“Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy."
The soul-sucking virus, here known as a bureaucrat, ripped the paper and tore Ana's heart.
"Nu pari un român cu adevărat," You don't sound like a proper Romanian, he said loudly enough for everyone to hear.
Ana froze, her feet stuck to the front of the room lit by fluorescent lights and scented by cheap-coffee breath and nervous sweat. The dozens of people sitting on collapsable chairs were powerless to stand up to the pendejo who held their lives in his hands.
Today was Ana's Romanian oath, something she had been preparing for over the past few years. She had learned Romanian, bought plane tickets, paid lawyers, deciphered the bureaucratic codes, and cut the precious purple tips from her hair. Thousands of dollars and hours obtaining papers all went down the drain thanks to a sadist with a stamp who pouted slightly and attempted to sadden his eyes as he said, "Îmi pare rău" sorry.
Then he called upon the next person and smiled as his thin lips stretched to nothingness, leaving only his moustache.
Ana's legs carried her as her mind ventured to the subway station. Her parents stood near the back of the room, a safe distance from the bureaucrat. Her father, Boris, was the type of picaro who hid his feelings as discretely as his guns, but not today. Ana fell into his arms, and he stroked her hair. He opened his mouth to say something, but no words came out. Olena's hand trembled as she tried to rub her daughter's back. Boris looked down at his wife's hand.
"Ходімо," Let's go.
Since her parents didn't drink, unless you consider a couple of drinks a week drinking, Ana went to the brewery alone—something she had never done before. Fabrica Grivita in Bucharest was industrial yet comfortable. Large air vents attached to the ceiling, brick walls, and colourful pillows spread out on the wooden bench. The minimalistic design found in many craft breweries around the world was part of its attraction. There were only a few other people in the bar; strangely enough, they weren't ex-pats, so the ambiance and belches were purely Romanian. Noah would love it here, she thought, and finally checked her phone.
Last seen at 4: 30 PM
How did everything go? Do I have a Romanian girlfriend now?
1: 30 PM
I hope you're out celebrating with your parents.
Missed voice call at 3:00 PM.
Noah would be waiting to see the two blue checkmarks; she had to say something. The poor guy got diarrhea every time he worried.
After one ring, he picked up the phone.
"Anooooska," he said, using the only Ukrainian diminutive he knew. "I was worried. How did the oath go? All good?"
"He ripped the paper."
"I didn't sound Romanian enough, so he ripped the paper."
"He ripped the paper! The mother fucking gillipollas ripped the paper!"
"Noah, not now," Ana said as she lowered the volume on her phone, knowing what would come next. Ana took another gulp from her third pint, which was a lot for her tiny, slim body.
"You don't deserve to be constantly fucked over by fucking lethargic, heartless, dimwitted, bureaucratic fucks who should be getting their fucking eyeballs gouged out as their anally fucking probed by giant spinning drills filled with fucking razor blades. But no, instead, these pieces of fucking slug shit get paid by our tax dollars to sit around and do nothing but ruin lives."
"Cariño, you need to calm down," Ana said, taking another gulp.
"Why the fuck should I — Why the fuck should we be calm?"
Ana knew to be silent so Noah could take in a deep breath and exhale.
"What are you thinking about?" Ana asked.
"A bureaucrat dying at the same pace they work."
Ana didn't have it in her to force another laugh.
"You know what I'm thinking about. The fuckers in Canada will never let you in as a Ukrainian unless you can show you have a solid job in Spain, and you can't get a job in Spain until —"
"Noah, you don't need to explain it."
"It's almost been a year that you've been waiting to get your residency in Spain, and this was kind of our final —"
"Again, cariño, I get it.
"Sorry, it's just so fucking messed up," Noah said.
"Can we talk later? I'm just… I'm tired."
"Of course, I'll be waiting for you at the airport in Valencia tomorrow."
“Te quiero,” Ana said and hung up.
She took the final sip of her beer and placed it on her Ukrainian passport as though it were a coaster.
"This is the most use you've ever been to me."
Ana stumbled out of her chair, out of the pub, and onto the sidewalk where she usually avoided the cracks, pretending that if she stepped on one, she was dead and out of the game. Today, that didn't matter.
Ana made it to the Grozavesti metro station, a six-minute walk that took her fifteen because she walked right past it the first time. She reached the far end, near the tunnel from where the train appeared. There was nobody besides a man with a single dreadlock who passed out the benches.
But she let the first train pass by.
Now, before we continue with Ana, let me introduce myself.
I'm God. Well, God-ish. I'm a trickster, a Coyote, a storyteller, a narrator—El Dios de Este Libro. And I know the demise of humanity.
