
“I wish I could see you,” I said in a low voice.
“You’ll sooner or later. Physical body is merely an object; thing that matters is what lies beneath it.”
“Do you believe in existence of soul?”
“Gee, I dunno. I wouldn’t go shooting my mouth off about something I know nothing about. Why don’t you humor me?”
“Well, I do believe. But when I say soul, I am not talking about something abstract that theologians argue about. See, basically humans are biologically programmed complex machines and soul is the infinite ocean of electrons. Now this body is merely an object, it is like a disk which stores this so called spirit or soul. But the bad thing is our physical body is the source of all desires, say hunger, sexual drive, domination, fame. As long as there is body, there is desire. But what if a soul can exist without body?”
“I find it severely freakin’. Is it even possible?”
“Theoretically, yes it is, if we can build a console to scan our brain waves, we can use it to create a programme, a sort of copy of this spirit. This programme would accept our brain waves as digital data and upload it into the universal network. I believe doing this will make us exist as soul without body.”
“Well, I’ll be damned. No offence, what you said was brilliant as hell, but it was so out of my bandwidth.”
“Oh, don’t you worry. Even I don’t fully understand it. I am constantly driven by the fact that so much of what we perceive cannot be expressed. It is just unspeakable.”
“Goddamn right. It’s like words come out of my mouth and by the time they hit your eardrums it’s a whole different set of words.”
I could hear my breathing and didn’t think I was imagining his breaths coming quicker, too. This time, though, racing pulse and pounding heart were a result of arousal rather than panic. We were just a bunch of queers, talking about death, but who would have thought that even death can unite two people? It seemed that a strange symbiosis had developed between us.
I had just been sitting there, fantasizing about him, without saying a word. Hating the idea he might interpret my silence the wrong way, I blurted out,
“I was wondering about afterlife, the life after death. How would it be like?”
“Now that you’ve mentioned, I got this buddy of mine, a descent fellow. He’d go gum-flapping just like you. He once told me that whole time we’re afraid of dying, but we’re never really alive.”
“Is that a fact?”
“Stone cold fact, yes ma’am. See, our cells regenerate every seven years. That way, we’ve already died several times. You’re not the same person you were born. Anyway, he had this theory about afterlife. You wanna hear?”
“I don’t see why not. I’m all ears.”
“Human consciousness is far more complicated than we believe. When you stop breathing, your body drops dead, but your brain, that dog is still barking. The memories of your lifetime reside deep within your mind, and they stick up your a*s until your very final moments in this world. This brain activity can prolong up to 12 minutes, after you’re supposedly dead.
But interesting thing is what happens in your subconscious mind during this short period. The moment you leave your physical body, you enter a huge movie theater. It’s all dark except for neon exit signs over the doors and a large screen showing a film. You’re the only spectator. Now this ain’t some ordinary movie, it is life unfolding itself, life that you lived. You’re the creator of your own movie, you’re the actor, and you’re the writer. In real world, this movie runs for 6 to 12 minutes, so technically it’s a short film called Life. But in your subconscious, it runs so long, that you can relive your whole life in these few moments. This part is called Retrospection.”
“You ain’t getting bored, are ya?”
“Not at all, actually it’s the other way around.”
“Well then, what I’m about to say, will blow your ground. Afterlife has a strange structure; it’s propelled by this absolute inertia of real. As you make your way through the exit door, you totally step out of the domain of symbolic identification, cancelling all field of symbolic authority. You’re now what we can call ironically a vanishing mediator. You’re standing in the midst of a huge desert; it’s in crisis all the time. But this crisis ain’t obstacle; on the contrary it is what pushes you forward towards permanent, revolutionising extended self reproduction. Now you’ve got nothing but a chance, chance for an authentic passive experience, without which nothing new can emerge, maybe this is what you need more than ever. This stage is called Disintegration.
The final stage of afterlife is known as Transmigration. You’ve had enough of those sufferings, now you’re ready to be redeemed, renewed. What you’re about to experience now is a transition, from metaphysical to physical world. This is the most mysterious area of afterlife; it’s like fulgent whitish space with infinite doors in front of you. Here you’ve a choice; soon your choice will become its own reality. Your life is yours to create. You’re gonna be a neo-being with a new individuality and new consciousness.”
If memory serves me right, we had shared the most honest and intimate conversation of my life. I was swimming in emotions and couldn’t decide which sensation to settle on. Despite being trapped in pitch-black elevator for couple of hours, in company of stranger, I felt surprisingly relaxed. He had penetrated the inner core of my being and that too with mere words.
“Hey, enough of my yakkin’. Whaddaya say?” he exhaled.
“I like the sound of your voice,” I complimented.
“Yeah, it sounds like hee-haw of a mule.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at his sarcasm. I admire a fellow who can make fun of himself. A measure of a man is his sense of humor.
“No, I really mean it,” I replied. The speed of my words confirmed my sincerity. “Your voice is very soothing, with a hint of gruffness. It is orgiastically unique.”
“Well, I may be hayseed, but I know that some sh*t just stinks, no matter how hard you scrape.”
I searched within my mind to think of something that would keep that conversation going. I probably should have thought of something else, but the words were out of my mouth,
“Walter Ciszek had this theory that every moment in our life has a purpose, that every action of ours, no matter how dull or trivial it may seem in itself, has a dignity and worth beyond human understanding. It means that my being trapped in this dark, suffocating box is not merely an accident.”
