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Seven and it's Heaven

It was seeing Mackie that did it. I knew something was up, I just didn’t know what. Behind my gritty, red, sleep-deprived eyes, festered a monstrous, unresolved problem: how to repay Obi’s loan before his patience ran out and he killed me.

   You don’t owe Obi the butcher money without losing limbs. I’ve seen the evidence lying on the floor. If he doesn’t slice you apart he might decide you need to do something for him while your debt accumulates interest. ‘Oya, you can do something simple for me,’ he’ll say, sharpening his cutlass for effect. Nothing Obi needs doing is simple, or legal. I’d run, but far worse than owing Obi money is getting caught avoiding his summons. Run and you die very, very slowly. I know a man called Tayo who ran. Half the town is looking for him and when he’s found he’ll live with Obi’s pigs until they’re big and fat and it’s time to butcher them all.

   I received my summons from a child gangsta on a bicycle. ‘Big Obi says he wants you,’ he shouted through my window. I said I’d be along in a minute and the expression on the boy’s face made me run out straight away and offer a placatory bribe. It was a smile that said ‘Not coming now? Fine. I’ll tell Obi you say you have better things to attend to.’

   My good fortune tends to resemble that of a slug dropped from a bird’s beak onto the fast lane of a motorway, so the odds lady luck threw my way that morning were incredible. Distracted by my impending doom, I stepped in front of a minibus, got swatted to the ground, but ended up without a scratch on my body. Lying there, I briefly considered feigning injury to buy time from Obi’s justice. However, the soft thing that cushioned my head from the road was the very thing I’d always dreamed of finding - a carrier bag stuffed full of high denomination banknotes. Of course I snatched it up and ran. If you knew Obi like I knew Obi you’d have seized the moment too.

   I ran until black dots swam before my eyes and my legs turned to jelly. I stopped by Mama Aduke’s stall to let my pounding heart recover. When my eyes regained focus I turned to ask Mama for water, only to find she’d employed someone to take her place. The lady who sold me iced water in a polyurethane bag was someone I’d not seen before. A raw recruit I thought because she didn’t sell it; she just gave it to me. I didn’t dwell long on this stranger’s face or her generosity. Mama Aduke and her employees were beneath me now. I was a Big Time Charlie Potato with a bag full of money, only it wasn’t my money if I couldn’t keep it, and there was bound to be a pursuit on. I guzzled my water and prepared to fly.

   That was when I saw a dog. I knew it was Mackie - corkscrew tail, white sock on front left paw, white patch over pearly, cataract impaired right eye, tongue hanging out the side of his mouth like he’d no control over it - there could only ever be one dog that looked so ragged. Mackie my bandido chum, I’d know you anywhere. My spirits were lifted, for about two seconds, which is the time it took to recall that Mackie was many years dead, which meant I was seeing a ghost. The hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach and the almost overwhelming urge to pee weren’t the worst of it. If there’s anything more unnerving than seeing your dead dog alive it’s hearing his voice in your head.

 

   I read about dying in one of those magazines you find in a dentist’s waiting room. The near death survivor wrote of a bright light and a warm feeling (maybe she couldn’t resist the urge to pee). From then on I fully expected the entrance to the afterlife to be pristine white, clean, cosy, and well lit. If that’s what you’re expecting you’re in for a shock.

   My version of death might be an anomaly, after all I was knocked down and killed by a bus on my way to a beating, but if you ask me the closest living experience to dying is giving birth. Being male I've not done it myself, but from what I've heard I'd say the two have much in common. As soon as you realise you’re dead there's a lot of pain. Then there’s the pressure, as if something wants to get out of you and isn’t fussy about which orifice it’s going to use.

   I blacked out, and when I came to I was slumped over in a waiting room, drool running down my chin, and Mackie at my feet. There was no Saint Peter standing in front of a magnificent gate through which I could get a glimpse of the magical parkland that is Heaven. If you die like I did you wake up in a room that looks like a cross between a concrete pre-fab and a shed assembled by the kind of handyman who turns to string and glue when he runs out of nails. Maybe there’s a hierarchy of transcendence and better people than me wake up in plush reception rooms, but my experience is of waking up in a dump.

It was nice to have Mackie for moral support. I was scared. Sitting there with a stupid carrier bag of worthless banknotes on my lap, I was struck by the irony. I’d escaped Obi by dying. I panicked, and struggled to breathe, which is a sensation that didn’t last half as long as I feared it would.

