D M Roberts Copyright 2022
Azrael did not make his presence known, but simply stood, as he often did, watching the old man. The heat was a dusty one as often was the case in this part of the world. The old man waved to his Great-grandchildren he was waving to the sky, to him he was waving to an old friend. The Great-grandchildren said nothing, for that was his way. He was a very old man and should the want be there for him to wave at the sky, who were they to tell him differently?
Azrael waved back as was his way. He had been coming here for nigh on a century to watch the man. He looked strangely older today, true he was aged beyond human comprehension yet today he looked it. The Great-grandchildren got back to their work. The old man, now sitting alone, crooked his finger toward the sky. This was new, thought the figure. He stood beside the old man.
“Hello, old friend.”
“Blessings to you. You have need to speak with me?”
The old man shuffled on the ground, his body ached, his mind ached.
“I am tired, old friend, I grow weary of this changing world.”
Azrael smiled down to the man, a soft smile that placed a feeling of peace into the old man’s heart.
“Would you like to leave now?” He asked quietly.
“I would. I have done all that I am going to do here.”
Azrael leant beside the old man, his face close as he whispered in his ear. The old man chuckled, nodded his head, and stared back at the figure.
“How did I miss that, you are a sneaky one old friend.”
“We do what we must, dear one.”
“We have seen some things in our time together. I shall miss your quiet company.”
“As I shall miss yours. Are we ready?”
“It is time, let the Almighty take me into his home and death be my new beginning.”
The old man closed his eyes for the last time in the heat of the Indian sun, his hand losing its grip on Azrael’s as he slipped peacefully to the next journey.
“I thought he would hang on longer than that. Does it make you sad?”
Dumah stood beside his counterpart. He knew well enough the curious friendship the 2 had struck up.
“I thought it would make me happy, after all, in the beginning, he found the loophole and no matter what was tried he beat it every time. Now, I see him for the man he was and that man was a good man. He did wondrous things with his stolen time. Does it make me sad? Yes, it makes me sad that he feared the inevitable for such a long time. There is a reason that they do not know, it saddens me for a life wasted, lived in fear. He will see that now.” Azrael stood up from the dusty ground.
“Come, we have work to do.”
Brian was sitting in the coffee shop, the television on the wall in the corner was switched on, the volume low. It was playing a music channel, he hummed along to the song not remembering the words. The young man at the counter had asked him to wait, she was due on shift he explained, would be in shortly. The coffee was on the house, she had left word that should he call by he was not to be charged. The door swung open, the tinkle of the bell ringing out like a bird song in his ears. Brian watched as the woman made her way behind the counter, apologising for taking so long. It seemed she had car trouble. He looked at her now, for the first time he looked at her properly. She was quite an attractive, girl next door type.
Strange, he hadn’t noticed in all the years he had been coming in here. Her mousy tousled hair was being swept up into a messy bun, she tied the apron strings around her slim waist as the young man spoke to her in a hushed voice. She glanced over to his table, smiled, a sweet warm smile that made Brian feel good. How old must she be? He thought as he watched her. 45 perhaps, she wasn’t in her twenties although he imagined she could pass for 35. He shook his head and looked away, back to the T.V screen.
The music was no longer playing, a customer had switched the channel, most likely to get game results from the news programme. Brian sat up in his chair, the reporter was talking about one of the oldest men alive. He had passed away peacefully in India. The man had achieved many amazing things in his long lifetime. People would travel clear across the world to visit him, trying to gain the secrets of his seemingly limitless existence. Some reports believed him to have been at least 134 years old, incredible, she continued as the man came so close to death in his 50’s.
“Hey, you. I am so pleased to see you are okay. You gave us quite a scare there when the, you know, happened. First off, I feel truly awful about my mood that day. I keep asking myself, if I hadn’t been so rude to you would you have sat in the park? Crazy I know, you sit in it often, can’t always be because of my attitude, could it?” She pulled out a chair and sat opposite Brian as she continued to talk. She seemed nervous as she rambled on, drowning out the voice on the T.V
“I have no good excuse for the way I spoke to you, I had some news you see. That morning, the day you came in. Not that it’s your problem I know, oh, listen to me prattling on like an idiot. How are you?” She sighed, her body relaxing now that she had gotten that out of the way.
“I’m doing okay, thank you for asking. Listen, there is really no need for you to say sorry. I do sit in the park a lot, since I retired from my business, I doubt anything you said contributed to what happened. I’m Brian, by the way.”
“Mel, people call me Mel. Nice to meet you, Brian.”
“Mel it is. Is that short for anything?”
“Melanie, I haven’t been called Melanie since I was a child. You’re young to be retired? Oops, not my business, I’m so sorry I am not normally so scattered. I was beginning to worry you see, I called the hospital but you know what it’s like, if you aren’t a relative they tell you nothing.”
Brian nodded, he was intrigued by this woman. She had a way about her that kept his interest, how had he not noticed this in the past? That said, since the divorce, he had barely looked up, before the divorce, well, it just wasn’t his way. He had always been a 1 woman man.
