It could very well have been you that I saw on the bus that day. You looked up and saw me staring, and you blushed. I looked away.
And I told Death, No.
I’ve had this ability, this responsibility, for as long as I can remember. I killed the old kindly Mr Cotes who lived across my house when I was eight. I hadn’t realised what I was doing. I was frolicking in the garden outside my house when he called out a friendly greeting from his.
I looked up, and the world suddenly faded away in a dizzying rush, leaving only my neighbour’s wizened face, which expanded and expanded until it was all I could see. I could see every liver spot, every wrinkle with the most amazing clarity. The life in his eyes seemed to dance and sparkle.
Someone, or something, demanded an answer of me. Him?
Till this day, I don’t know why I said Yes. As I said, I had no idea what I was doing.
Or perhaps it was because in my trance I was allowed to see beyond the benevolent countenance and regard, unobstructed, the sins of the man it masked. I saw him railing at his tearful adult son because the young man had lost his job. I saw him sneaking a few more slices of ham into the package after the shop assistant had weighed and wrapped it.
Did I really not know what I was doing?
My child heart throbbed with guilt and horror when the next day my mother hugged me and whispered that old Mr Cotes had passed on.
For some time after that, I said No to every question of His, even when He asked about the school bully Tommy, who had pilfered my brand new soccer ball last summer.
But his questions just got more frequent and urgent, almost frenzied. Almost everybody I met on the street was brought up to the chopping block.
Yes or No? Yes or No? Yes or No?
I could almost imagine His bony fingers wrapped tight around His scythe, shaking with frustration as one after the other all were denied him.
But I eventually caved.
When it came round to Tommy again, I resolutely replayed every past wrong he had done me. The time he had snuck up on me, scissors in hand, and with a few quick snips, made me the laughing stock of the school until my hair grew out again. The time he refused to admit to the teacher about copying from my test, landing us both in detention.
He was mowed down by a car when his ball—no, my ball—rolled onto the road and he blindly ran to retrieve it. This time, I found it difficult to muster the slightest sense of regret, not even when I watched his mother wail as the small white casket was lowered into the dark, damp earth.
You know what frightens me? How it gets easier to say Yes each time.
So you—yes you on the bus. Get your act together.
I might not be as merciful the next time round.