Being dead doesn’t make breathing optional. In the afterlife you can’t hold your breath until dizziness sets in. Once I found I couldn’t do it accidentally, I tried doing it deliberately. Not possible. Twenty seconds perhaps. I've since considered jumping off a high cliff and throwing myself under a bus. I couldn't do them either. As soon as I decide to do anything equating to self-harm the idea pops out of my head. I forget what I was about to do until the moment passes, and only remember later.

Some morons (possibly Mormons and I misheard) formed a club called The Ungrateful Dead, which has the sole aim of finding a way for its members to die twice. It gives awards to those who put forward the most innovative Scheme For Suicide and has a monthly event where they try to put the best idea into practice. They go home disappointed but undeterred. I'm reliably informed the club has no long-term members. I can’t be bothered to read their pamphlets or go to their Second Life parties. What's the point? Even if you best the rules of Heaven and engineer a lethal situation, you'll magically walk away unscathed with the memory of how you did it wiped. I spent an hour trying to bang my hand with a hammer, and despite intense concentration, eyes open or eyes shut, I missed every time. I started with a thumb; trying to hit any part of my hand was an act of desperation.

Mackie despairs of my self-harming ways. Pointless human self-loathing he calls it, and claims dogs don’t suffer such maladies. He says the cut-your-nose-off-to-spite-your-face thing is a mental impairment unique to our species. I tell him not to be stupid, that it’s the expression of a superior mind to be able to make consciously negative choices, but deep down I suspect he has a point.

I had a three-person-panel assess me for entry to the hallowed land. Mackie told me to expect two good guys and one bad. I got a dud panel of three of the pettiest, most miserable bastards humanity could have put forward. Somehow I managed to convince them that even though I couldn’t lay claim to a blameless life most of the harm I’d done had been to myself. The things they brought up were really embarrassing. Theft, vandalism, vengeance, lust, and gluttony were my best points. Caught quite literally with my pants down I ‘fessed up to all.

   At the end, one nodded, one shook her head, but the straight-talking elderly gentleman who’d given me the hardest time gave a resigned shrug and nodded too. I gave a fist pump of delight and ran through the open door before they changed their minds. I don’t know what happens if you get led through the other door, but I’d seen the scratch marks and blood stains on the floor.

 

   I’ve been here for months now, or is it years. Time passes differently over here. It’s not easy to adjust to but I’m getting better at being dead. Death has curious benefits like being able to talk to Mackie. We get on so well I sometimes have to stop and remind myself he’s a dog. He’s got more experience of the mechanics of Heaven than I have so I asked him about something that’s puzzled me for some time. Why was he appointed as my spirit guide, not a human with whom I was closely acquainted? His response was typically Mackie.

   ‘Think of it this way’, he said, and barked for several seconds.

   ‘Think of it what way?’ I replied, confused. 

   ‘Ah well’ he said, with a disdainful lifting of the eyebrows, ‘some things don't translate to the supposedly superior human mind.’

   That's the problem with Mackie.  He is a) not very bright, and b) prone to barking rubbish which he deems wisdom.

   He came over for lunch and we talked about the old days. It was so much fun I forgot I’d asked him to look into something for me. We were on our fourth or fifth beers when he told me he’d had problems arranging a meeting with the management. I think he waited for the numbing effect of the beer to set in before hitting me with this bombshell. It ruined the rest of my day. I don’t mean to be ungrateful but I’m just not as happy as a man who’s gone to Heaven should be. If I’m here for all eternity I think it’s someone’s responsibility to sort that out.

   I've tried fixing things myself but you wouldn't believe the bureaucracy and petty-minded officialdom in this place. I’ve been bowing to toga-clad fools thinking them to be Angels, and wondering why they all appear so dim-witted and ordinary. I’d think things like: that’s one butt ugly angel, what is that irritating, whiney, voice about, and stop preaching to me you pointless fanatic, I’m already dead!

   However, I’ve been doing Angels a grave injustice. Like my interviewers, these neo-classical clipboard carriers are a bunch of officious humans who have brown-nosed their way into positions of responsibility, thus elevating themselves to a level beyond their competence. They’re drawn from the ranks of the deeply religious and are ever so annoyed to discover God doesn’t mind atheists, pagans, polytheists, and minor crims like me. Togas are a uniform of choice. They’ve brought such disrepute to the garment Romans literally won’t be seen dead in them anymore.

