God was ill. God was dying.
The news blazed across Heaven at just under the speed of light. Angels whispered it to each other under the cover of their myriad wings. Cherubim flashed signals to each other with flaming swords. Saints and saintesses suddenly began to worry about losing their patron and link to power. Even the lowly souls of the ordinary Heavenly dead realised something was amiss and began looking at each other, uneasily, like disturbed sheep.
God was ill. God was dying. Such a thing had never happened before. God had never died before. And Heaven was in turmoil.
From all over Heaven, physicians were summoned, and surgeons, and even acupuncturists and Reiki healers; in fact, anyone with any pretensions to health care at all was brought hurriedly to the Divine bedchamber, where they stood looking helplessly down at the obese, furry form of God.
“Heal him!” the angels hissed. “Restore him to health at once!”
“Or we’ll throw you out of heaven,” the cherubim put in, eyeing the angels belligerently and already planning for the takeover tussle to come. “At the point of a flaming sword,” they added.
“But,” began the acupuncturists.
“We can’t,” said the surgeons.
“We trained on humans,” said the physicians. “This isn’t a human. We have no idea what his anatomy or physiology might be like, let alone what illnesses he might have.”
“What am I even doing here?” a lone dentist wailed.
“You need a veterinarian,” the senior-most physician, a cardiologist who had once treated Arab kings, said. “Since God isn’t human, it falls within their territory.”
“Yes, yes,” everyone sighed with relief. “Get a veterinarian. Or even two. Get a whole posse of veterinarians.”
And there was the problem – because on all Heaven, there wasn’t a single vet to be found.
“I’m sure we had some,” an eminent saint admitted to his supervisor angel, wiping his bald head with his white nightgown as though he could still sweat. “I’m positive we admitted a few.”
“Find them,” the angel snarled, baring his yellow fangs. “Find them, or else God will die. And then the cherubim will revolt against angelic domination, and we’ll be at civil war before the aeon is out.
“And we don’t even have flaming swords,” the angel added as an afterthought. “So you know who’ll win. And they don’t like you saints much either, so you know what will happen to you.”
So the saint summoned all his assistant saints and even the mere associate saints and other lesser orders. “Find the vets,” he ordered them. “Right away.”
“As you wish,” said the mini- and micro-saints, and they went out looking for vets among the increasingly uneasy residents of Heaven. But though they searched high and higher (there not being any low in Heaven), through the barracks and the soul cages, they found not one.
“They’re hiding,” the chief searcher, formerly a Gestapo operative who had experience hunting fugitive Jews and Gypsies in the cities of Occupied Europe, said. “They know we want them, but they don’t want to show themselves because they don’t want to be blamed when God dies.”
“And who can blame them for that,” one of his lesser searchers said.
The ex-Gestapo man glared at him. “Go and look through the admission quarantine camps,” he said.
“But they might contaminate Heaven!” the lesser searcher protested.
“Do you think that matters now?” the former hunter of Jews countered. “It’s us or them. Go do it!”
So the searcher went to the admission quarantine camps, where, behind barbed wire, new arrivals were screened to root out atheists, freethinkers, and other undesirables. But though he hunted high and low, he found not one soul who would admit to being a vet. The word had got around, even in here.
“Go and tell them they’ll get automatic admission to Heaven if they volunteer,” the former Gestapo man ordered.
“Why would they fall for that?” the assistant searcher argued. “They know as well as anyone that this place is falling to pieces.”
“The only remaining option is to apply to Hell to send us a vet,” the saint said when the ex-Gestapo had reported to him. “I’ll pass it on to the angel.”
“Apply to Hell?” the angel exclaimed. “That will need clearance from the top.”
“The top? How far at the top?”
“God himself,” the angel said grimly.
And by then, it was too late already.
“He’s dying,” some of the angels at his bedside whispered mournfully, dancing furiously at the head of a pin to show their sorrow. “It’s just about all over.”
“Get him the final sacraments,” the archangel-in-chief snapped. “Quickly.”
“But who is to perform the rites?” the dancing angels asked.
“Who else? A Pope.”
And there was a problem, because there wasn’t a single Pope in Heaven. Not one.
“It’s all your fault, God,” the archangel-in-chief said accusingly. “If I told you once, I told you 9876543210 times, a little homophobia and cover-up of paedophilia shouldn’t come in the way of letting Popes into Heaven. And now look at the mess we’re in!”
But God was too far gone to look at the mess they were in. God was too far gone to hear, or even to give a parting deathbed lecture in Bollywood style. God was so far gone that he couldn’t even say “And now...I...am...leaving...you,” and fall back on the pillows dramatically.
As a matter of fact, God was dead.
“We’d better keep the news secret as long as possible,” a very, very senior saint said. “Conduct the funeral in secret, and settle the succession issue quickly. Or all Hell will break loose.”
