“BEEP BEEP BEEP…” goes the sound of the phone alarm on a wooden table by the bed. A hand reached out in the darkness, out of a blanket,with a finger sliding the surface of the phone off. The phone showed the time was 7.00 AM. Henry woke up from his bed pushing the blanket and the pillows away to avoid the biggest temptation to go back to sleep and headed to the bathroom. He took his phone and played a song, while he took a shower and sang along. He went to the sink, groomed his brown hair and stubbles on his chin to reveal a not so bad looking man though he would think otherwise. Henry put on his contact lenses and looked at his phone it was 7.30 AM.
In the bedroom he rustled through his closet to find his blue shirt he wore the other day, ironed it well with his blue checkered tie and black pants. He took his green sweater wore it on top of his shirt took his bag and looked at his phone again it was 8.00 AM.
Henry walked out of his apartment, around him weretall buildings made of concrete, advertisements with flashing lights to attract the passersby but he and many others felt that it was an annoyance rather than an attraction, people hustling to work, rows of cars and taxis on the street, not to mention the homeless men sleeping on the sidewalk, drunks drinking and nodding their drunk head on the steel bench, and the early selling hot dog stalls. These were scenes Henry acquaint himself with daily, he was very much used to them already.
He didn’t always live in the big city.
In fact, he used to live in a small town about 6 hours drive from his apartment. Everywhere he laid his eyes on would be green fields, his neighbors were farmers taking their time during the day no hustle and bustle of the city. He moved from a small town to a big one, because like many at his age then a 22-year-old, he wanted to see, explore, and to be, more than the small town could offer, which only the big city could give he thought.
Henry continued his walk towards the subway station about a mile from his apartment and dropped by the coffee shop near the entrance. He ordered a black coffee to go, then looked at his phone it was 8.16 AM.
Afterwards he went on his way with his coffee on his right hand, took the subway, and arrive at his office exactly 8.50 AM. Henry went to his desk turn on the office computer and worked with the data and documents piled up on his desk and e-mails.
He worked as a junior analyst.Every day he processed and analyzed data then make a forecast for his clients. Henry did well as a junior analyst, even his superiors praised him. It was one of his proudest moments to be recognized for his skill, as a boy from a small town, a recognition of any kind from old city folks to him meant as if he was already one of them.
He had his lunch break at 12.15 PM until 1.00PM, eating the sandwich he bought at the office cafeteria with his office friends, they laught at times but mostly just chewing in silence.
Henry finished work at exactly 5.00 PM, he packed his bag, went back on the same route and was at his apartment at 5.42 PM. He took off his shoes, went to the bathroom took his contact lenses out, took a shower, wore his glasses, made dinner, then sat on the sofa, watched TV with a plate on his lap, he took his phone out it was 7.15 PM. He answered a few texts he had from his friends back home and some from his friends in the city who invited him to grab some drinks with them, which he would decline as he preferred to stay at home rather than spending his long-awaited weekend thrashed in a crowded bar or club. Henry ate and watched TV until it was 9.15 PM. He washed the dishes and cleaned the place, brushed his teeth and was in bed to sleep by 10.00 PM.
This was Henry’s routines daily without missing any rituals and steps. Each day was the same as yesterday. The colors of his pants, shirt, and sweater may change but always the same combination repeatedly for the 5 days of the week.
During the weekends he would sleep and woke up a little later, the time he would spend at the office he spent in parks seating on a wooden bench reading a book or he goes to the cinema to watch the newest movie premiered, or if he feels a little fancy, he would eat at a nice restaurant to have a good big glass of beer and excellent meals. Henry preferred to be on his own rather than to participate in a surrounding where he’s obligated to engage in others companionship and converse in tedious topics. He found them bothersome.
Henry has been an introvert since he was young. He loved books and would spend hours reading them, in fact he wanted to write some. Which was actually, the main reason he went to the Big City. Henry wanted to be a writer.
Though things happened that didn’t go as per expected. He sent some of his writings to the publishers, trying to get them published. A few gave a reply but not the kind he wanted. It all started with “Dear Sir/Madam, Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, …” he always stopped reading after “unfortunately”. He already knew what it meant. Bills started to pile up and Henry had to pay for them. None of his writings were published, and he cannot make an income out of unpublished books, the last resort was to get a stable job with his degree. He was a finance major, and has a knack for analysis, his professor told him so, thus he took a job as a junior analyst.
