‘But what’s the show all about?’
‘I am thrown in water, shut in a coffin that is locked with a heavy iron ring to pull it down. And then I appear again at a happening place in another city, a week later,’ he explained.
‘You escape. Indeed?’ I feigned incredulity.
‘I use my lookalikes,’ he disclosed his awful secret.
I instantly understood what he meant by the sinister word: used.
‘So six of our doppelgängers drowned, shut in some impenetrable coffin,’ I said in an accusatory tone.
‘Soon you will be the seventh,’ said the impenitent escape artiste. ‘I exult, others die.’
‘You’ve oodles of talent,’ I said, sarcastically.
‘Our more fortunate brothers are no more,’ he said, without any remorse.
‘What coaxed them to substitute for you?’
‘Hunger and poverty. I pay their families a pension, anonymously of course. While our brothers lived, their families starved. I’ve put food on their plates.’
‘Food, that is drenched with blood,’ I said bitterly.
‘Blood that had little value when it used to flow in their veins,’ he calmly defended himself.
‘So you’ve used six of your lifelines to earn money,’ I said.
‘… and fame too,’ he added.
‘I am the second last.’
‘I am not too fond of myself.’
‘I know as I’ve watched the Death Wish show.’
‘I agree to be your body double,’ I gave him my assent.
He was free to use me in his quest for fame. He stood up and gave me a bear hug.
‘Do you want an epitaph?’ he asked.
‘Now that’d be a nice gesture,’ I said.
I told him what to write. His assistants would take care of it, he said and offered me good luck for the show called The Watery Mausoleum.
“Here sleeps an eternal philanderer,
One who tempted death and wives alike.”
My epitaph was lucid and my coffin cozy. I had asked the enchanter to fix a lamp inside, so that I could read something, while at it. The day arrived, the day of the show. I remember it was a Sunday and a large picnic crowd was gathered by the side of the lake. They came armed with cameras hanging from their neck, to take home pictures of my death and his escape; pictures that would peer out of albums and look down from the walls; pictures that would remind them that they were there when a true wizard displayed his art of escape.
I was elegantly attired, as any magician should be, in a flowing robe. I carried a magic wand and performed a trick or two for the myth-makers, who had arrived with their ancient cameras; tricks that I had been taught by my doppelgänger. I pulled a rabbit out of my hat and two pigeons from my sleeves. I exhaled fire and inhaled smoke. Enamoured with death, I enacted my part well. I feasted on rice and green chilly cooked in extra virgin olive oil, as I didn’t want to die a hungry man. Then I danced a tango with an orangutan. I shook hands with an emperor penguin and imitated his walk. The media went gaga and my audience clapped too.
And at the opportune time, I was entombed in the waterproof coffin of solid oak. I saw the flashbulbs pop as I was being locked in wood. I felt elated. I was ecstatic that my pilgrimage was soon to be over. My coffin was locked and two huge metallic rings were hammered around it, to shut any change of plan on my side. I sensed being lowered gently in the placid lake, to my watery mausoleum.
My coffin landed smoothly on the bed of the lake. I lighted the lamp and read the first book in one hour flat. And then I picked up the second one – ‘Oh, How Haughty is Death!’ I read it in two hours and found it interesting. I had no more books to read and I was still alive.
My ecstasy melted into agony and plain boredom. I twisted and turned and wished I had not worn the heavy embroidered silk robe. I tried to read the first book again but gave up after a page. And so I recalled the things I had read about death. After death our bones become the feast of rats, I had read somewhere. I was aghast at the thought. But then, a sinner like me would never hope to grow into a new plant. ‘Let the filthy creeping rodents nibble and gnaw at my bones,’ I whispered.
Soon I stopped thinking thoughts, and saw them floating inside the coffin. I could read them. I started to read the floating letters that composed my thoughts. I joined the letters and sensed that my thoughts spelled a question: ‘Is God schizophrenic?’
I crossed to oblivion before I could read the answer.