A white room. No. It wasn’t a room. There weren’t any walls around so it’s probably just a white expanse. But he lay on a cold black platform.
He looks forwards, then back, then upwards. There is no other platform above. But there are more such podiums leading downwards and downwards. Like stairs. They looked like a flight of stairs and he was on the highest step.
He hears the sound of footsteps clacking upon the platforms. No. Stairs. They were stairs. And because with every sound echoing in the melancholy expanse seemed to become louder and louder, he assumes that whoever, or whatever that was walking up on the stairs, was approaching him, on towards the highest platform.
The footsteps come to a stop and the perpetrator of the echoes comes into view. The man on the highest platform is surprised to see himself, or at least a figure exactly like himself, standing in front of him.
A soft smile spreads across the second man’s face in greeting and the first man returns it. Then, the latter laughs. He realizes what is going on,on; at least he thinks he does.
“I’m dead, aren’t I?” the first man asks.
“That depends,” was the reply. By now, the first man realizes that the second man’s voice also sounded the same as his.
“I must be,” the first man tries to make sense of his situation. “Because the last thing I remember is that truck spinning out of control and heading right for me. Hah,” he scoffs, “Ironic.”
“What is?” the second man asks. He searches for a comfortable side of the platform and positions himself to sit. After being comfortable, he procures a box of cigarettes with a metal lighter from his left coat pocket, a portable ashtray from the right. He lights one in his mouth and then hands one to the first man.
The first man accepts the offer. “That I died this way. I mean, I always thought my lungs would give out given how much I smoke. Maybe I was lucky?” he asks and sits down beside the second man. It was eerie, sitting right next to, well, himself but he decides not to ask questions about that.
“Maybe,” was the dual syllabic answer.
A soft tune suddenly starts in the distance. The tune collects into a melody of piano keys, and the first man realizes what the tune is. His dark eyes catch a glint as he recognizes the piece being played, which by now fills the whole expanse.
“Etude number 3 in E major,” the first man states, allowing his ears to be enveloped by the familiar bounce of the piano music. “Op 10 by Chopin,” he adds. His fingers tap lightly against his thighs, tracing the imaginary ivory keys in complete sync with the melody. It was his favourite piece. So, of course, he knew the finger placement, the rhythm, the meter and everything else about this particular piece like the back of his hand.
The second man smiles. “You are a good pianist. You play good music.”
The little performance of light tapping ends and the first man re-opens his eyes. “I was a pianist,” he corrects, “I played music. I am dead, remember?”
“Not necessarily. And you are being too modest,” the second man laughs and hums in tune with the cantabile.
A silent moment between the two follows and only the piano notes echo around them. “So how does this work?” the first man asks. “Are you god or something? Do my unanswered questions get answered in death?”
“Not necessarily. It can be however you want.”
Deciding to take his chances, the first man decides that the second would be God. After all, he knew he was the original one, so any exact copy could only mean an act of science, or a sort of divine intervention. He chose the latter because he had never been that interested in technology and artificial intelligence.
“Alright,” the first man answers. “I am going to assume that you ARE god, so I want to ask just one thing.”
The second man’s engrossment only grows wider, evident in his raised eyebrows and constant attention. “ Why“Why? Why are all the things happening happening?”
The second man takes a long drag from his cigarette. He blows it out and speaks with a tender smile. “Each key,” he begins, “only produces one sound corresponding to it. The white and the black ivory keys, the majors and the minors, the good and the bad, the dark times and the light – these binaries you mix them both in many different ways along with many technical variations. The rhythm, the metre, the switch of scales, or in this etude’s case, the g major scale. All of these encompass in the black and white keys. And we mix and churn and knead and blend these two, add more and more until… you end up with grey. This is the reason why. To get the grey.”
The first man recalls the lessons his music teacher so expressively taught him. This “mixing” was supposed to be smooth, to attain a fluid level where it was just plain pleasing to the ear. Tis mixing and the end product- the ‘grey’ was what musicians have created since music came into being and would probably long to create, generations from now.
“That’s music,” his statement makes the second man smile wider. “That’s life.” The second man’s voice is almost a whisper when he says this. He inhales in the last part of the cigarette and butts out the rest in a portable ashtray which he pockets neatly.
Another pause in the conversation ensues. The first man then lets out his curiosity, after he was satisfied with his companion’s answer.
“Tell me something. Am I in heaven? Hell? Do they even exist?”
“Not necessarily,” the second man answers for the third time.
“Then where am I?” the first man asks. “At a new beginning,” the second replies. “Reincarnation?” the first asks but the second only says that it doesn’t matter whatever it was. “All that is important is that you have to keep moving. Forward, backward, sides, anywhere is fine. Only never stop moving.”
The music seems to go on in a loop. I realize it a little later, as the piano notes reach approximately twenty seconds of the second cycle.
The second man stands up. He pockets his arms into his brown coat and gives me a curt nod to signify his leave. “Wait,” the first man calls out to him one more time. He seems to pause in his steps.
“Who are you? You can’t be God. Because I have been denying his existence my entire life. I don’t believe in you.”
A calm smile. “You call me a lot of names. ‘God’, ‘Satan’, ‘Jesus’, ‘Allah’, a combination of deities. So it really doesn’t matter what you call me. But so far, I suppose I identify most with the word ‘consciousness’.”
The first man laughs, baffled and awed at the same time. “So you don’t exist. It’s all grey.”
The second man leaves the first to his own madness. The black staircase clatters in slow tempo once again because of his footsteps. The first man’s laughter is swallowed up by the overwhelming crescendo of the music. He decides to visit the man again soon because his last words seemed to interest him. “It’s all grey.”
Musicians really have a different way of perceiving things, he plays with the thought and continues to walk downwards. The music plays on…
Written by: Judith S.
Image Source: Geetika Chhabra