As monotonous as his life may be, Henry felt quite “okay”with it compared to his lay back living in his hometown. But somewhere deep down in Henry’s heart he knew that this wasn’t what he completely signed up for. He had something he wanted most to do, but too afraid to reach as it means that he would have to leave his securewell-paying job that pay the bills, make a more certain life. And as he grew older year by year at 29 years old, secure and certain mattered more than chasing the unstable and unknown.
One particular week, didn’t go as well as the others. Someone in his team made a major mistake with the data and documents, the forecast was misconstrued, his superiors weren’t happy with their performance, and the clients were furious. For the whole 5 days of that week Henry was under pressure to unwind the raveled strings his colleague made. He worked overtime for the first time in years. The person who made the mistake was fired on the 3rd day of that week. “It’s to be expected” he thought.
It was finally Friday, he finished his work at 5.00 PM at last, was at home watching TV and eating his dinner, checking his phone as per usual schedule at 7.15 PM. He answered his friends’ texts, and when he was going to decline the usual drinks invitation, he hesitated for a moment. It has been the most hectic week of his career, and he’s in a dire need of drinks as much as he could to let go of the fatigue. But then he recalled that he would have to be out so late with them, and he was not the kind to do that. So, he declined.
The next day was just like any other Saturday, but today he wanted to drink more than usual. He already booked a table in his favorite restaurant and was going to come by earlier in the afternoon at 1.00 PM.
At 12.30 PM he was walking down the streets on his way to the restaurant. He wore black hooded sweater, white t-shirt, and jeans. Henry walked on the sidewalks with his hands in his sweater pocket. Then his phone started to ring, he picked it up, it was from his boss.
“Hello, Mr McMillan. What can I help you?” he asked.
“Hi Henry, sorry to bother you during the weekend, but could you drop by the office now. I need you to confirm some documents for me” Mr McMillan explained.
“Oh…” Henry hesitated for a while, but for the sake of his career he answered “Mmm.. yeah, sure of course. What document are you referring to?”
As Mr McMillan explained the document he required, Henry was just then crossing the street. He was focused on talking on the phone with Mr McMillan, staring down the crosswalk, that he did not noticed that everyone else have stopped walking and the crosswalk light was red. Henry kept on walking to the street then the traffic light goes green. Henry’s focus was distracted by a scream “HEY MAN, WATCH OUT!!”. He lifted his head then to his right was a bus speeding towards him. Then everything turned black.
When he came to, he still wore the same clothes on that Saturday afternoon, but he was in a place he did not recognize. It looked as if he was surrounded by white walls. He could not see any lamps, but the place was very bright. He searched his pocket for his phone hoping to get a signal and try to get help. There was no signal, he couldn’t contact anyone the only conciliation to his confusion was the time that the phone showed it was 12.36 PM. He tried to walk for a few minutes, but it seemed as if the white wall would just farther itself away with every step he took. He looked at his phone again it was still 12.36 PM. “That can’t be true” he thought.
“Hello?” he said, wishing to have someone answer him. “Hello?” he tried again louder but only echoes of his voice was all he could hear. “Is anyone here?.... Am I dead?... HELLOOO!! ANYONEE!!” he screamed frustrated at this labyrinth he seemed to be unable to find a way out of.
“Hello, Henry” the voice came right behind him, startled Henry so much that his shoulders jumped and when he turned his body around, he tripped on his own leg and fell to the ground. “Wohow, slow down there, Henry” said the man as he helped Henry get back up on his feet.
The man had porcelain skin, red hair, pink lips, and was wearing a white suit. Henry thought he was the most beautiful man he had ever laid his eyes on. Henry stuttered and asked the man “Am..am.. am I dead?”.
“Well, not really Henry, no. Not yet” he answered.
“Where am I? and Who are you” Henry asked again.
“You’re in a place where we keep souls who hasn’t really passed nor alive. I am someone who worked for the man upstairs” the man answered.
“So do you have a name and am I like in a coma or something?” he asked again.
“No, I do not have a name. And yes, of some sort. But you’re dying, and you will die in 15 minutes” said the man.
The moment the man said those words Henry could only feel regrets. There were plenty of things Henry would have wanted to do. Now, he could not do them anymore he was about to die in 15 minutes.
“But you’re one of the lucky ones, the man upstairs wanted to give you another chance” he added.
“Oh okay! Great! Yeah! Thanks, so who’s this man upstairs is he like god? Or what? Do I have to do anything to get back?” Henry felt quite relieved with the news.
“Yes, he is some sort of god figure to you, but more like superior to me” he nodded and answered patiently.
