One day I decided to sell my soul.
Please understand that this decision did not come easy. But for someone who has been out of work for so long that even his unemployment insurance is collecting unemployment insurance, there comes a time when there is no other recourse.
Down to my last but two pocketfuls of change, then, I rubbed two coins thoughtfully together and decided that since it came down to a choice between starving to death and selling my soul, the latter was the preferred option. I’ve never fancied the idea of starving to death anyway.
But how does one, I wondered, go about the business of selling one’s soul?
I checked the telephone directory. Since I did not have a telephone, I had to check the directory in the local newspaper shop, with the owner hanging around giving me dirty looks until I placated him by buying a newspaper. I might as well have saved my coin, because there was no Devil or Satan in the directory. Not a single one! I could hardly believe it.
Then I thought of checking on the net. In order to do this, I had to visit an internet café. Fortunately, my old driver’s licence was still valid, and I bought myself an hour’s worth of computer use with only half a pocketful of change. After trawling through all the usual Google results for the Devil and Satan, with a singular lack of success where it came to locating them, I’d almost given it up for a bad job when I had a sudden thought. I’d once had a girlfriend who had previously worked for a travel agency which had boasted that it arranged tours of heaven, hell and all points in between. If it arranged tours of hell, I thought, it could at least tell me how to contact the management.
With only a few keystrokes, I found the agency, and copied down the telephone number on the inside of my wrist. I then went back to the newsagent.
“You want to buy another paper?” the proprietor asked me hopefully.
“No, I want to use your telephone.”
“No paper,” he told me, “no phone.”
So I bought another damned paper, stuffed it into my pocket and went to use the phone. The travel agency’s phone rang and rang. I was just about to give up when someone finally responded.
It was a breathless young woman. “Heaven and Hell Tours,” she said. “May I help you?”
“You arrange tours of hell?” I asked.
“Yes sir,” she replied brightly. “You wish to book a tour? We have several packages, from the half-day budget excursion to the nine-day Grand Tour.”
“Uh…” I considered. “What are the costs?”
“Well, sir,” she said, “that depends, doesn’t it, on the package you choose? Our rates are really very competitive. Of course, you’d need special equipment. But you can hire that from us, unless you’d rather provide your own, of the same standards of course.”
“What special equipment?”
“Asbestos suits, to start off with. The fires of hell, you know.”
“Isn’t asbestos illegal these days?” I asked curiously.
“Oh, hell doesn’t have environmental regulations. So which package should I sign you up for, sir?”
“How much is the…half day budget excursion?”
She named a figure that set my heart falling towards my scuffed and cracking boots. I couldn’t even imagine how many pocketfuls of change that came to. “That’s rather more than I could envisage paying at this moment,” I told her.
“Oh, I think we could work something out, sir,” she responded, still sounding slightly breathless. “You could always pay with a part of your soul.”
“A part of my soul?”
“Standard valuation rates,” she said. “We assess your soul, and you pay with a part of it according to the value we put on it according to the tables. It’s a completely transparent process. We, in turn, resell it to the folks in hell.”
“Actually,” I confessed, “my purpose wasn’t really to visit hell. It was to sell my soul – all my soul – in exchange for a lifetime of bliss. You know what I’m talking about?”
“Oh, you mean the Deal.” She sounded a bit doubtful. “I don’t know if we handle that. You’d have to talk to the Boss.”
“The boss? You mean the manager?”
“No, the Boss, the real Boss. Could you come over to the office, sir?”
“I suppose I could. When?”
“No time like the present, is there?”
I took down the office address, and even more important, the directions, on the newspaper I’d bought and turned to find the shop owner looking at me sourly.
“For talking that long,” he said, “you’ll have to buy a magazine.”
So I bought one, without even looking at the cover right then. It turned out to be a porn magazine, and I gave it to the blind beggar at the corner. The last I saw of him, he was turning its pages over, avidly, his dark glasses hanging round his neck.
The office of Heaven and Hell Tours wasn’t that easy to find. One had to dodge down a dark alley, clamber down a manhole into a passage disguised as a sewer, and then slide down a fireman’s pole into a chamber at the far end of which was an elevator in front of which an armed security guard sat at an intercom. After frisking me and confirming my identity, he called up on the intercom to let them know I was coming, and only then did he send me up. The elevator rose higher and higher until I began to think it was maybe delivering me to heaven itself, but after what seemed like several lifetimes’ journey it slowed to a halt. I stepped out to find another security guard waiting, who then frisked me and verified my identity all over again.
“Will you come this way, sir?” he asked, and preceded me up a narrow corridor, dimly lit by thick yellow glass globes set in the ceiling.
The office of Heaven and Hell Tours was small but beautifully appointed, with décor showing green meadows and bright red flames. A woman in a white nightgown with angel’s wings on her back came to meet me, smiling. She had small horns on her forehead too, and one of them seemed in danger of coming unglued. When she spoke I recognised her as the breathless maiden of the telephone conversation.
