Posting this just for the hell of it. An old story of mine, but one I hope you enjoy all the same.
I was in the pub talking with my friend. We touched on many things, football, politics and news. But I had an idea what he really wanted to talk about; he wanted to talk about my best friend.
Eventually after an age he got round to it, hesitant at first – and in a whispered voice, he asked me how Death had become my friend.
So, I explained how I’d sent out an invitation, by post of course, inviting Death over for nothing more than a cup of tea, a chat and possibly a game or two of Chess. Naturally I’d been laughed at by people when they’d found out what I’d done, but the laughter stopped when the following Friday Death turned up on my doorstep.
I was surprised he’d come, I’d expected no answer if I’m honest. But I’m a polite person, so I invited him in. He was polite enough to leave his scythe by the door and sat down and enjoyed a cup of tea with me.
That first conversation was perhaps a little awkward, he knew everything there was to know about me already, but all I knew of him was rumour and speculation. Not the easiest of beginnings and we did indeed chat about the weather somewhat. He seemed a little impatient until I set the Chessboard up. After that he became quite talkative.
Death has played Chess a lot in his time and against some very interesting people – all of whom sought to beat him and thus extend their own lives. He talked much about some of them; about the way they had played there games, both in life, and in death. They had demanded the right to challenge him and he’d had no choice but to agree – it’s part of the rules.
Death, of course, gets to pick the game. He always picks Chess, and he never loses.
He beat me quickly and without apology. Given he’s beat grandmasters in the game and some of the world’s best thinkers I knew I had no chance. However, I hadn’t invited him over to challenge him; I’d invited him to play the game with me for nothing more than fun.
Death told me then and there, he’d never played the game just for the fun of it and how nice and pleasant it was to do so. I’d suspected this when I’d invited him; I’d suspected that no one had ever extended the courtesy of an invitation to him for just social purposes. It all seemed so terrible rude to me and so terrible wrong. Just because he has an unlikeable job to do doesn’t mean he should be socially excluded.
He thanked me for the game and said he needed to go. Death after all is a busy person. I asked if wanted to come over and play again, just for fun of course, and in that stony voice of his he told me “yes.”
It was several weeks before he came round again and politely he picked the perfect time. As he knows where everyone always is and what we’re all doing, how could he not know when the best time was?
We enjoyed a cup of tea again and to no surprise a game of Chess. He told me something of his week, it was naturally horrific, but it’s not like he kills people – he just deals with the souls afterwards. I wondered how someone could remain so calm doing that day after day and even dared to ask. He shrugged and told me it wasn’t something he had a choice in.
Of course he beat me again, but it was still an enjoyable game. He thanked me for a pleasant evening and said he needed to go.
I said then something I’ve never regretted; “You are welcome to come round any time.”
He did not answer, but rather inclined his head in acknowledgement.
These random visit continued, sometimes months would go by, once a whole year went by, but Death would still come round for a chat, a game of Chess and a cup of tea. The press of course eventually got wind of this, and set up camp outside my door – I enjoyed a small measure of being a celebrity for a while. That of course was not my intention, but I was honest enough to answer questions and firm enough to not let it get out of hand. When the paparazzi realised they were never going to get a picture of Death, or that once in a life time interview, they eventually got bored and left me alone.
There was a little trouble with some men from the Government, but given the way that stopped I suspect Death had a word with them, or something.
Death continued to visit, although we didn’t always do the same thing. I thought it would be fun to try other games, so we played various card games; we’ve played various board games. We once even played Twister.
Naturally he’s won them all.
We’ve sat outside watching the sky at night, talking of the stars. As friends go he’s perfect, he’s undemanding, unassuming and always polite. My family may have been horrified when I invited him to join us at Christmas and he perhaps only turned up out of curiosity – but seemed to enjoy himself and he says the socks my grandmother gave him still fit.
Now when he comes to visit we spend time talking, catching up. We don’t play games that often, we get far more enjoyment from each other’s company. And Death, once you get to know him, is quite an interesting person.
Of course he knows the when’s and why’s of how I’ll die – but I’ve never asked and I never will. I’ve never even asked him what comes after, or even if there is an after. That’s not why I wanted to get to know him. But then he knows that already.
I pause to sip my drink, and my friend looks at me as if I’m mad – I get that a lot, so I ignore it.
“But why?” He asks.
“When my time comes I don’t want to be afraid. I want to enjoy the last few moments I have, in the company of a good friend.”
© James Snaith, 29 October 2009