Christi looked around contentedly. The soup shop bustled with friendly activity and tempting smells. The coins jingling in her pocket made her hungry as she glanced around. The line was just long enough for her to choose her bowl and bread before she had to order.
“May I take your order?” The cheerful cashier didn’t bat an eye as Christi’s blue twinkle betrayed her nervousness.
“I would like the chive and mushroom soup, please, with cranberry and walnut bread.” She held out her cash.
“Anything else?” The cashier’s eyes twinkled as Christi quickly shook her head. “Here is your change, have a wonderful meal! Next?” Christi sidestepped for the next customer. As she waited for her bowl, she glanced at the customer behind her. She was average height…just a little smaller than herself. Christi admired her wispy brown hair escaping the sweet braid running to her belt. A waiter pushed a plate with toasted cranberry bread towards her and she shuffled over to make room for the next customer. She glanced at her again and they locked eyes for a second. Beautiful brown eyes. The blue twinkle darted from eye to eye and in little bursts in her cheeks with embarrassment.
“Sorry, I—” Christi tried to explain the glow, but the stranger interrupted her.
“No, I’m so sorry, I wasn’t expecting it, um…” She looked away quickly, smiling a little to herself.
“Don’t worry.” Christi laughed a little and took the square bowl from the waiter. “It surprises most people.”
She took the other bowl and turned to her, “Are you sitting with someone?”
Christi blinked and smiled. “Ah…no. Would you like to join me?” The stranger scooped up her bowl with a smile that set questions at ease in Christi’s heart. Something emanating from her felt like pure trust and her gentle smile sang “I understand.” They wove in and out of the low tables and found a comfortable corner to curl up in. Christi took a spoon from the holder on the side and rested her bowl in the slot. “So what is your name?”
The stranger followed suit and tucked her knees to her chin. “Hailey, and you?”
“Christina. Call me Christi.” She took a sip of her soup and smiled contentedly.
“What did you get?” Hailey watched her softly, keeping a subconscious eye on the little blue sparkles that occasionally revealed themselves in her skin.
Christi let her thick jacket fall to the ground. “Chive and mushroom, you?”
“Squash.” They sipped in silence for a few moments before Hailey glanced up. A firework of blue exploded in Christi’s cheeks from burning her tongue. “If I may ask…” She thought carefully, “How did you…”
Christi chuckled. “Start glowing? I was part of an experiment six or seven years ago. Long story short, I gained superwoman strength and artificial memory loss. It’s been…neutralized a little, but the twinkling hasn’t gone.” She shrugged. “I can put my jacket back on if it disturbs you.”
“Oh, no, not at all.” Hailey allowed herself to stare, now. “It’s mesmerizing.”
They fell silent for a few more moments, awkwardly sipping soup and soaking bread. “So. What is your story?” Christi’s blue eyes danced as she took in the greying hair, wrinkled eyes, and young mouth.
“I was a psychologist for the air force during the Interoceanic war.” Hailey dropped her eyes, frowning. Psychologist. Weapon of mass conviction.
Her new friend swirled her spoon in her soup. “I see. I heard that was rough…Tell me, did you deal with any memory cases…?”
Hailey shook her head, the limp braid flicking like a snake down her back. “My patients were all being readied for the front. They knew me as a friend. What was it like to have memory loss, though? I wondered.”
Christi tapped the spoon in her soup and rocked slightly, ciphering through the confused blurs of memory. “Like…a perpetual high. No regrets, no hesitation, no shame…but no love…? No happiness? It was monotony that I couldn’t even remember…I had nothing to compare it to. I actually thought I was the artificial consciousness of a computer, I think.” She frowned, becoming absorbed in recollection.
“I know what you mean.”
Christi’s eyes glanced up sharply. “Say what…?”
“The monotony? I don’t know, I suppose it’s different…But I spent my military career isolated because I was a weapon of sorts. I was the moral of the people, my commander’s aide always said.”
The x-fighter winced. “Oof.”
Hailey shrugged and tossed her stray hairs back. “Well, science experiment doesn’t explain false teeth and a metallic tattoo.” She raised a mischievous eyebrow.
Christi’s fingers went to the silvery lines and the blue sparkle blushed with her pink cheeks. “Oh…After the…ah…Experiment lost funding, I was sold as a prize fighter.” She shrugged and laughed. “Lost a lot of teeth, doing that…there was a fire and I lost some of my face and lung capacity.” She cupped her chin with one hand coyly. “But I’m back together again, so all’s well that ends well.”
The flippant words betrayed an exhilarating story to Hailey and she leaned forward with a small smile. “Care to share?”