They chatted well into the afternoon, he liked her!
It was their first real date, Brian was nervous no matter how much Neil tried to calm him down.
“It will be fine. You haven’t told her about the money have you?”
Brian frowned at his overly cautious friend. Was he that bad a catch on his own merit?
“No I haven’t, do you think that’s the only reason she thinks I’m a catch?”
“No, not at all. You’re a handsome, single, walking miracle, my friend. She will be lucky to have you. I’m only looking out for your best interests Brian. The less she knows about that side of things, the better it is for you.”
“What if she does know? Do you think it’s the reason she’s showing interest in me?”
“I doubt it, sure most folks will imagine you must have gotten a payout of some kind, they just won’t know you hit the mother load. Unless you tell them”
“Yes, I assume they will think it’s a court thing that will drag on forever. There is something really sweet about her. Who knows, if all goes well we may be able to set up a dinner date so you can meet her.”
“Who says I haven’t already checked her out.” Grinned Neil.
“You’re such a total tool.” barked Linda from the kitchen.
“Well? Will I do?” Brian stood in the kitchen, his best denim jeans and jacket combo. Linda laughed.
“I don’t know what possessed that wife of yours to ever look in anyone else’s direction, let alone someone of the same sex. That’s not fair, same-sex is fine but have a personality for God’s sake. She’s so dull!”
“Takes all sorts I guess. Times are changing my girl, you’re lucky I manage to fight the fella’s off at work or things could be very different.”
“Fool, the fella’s at work have more taste.” She laughed as she leant in to kiss her husband.
“Right, best be off. I don’t want to make a bad impression on our first date.”
The restaurant was crowded. He had been lucky to secure them a booth at such short notice, Neil had helped with that as he knew the owner quite well. Mel arrived moments after Brian, she had insisted on making her own way there. Few things to do on the way, she had said.
The waiter took her to the table, Brian stood up as Mel was seated.
“You look so different.” He had noticed this when he saw her enter the room, along with several of the other male occupants. She had a glow about her, maybe the lighting in here, he thought.
“Different good?” She smiled.
“Oh, absolutely. Not that you don’t look good on any other day, is what I mean. Different as in well put together. Oh dear, I’m not starting off on a good foot am I?” He laughed nervously. Idiot! He screamed in his head.
“You too look good, very good. I love that jacket. Is it suede?”
“Thank you, yes I’ve had it for years, it’s a favourite of mine. I’m rambling. What would you like to drink?”
“Bourbon on the rocks please, it’s been one of those days.” Hmm, she liked bourbon.
“Is that okay with you?” She looked embarrassed now as she watched him from across the table.
“Perfectly okay, you don’t often hear of women drinking bourbon, took me back is all.”
“I limit myself, you’ll be pleased to hear.” Her laugh was simply beautiful, like a melody that hung in the air.
~ Azrael smiled, this was nice.
“I thought I would find you here. Any news?”
As ever, Dumah was straight to the point.
“It looks promising, he hasn’t picked the notepad up in over 2 weeks. I think it may be safe to say he has other things to occupy his mind.”
“Have you been called to your meeting yet? I have mine shortly.”
“Not yet, I hear there is some debate surrounding a human’s entry into the Beyond. You can rest easy that our, situation, is still undiscovered.”
Dumah shrugged, he had no qualms about doing the right thing should his hand be forced, Azrael was under no illusions about this.
“Shall we leave the happy pair? We have business in Italy, I do love Italy, the great shame, of course, is that we cannot sample the food. Oh, to have one meal, it would last me a lifetime.”
Azrael laughed quietly. Honestly, this counterpart would have made a splendid, if not plump, human being.
“Another bourbon?” Asked Brian as they finished off their meal.
“No, I wouldn’t dare. I make it a rule to have 1 a week, that’s quite enough for me. A glass of wine will do nicely.”
There was something vaguely familiar about what she said, Brian couldn’t help thinking he had heard this rule at some other time in his life. No matter, he thought as he pushed it from his mind and ordered more wine. It turned out they had a lot more in common than they first thought. They both came from the area, had gone to school here, both dropped out of college to start up their own business, they were both single recently due to one reason or another. They neither of them had children, a thing they both regretted during their respective marriages but less so on Brian’s part since his marriage break-up. Yes, their lives read quite similarly on paper. They talked nonstop during dessert with Mel reminding Brian of the gym teacher in the high school.
“Oh wow, I do remember her! All the boys were mad crazy in love with her. The girls not so much.”
“She was a hard act to follow. Always perfectly made up, she never broke a sweat, which I have to say I found quite strange. Shame what happened to her, she was a nice person.”
“What happened to her? You lost me there.”
Mel lowered her voice as she looked furtively around the room.
“You didn’t hear? She was shot by her husband, it was in all the local papers. Must have been about 20 odd years ago now. I can’t believe you didn’t know. He came home early from work, he worked away a lot by all accounts. Anyway, he comes in and there’s a man in the shower right? He does no more than takes his daddy’s shotgun from the closet and shoots her where she stands as she comes through the kitchen door. Thinks she’s up to no good you see, turns out, and this is the real tragedy of it all, it’s her brother in the shower, home on leave unexpectedly.” Mel sat back, her breathing fast and loud.