Whether or not God made humans from clay is not for me to say—that wasn't my story. But I do know a second form of life exists among humans, and they connect the afterlife (the one in hell) to life on Earth. Those familiar with the Quran might be thinking about Jinns. Close, but no.
Like Jinns, you feed them, house them, and fear them, but instead of throwing rice in the corner of the room to keep them happy, you let them feast upon your tax dollars.
Who are the granos en el culo?
Now, they're not all bad. Unlike a Jinn that lives in an inanimate object, a bureaucrat needs to "possess" a human, or if you're into scientific vernacular, "infect" a human. In the afterlife, they can take any form they wish, but on Earth, the bureaucratic virus tends to thrive in a comfortable and safe host—privileged people.
Some bureaucrats, like Jinns, are good-natured. They help create legislation to protect a beach they frequent or an endangered species they adore. Some even print the correct form for you; however, this is rare as it includes standing up, printing, and stamping, all of which are too labour-intensive for the average bureaucrat. Now, some bureaucrats work their asses off to create laws that protect everyday citizens, and like ordinary citizens, they're just as much affected by abstract rules, paperwork, and broken dreams. Yes, some benefits keep the wheel from hell turning but don't forget it exists for one main reason: to destroy you.
Those of you who have read the Book of Revelation, the dope final instalment of The New Testament, might think the four horsemen will put an end to you all. Just use a constant yardstick as you look over the past couple hundred years, and you'll notice humans are doing a decent job ameliorating war, famine, conquest, and death. You're fighting fewer guerras (even though there are still a lot), you're not getting as many of your flacas to starve (again, still too many), and you keep figuring out ways to live longer. Good on ya, but again, not your demise because fighting those problems gives your life meaning.
A lack of fulfillment is what takes the life out of a human. And the bureaucratic system is here to suck the fulfillment right out of ya.
But how do you become fulfilled? How do you find meaning in life, or in other words, the meaning of life? Simple.
Just joking. How fucking sappy would that be?
Exploration, my friends. The meaning of life is to explore. Whether it's exploring new countries, ideas, solutions, Comida, cuerpos, hairstyles, stamps, sodium chloride tolerance in quinoa —whatever. You choose what to explore. And what's the one thing that slows down the process or ceases your exploration altogether with red tape? Well, you know the answer.
“Nowhere else did repressions, purges, suppressions, and all other kinds of bureaucratic hooliganism in general acquire such horrifying scope as in Ukraine, in the struggle against powerful forces concealed in the Ukrainian masses that desire more freedom and independence.”
- Leon Trotsky
The hospital was on fire.
Ana Petrenko stared at the TV screen as she held her little brother to her shaking body. Kuzma was a six-year-old cuddly doughboy with a love for Lego and an affliction for rabbits. Wisely, Ana turned him away from the TV, but there was no shielding him from the cries and gritas outside.
"Де мама?" Where's mama? He asked.
Ana checked her texts—no reply.
"Вона йде," She's coming.
“Треба допомогти мамі!” We need to help mama!
“Нам треба залишитися тут,” We need to stay here.
Ana stroked Kuzma's back as she watched several more people escape the hospital. It was impossible to make out faces through the black smoke that poured from the hospital windows and rose from tires people set on fire to keep the Berkut out.
The Berkut—murderers of their own people, monsters, sons, brothers, confused young men, Yanukovych's pons, or whatever you want to call them—-had recently stopped shooting people's eyes out with rubber bullets. They had real ones now.
The people on the frontline had been pushing against the incoming tide of Berkut for months. They used metal scraps for shields, and people like Boris prepared Molotov cocktails to create a wall of flames and smoke. They had to keep the Berkut out of Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), the heart of the revolution. They needed the voices of their countrymen to continue reverberating through Kyiv. Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, and the indecisive agnostics all united for a power greater than themselves. Maidan Nezalezhnosti needed to keep beating, and the Berkut knew that.
Instead of trying to reach them from street level, they started using snipers. As a result, the body count piled up. As bullets whizzed past them, people dragged their brothers' and sisters' lifeless bodies. Even those who weren't near Maidan Nezalezhnosti were being gunned down.
Ana's mother, Olena, and two other women had given food and medical supplies to people scattered in the streets of Kyiv. And today, on February 18th, they were heading to the hospital to pick up supplies.
Everyone got organized without a specific leader, paperwork, nada.
“Мені треба в туалет, я зараз повернуся.” I need to use the washroom. I'll be right back, Ana said as she separated herself from Kuzma. She went into the washroom and stared at the mirror to check if she was really there, living in a nightmare. Then, when she started to brush her teeth, it brought a momentary sensation of normalcy to her life.