   Mackie told me I could see a toga-wearing twit right away. I told him I’d rather chew a leg off. He shrugged. It was no good blaming him for my lot. Mankind is so defective the queue to see an Angel is a thousand years long.  Now I’m immortal I’m supposed to see this as imminent, but my brain has yet to adjust to forever as a period of time.

   I never was good with bad news, so when Mackie left I popped out to find a bar where I could drown my sorrows and share maudlin tales with fellow drunks. You’d have thought Heaven was a place where the bars opened on Sundays!

 

   Heaven began to depress me. It’s a beautiful place where every desire can be fulfilled by the power of wishful thinking, unless like me you have the wrong kind of wishes. I’m a gambler, an addict who hasn’t owned up to his addiction. That’s how I came to owe Obi money. In life I lost everything - wife, house, cars, friends, self-esteem. Name it and I've gambled it away. The desire for easy riches is so strong in me, when I died it manifested itself as a carrier bag full of money under my head.

   I’ve told you about The Ungrateful Dead and of contemplating suicide. No such thing is possible because nothing bad is allowed to happen here. This, if I may say so, is a flaw in Heaven’s construction that takes much of the fun out of living. I only had to want to place a bet and Heaven conjured up a bookmaker’s shop a dozen yards from my front door. I won a small fortune before I realised everyone was winning but we were backing different horses in the same races. I seemed to be the only person who had a problem with this. The manager was baffled by my attitude and called in a toga twit when I complained.

   ‘You want to lose?’ she said, her eyes drooping so far under the weight of disdain I thought she’d passed out standing upright.

   ‘Well no, I want to win, but I want to know I could have lost if I hadn't been lucky, or skilful’.

   ‘Why not consider yourself lucky. Or skilful if you prefer.’

   ‘But it isn't luck or skill is it? It's you. Well not you, it's them. Its ...  Well it's whoever it is who does it.’

   ‘You mean the Angels?’

   ‘Yes, them, if they're the ones who make sure I can't lose.’

   ‘If you want to lose occasionally I’m sure it can be arranged.’

   ‘You mean lose occasionally on a purely random basis?’

   ‘Of course, if that’s what you desire.’

   She made it sound like I desired stage four testicular cancer but I carried on undeterred.

   ‘Does that mean there’ll be times when I lose even though I might otherwise have won?’

   ‘If it makes you happy. Isn't that what you want?’

   I gave up. She had no idea about risk, about random events and acts of chance. She told Mackie to pass on the message that there’s no such thing as a random event, not on earth and not in Heaven, and that everything is governed by the seven laws of probability. That provoked a discussion that required a bottle of whisky.

   ‘What seven laws?’

   ‘The seven laws.’

   ‘What are they?’

   ‘I only know two. The rest derive from them, but you need more brain power than we possesses to recite them let alone understand them.’

   ‘So?’

   ‘So what?’

   ‘So come on, what are the two you know?’

   ‘Let’s see. The first is: in the matrix of existence, everything that can happen will happen.’

   Mackie paused for effect. I had the feeling this meant as little to him as it did to me so I decided to expose his foolishness.

   ‘Well that’s nonsense. I could have had a heart attack but I didn’t. I was run over by a mini bus. If the law were true then because I could have had a heart attack, I would have had a heart attack.’

   This thought must have occurred to Mackie too, because he had a surprisingly good answer, one that brooked no argument and therefore came from someone much smarter than himself. You could choose to believe it or not, but like faith it was irrefutable.

   ‘It’s quite simple,’ he said, ‘you couldn’t have had a heart attack before you were run over by a bus. If you could have, you would have. You just don’t know that because you don’t have the power to see the future and therefore think it doesn’t already exist.’

   ‘That’s a fatalist’s view. Fatalists are idiots.’

   Mackie smiled. Or did he snarl? Dog facial expressions elude me sometimes, particularly doggie expressions for sarcasm. But I understood that fatalism was exactly his point.

   ‘Pah!’ I said, giving vent to my feelings. I find fatalism defeatist and therefore repulsive. To me it says: there is no point to anything, lie down and life will happen to you.

   Mackie wasn’t done arguing.

   ‘You don’t have to accept fate, most humans don’t, but if it is true you have to concede there’s no such thing as chance or luck.’

   ‘What about skill? Are you saying you can’t alter your life with skill?’