“The Boss will see you now, sir. Will you come this way, please?”
I followed her through a small door at the back of the office and into yet another passage, which ended in another office. This was a much bigger one, with avant garde furniture and a huge picture window along one wall, which showed nothing but sky.
“The Boss,” my guide murmured, gesturing at the figure behind the desk, and disappeared, clapping her hand to her forehead just in time to stop the horn falling off.
For a moment I stood there looking at the Boss and the Boss looked back at me. Then she stood up and came around the side of her desk, holding out her hand.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” she said, in a rich contralto. “I am the proprietor of this concern. My name is Lucifa.”
“Lucy Fa?” She was extremely attractive, from the artistically disarranged hair on her head to the expensive shoes on her narrow elegant feet. When I shook her proffered hand I felt a tingle as of an electric shock all through my body. “I’ve never heard a name like that before.”
She shrugged. “You might have heard me called Lucifer or something like that. It’s typical of the male chauvinist pig establishment to turn me into a male.”
“You mean,” I said, excitement thrumming through my veins, “you’re the Devil him…I mean, herself?”
“Why, of course. Satannah, Old Nickie, Lucifa, at your service. The Devil, in other words. You can call me the Bitch if you like, too. I don’t mind.”
I swallowed. “Lucifa will do fine.”
“Why don’t you sit down?” She waited until I’d ensconced myself in the softest chair I’d parked my rear on in longer than I cared to remember, and went back behind her desk. “Care for a drink? I can offer you a choice of Hellbrew or Ambrosia.”
“Hellbrew sounds nice,” I said.
“Good choice.” She pressed a button with one immaculately manicured forefinger. “I’m glad to see you have the taste not to pick Ambrosia. It’s pretty awful, rather like stale beer.”
The girl came in with two tall glasses on a silver tray, both full of a red smoking fluid. I noticed that she’d stuck her horn back on again. She smiled at me, put down the drinks on the desk, and departed. The Devil motioned to the glasses. “Your health.”
I sipped the Hellbrew cautiously. It tasted like hell.
“Good stuff,” I said. “Can you tell me why the Devil would be running a tour agency offering trips to heaven?”
“Why not? It’s good business sense. You’ve no idea how many people return from heaven determined not to spend eternity in a place thatdull.”
“And who’s running things in hell while you’re here?”
“Oh,” she said, waving. “I outsourced that part of it to Bangalore. Administration always bored me anyway. Even so, I pride myself that we’re better run than heaven by any parameter you care to name.”
“Actually,” I said, finishing the drink, “it isn’t heaven I’m interested in.”
“My girl tells me you want to make the Deal. Is that right?”
“Uh, if that means, I want to sell my soul, then yes, that’s what I want to do. For a lifetime of pleasure, mind.”
“Yes, of course.” She appeared slightly amused. “That’s the Deal. Well, where’s your sales proposal?”
“My sales proposal?”
“My dear sir, “ she said, “you mean you don’t have one? How do you expect us to buy your soul if we don’t even know what we’re in for? We aren’t in this business to buy just anything, are we?”
“I’ve, uh, no experience in sales,” I said. “I’m sorry, but there it is.”
“I suppose you don’t have a contract lawyer either?”
“A contract lawyer? Do I have to have one?”
“I see you really have no idea how this business is run,” she said. “How do you expect your interests to be protected unless you have a contract lawyer look over everything? You don’t expect our legal department to do your paperwork, do you?”
“If I had the money to hire a contract lawyer,” I told her, “I wouldn’t be here trying to sell my soul, would I?”
“Um…I see what you mean. Let me think.” She clicked away at her laptop for a few minutes. “All right, we’ll offer you a deal. Your soul for standard service. You will of course offer a guarantee against manufacturing defects. If your soul’s defective, you have to replace it.”
“Huh? How do I replace my soul?”
“That’s your problem, isn’t it? Not ours. Well, is it yes or no?”
“What does this standard service of yours consist of?” I asked cagily.
“Just what it says. You’ll get what you ask for, as long as you live. No, before you ask, we don’t know how long you’ll live, and we aren’t going to engineer your death ahead of time. That kind of thing gives us a bad name, don’t you see? What do you think we are, some kind of devils?”
“Uh. OK.” I searched my pocket and found the last handful of change. I didn’t even have enough for a porn magazine now. “I’ll take it,” I said.
“Of course you will. Just sit here while our legal department draws up the contract.”
The legal department took its time drawing up the contract, It took so long drawing up the contract that the sky outside turned from day to night to day to night again, and I lost track of the time.
“How much longer?” I asked finally.
“The legal department has some problems,” Lucifa said. “We’re suing heaven for non-payment of dues, and the lawyers are mostly busy on that. You have to wait.”
“If this takes much longer I’ll croak,” I croaked.
“Have some Hellbrew.” Lucifa got me the drink herself. “There’s more if you want.”
“This tastes like hell,” I confessed, sipping.
Lucifa smiled. “You’ll get used to it,” she said.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2011