When she returned to the living room, Kuzma was gone. She screamed his name, ran down the stairs, and burst into the streets. It was the first time she had been outside in days because the Berkut had been kidnapping children. Ana usually avoided exercise at all costs, but today she sprinted faster than an Olympic sprinter on speed.
An engine revved, and tires screeched. Ana followed the noise and made it in time to see a truck belonging to the Berkut vanish in the distance.
There was a body. And the world around her went silent as she approached it. A part of her already knew what she would see as she turned over the flattened corpse from stomach to toe. Kuzma's eyes and mouth were still wide open; one could call it shock if the life weren't already sucked right out of him.
Kuzma's smile and how it lifted the tip of his nose was Ana's second last thought before stepping off the platform and into the train.
Ana's soul yearned to see Kuzma in the afterlife, and in a story with two deaths within the first two thousand words, that better be the case, right?
Well, I'll see what I can do. I work in mysterious ways, as they say, when something goes terribly wrong. It's not that I'm sadistic or morbid; it's just that as god (god-ish), I understand death a little differently than some. Maybe you see death as something that needs to be overcome by creating a memoir, a song, a painting, a statue of yourself, an enterprise with a logo, or kids. Maybe you think death is painful, something you carry deep inside you and will never get over. Perhaps death is trauma. Maybe you believe death is part of a beautiful cycle and that your rotting corpse will turn to soil and give life to an orchid. But to me, death is a bureaucratic nuisance.
When Ana died, she didn't see a white light or a dude with a beard or un diablo. Instead, she was in pitch darkness aside from an illuminated red box you find in una carnicería mounted to nothingness, as any laws related to light, gravity, and sound didn't apply here. Oh, there were rules here, alright, but strictly bureaucratic ones.
Out of experience, Ana pulled and tore the triangular piece of paper and received the number fifty-six. That number fifty-six was from the one hundred and twenty people who had died within the same minute as her worldwide. Those one hundred and twenty would get separated into different queues, and then every Earth minute (which can feel like several hours in the afterlife), the system would reboot, and the next one hundred and twenty people to die on Earth would appear. But Ana didn't know that. All she whispered to herself was, "де я в біса?," which roughly translates as "Where the fuck am I?" as she suddenly appeared in a lineup of people all standing on what seemed to be nothing. You couldn't quite call it floating, as there wasn't a sense of weightlessness. If anything, a stronger graviton pull here kept you stuck to where your number brought you.
Of the one-hundred and twenty people that died, ten percent were white, sixteen percent were Middle Eastern, twenty-one percent were Asian—pues, ethnicity percentages were only a tiny part of it. Religion, sex, gender (they had only recently separated sex and gender in the afterlife filing system), birthplace, occupation, political orientation, and all these other labels well-meaning humans thought didn't matter in the end mattered even more. Well, if you ended up in hell.
The labels were a classification system to keep everything neat and tidy. Without them, the afterlife in hell would collapse, and you'd be left with chaos, and chaos in hell could bring about change in hell, which, obviously, those who controlled hell didn't want.
And those who didn't neatly fit into a category went into the ever-growing "other" filing cabinet. It was much easier when people tended to keep to the street, farm, castle, or cave where they grew up.
Ana, who was purely Ukrainian at birth, complicated things by living in Spain for several years. Her social security number, speaking volume, and social distancing were cien por cien Spanish, which meant she had to wait in the "other" lineup.
Even though Ana learned to speak loudly and greet strangers with a kiss on the cheek, she wasn't the type to bother people. She'd tip-toe into rooms, texted instead of called, apologized profusely for nothing, and so, she didn't bother to ask the man holding his chopped-off head in front of her or the woman whose hair floated as though she were underwater what the heck was going on.
After what seemed to be an hour, which on Earth would have been just under a minute, Ana finally reached the counter where the bureaucrat sat. The bureaucrat here still took the form of a human—a freakishly symmetrical, racially-ambiguous human with dull, indistinct male features an amateur sculpture might conjure. Its name tag read "Entrance-CoB."
"Your ID, please," it said with a hollow voice.
"Sorry, what's going on?"
"I need your ID."
"Where am I?"
"The Afterlife Visa Application Centre."
"You're dead." said the freakishly symmetrical bureaucrat as it lifted a mirror to Ana's face. To her horror, she saw her cracked skull and bits of brain scattered through her hair. Ana's body trembled as a tear of blood fell from her eye.
"Your body—well, however you perceived it—will regain its form soon."
Ana hadn't thought of touching her body as she was in shock. Now, she saw the contorted and flattened flesh slowly beginning to resemble a body under her clothes, the same formal ones she had on when she died.
"Please, I don't understand."
"Your ID, please."