   ‘Oh there's skill, but it's nowhere near as important as you think. It simply delays or hastens the inevitable.’

   ‘You would say that. You're a dog. What would dogs know about skill? You probably think it’s an art to cock a leg over a thorn bush without castrating yourself.’

   ‘Ask a cat if you don’t believe me.’

   ‘That's a point. How come you're the only animal here?’

   ‘To be honest I didn’t know you couldn’t see other animals. There are many more animals than people.’

   ‘Yeah? How come I don't see any of them?’

   ‘Like I say, I didn’t know you only saw me. It’s probably because they don't want to see you. It’s their Heaven too y’know. Quite a lot of animals were eaten by your lot, or drowned, or… Let’s not go into it. Let’s just say you guys have a bad rep. Even animals that were well treated or left alone have relatives with terrible tales to tell. Do you want to know what one of your lot did to my brother’s balls before he had a chance to enjoy…’

   ‘Stop! I get it. I’m sorry I changed the subject, but are you trying to say that in order to see them they have to want to see me too?’

   ‘Of course. How can it be Heaven if you get here to find that leering over you is the vet who cut your balls off.’

   ‘Yes, yes. I get it.’

   ‘No you don’t. Forget my brother’s balls.’

   ‘I wish I could.’

   ‘Forget you. Take me; the only cats I see are crazy. Cats dislike dogs despite the fact we’re wracked with guilt for the ways we treated them and wish only to apologise. But the only cats we ever get to see are the ones who enjoyed fighting dogs. They turn up, because in a world that permits every form of pleasure, it happens there are actually dogs who like being chased and beaten up by cats.’

   ‘Forget cats, and your brother’s... things. Other dogs love humans, always have done. You can’t be the only one, so where are they?’

   ‘I hate to tell you this but we only love humans before we get here. Once human behaviour is explained to us and we realise you fooled us into thinking you were pack animals when you were in fact a bunch of self-serving, selfish individuals, we think you suck. You do things no animal would dream of doing to another living thing, and you do it with a callous disregard and level of stupidity that belies belief. You wipe out entire species and weep about the destruction you’ve wrought, while simultaneously wiping out yet more species. You might be individually smart but as a species you are imbeciles.’

   ‘After all this time, are you trying to say you don't like me?’

   ‘That’s different. I knew you when you were a child.  Children we like, adults we despise. Simple.’

   ‘I don't believe this place.’

   Mackie laughed. Or was he barking again? I was confused and needed to get back to the topic I was interested in.

   ‘Okay Mackie, never mind why you’re the only animal I can see. What’s the other law you know?’

   ‘I think it’s...’ He scratched a bit, required me to scratch behind his ears a bit, rolled over for me to tickle his tummy and when I was done engaged me in a look of doggie delight. ‘I remember now. Within the sub-matrix of time within existence everything that can happen has happened.’

   ‘That makes even less sense than the first law.’

   ‘Apparently we can’t comprehend the second law because we only experience a linear time dimension, which is why we have no chance of ever understanding the remaining five laws.’

   ‘You don’t even know what linear means.’

   ‘So what? Does knowing what linear means help you understand the law? No. So why should I care what linear means?’

   ‘Oh this is all too much for me. I've got to get out of here, back to where there's luck, and chance, and skill. You've got to get them to send me back Mackie. I don't like this place. It's too weird. It’s…’ I searched for the right word, and then it came to me. ‘It’s boring!’

   ‘No way, forget it. Look, it's simple. There's no such thing as luck or chance, not here, not anywhere. Probability is a force, like gravity. It has laws which must be obeyed and the existence of these laws preclude the existence of randomness. You and I are just too stupid to recognise the way in which this force works but that doesn't mean it’s not out there governing everything we do. Chill out, it could be worse. This place has a lot to offer. Get out there and sample the nightlife. You’ll see.’

 

   Over the next few months I saw less of Mackie. I suppose he had other friends to spend time with and was out enjoying himself. After a while I got to thinking he might be right. Like he said, things could be worse. I could have failed the interview and gone to the other place. Gambling wasn't the be all and end all. I remembered the joy of life's other pleasures - wine, women and song to name but three, so I started putting myself about. For weeks on end I hopped on the Heavenly merry-go-round of social events, only getting off when I was too tired to stay on.

