7. Good Heavens!
I have never met God before in my life so I often wonder what he looks like, what he sounds like. Will he actually appear in human form, speak the way we do? Christians often refer to him as “Father in Heaven”, so I assume God takes a male form, but then with all the new discoveries I have had since I started my first day in Heaven, I wouldn`t be surprised if God turned out to be something entirely different. I speak English and Cantonese. I hope I don`t have to rely on my Putonghua. That will be embarrassing if not disastrous! How should I address him?... “My Lord”, “Heavenly Father” or just plain old “Dear God”? My head was spinning as I followed the escort through Gate G (Gateway to God) and up the narrow, brightly lit corridor.
I would love to describe to my readers how the passage to God looked like, but I couldn`t on account that I wasn`t paying much attention to the surroundings at that moment. I was preoccupied with all the crazy thoughts running through my head. Also my escort was walking really fast. I had to jog just to keep up. He was at least seven feet tall. I couldn`t see what`s ahead of us.
I must have been running for a full minute and was nearly out of breath when all of a sudden he stopped, took one step aside and announced at the top of his booming baritone voice: “Big Boss, I deliver to you -- Mr. Bob Choi, former resident of Discovery Bay, Hong Kong.” So, around here God was called `Big Boss`! Because of my poor eyesight, I needed to take several steps forward before I could see clearly what`s now in front of me, and I couldn`t believe what I saw!
Sitting on a rocking chair at the middle of this large, bright but sparsely furbished meeting hall was a small, skinny old woman. Must be in her eighties. Long silvery white hair against her dark tan of deeply wrinkled skin. All dressed in white, her back hunched forward at a dangerously sharp angle as she rocked slowly back and forth. As our eyes met, she stopped rocking and smiled a toothless smile and said: “Mr. Choi, welcome to Heaven. Do you remember me?”
“No, sorry! I can`t say I do. Ah... Big Boss, have we met before?” I was careful not to show it, but she was not what I would have expected for the image of God!
“I am not what you would expect, am I, Mr. Choi?” She seemed to able to read my mind. “Yes, we met before. At the time, you were a new resident to Discovery Bay. Every morning I collected used bottles, cans and cardboards from the restaurants and pushed them home in my little trolley.”
“Oh, good heavens! You are the scavenger lady. Now I remember! Now I remember!”
“You saw me pushing my trolley on a few occasions. One time, you offered to help me push the trolley up the slope. Then we sat down on the curb. You got me to talk about myself a little bit, and then you gave me a twenty dollar bill and went on your way.”
“Yes, it`s all coming back to me now. After our chat on the curb, I called the Social Welfare department and insisted that they send someone to Discovery Bay, to look you up. I told them that you were old and weak and were all by yourself, and that I felt really bad that an old woman have to live out her life this way. I gave them my number and asked them to call me if they needed any assistance in tracking you down and --”Yes, it`s all coming back to me now like it happened only yesterday.
“And... Mr. Choi, you started crying on the phone.”
“Yes, I did. I felt a knot in my throat and before I knew it, I was crying buckets like a baby. I couldn`t stop no matter how hard I tried. It was quite embarrassing. Definitely not my proudest moment. I can tell you that!”
“Not your proudest moment! Ah, but Mr. Choi, what you might not realize is that at that instant you were as close to God as you have ever been, and that`s why I am now appearing to you as the old scavenger lady.”
“You mean you can appear in different forms?”
“Absolutely, and in your case, I would like to meet you as the old woman because she represents your shining moment in life.”
“That`s most interesting -- what if my shining moment was with a dog, then -- ”My curiosity got the better of me.
“Then, you would be talking to a dog now. Your dog was named `Blondy`, right, Mr. Choi?”
“Well, Big Boss, you do know everything, don`t you? Yes, Blondy was barely five years old when he came down with lymphoma. The vet said the prognosis was poor and the treatment would be painful. It was a tough decision. My wife and I decided to put him to sleep, to spare him the suffering. I believed it was the humane thing to do, but it was difficult ending a life even though it was for love`s sake. I was all torn up inside when the vet was getting ready to give Blondy the injection, and –”
“And you started crying. Tears rolling down your cheeks like an opened floodgate. The vet couldn`t bring himself to give the shot, and had to come again the following day. Do you know he was so choked up himself he was crying in the elevator all the way down? Yes, Mr. Choi, this was recorded in great details. It was also one of your shining moments. If not for the scavenger lady, you would be talking to Blondy right now!”
“Big Boss, it seems like I have distinguished myself with my overactive tear glands. Anyway, I have many questions on my way to meet you, but now all of them become irrelevant except one: I made an appointment to see you but it will be million years from now. Why did you send for me now?” I figured we had enough chitchat about my crying and it was time we get down to business.
