The Unfortunate Woman
There are some unfortunate souls whose lives cannot be described better by the use of any other word than unfortunate. They come into this world crying, and being a particularly unimaginative sort of folk, they stick to the process and portray the same emotion for the rest of their lives. Their childhoods are an assortment of embarrassing, humiliating and degrading experiences, with only half hearted attempts by parents and other insignificant figures at restoring their esteem and morale.
By the time they hit puberty, an awkward time for the best of us, all their hopes have been killed off or sent away to a farm somewhere, never to return. They possess no wit or charm, and having been pummelled into submission by life, they carry themselves meekly, almost apologetically, throughout the rest of their miserable existence.
Just such a fate was one assigned to Sylvia. Having negotiated her formative years with all the enthusiasm of a prisoner bending over to retrieve his dropped soap bar in the prison shower, she had now grown into adulthood, and grown considerably at that.
Sylvia was a large woman, the kind of large that must have at some point in history caused the earth to tilt on its axis. The sort that needs an extra aeroplane ticket and custom made clothes and digital weight machines. The bitterness that inevitably accompanies this enhanced stature showed clearly in her face.
At her most tranquil, she had an expression reminiscent of Clint Eastwood recalling a particularly unpleasant memory.
Nietzsche once remarked, “Visiting the sick is an orgasm of superiority in the contemplation of our neighbor’s helplessness.” Sylvia was “visited” by many such people, and she called them her friends, though they were careful never to be caught indulging in utterances of a reciprocal nature. They hung around her, a sympathetic expression eternally carved upon their faces, making empty remarks about the artificiality of physical beauty. Sylvia believed them and took comfort, and they took comfort in the fact that she believed them.
The friends became successful, married, and moved on with their lives. Sylvia, with no special talents to speak of, remained in her job as a desk clerk in a marketing firm. For some indiscernible reason, she never quite made it into telemarketing.
She was a devout Christian and prayed to the impressive statue of the Christ every Sunday. But like everyone else she spoke to, he too seemed unresponsive.
By the time of her retirement, Sylvia was an obese, elderly lady, living in a cosy apartment with two birds and a goldfish. She was unable to leave her apartment and was completely dependent on the procession of delivery persons who frequented her apartment. The person who visited her most regularly was the pharmacist, who visited weekly to replenish her medicinal supplies, and he did so with considerable reluctance. On idle days he imagined himself “forgetting” to deliver her weekly supply of meds and chuckled to himself at the image of her keeling over.
Sometimes he thought the only thing preventing him from actually carrying out his dreams was the fact that he lived in the same building as her and wished to see it remain intact.
He needn’t have worried though, she did soon enough. On one of his weekly excursions, his repeated knocks on the door received no replies. Finding the door unlocked, he went inside and found her lying on the sofa, with the telephone still in her hand. Her last act in life had been to order two large pizzas with extra cheese.
The doctors were called, her cause of death was determined to be a heart attack (the pharmacist was almost depressed at the anticlimactic nature of her demise), and Sylvia’s tenure on Earth had come to an end.
The pizza guy left dejectedly without his tip.
Sylvia woke up to the sound of shuffling feet and merrymaking. She was in a massive field with people mulling about and a crowd of them lined up in front of the wall. Most people seemed confused, while some bore the ecstatic expression which one has when one’s wildest dream comes true. Sylvia was one of the confused. She clearly remembered dying. Indeed it was one of her fondest memories. Now she found herself in the midst of a whole crowd in an unknown place.
However, being literate, she quickly deduced from the many signs put up everywhere that this was the entrance to heaven, explaining at once both the ecstasy and the confusion.
“God,” the signs read, “opens his gates to you.”
It was quite literal, and Sylvia noticed now that the line of people were steadily moving forward and disappearing inside a little gate in the wall.
She suddenly had the sensation of a queer feeling inside her. She was not familiar with it, but she did not feel discomfort at its strangeness. It was hope. The feeling that for once in her life, something was going right. She was not being trodden upon, screwed over, mocked, tricked or any of the other ordeals she had faced over the years. So strange was this feeling to her, she was not at first sure of what to do with it. She walked to and fro, a beaming smile upon her face. Her face muscles protested at this unfamiliar exercise, but she paid no heed and smiled ever wider. The world about her seemed so far removed from the cold grey existence she was used to. This one was beautiful, awash with colours and liveliness.
Sylvia breathed in the sweet air and started off in the direction of the line, joining in behind a woman who was particularly pleasant to behold. But her beauty and grace did not bother Sylvia now. She was openly admiring of what stood before her and remarked to herself that heaven would surpass her own expectations if such beauties were commonplace.
The line moved forward still, Sylvia was now meters away. She could glimpse inside the most glorious landscapes, children playing in fountains of chocolate, lovers walking hand in hand, artists singing songs to the stars, wine flowing freely, feasts of unimaginable proportions open to all. This was to be her life from now on, and she could not wait.
“Welcome, ma’am, on you go. Heaven awaits.”
Sylvia bestowed upon the man the most compassionate smile her inexperienced face could muster up and proceeded to the gate. It was not a very wide gate and she imagined she would have to squeeze herself through, but once again, surprisingly, even to herself, this did not bother her anymore. Of what consequence are these little things?
It was a tight fit indeed. Sylvia tried to squeeze through, first straight ahead and then sideways, but try as she might, the gate always seemed just a bit too narrow. She began to hear snickers and cat calls behind her, but she resolved to try and try again. But it seemed to no avail. She looked back helplessly to the man who had greeted her. He gave her the sympathetic look that Sylvia so hated back on Earth, and he gestured up towards the sign that Sylvia had read earlier.
Sylvia stared at the sign, positive she had misread, or that her mind was playing tricks on her. She looked back at the man, and he looked at her, assuring her she was not imagining it.
“God opens his gates to those he loves.”
Sylvia turned back to the field, how grey and lifeless it seemed. A dead and dull world. She walked, head bowed, away from the gate.
God, it seemed, had a cruel sense of humour.