As the bright white light faded, Tom saw the strange hippy in front of him. The aged gentleman smiled at him running his fingers through his long beard.
‘Welcome traveller,’ he said.
Tom swallowed and replied, ‘where the hell am I?’
‘You, my friend, are at the gateway. The place where it is decided if you are going up or down.’
‘Are you God?’ Tom muttered.
‘Me no. I am his understudy. God is far too busy to man the gates. I dress like this, well, because it seems to be what people expect. I would far rather be in my jeans and hoodie. You can call me Bob.’ The hippy said, offering Tom a handshake.
‘Bob?’ Tom hoped he would wake from this dream soon.
‘You’re not dreaming, my friend,’ Bob replied. ‘Yes, that’s correct. I read minds. Now let me see your tally.’
Bob held up a clipboard and started studying it, running his fingers down the list.
‘Um, worked in a hospital as a nurse,’ Bob said with a smile. ‘Oh, had an affair at 45,’ This time, Bob raised his eyebrows in Tom’s direction.
‘I can explain,’ Tom stuttered.
‘No need; the decision has been made. No explanations are needed. You, my friend, are going upstairs, congratulations.’
With this, a step ladder appeared in front of Tom. He frowned; a step ladder was not what was written in the books. Where was his stairway to heaven?
‘Yes, sorry about that,’ Bob replied. ‘We had a load of politicians up over the last couple of years. They have persuaded God to privatise the stairway; it is only for VIP guests now. So you get the step ladder.’
Tom took a deep breath; he had wanted to ask something since arriving here. ‘What is hell, like?’
‘Well, I don’t normally do this, but I feel sorry for you with all the step ladder business. So do you want a quick peek below to see what it is like? Only for five minutes, though, and you have to come back when I call you, or you will be stuck there.’
‘Yes, please,’ Tom didn’t even hesitate.
With that, Bob tapped the step ladder and the steps reversed. Tom took a deep breath and stepped on the first rung. Then, descending the steps, he reached the bottom and emerged into a vast hall.
In the centre was an enormous banquet table. The room was dark, but he could still see all the beautiful food piled high on the table. As far as he could see, there was food of all descriptions.
Tom thought, if this is hell, then how good would heaven be? At that moment, Tom saw the people all seated around the table. Every one of them had arms without elbows to bend. The arms stuck straight out from their shoulders.
This was when Tom noticed the arms were so stiff they couldn’t reach their mouths with any food. They threw the food up in the air but never caught it. They tried to roll the food down their arms, but it never made their mouths. These people were starving to death even though they were surrounded by food.
Jim shuddered, when he heard Bob’s voice calling him back; the step ladder reappeared. Tom ascended the ladder. He stopped to thank Bob before continuing on his journey.
As Tom emerged into another massive hall, this one was lighter than before. The same huge banquet tables stretched from one side to the other. The same food was piled high.
Tom looked at the people around the table and noticed they also had no elbows. Looking down at his own arms, he saw his elbows had vanished; he shuddered.
Finally, Tom saw the people sitting around the table laughing and looking far from starving. That is when he noticed that they were feeding each other. Everyone was using their non-bending arms to feed the person opposite them.
Tom saw the light for the second time that day, understanding life completely.
Parts of this story are based on an old Chinese allegory called The Allegory of the Long Spoons. I have taken the liberty of changing some features, but the essence is still there. I hope you enjoyed my interpretation.
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