“Well, I sent for you because I have an assignment for you. You are here on a trial basis. I understand you have taken a pledge to write about your first day in Heaven. I found that very interesting, and if you deliver, you will be granted formal residency. But you have always been a man of ambition, Mr. Choi, I believe you would like to do more.”
“Yes, Big Boss, I am just about done with my `First Day in Heaven`. I would be happy to take on something a bit more challenging. What would you want me to do?”
“I want you to go to Hell,” she said as-a-matter-of-factly.
“Say what? You are condemning me to Hell!” I was panicking.
“Relax, Mr. Choi. No need to get panicky. I am not sending you to Hell for good. I am asking you to spend a bit of time in Hell on an exchange program.”
“Exchange program? You mean like an ambassador to Hell?” I started to relax.
“No, it`s more like a student exchange program.”
“Student exchange...what the hell for?... Oops, sorry, Big Boss, I don`t mean to swear. Please, please, I don`t mean it.” I have gotten myself into a real pickle this time. Swearing is one thing, but swearing at God... that`s something else!
“It`s alright, Mr. Choi, it`s alright to swear when the occasion requires it. I do it all the time. Heck! Who do you think invented all the swear words? Not the Devil! To answer your question though: This is the first time we set up this exchange program. The idea is for us to learn about how the other side operates, to explore some common grounds between Heaven and Hell, and to make sure we will co-exist in peace.”
“I think I understand the rationale, but why me? How am I qualified for this important assignment?”
“Mr. Choi, I picked you for several reasons: You were trained as a market researcher, so you are good at making observations; you worked as a real estate agent, so you should know how to deal with difficult people; and last but not least you hold a malleable stance on religion which will come in handy when you mingle with people from different backgrounds when you get to Hell.”
“Okay, Big Boss, I am sold. I am ready to take on this assignment. Now, I don`t want you to think that I am trying to negotiate with you, but what will I get if I complete this assignment to your satisfaction?” I put on my best smile that I could muster.
“Well, Mr. Choi, what kind of reward do you have in mind?” She smiled back.
“There`s only one thing I wanted, Big Boss. After I complete the assignment in Hell, I would like to come back as a young man of 30, not a year older. Do we have a deal?” I looked at God straight in the eyes and held my breath.
“Mr. Choi, if you complete this assignment, I will take 20 years off your age. I believe that`s more than fair.”
“Big Boss, you will take 40 years off, and that`s my last offer.”
“Alright, Mr. Choi, you drive a hard bargain. You may come back 30 years younger, but you must promise me you will not try to date Ms Audrey Hepburn.”
“OK, we have a deal. Dating Audrey Hepburn! Now, Big Boss, I must say the thought never crossed my mind!” I lied.
“Mr. Choi, be careful not to lie. Nothing escapes me, remember?... Now, when you are ready to go to hell, say the special code `What the Hell`` and you will be hell-bound in a nanosecond.”
“And when I am ready to return, what will be my magic code?”
“You should say `Good Heavens` and you will be back just as quickly, I promise!”
“One last question, Big Boss, if you don`t mind.”
“Oh, feel free, Mr. Choi, I have all the time in the Universe.”
“Not that it will make a difference, but who is coming from Hell, in exchange for me?” I wished my counterpart would be someone noteworthy, someone impressive.
“Oh! Number one bad boy in the history of man. He will do nicely in Heaven!” Somehow, that made me feel really important.
I reckoned if they sent Genghis Khan to represent Hell, I must do my utmost to represent Heaven. I was handpicked by God and I must not fail him. The way I figured it: the sooner I went to Hell, the sooner I would return as a young man and have to try NOT to take Audrey Hepburn out to dinner! The mere thought alone was enough to get me all roused up like an old but wild mustang. I was beyond ready. I said goodbye to the Big Boss, then closed my eyes and yelled as loud as I could: “WHAT THE HELL! ”
Dear readers: You should know that the next time I write to you it will be from Hell. Please keep that in mind before you open the file! If you have a heart condition, you should make sure you have taken your medications. No, it`s not going to be shocking or scary, but there is a chance that you might laugh yourself to death.
I would like to take this moment to review the key findings from my first day in Heaven. This is particularly important for those of you who have for reasons unfounded decided not to continue to Part 2 of my story:
1. Heaven is not what you have been told. People who did the telling or writing about Heaven were nothing more than extremely creative spin-doctors.
2. God is non-discriminatory and holds no favours toward Christians, Muslims, Buddhists or any other form of religion.
3. God is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. God is also polymorphic, able to appear in any form, shape, size, gender and genus.
4. Most important of all, God is fun-loving and appreciates good, old-fashioned horse trading. So when you finally meet him/her/it, be ready to negotiate, and always bear in mind that the old adage “You don`t get what you deserved; you get what you negotiated.” holds true particularly in Heaven.
- The end -