“Oh…I was on a space station…I had a reputation for winning and I suppose some men lost too many bets and…I guess the easiest way to get it back was burning me after a fight. I was so…” She died away searching for words. “Incapacitated I didn’t even smell the smoke. My friend got me out. I retired after that and went into personal training.”
Hailey watched her admiringly. The story was still held in her eyes, but what emotional strength to rebound from that attack. After a thoughtful silence, she sighed. “As an unofficial psychologist may I ask what that brush with death brought to mind?”
“So quizzical.” Christi smirked. “Um, actually, it made me really think deeply about the afterlife…or if there was one, and sort of…what I was…versus what I felt like…Strangely deep questions for a woman with a severe concussion on anesthesia. Then again, it really melded together in my mind, so I don’t know how much time passed.”
“Did you find an answer?” Hailey brushed crumbs into her bowl and leaned forward.
Christi shook her head, letting her hair snap back and forth. “No. I’m looking for it. Do you have an answer?”
Now it was the brown eyes’ turn to linger on the ground thoughtfully. “No…but I’ve heard of two…The most predominant ones. Are you familiar with reincarnation?” At the blank stare, she leaned forward to explain. “Essentially, the universe is eternal and when you die, you, as Christina, will be reborn as an infant with no memory but hopefully a wiser subconscious. If you didn’t learn enough in this life, you might downgrade to say, a bird.”
Christi wrinkled her nose and snorted a bit. “A bit far fetched…? Wouldn’t the world have at least a few enlightened geniuses by now…?”
“Exactly my difficulty. The other is…Have you ever considered an afterlife where you could go one of two places?” Christi nodded, but Hailey was too busy searching for words to notice. “Well…Heaven and Hell. A good place and a terrible place. These people believe…if you do certain things or accept a certain rule or something, I’m not quite positive, you will go to heaven. Otherwise, you go to hell. And those places are eternal whereas this place is temporary.” Christi nodded her head side to side.
“I’m not sure I like either of those predicaments…but I know there is something left over. There’s something immaterial about us that…doesn’t die. Even if you lose your memory.”
“I could look into them more, but I’m leaning towards the heaven and hell thing. As I studied those patients, they always had more conviction, courage…hope.” She nodded firmly, “It’s the hope that is so rare in soldiers. All of them have some sense of purpose, but the heaven-hell soldiers believed firmly that their life would be used for good. And that kept them going.”
“Was it that strong for them?” Christi closed her eyes longingly.
“Yeah. I never had them as patients long enough to delve deeper, though…So when can we meet up again?” She pulled out a small planner with a smile.
“Um…what works for you? I don’t have anything planned for the next life time besides dinner.”
Hailey squinted, “How about day after tomorrow, same place, same time. At this table.” She started to pencil in the commitment.
“Day after tomorrow, same place, same time, at the door, because I won’t remember which table we sat at.”
The two young women laughed and slurped the remaining drops of soup up in respect for the cook before disposing of their bowls and parting ways. Hailey pushed out of the bustling shop and into the chill breeze, analyzing and piecing together the delightful puzzle of Christi’s experiences.
Christi lingered by the counter musing on her soup flavor absently.
Question Entry 25
I sank into an armchair by the fire gratefully when I got home. A vehicle splashed me with cold water on my way, but I don’t mind so much, after talking with Hailey. She has a strange effect on people. I feel understood. Like being understood by my dad. Only a little more, like she is searching. She wants to know how my brain works, but I don’t really mind, because she also wants to help it work better. She’s very thoughtful. Speaking of which, I have come to a conclusion.
After death is only the beginning. I believe that since there are obvious consequences for bad behavior…or even because there is such a thing as bad behavior. That itself explains everything. Everyone agrees that certain things are good and admirable, wherever we go. When I do something good, I am praised and rewarded. When I do something bad, life itself punishes me. There is no such thing as haphazard fate, this is obvious. So it is on those grounds that I believe there is something to the Heaven-Hell people. Good people go to heaven, bad people go to hell…but somewhere there is a dividing line, I think. That must be the rule that they follow. It doesn’t seem so terrible, now that I think about it. It’s really not even fair, it’s really nice. If there’s good, there’s absolute perfection, I suppose, because there are always two extremes in nature. Because of that, well…I have never met a perfect person in my life or even heard of one, everyone has something rotten about them, even my dad, even Clay, so to give us that type of deal…is a deal worth accepting, I think.
If there is a deal maker out there…I want to learn about him. I want to at least think about his terms. Hell doesn’t sound like an altogether appetizing retirement home.