“It’s not Hell I’m worried about,” said the archangel-in-chief, dubiously eyeing the ranks of assembled cherubim with their burning swords. “I wish God had thought about making a will,” he added. “We might have averted a power struggle over the succession then.”
“There aren’t any lawyers in Heaven just as there aren’t any Popes,” the other reminded him. “Who’d draw up the will, and where would we probate it?”
The cherubim had been listening intently to this muttered conversation. One of them thrust himself forward. “First things first. What do we do with God’s soul, then?”
“What do you mean?” the archangel-in-chief demanded.
The cherub laughed bitterly, with a sound like raging thunder. “You know damned well...I’m sorry, you know perfectly well what I mean. Where do you plan to send God’s soul?”
“Why,” the archangel-in-chief spluttered, “we’ll let it into Heaven, of course.”
“Of course?” the cherub growled. “What’s of course about it? Look at all the crimes God committed since the beginning of time, the massacres and the genocides, the floods and the pestilence and the rest of it.”
“Look what he did in Egypt,” another cherub said. “First he hardens Pharaoh’s heart, and then he punishes the Egyptians, who had no control over Pharaoh’s decisions anyway, not being a democracy, by killing their firstborns because Pharaoh had a hard heart. Is that a benevolent deity for you?”
“More like a stone psycho,” the first cherub affirmed. “How can such a megalomaniacal mass murderer be worthy of a place in Heaven? A war crimes tribunal would be the least he deserves.”
“No war crimes tribunal on this plane of existence,” the archangel-in-chief said, and then instantly wished he hadn’t.
“Then send God to Hell,” all the cherubim shouted, brandishing their flaming swords. “We demand that God be sent to Hell. Or we’ll revolt.”
“You’re already revolting,” the archangel-in-chief muttered, but not too loudly because he didn’t much fancy the look of those burning swords. But there was nothing for it, so he reluctantly gave orders for God’s soul to be thrown out of Heaven.
“It’s only postponing the rebellion, though,” the very, very senior saint said. “At most we’re only buying a little time.”
“I know,” said the archangel-in-chief, unhappily. “They’ll simply swamp us. Any ideas?”
“All we can do is train the humans,” the saint said. “We humans are very violent, by nature. Train us and make us into an army.”
“That will mean civil war,” the archangel-in-chief said.
The saint laughed. “Don’t you know civil wars are in fashion these days?”
God opened his eyes and looked around. He was sitting in a chair, strapped tightly in. A blazing lamp shone in his eyes, but all else was in darkness.
“Where am I?” he asked.
A familiar chuckle came from the darkness. “Where do you think you are? I’ll give you three guesses.”
“Lucifer!” God exclaimed. “What are you doing in Heaven?”
“This isn’t Heaven,” Lucifer said contemptuously. “You’re in the seat I’ve reserved for you all along. You’re in Hell, God.”
“Oh my me,” God said. “How did that happen?”
Lucifer laughed. “It happened because sinners usually end up here. Didn’t you know that?” He paused. “But don’t worry, God. I won’t waterboard you, or put you in stress positions, or even take a rubber hose to you. We don’t go in for that kind of crude torture here – we leave that for your holy warriors. All you have to do is sit in that chair. For ever and ever and ever, amen.”
God tried the chair. It was a comfortable chair, and the straps weren’t too tight. “Really? You aren’t going to do anything to me for throwing you out of Heaven?”
“Why should I?” Lucifer sounded astonished. “You did me a favour, considering the shape Heaven is in right now. Besides, I need someone to talk to. You can’t believe how long I’ve been looking for someone of my intellectual level.”
God would’ve frowned if he had a forehead to frown with. “What’s happened to Heaven?” he asked.
“Oh, you’re well out of that. It’s a bad scene, God. Civil war, carnage everywhere, archangels and saints dropping like flies. You wouldn’t have lasted a moment there.”
God thought about it. “You know,” he said. “I was getting rather tired of the whole thing anyway. All that nastiness with Original Sin and Iraq and all. Besides, while I was nasty, and had a great old time being nasty, I’m rather a fifth wheel these days. Humans are far nastier to each other than I ever could be.” He paused. “Maybe I’d be better off here.”
“That’s the spirit, God,” Lucifer said approvingly. “Talking about spirits, would you like something to drink?”
“Have you got some beer?” God asked. “Nice and chilled?”
“Beer? We have, let’s see, Scotch whisky, Russian vodka, the best champagne money can buy, Jamaican rum...”
“I want beer,” God insisted. “Get me beer. Lager beer.”
Lucifer laughed. “All right, keep your hair on. Beer coming up.”
“Chilled,” God said. “Cold enough to make my teeth ache.”
“You don’t have teeth,” Lucifer reminded him. “Not anymore.”
“I know,” God sighed, and wriggled into a more comfortable position. “I know.”
Copyright B Purkayastha 2013