Fiction: The Man With the Small Notebook

By Arsh Siddiqui

Death was not a skull capped individual but a small man in a clean black suit who liked timetables and spreadsheets and hated disorder. The job itself was never easy of course and moments exist that sit uncomfortably within the clean gridded squares he prides so much. Forgetting them is only a pleasure mortals like you and I get, but Death must remember everything, from the kings of Babylon to the sewer rats of Queens. He could always be seen standing against a wall with a small notebook in hand, jotting down notes about the next one.

Today was a hot day in Mumbai, but Death remained wearing his black suit and tie. As always, he was leaning against a light pole writing into his notebook. Today he was looking at an orange street cat, with her small head resting against her white paws against the white concrete street barrier. Her ears were small and flat against her head, themselves resting. She used to have a name, Tabby, but it appears to just bring discomfort to her now, so we'll just refer to her as "the cat".

A cat like her was a rather ordinary fixture on a hot summer day like this in Mumbai, certainly the passers-by didn't think for a moment to glance at her stretched out on the pavement. All she was to them was street furniture, that which one expects to see on their daily marches to and from the various buildings of their life. The city was too big, too grand, and too tall, anyhow, for anybody to notice a small orange cat.

But, for these few moments, she would take center stage to Death as all other figures on the street melted away like in a Dali painting. The features of the cat became all at once stronger in the eyes of Death. Visible were not just her orange hairs, but small bristles of a yellow brush stuck in her back with the lines the object those bristles came from created. She was evidently quite tired.

Her life didn't amount to much; it was just a piece of thread she had to precariously walk each day, between the harsh implements of man and the sustenance she needed for her survival. Few and far between existed those that would leave out a saucer of something or another. They were those who had often yearned and felt the bristles of the brush themselves. Scars from those left on their back too.

In part it was for reasons like this that Death didn't enjoy his work with humans. For one, they never comfortably resigned themselves. It always had to be a fight for them, regardless of where they were from. So many wanted the experience of a fight to feel their death worthwhile: their personal Valhalla. Death had heard at this point effectively every excuse from humans, from "I've never ridden a helicopter" to "Now is a bad time, can you get back to me later?". Regardless, humans enjoyed the speed of life, some even speedrunning it forcefully. That itself ignores all the desire humans have to force themselves upon one another, in all ways. It was, after all, humans themselves who placed war next to love.

The other creatures of Earth were much more agreeable to work with. Squirrels were the most like humans, but mostly in excitement. When it came down to the passing itself, they became rather curious. In fact, such was the case with most of the creatures of nature: they looked to Death not as the final foe, but rather in curiosity.

In this way and as time took flight, Death grieved for curiosity. With that flight, curious faces, that once vastly out populated the arguments and the fights, gradually diminished. Now he sees them rarely, and out of their homes and habitats when he does. More and more fists and voices are raised, in union, in chorus, trying to shout down Death. It isn't even that there were more fists or more mouths, just that their relative frequency increased, much to the despair of Death.

Unlike what one might imagine, Death was a rather weak man. He couldn't bear the sight of those scars and used to wish often for alternative measures and special cases. He used to fear the circumstances beyond his spreadsheets, but as with time, he made special cases, he gave aid, and he protected the few creatures that remained.

The irony was not lost on him.

Today, again, he was none too pleased. He closed his notebook and put it in the inner breast pocket of his jacket and moved to sit on the asphalt beside the cat, slowly sliding his hand over the orange matted fur. She could only muster a sickly purr in response.

Death checked the collar held tight around her throat and released it from her. He turned it over in his hands: it was a small collar, clearly of high quality, but with many scratches against the clasp and silver wear against the gold looking tag itself. He turned it over to its back, finding an inscription thereupon.

Death stood up and moved away from her, clasping the tag in his left hand, and marched towards the inner depths of the metropolis.

Arsh Siddiqui is a student of computer science at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA desperately trying to forget. He finds language interesting and spends his time rambling.


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