“You would be given your life back but only from Monday to Saturday of this week. There is something He thinks you need to know and you could only know if you are to live again. But before you go, you must choose” he explained further.
The man put his hands in his pocket and dangle two paper bags. The paper bags were certainly a little too big to fit in the man’s suit pocket. It looked a little like a magic trick when he pulled it out, like a magician pulling out a bunny out of a hat. He held each bag in each hand.
“You could choose between these two bags which one you would want to take back with you in life, whichever one you choose you should better take good care and make good use of it. Do not waste your second chance” he continued.
“Only from Monday to Saturday? Come on…” Henry thought to himself.
“Okay okay, could it be maybe longer than Monday to Saturday?” Henry bargained but the man only smiled and said, “Pick one, Henry”. Henry knew at that moment, bargaining was not an option, he then decided to just go with it and get his last moments from Monday to Saturday. “I’ll choose that one then” Henry pointed at the paper bag the man held in his left hand.
“Then goodbye Henry, I hope to see improvements” the man smiled.
Then suddenly a hole formed below Henry, which he slipped into “AAAAAAAAA” he screamed falling further down the hole.
He woke up to a sound of a familiar alarm, hefinds himself in his bed. He reached for his phone looked at the date and time, it showed Monday 7.00 AM. It felt surreal to Henry, he was going to wave it as a dream, then there it was a familiar paper bag on the wooden table by his bed with a note on it that said, “Use wisely”. Henry felt a shiver down his spine. This paper bag just confirmed that it was not a dream. It was all real. He really only has time until Saturday.
Henry grab the bag, topple it upside down to reveal what was inside, and to his disbelief, papers of money slide themselves out of the bag on to his bed. He was ecstatic by the view. He counted and there were $5,000 in total. Henry was going to skip work that day, he’s going to die anyways, thus he planned to live his lifespend the $5,000 he had in the bag.
He thought of all the expensive things he would spend his money on, where best to travel and so on. Henry scrammed out of his apartment all excited with the money he had in his bag. He was on his way to a travel agency to buy a trip to a tropical island, when suddenly a strong wind blew towards Henry. The wind was quite strong that it made him lose his balance, and as he fell, he dropped his bag, then the money in the paper bag spilled out and flew with it on to the streets. Those who stood by watching the flying paper grabbed what they could where it lays. A few people had gathered to scavenge the scattered money. “NO, NO, NO, NO, NOO! BACK OFF IT’S MY MONEY!” schouted Henry.
He ran towards the streets collecting all he could racing the others. Then suddenly “HONK HONK!” goes the sound of a car rushing towards him. Then everything went black again.
Henry opened his eyes to the familiar place of white walls. “Oh great…come on…” he said sarcastically.
“Hello Henry” said the man. “Yeah, I died again, do I have to always die crashed on the street?” he asked in anger.
“Well, I was not the one who was careless” answered the man. “Henry, do you know why the man upstairs give you a second chance?”
“Beats me, so am I now going to hell or heaven?” answered Henry ignorantly.
The man let out a sigh “The man upstairs hasn’t given up on you yet, he still wanted to give you another chance” added the man. The man took out a paper bag, the paper bag Henry did not choose before. “Use this last chance wisely Henry, He has not given up on you and you shouldn’t either” the man said stared into Henry’s eyes. He looked deep inside his soul to scold him gently to not waste his last chance, to make sure Henry would not regret his actions.
Henry felt ashamed and ungrateful, he took the paper bag from the man’s hand “Yeah, I will” he answered with more assertiveness and respect. Then a hole appeared under him, he did not scream this time as he fell.
He woke up to find that he was back in his bed. He reached for his phone it showed Monday 7.00 PM. Then he took the paper bag with the same note “Use it wisely”. He reached his hand into it and felt something familiar. A shape and size of objects he used to have all the time. He took the objects out of the paper bag and it was a book and a pen. But not just any book and pen. It was his favorite book and pen that he had and used to carry eveywhere, to write down anything that inspired him to write. He threw them away long ago when he decided to settle for his job as a junior analyst. He feared back then, with the existence of them in his apartment it might hinder his attention from his stable job, a temptation to become a writer again, the only thing that could jeopardize his stable life.
Henry finally understood what he had to do. That morning he called in to his office and quit his job, as a last service to the company he worked in for quite a few years, he provided them the answers for the problem of the 5 days ahead. After the phone call, he stared out the window of his apartment, felt a flow in his thoughts he once barricaded, he took the book, the pen, and a blanket, sat by the window sill then began to write.
