The Clerk

He must have dozed off for a moment.

The yell of a slamming door woke him to the fluorescent reality of the room and he raised his head sharply, opening his eyes to the light.

A new client came in; there seems a necessity to service him, or at least provide some kind of guidance. He stifled an automatic yawn that tried to escape his lips, put on his glasses, and shook his head at the figure coming through the opposite door.

When the world came into focus again, he felt his breath stop.

It was not the room. The room looked just like it had before: square, white, no more than ten square meters, three doors. One door was in front of him, and it was the one through which they came. The other two, out of which they left, were in the walls beside him.

He is there, sitting on a creaky little chair while the computer screen lights up his pale face; he sits behind a wooden table covered in a white cloth that hides his legs, which are trembling slightly now.

The room looked exactly the same, but his new client, or rather, she…was an unexpected surprise. It was a little girl, with red hair tied into two ponytails and bright, big, questioning green eyes.

She looked to the right and to the left, at the two doors, and asked, “You are supposed to tell me where to go, right?”

He swallowed hard, nodding.

His memory already stored quite a few faces and types who passed through this door.

He was supposed to be very professional and distant, after all this time.

They would come in, their eyes adjusting to the bright light, and then disappointedly discover that all that awaited them after death was a large room housing a clerk wearing a bright, old jacket and thick glasses.

At least three out of five would ask something like “Am I dead?” And of course he would confirm it. The other two would usually mutter words of mild shock and look around. “Holy shit” was popular.

“I want to understand something,” a big man with an enormous belly and a thin moustache once said. “Is it only me or the bright light you see after you die is your fluorescent light? Is it because I was an atheist? Everyone else got to meet God and I meet you?”

“No,” the clerk, “everyone comes to me or to someone else in a room like this one. The light is unintentional. But this is only a passageway station. Relax. So what’s your name?”

Sometimes he would also need the name of the mother or father, just as a precaution. Typing quickly, he would point out the correct door. The one with the green frame, or the one with the red frame.

It was a bit boring, of course, but someone had to do it.

Maybe once clerks with papers sat here, and before them clerks with scrolls or ceramic pieces engraved with names, or maybe clerks who needed to memorize the names of those entering in advance. But since they invented the computer down on earth, the reception room up here evolved to a clearer concept for customers. He imagined that in the future there would be more decorative changes. They would probably keep the strong white light. It corresponded too well with the myths the guys downstairs recognized.

The red-haired girl looked at him with interest. “That’s what you do all day?” she questioned.

“Yes.” 

“Do you meet a lot of people?”

“Quite a few,” he said. “All sorts. It is very interesting. I’m always trying to guess in advance what the computer will say about who enters. It’s surprising how hard it is to guess.”

She sat cross-legged on the white floor.

“You’re an angel?” she finally asked.

It was quite a common question. “No,” he said, “I am a person. But a balanced person.”

“What do you mean ‘balanced’?”

“If someone is more good than bad, the computer tells me to tell him to go through the door with the green frame. If someone is more bad than good, the computer will tell me he has to go through the door with the red frame.”

“Okay.” The girl nodded.

“But sometimes someone arrives who is right in the middle – exactly in the middle. That is someone who is a balanced person. If he were weighed on scales, both sides would come out equal. You know what a scale is, right?”

“I know very well what a scale is,” she said, frowning with her brows.

Yes, he thought, of course you know. He should not let the sight of the little girl fool him. “So when someone is right in the middle, he doesn’t go through any door. He stays in this room and greets those who come after him.”

“Forever and forever and ever?” the girl asked.

“No,” the clerk answered, “Just until someone else who is balanced comes. One day someone else will arrive and replace me, as I replaced the one sitting here before I died. Then, when he will come and replace me, I’ll put my name into the system and this time it will take into consideration the work that I did here as a part of the good things. “

“Then you pass through the door with a green frame!” the girl cried.

“Exactly.” He nodded. “Now is that clear?”

“Yes.” She threw her head up and down firmly.

“So now tell me your name.” 

 

There was no need to tell him of course. He recognized her the second she came in.
How old was she supposed to be now? It was a little difficult to calculate. He had no real sense of time here. She was probably eighty-plus.

