‘Grim Reaper’; glorified taxi driver to the afterlife. Honestly, my job description was a bit vague about the whole reaping souls thing. Apparently, there’s been budget cuts; we used to have a ferryman take you across. Very ceremonial. Anyways, Charon’s retired now, and I don’t have all the dramatics, just a long black cloak and scythe. I’ve never been partial to the scythe bit really, causes some panic when I show up… strange man with big blade on your doorstep, freaks people out a bit these days. I leave it at home mostly.
Sorry. Where was I? Tuesday, maybe. I walked up to the door, composed myself, brushed the creases out my cloak and rapped on the door. A man answered it, not my usual client. He looked healthy, some creases around the corners of his eyes and in need of a shave but otherwise well. But there was a heaviness to him. His weary eyes sighed as he opened the door.
To be candid I was not expecting that response. Being the harbinger of the inevitable I expect a little awe. His nonchalance was a mite insulting.
“I take it you’re Death. Call me Oli.”
A wry smile briefly flashed across his face. A more resigned look followed. The grey of his untidy bristles washed a dull pallor over his face, making him seem hollow, almost translucent. Ghostly.
“Not what I was expecting.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint.”
“Don’t take it personally, mate. I was just expecting, y’know... a skeleton with a scythe or that cute goth girl from the comics. You’re more normal. But it's cool. You seem ok.”
“I have a scythe at home if it makes you feel better.”
“Hard pass, thanks.”
“You don’t seem very worried about me?”
“I’ll make you a deal, I'll tell you anything you wanna know if we can go get a coffee before I die.”
“I am DEATH. I don’t make deals.”
“C’mon, aren’t you a little curious about how I knew you were coming?”
“DEATH isn’t curious.”
“Not even a little bit?”
“I take it all back. DEATH is kinda lame.”
Ordinarily, I don’t bargain. But I am the arcane angel of the abyss, the cosmological nightmare, the never-ending end. I am not lame. And I like coffee.
“Fine. One coffee. But if management gets pissed, I’m blaming you.”
It’s a short walk to the cafe, few lefts followed by a handful of rights. We hit the promenade along the riverbank, a quiet Tuesday afternoon. We arrive at a small café on the street corner. Pushing the glass door, a bell tinkles as it swings open. A man stands behind the counter. His head flicks up as we walk in.
“The usual, Oli?”
“Thanks Hassan, same for my friend.”
We find a table in the corner, Oliver rocks back on his chair breathing in, heavily. I step over to my seat, swishing my cloak to sit down. It’s quite the art, swishing a cloak so it doesn’t crease under you. Takes a damn anvil to iron. Hassan is pretty quick. After about a minute, two steaming cups of coffee are on the table.
“So, you have your coffee, now you have to fulfil your end of the deal.”
“Well, you got questions. Shoot away.”
He rocks back and forth, picking at the corner of his thumb.
“How’d you know I was coming?”
“Brain tumour, we were gonna meet sooner or later.”
“Everyone always is.”
A pause. That kinda silence that hangs between people for just a passing moment.
“You don’t seem terrified to meet me.”
“Have you looked in the mirror recently, mate?”
“I don't have a reflection.”
“Make shaving hard. I’ve been expecting a visit sometime soon for a while now. I guess I got bored of being scared.”
I sip my coffee slow. We don’t get much coffee growing in the underworld, machine went dry around 400 years ago. Presently, I became aware of my lack of social skills, hanging around the dead eight days a week turns you into something of an introvert. I didn’t know what to say. You try making small talk with an existential, dying man. Conversation’s a bit dead.
“Hey, Death. I’m gonna pop off to the gents.”
“Be snappy about it. Don’t wanna keep upstairs waiting.”
I sit alone. Contemplating. Nothing philosophical mind you, more what story I’d spin to my line manager, when I got back. Azrael’s a dick. I suppose it's natural to get grumpy having been the most feared entity in existence since forever. Oliver! Should check he hasn’t run off or anything. I don’t get paid enough for this. I pick myself up leaving a few silver coins on the table. I glide to the bathroom door, pausing, listening to a soft whimper. Gently, I open the door. Staring intently into a cracked mirror, tears streak his cheeks. Oliver wipes his face as he sees me.
“I can’t go yet. I have a little girl; I need to be here for her.”
Oliver pinches his nose sniffling back a tear, looking down at his feet.
“Yeah, and I’ve missed enough of her life already. I wanna see her grow up.”
“You worried about her?”
“She’s gonna need someone to look out for her.”
“Look Oli, I don’t get to decide when your time comes.”
“Can you promise me something?”
“I don’t know...”
“Please, just promise me you will keep an eye on her for me. Please, Death. I can go knowing she’s gonna be alright.”
I could see the pain in his eyes.
“I… Yeah, I think I can do that.”
And like that he was gone. Vanished. First, he faded away in front of me, his reflection in the cracked pane lingering. That cocky smile hovered, hanging between worlds for a moment. That too faded. That’s my job sometimes.
Shit. I'm late. I’ll be seeing you, sooner or later.