   I partied a long time. Debauchery is pretty much second nature to me. It’s pretty much second nature to the entire population of Heaven from what I’ve seen. Most people here have been on one trip or another from the moment they arrived. I thought the infamous Roman orgy that only paused for the five minutes it took for its participants to be killed in a landslide was a myth, until I woke up in the middle of it. Watching the revellers delight in their excesses I could see how easy it was to be like them. The idea that temptation is the devil’s device is a cosmic joke. Heaven is a world with no hangovers, no morning-after guilt trips, no sexually transmitted diseases, no jobs to hold down, no idle husbands or nagging wives (not if you didn't want one, and assuming they still wanted you), no nothing that comes in the way of a good time for all. Heaven is temptation itself.

   This is wonderful, you're having a great time, I told myself, but as I stared in the mirror there was no denying that the man who stared back at me wasn't happy. Beneath the hedonistic pleasure was an empty hole in my life. I longed to gamble, to face real danger, to know I risked it all as the wheel spun and the numbers blurred.

   I fell back into my sullen ways and was in a black mood when Mackie next called round. Seeing him brightened me up but he could see all was not well.

   ‘Yo child of monkeys. What's happening? I heard you were having a load of fun so I thought I'd drop round for a bit of a good time myself, and what do I find? You're sulking. What's up?’

   ‘You know what they say Mackie - new day, same shit.  I'm bored.  I hate this place. I want to go back.’

   ‘I tell you what, I heard, unofficially mind, of an interview slot with an Angel that’s going free.’

   ‘I thought they were booked up for a thousand years.’

   ‘That's the official waiting list to discourage those with trivial problems. A man with your attitude qualifies for fast track treatment. I know a Labrador who’s seeing this Boxer who’s got a friend who knows one of the top assistants, so with a bit of luck...’

   I stopped listening at this point and forgot about Mackie's dubious contacts as we quaffed our way through a pack of beers. Shortly after he left I forgot he’d ever been there as I drank my way to oblivion.

   I must have been drunk for a week when something came up behind me while I was having an afternoon's stupefied snooze, lifted me off the couch and slammed me through a wall of consciousness. Next thing I know I was standing on a rough tiled floor in a high vaulted hall, stone cold sober, feeling like ten thousand volts had just passed through me. All around me were intricately carved pillars and statues of strange beasts with human heads that reminded me of sphinxes.

   Numerous mirrors reflected light from dozens of burning torches hanging from the walls. A black pool of water was ablaze with blue-green light. It was odd. I could recognise it all - a mirror is a mirror, water is water, but everything had vitality, as if even the inanimate was alive.

   I closed my gaping mouth and began walking towards an open door at the end of the hall. I’d not taken many steps when I realised I was in a strange game of what’s the time Mr Wolf? I wasn’t the only thing moving. Every time I took a step, statues of giant men moved too, coming towards me in a circle of diminishing diameter. I stopped in fear, and a wall of sound boomed at me.

   ‘You seek an audience? We are Ciseyar. Speak!’

   The statues spoke as one. Every movement, every sound, was made in unison. It took a while to pluck up the courage to do as commanded, but they waited patiently. My first instinct was to back out of the hole I’d got myself into.

   ‘I had a small problem but it’s fine now. I don’t need to bother you anymore.’

   ‘You do not bother us.’

   ‘Sorry.’

   ‘Apology is unnecessary. We know what you want, we considered the matter, and we decided you couldn’t have it. This is your chance to appeal. Do you wish to appeal? It is allowed.’

   There was a note of resignation in the booming voice, as if mine was a regular request, commonly rejected. I felt cheated. I’d been brought to see an Angel but for all its weirdness ended up with a jobsworth administrator. I thought I’d ask anyway now I knew there was nothing to lose. Perhaps they only thought they understood my request but I was in fact unique.

   ‘Can I leave? Can I go somewhere where it’s possible for things to go wrong so I can appreciate it when they go right?’

   I was painfully aware it sounded like I was whining.

   ‘You are not the first to ask. The answer for all is the same. For Heaven to exist the laws of probability must outweigh the laws of possibility so its inhabitants do not come to harm. The existence of chance would mean anything is possible, even that which cannot be allowed to happen.’

   ‘How about if you erased my memory and sent me back? Maybe I can survive the accident. I could live without knowing what I know now and I’d be happy.’

   ‘Time is not ours to undo. We are not Heaven's makers, merely its servants. Its laws bind. To send you back we would have to end your existence here and that could be harmful. Our hands are tied in this matter.’