“Jesus! That is a terrible thing. What happened to him? The husband.”
“Still in the big house, as far as I know, a crime of passion and an unfortunate case of mistaken identity so the judge said, brother never forgive himself and was killed in active duty, some say he went looking to meet his maker.”
“That is some story, what a bad way to go if there is a good way of course.”
“Tragic, such a waste of life. Well are we not just the happiest conversationalists ever!” she laughed as she looked at the now stricken expression on her dinner date’s face.
Brian walked her to the car, he was unsure what the proper protocol was in this day and age. It had been a long, long time since he had taken a woman out to dinner that hadn’t been his wife. Mel stepped forward, kissed him lightly on the cheek and grinned.
“There, that’s the awkward moment over with, I know you were thinking about it.”
“You know far too much about me. Should I be concerned?” He grinned back.
“Oh, I don’t know. Would it concern you to know that I thoroughly enjoyed myself, more than I have in a good while? Or would the concern come if you find me in your kitchen tomorrow morning?” Her face was dead pan as she spoke.
“Are you one of those crazy dames that my mother warned me about?”
“Depends, are you looking for a crazy dame?”
Mel put the key in the door of the pickup truck.
“I like your wheels, not what I expected I have to say.”
“This old beast, I just adore it. It’s practical, reliable and looks cool. Everything a girl looks for.”
“Is that so? Well, right there are some qualities a guy will have to work on to live up to. Do I stand a chance?”
Mel sat in the driver seat, pulling the heavy door shut she put the key in the ignition.
“You have infinite qualities, Brian, I think we can say your chances are like the espresso you love so much.” The truck pulled away as Brian called after her.
“What does that mean?”
“Strong Brian, strong.”
He watched the lights fade as the truck disappeared into the dark night.
Azrael waited patiently for Dumah to come out of the room. To say it felt like an eternity was putting it mildly for he knew what a real eternity felt like. Eventually, the figure appeared.
“Do they know?”
Dumah’s face was hard to read, his chiselled features altered not one bit, giving nothing away.
“Stop worrying, they do not know. You will find out soon enough, I dare say it won’t help you for me to discuss the actual reason for the meeting, they can tell. All I will say is it does not relate to our present issue.”
Azrael sighed his relief. He needed time to sort this one out in his way, only then, would he confess his mistake to the Almighty. The figures disappeared down the bright walkway.
Neil sat in the garden, he was impatient to hear about the date.
“Be with you in a sec, do you want a beer?”
“Beer would be good, come on man, I want to hear all the juicy details. I crave excitement and if the only excitement I’m going to get is yours then let’s go.”
Brian handed the can to his friend. Flipping the burgers over on the grill he groaned.
“I thought you were keeping an eye on these. You’re getting the charred one, you know that, right?”
“My bad, I forgot. I’m not the barbecue type of guy, you know that.”
“Here, take a look at this. It’s the latest offer from that company. Personally, I would have been happy with the initial offer but the solicitor says not. He said it has to make them conscious of their blame or some such BS.”
Neil unfolded the letter, his face told the story of surprise as he scanned the words and figures.
“Take it, there’s enough money to last you 3 lifetimes if you’re sloppy with your finances, take it, Brian, that’s my advice. They could always withdraw if you turn it down, I realise they have a reputation but even these guys will draw the line somewhere.”
Brian had to admit his friend had a point, he had no intention of going through a lengthy court process.
“I agree, I am going to tell them to accept the offer. I know this kid wants to make a name for himself, they always do. Not on my case he isn’t.”
“So, what you going to do with it?” Neil sunk his teeth into the hot juicy burger, it was delicious.
“I haven’t given it too much thought. Yes, I know you think that’s crazy but I haven’t. I feel it’s tempting fate in a way, get it in the bank first off and then decide.”
“Fair enough. Now to more pressing matters, how did the date go? Did you get on? Did you go back to hers for a little slap and tickle? Come on, spill.”
Brian swallowed his mouthful with some difficulty. Was this guy the funniest or what?
“You’re terrible buddy, a gentleman never reveals such things. Yes, we got on like a house on fire. The evening went so fast it was over before it had started, in a good way. I like her, you know. She’s easy-going, funny, not too hard on the eyes either.”
“So, you’re seeing her again?”
“I hope so. We didn’t set a date or anything.”
“Get over there and set one, you don’t want her wondering if she’s going to hear from you again, that’s just cold. Women don’t like that, take it from me.”
“Oh yeah, last time you had a date?”
“You know what I mean man. I hear my daughter all the time, Oh, do you think he’ll call, should I call him, it’s been a MONTH! Get over there and put the girl out of her misery. Of course, there is another possibility.”
“She might not want another date, once might have been enough, you hear me?”
Brian threw the remainder of his burger at his friend, picking it up and wiping the dirt from it, Neil stuffed it into his mouth.
“Animal!” Laughed Brian.