“I guess we’re just two peas punching it out in a same pod…”
I interrupted, “I have an obscure insight on this one. If I imagine myself observing life from the perspective of my father, it would look just like this. My current condition is, in a way, symbolic to his physical state, I mean there are unbelievable similarities. I’m trapped in this elevator, he’s trapped in his own body; I’m hanging between 7th and 8th floor, he’s hanging between life and death.”
“Goddamn right. But the question that stares me right into face is why 7½? What’s the significance of this number?”
“That I don’t know. But maybe it has something to do with seven sins, namely wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. Say life is a seven storied building, each floor represents a sin and elevator is your physical body. Through elevator, you pass through all the seven floor of this life. But death is the 8th floor. In that regard, 7½ is the state in which you’re truly above all the seven sins, you are neither dead, nor alive.”
I felt a strange chill. My poor consciousness perceived that something was monstrous wrong. I felt as if I were smothered, chocked, unable to get the air. I was all sweaty, suddenly the environment had gone from comfortably warm to unbearably hot.
“I’ve been here awful long time. When are they coming?”I asked him.
“The firemen, to rescue me goddamn it. Didn’t you call them?”
“Ain’t nobody is coming. It’s just us. We’re alone.”
I couldn’t believe his words. It was like a line of dominoes was falling, and it was my turn to get hit.
“Are you concealing something?”
“No, I carry no secrets.”
I wished I could trust him. I wished he were a wise kind friend instead of a gossiping acquaintance.
“It’s always your own a*s you sit on.
You come up with some pseudo questions and then ponder which one is the right answer. I say none of ‘em and at the same time all of ‘em. Do you realize you could’ve done anything conceived by your mind? But whole time you’ve been foolin’ around. I’m sorry but there ain’t another way to put it. Ask the right question and you’ll get the answer.”
I couldn’t begin to fathom what he meant.
“I do not follow…”
“Ask yourself. Are you really trapped in this elevator?
I heard the sound of alarm from outside.
“I’m gonna leave you alone now. You’ll be alright, even if you don’t feel like.”
And then he left me. Before leaving, he murmured in a low voice,
“I guarantee you’ll regret the day you met me.”
In a flash of time, the smallest niggling thought snuck into the back of my mind. I opened my eyes and clenched them shut against the unexpected brightness. After hours of starring into blackness, the light was painful and blinding.
The elevator stopped at 8th floor, as if nothing unusual had happened, questioning the very existence of 7½th floor.
With blinking eyes, I saw my dad, withered, his bald head propped by pillows, his pale eyes looking out at me from his bed. He was connected to an intravenous for sustenance and a morphine drip. As I went closer, I observed a dark-coated man standing there, starring at him. Yes, it was him. There was no mistaking him for anyone else. A hair on the back of my neck prickled at the sight and some small voice inside warned me.
Before I could speak anything he uttered in a low voice,
“Your timing couldn’t have been better. It’s time for departure Sherrie.”
“Yes, he is to accompany me. All arrangements are made.”
“Arrangements for what?”
“Oh, you still don’t get it! I’ll never understand you people. You can’t expect a tree to keep its blossom after the spring is over, can you? Eventually tree loses its fruit, and then the garden of leaflessness.
But think of all those poor men who go in violent accidents. This is the most peaceful way to die.”
“You’re a traitor, you cheated me. For God’s sake, haven’t you got any mercy?”
“In my profession, there is no room for mercy. I’m Death; I only exist so that people like you don’t exist no more. Nothing escapes me.”
I stood there powerless; my words had no impact on him. Taking someone’s life was his day-to-day routine.
“Wait a moment.” I pleaded him.
“You all say that. Believe me, I don’t like it either, but it has to be done. Mine is a dirty job. My motto is if you wanna plant something, you gotta soil your hands.”
What I thought to be a love story ended up being a strange encounter with Death. All of it- which was quite fascinating for my liberal progressive mind-was just a trap, something to lower my attention threshold, as it was to open me up to be ready to accept the true conservative message.
Then he did something unexpected. He came closer to me, leaned his head towards mine and whispered in my ears,
“Sherrie, now is not the time, but when the right time comes, you’ll be mine.”
His words set free butterflies in my stomach. It gave me a slight relief that it wasn’t just one side traffic.
“I’ll wait for you,” I promised.
I shifted my gaze to daddy. He was so peaceful, it’s like silently he was saying, ‘I’m dying but my death itself is a good news.’
Life is so beautiful, every moment of it is miracle, and yet in a blink it’s gone. Death truly works in a mysterious way.
One darkness had gone, but another still remained. Though this darkness was metaphorical, a feeling of necessity and attachment, a potentially harmful emotion. On a nearby roof top a bird took a flight, swaying away all the darkness under its tiny wings. Nothing could spoil that beautiful moment, as rosy fingered dawn cupped me in its hands and thumbed open the new day’s crack.
According to statistics, only two people per decade die in elevators. I didn’t die that day, but part of me is still stuck at 7½th floor. Love, like 7½th floor may also be just an illusion, but in order to fully exist as an individual we need this illusion of love.
Love is an elevator, that totters between pain and joy; hope and despair; sacred and obscene; life and death; 7th and 8th floor; 7½th floor.