   ‘So there's nothing you can do?’ I tried to convey a challenge in my tone, a hint I thought they could do it but were too sissy to break the rules. It was rude, but I was desperate.

   ‘Nothing. We are sorry but that is the way it is. Goodbye.’

   And that I presumed was that. The statues vanished and I was back in my bedroom, face down on the bed with nothing but the faint whiff of Eden in my nostrils to remind me where I’d been.

    I refused to leave the house. Mackie dropped by but I didn't answer. Mother came knocking but I ignored her. Sundry deceased friends and relations tapped on my window but I couldn't face them. I should have starved, but every time I felt hungry my hunger passed leaving me with the memory of having eaten the most delightful meal. It was horrible.

   I was sinking deeper and deeper into depression, developing a dislike for Heaven that bordered on hatred, when I received another unceremonious summons for an audience with Ciseyar.

   ‘You are causing a problem,’ a dozen statues said. ‘The negative aura surrounding you is creating a temporal imbalance.’

   Definitely tetchy. And no, Ciseyar didn't say those words. I’m making them up. I’m a dead human who doesn’t understand fate, how should I know what aspect of Heaven I was affecting? It was way over my head. I concentrated hard on trying to look contrite.

   ‘We see that unless you are exposed to real risk you cannot be happy. Your sadness causes you greater harm than our refusal to allow you to expose yourself to danger. In these circumstances the laws dictate we intervene. When I said there was nothing we could do I did not quite tell all. There is one gamble you can take where we cannot influence the outcome, but I would urge you not to take it.’

   ‘What is it?’

   ‘The same rules that allow you to take it prevent us from telling you what it is.’

   ‘You mean I must choose blind?’

   Ciseyar said nothing, judging correctly that I’d be less likely to gamble if I didn't know what I was risking.

   I thought about it, but not for long. I’d made a fuss, now I was being offered what I wanted. I didn’t have to say anything. Ciseyar knew my mind as soon as I did. The statues lined up in two rows to form a corridor. I knew what I had to do and walked between them. As I passed each statue it turned its back on me, a clear symbol that I was turning my back on Heaven.

   ‘Don’t do it. Don’t go.’

   I stopped and turned. Mackie stood behind me. He looked hurt, which hurt me, but there was steel in my soul that let me ignore his pain. Wasn’t this how I’d always been? I’d seen the look in his eyes before. The look that says I am betraying a friendship, or love. I stared into his eyes and did the self-destructive thing I always do.

   I half raised my hand in greeting but let it drop. I’d been pursuing my own desires so selfishly it hadn’t even occurred to me to ask if I could say goodbye. I turned and carried on down the line.

   A door swung open as I approached, and I walked through to find myself face to face with a group of children. They looked up at me, curiosity on their faces, as if I was the exotic being in the room when in fact I couldn’t be more ordinary, and they were the exceptional. They were beautiful. Golden locks cascaded down flawless cherubic faces, framing on each a set of piercing blue eyes. Just for a second I was tempted to open my foolish mouth and address them as if they were human, but they were sufficiently strange to keep my tongue in check. A flash of insight illuminated my dull brain.

   ‘You are Ciseyar?’ I said, voicing the thought that popped into my head.

   ‘Yes,’ they replied in one voice.

   ‘The statues?’

   ‘Are statues. They move and speak in your imagination only. Humans respect the inanimate brought to life, while they are suspicious of words spoken by those who appear smaller, younger, or are of a different sexual orientation. We masquerade inside our statues and do not need to tell you anything twice. Except perhaps in your case.’

   ‘So why…?’ I let the question trail off. I didn’t know what I wanted to know. These children projected an aura that warned me there was a price to be paid for knowledge. I had no desire to eat forbidden fruit. Not now I was so near my goal of escaping their domain.

   ‘There is no need for deception. If you return you will do so with no memory of us. You chose a path, now you shall walk it.’

   The children that were Ciseyar encircled me, put their hands ever so gently on my arms, and I felt them touch my soul. Everything went black, and when I woke up I was home.

   Home. Well not home exactly. I’m back in familiar territory but I’m not where I’d want to be. In the dark it took a while to work out my precise location. It was the grunting, snuffling, shuffling noises that were the first clues. Familiar voices raised in cruel jest undid the mystery. I’m in Obi’s pigpen.