Ana reached into her pocket, surprised to find her wallet perfectly intact, and handed the bureaucrat her ID.
"Do you have a second piece of ID?"
"Yes, my Ukrainian—" Ana remembered that she had used her passport as a coaster. "Actually, I left it at a… bar."
"I'll need your second piece of ID before giving you a visa into the afterlife."
"And how am I supposed to do that?"
"Time's up. Goodbye."
Ana suddenly got swept up, or maybe swept down—it was impossible to tell. For a moment, she was nothing and one with the void. She couldn't see or touch her body, but there was a sense that her mind or soul—her essence—was being sucked from out of her body, through her head, and into—
A room. Finally, there was a visible floor; it was white like the four walls. Each wall had a black outline of a door drawn with what seemed to be a permanent marker. And most interesting of all, there was no ceiling, just a galaxy. At first glance, it seemed like one of those high-resolution NASA pictures of the Milky Way, but upon closer inspection, it resembled a cosmic vagina glistening with stars and planets.
"We're getting that fixed soon," said a soothing female voice.
Ana tried to look at where the voice had come from.
“Over here, Ana Petrenko.”
In the corner of the room stood a glass desk suited for someone the size of a mouse; indeed, behind that desk sat someone the size of a mouse. However, when that someone stood up and approached Ana, she grew as though she were in a drawing that played with depth perception. By the time she stood in front of Ana, she was one hundred and seventy centimetres tall—twenty centimetres taller than Ana.
Her name, but we should really say its name, was Gate-CoB. Gate resembled una chica flaca de Escandinavia— blond, tall, clear complexion—the difference being that her eyes were filled with the colours of the cosmos above them.
"We're getting a new ceiling installed next month. Stars sure can be distracting, can't they, Ana?"
"I…um, how do you know my name?"
"I know everything about you, Ana Petrenko, born in 1996 on June 2nd, who, as a child, ate onions and told herself they were apples to keep herself from crying."
"Um," Ana paused for a moment, trying to think of how to respond. "So, I don't need a second piece of ID?"
"Oh no, you definitely do. You'll need to pass various tests to demonstrate that you are who you and your ID say you are."
"Can't you just look me up in your system?"
"On Earth, you people freely gave away your information once the twenty-first century rolled around. People in power not only knew your name, birthplace, and social security number, but they also knew your whereabouts at all moments, your food preferences, your sexual preferences, or whatever other preferences you humans prefer, and yet, were you able to get a visa with one piece of ID and nothing else?"
"No, exactly. Because it's not we who have to prove you are who you say you are. It's you who has to prove you are who you say you are."
"But that doesn't make any sense."
"Sit with me," Gate said, and suddenly the desk appeared between her and Ana. Before Ana could answer, they were both in chairs, also made of glass. "Would you like me to switch to Russian or Ukrainian, Ana? We bureaucrats speak to the Earthly deceased in whatever language their last thought was in—yours being 'fuck.'"
"Did you say, 'bureaucrats?'"
"Yes, of course."
Ana took a deep breath in, closed her eyes, exhaled, hoped this was all a dream, and—
"No, this isn't a dream, Ana. You really did jump in front of a train. And I really am a bureaucrat. Why do you think the bureaucratic system still relied on handwritten signatures and a collection of papers after all the technology and easily accessed private information we had?"
Ana was trembling at this point. She squeezed the pressure point between her index finger and thumb. "I don't know."
"Because of tradition, Ana. Bureaucracy is what binds life on Earth to the afterlife."
"Vale" was all Ana managed to say.
. "Vale. Yes! Spanish, Castellano, your fourth and most used language in the past five years. I was getting there, cariño, but I may as well get there now. Your first test is to prove that you really have lived in Spain."
"But you already know I did."
"Again, Ana, you need to understand that it's not up to me to prove who you say you are; it's up to you to prove who you say you are."
"I just— is there a way I can get to Kuzma, my brother?"
"That is just such a human thing to ask. But, unfortunately, I really don't have the, um, authorization to tell you that.
"But is he—"
"Please, push to open the door behind you. Good luck, sweetie." With that, Gate-CoB disappeared, well, to Ana's knowledge. Really, Gate-CoB was right in front of her, but as her regular viral self.
Ana looked up at the galaxy above her. She wanted to feel insignificant and believe her decision was inconsequential to the people she had left behind. Images of Boris, Olena, and Noah drifted before her, and the three of them started to scream in agony. Ana tried to block out the sound as the mournful screams increased and vibrated through her. The pain brought her to her knees, and with the sound of Noah's voice yelling, "Why?" she burst up, pushed open the door, and landed in Spain.
Please let me know if you want to continue reading so I know whether to carry on with the story or not.
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