People did not come through the door looking the way they did when they died; oh no. They came through the door as they saw themselves. Sometimes they were more beautiful or younger than they were in life, but sometimes he would see a figure who was pleasant and ordinary according to the photo on the computer screen but came through the door ugly and faded. People never saw themselves as they really were.

She, apparently, still saw herself as a child. Somehow it did not surprise him.

She did not recognize him of course. The many years that had passed must have made her forget him, or at least dimmed his picture in her memory.

But she looked just like she had the last time he looked at her: small and fragile, eyes darting around a bit, ponytails tight and obedient.

Funny. So many people had passed through his station here; he almost forgot he was once one of them. With memories and dreams, with broken or united love affairs, with a family. With a daughter.

A daughter you could hug or kiss on the head, a daughter who squirmed impatiently while being kissed; a daughter who muttered something like, “Well daddy, I’m late for school!” just to run away from you. A daughter who would look back and wave her hand before you waved back and drove off to meet your death two blocks before getting home, because one idiot decided that traffic lights were just a recommendation.

During the short seconds that passed between one client and another, sometimes he would remind himself angrily that he had not been there to bring her back from school or see her finishing her studies at all, or get married or anything else. He was not doing anything for her now, not even “watching from above,” whatever that meant, because he was so busy.

 

“So where am I going?”

He shook his head and focused his eyes again.

“Oh,” he said, “One second, I am checking.”

He began to enter her name and his fingers froze in the air.

So what kind of person did you grow up to be? What will I find here on the screen now? And if I find out that I’m supposed to tell you to go through the door with the red frame, what does it say about you, or me, on my absence? Am I scared of the screen now?

He tapped a few more letters and then stopped.

 

He glanced quickly over the table at the girl waiting. I’m sorry I was not there for you. I’m sorry we did not continue the bike lessons in the park and that I yelled at you when you came back too late from having fun, and that I didn’t help you with your homework assignments or babysit your own child. I will compensate you for everything. I’m here now and I can go back to taking care of you.

 

“This way.” He gestures at the right door with the green frame. On the screen the cursor blinks, as if waiting for the name to be typed in. Let it wait.

“Really?” The girl jumps.

“Absolutely.” He smiles, “Have a pleasant afterlife”.

“I hope someone will come to replace you quickly.” She smiled at him and ran to the door.

She opened the door, waved goodbye to him and disappeared behind it. The door closed slowly, and slammed softly into its place. Click.

 

I am not a special person. I was pretty ordinary.

I lived a normal life, without special records or particularly large falls. Perhaps because of that, I am balanced. I was boring and felt life was always passing me by at a distance. I’m not sure I investigated emotions enough. Things that happened just happened, that’s it. I thought nothing of it and paid very little attention.

He took off his glasses, and closed his eyes.

Yes, I’m a regular man. I had a little happiness here and there, some frustrations from time to time. Everything was pretty average, when you look at it from above.
But my goodness, my goodness, I do not think there is one human being in history who has experienced as sharp a happiness, as pure and perfect as what I felt when that door slammed.

He took a deep breath and devoted himself to the feeling.

***

The angel in charge of the control room looked at the monitor.

“Did you see?” He points out, “He just told her to enter Heaven’s door, but he did not even check.”

The trainee angel beside him looked a little closer. “That’s it?”

“Yes,” says the angel in charge, “You’ll never understand why, but sometimes that is all that is needed.”

“Now he continues to receive people as usual? As if nothing happened?”

“No way,” says the angel in charge, quickly glancing at the other monitors to ensure everything is okay.

“So?”

“He falls asleep for a second, and then wakes up again. And he will be sure he is a clerk who receives people and leads them to the right door. He will even have memories of people he treated once. Everything will start from the beginning. The figure of the child will enter and he will lead her to the door, over and over again.”

“He will not remember the other times?” The trainee angel leaned back thoughtfully.

“No. He just stays in the loop, directing her through this door again and again.”

“Strange, is it not?”

The angel in charge shrugged. “That is the way it goes. This is his heaven.” 

***

 

He must have dozed off for a moment.

The yell of a slamming door woke him back up and he raised his head sharply, opening his eyes to the light.

The room looked exactly the same as it always did, but his new client, or rather, she…it was an unexpected surprise.

It was a little girl, her red hair tied into two bright ponytails. She looked to the right and to the left. “You should tell me where to go, right?”

He swallowed hard, nodding.