He kept writing and alternate places to write from the coffee shop he frequented, to the park, restaurants, and so on, to keep his story going. Then it was finished by Thursday morning. He sent copies of the book to a few publishers at noon. He then glanced at his phone it was1.32 PM. Henry browsed through the texts he received and there he saw one from his mother. He had not seen her for a few years, for he was busy with his work as an analyst. He decided that it was time for him to go home and surprise her.
Henry rode a bus for 6 hours and arrived at his hometown at 8.34 PM. He was at his parents’ house, his childhood home, at 9.26 PM. His mother and father were dumbfounded by his arrival but delighted and welcome him warmly just like any parents would for their children coming back home to them. Henry strolled through the living room and there he saw a framed certificate hanged on the wall. He had earned it back in university for winning a story writing competition. It was the time he discovered his true love for writing. The frame seemed older than he remembered but it did not fail to put a smile on his face remembering the old days.
He spent his Friday catching up with friends he had not met in years. It was the most fun he had in a long while. Henry carried his book and pen with him everywhere and would at times write in mid conversation if a certain topic or sudden event or incident lighted his interest to write. These last few days he felt much more contented than the years he spent before.
It was now Saturday. Henry knew that it was Saturday, but he did not know when his life would end. He was much careful than the day before whenever he crossed the street. He had a feeling that was how he would go, hit by a car or a bus, he thought. He was walking by the pavement on his own to a junction, then right in front of him only a few hundred meters away was two children playing with a ball. One of the child failed to catch the thrown ball, that the ball rolled on to the street. The child just merrily walked towards the street unaware of a truck zooming down. The child was getting closer to the ball so was the truck, it seemed like the driver did not see the child as she was covered by the bushes that was on the edge, corner of the pavements of where she stood.
“Hey, be careful!” he shouted to the little girl. But she did not waver, she kept steady steps towards it, she stepped her foot to the cemented street. Henry’s walk had turn to a sprint to the little girl. As each step she took to the ball, the truck grew closer, and Henry’s heart beats faster, and his pace quicken. “HEY HEYHEY MOVEEE!” Henry shouted. He grabbed the little girl just in time from the truck’s way, accidentally fling his own body on the street and as he turned his head towards the truck he closed his eyes, then everything went black.
This was his third time in the familiar white space. “Hi Henry” with a voice from a man Henry had grown accustomed to. “Hi, seems like now it was a truck that ran into me. Haha” Henry’s attempt to make light of the fact that he had just died again.
“Do you know now why the man upstairs gave you another chance?” the man asked again for he had asked this to Henry before.
“I honestly still don’t know why He gave me another chance, but I do thank you for the chances. Made me regret a little these few years I spent in that office when I could have just write. I mean, it might be a little harder to pay the bills until I get published but I felt happier those few days compared to the rest of the years I spend there” Henry answered truly satisfied with the memories of his last days.
“Good Henry, seems like you have learned a thing or two in these few days. The most important lesson of all” the man smiled and stared at Henry, proud.
“Okay, I’m not quite sure what that is so could you maybe give me a hint or something?” asked Henry.
“Henry, the man upstairs gave you another chance because he remembered you when you were young. How passionate you are with life, opportunities, and writing. You knew what you wanted to do. You lost your way over a few rejections and choose to have a job you’re completely uninterested in. He has gifted you with the ability to write and tell stories, yet you choose to throw it away over a much ‘stable’ life. You were scared and decided to take a safer route and just drift through it. Do not give up Henry, the man upstairs didn’t want you to give up. The rejections are just obstacles to test you, do not let it deter you. Remember when he closes a door, he opened another one. Your job is to look for it, or you would just waste all that He had given you” said the man.
“Well, it’s too late now…. I mean I’m already dead. I’m the fool who wasted everything I guess” he answered remorseful of his lost time and opportunities.
“Maybe not quite” the man grinned.
“Huh? What do you mean?” Henry confused by his statement and took a step close to the Man, when the hole appeared below him, and he slid down again. He stared down to the never ending drop wondering where it would take him.
Then, Henry woke up in his bed sweating. He stretched his hand to his phone, it was 7.00 AM on a Saturday. It was the day that he was struck by a bus.
He glanced at his wooden table there were two paper bags, one note said, “To help you pay your bills” and the other written “To remind you to not waste His gifts”. He did not bother to peek into the paper bags he already knew what was inside.
Henry went to his kitchen made coffee and breakfast, sat on his sofa, turned the TV on, and enjoyed his weekend. For Monday he was going to start anew with the things inside the paper bags. He had learned his lesson and was not going to waste his chances anymore.