   I tried to move but my legs are broken and the pain nearly made me vomit. So I sit here, snarling like a dog and waving my arms angrily to keep the larger pigs away. They sense my weakness and see me as an impending meal, but they want easy meat and I’m not quite that yet.

   Through the wooden planks I see the abattoir. The rusty chains and hooks from which meat is hung, the array of sharp knives and cutlasses laid carelessly on a rough-cut wooden table. Obi does Halal meat, so no stun gun or electric bath for me then.

   I know things I have not learned. Ciseyar placed knowledge directly in my mind. I am in the body of Tayo, who ran from his debt and was caught. Tomorrow morning just as dawn breaks I will be dragged out and hung up on those chains, steel hooks piercing my flesh. Obi will use his skill to butcher me while keeping me alive for as long as possible. I shall understand from a unique perspective why his thugs talk about not being able to watch the carvery, and Big O’s three hours eight minutes record.

   Three hours eight minutes. It’s a long time to die in agony. Tayo’s soul has departed this body; if I were not in it the forces of resurrection would strip it of a life force and Obi would have nothing but cold, dead meat on his hands. I’m in it, so it’s me keeping the flesh warm and me who’ll help Obi set a new personal best. This is the gamble I asked for - a harsh lesson in the difference between what we ask for and what we want. I cannot believe what a greedy, selfish, stupid… I cannot find words strong enough to describe the contempt I feel for my formerly ungracious, ungrateful self.

  

   Sleepless hours pass in anguish. Time moves like a slug through treacle. Finally I begin to detect the coming light of dawn. Fear grips me. I cannot move, so I soil myself, painfully aware I am only adding to the existing filth in my pants. I was sure I heard Obi hawk and spit in the yard. My suspicioins are confirmed when I hear him summon his thugs and tell them to bring him the coward. That’s me! I want to run. Even on broken legs I want to run, but I can’t, my brain will not permit that level of pain on a voluntary basis. The time has come when I must gamble all at Ciseyar’s roulette table.

   I take the silver dice from my pocket. I’d refused to touch them until now in the hope that fervent prayer and a denial of their existence would persuade the Angel to relent. I have called upon God, Ciseyar, every saint I could think of, even Mackie, to intercede with whatever power controls fate and save me. I do not wish to gamble.

   The pen opens. The pigs are excited. Someone is shouting at them and shoving them away. I recognise the men who have come for me. They are merciless. I am done. I must roll the dice and pray for a seven to save myself. Ciseyar has put a degree of fortune on my side; seven is the most likely combination of two dice.

   The men are past the pigs, looking for me in the gloom. I cannot bear to know my fate. I feel sick. I hurl the dice into a dark corner and scream silently seven, please God let it be seven.

 

   ‘You lucky bastard!’

   ‘Give it a rest Mackie, can’t you see I’m in shock?’

   ‘Sod your shock. I cannot believe how lucky you are. Never thrown decent dice in your life, and now, when the chips are down, you throw a seven. Unbelievable.’

   ‘Some of us are gifted. I told you, it’s skill.’

   ‘Pah! The real pity is, neither of us will remember this moment. You’ll only know you’ve developed a strong aversion to gambling.’

   ‘Why won’t we remember?’

   ‘We’ve seen Ciseyar.’

   ‘Oh yes, they did tell me that. I tell you what Mackie, I never want to see those sadistic little...’ 

   Mackie growled a warning.

   ‘Mind what you say, they could always decide you need another gamble.’

   ‘Never! That’s it Mackie. I’m cured. From now on I think I’ll be quite content to win every time. Guess what.’

   ‘What?’

   ‘I can no longer remember what Ciseyar looked like. Was he or she, or whatever, some kind of statue?’

   Mackie shrugged, if that odd movement of a dog’s shoulders when it’s standing still is a shrug.

 

    In a dark corner of a pigpen a small hand reaches down to retrieve the silver dice lying there. The hand holds the dice up to a thin stream of light creeping through a gap in the fencing. Six and one. Lucky boy. The hand turns one die. The six becomes a five, and the number on the other die becomes a two. It turns the two so it becomes a four and the number on the other die becomes a three.
    The light catches a cherubic face as it breaks into a grin. The human was every bit as stupid as the dog said he was. It was obvious, yet he didn’t see it. He didn’t see there could be no chance that a man watched by angels would throw anything other than the number needed to save his immortal soul.