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Comedy Stories

Passing Through

“We are here again.”

“Unfortunately…”

“How long have you been waiting?”

“A few years or so, but what does that matter? You are here now.”

“Remind me of this past life. Who were we?”

“Old Yemeni soldiers. Too old to fight, actually—but what can you do? The Houthi took control of Sanaa. I died in your arms.”

“Terrorist insurgency or foreign invasion?”

“Civil War.”

“Ah, yes. I remember now. We were running. Your skull shattered. I saw your brains ooze into the gutter. Quite awful.”

“I don’t remember that part of it.”

“Unsurprisingly.”

“Particularly odd this time, don’t you think? You usually die first.”

“True. I do.”

“We’ll have to figure out why you usually die first before one of our next incarnations.”

“Lifetimes of bad luck, I suppose. But I’m grateful to you for delaying the next cycle. It would have been lonely going without you—so thank you for meeting me at the end of another beginning.”

“Why would I go alone? It’s awful enough as it is. I’ll never go on alone.”

“I find comfort in that thought.”

“There’s little comfort to be had in our endless suffering, so I’m glad my waiting for you brings you a soupçon of relief.”

“There was a time when we were separated far too early. Oh, gods—the Plague of Athens! We were twin girls in utero, but you were stillborn.”

“True, but I didn’t have much choice in the matter. And you did die of exposure soon afterwards, so our separation wasn’t for very long. We’ve had much longer times apart.”

“That cycle was particularly short.”

“Quite, but it would have been worse to live.”

“Regardless, it’s good to see you again.”

“Likewise.”

“Oh, I wish we were through this process. I’m getting quite tired of it all.”

“I believe you were closer to getting off the wheel more than ever this time.”

“No, not true. I am still attached to too many things.”

“How so?”

“Well, I particularly liked my ugly wife and children. Three little boys—born one right after another! Fat and happy babies. Rambunctious as a box full of puppies. I’d carry them on my shoulders. When they grew up, they were as handsome and dutiful as their mother was ugly. But my wife’s cooking! Yes, she was as ugly as a goat, but unfailingly kind to me. I miss her areeka and masoub served with rivers of cream and honey! And I miss the Somali prostitutes…”

“You lived to be such an old man this time! You think you’d abandon that particular craving.”

“Old men are ravaged by desire—much more than any younger man. But it’s a sad, impotent desire. Laughable, really. A weak decrepit soul shambling about in a body no one wants. Not even an ugly wife.”

“I liked it when we were old women in the New York tenements. Right off the boats. We spent the weekends at church and weekdays cooking up vats of tomato sauce. We’d yell across the yard at the kids. Old women have the best senses of humor, I think. I do like to laugh.”

“You are misremembering a bit. Our husbands drank too much and beat us on occasion. Our children were sick more often than not and the communal bathrooms were filthy. No sewage. Poverty. Disease.”

“It wasn’t all bad.”

“It’s never ALL bad.”

“When we are born women, it’s a bit more complicated, don’t you think?”

“There are advantages.”

“I guess in certain times and places…”

“Remember when we were concubines to Qin Shi Huang? What an old fool he was.”

“Ah yes, the Qin Dynasty. Yes, and if I remember correctly—it was you who suggested he build a wall.”

“And a great wall it was!”

“Well, you were rewarded handsomely, and I was buried alive—prepared, standing up, all to greet him in the afterlife.”

“And did you?”

“The honorable First Emperor returned as a dung beetle, so—no, I did not greet him. I may have stepped on him or one of his castrated imperial servants.”

“At least the universe is equitable to some extent. That’s all you can really hope for.”

“I suppose.”

“It does get quite wearying. The hoping. The disappointment. The cyclical nature of everything. How nice it would be to stop. Perhaps that is why there are so many nonbelievers. Who wants to keep yearning for an eternity? Easier to believe life simply ends.”

“Well then, we should try harder to give up all desires next time.”

“I don’t know. There are too many things I miss. I miss sopaipillas. I miss zeppole. I miss sonhos.”

“Fried dough? That is what will keep you from Nirvana?”

“Yes. Probably funnel cake—dusted with a mountain of powdered sugar.”

“Oh every culture we’ve ever experienced has doughnuts. What else keeps you bound to this earth?”

“Your body. Whether you are my child or cousin or grandfather. I miss being next to your body.”

“We’ve been great lovers on occasion. I remember Paris in the 1940’s…”

“Before we were shot.”

“La Résistance…”

“You looked lovely in a beret. You had dimples at the time, and your smile melted me entirely.”

“Dimples weren’t a match for the Vichy régime. If there were a hell, those sympathizers would be properly roasting on a spit. As it is, I saw Pétain return back as a young Franciscan nun, newly dead of breast cancer. He should have been born a blood-sucking tick, eaten slowly by an opossum.”

“Oh, it’s all too much.”

“Maybe we will be able to give everything up next time. Even each other. Then we can move onward.”

“Doubtful. Even my desire to get off the wheel is too strong. Too all consuming…”

“It’s odd how desire almost precludes you from doing something you wish—as if desire is the point entirely.”

“True. And while we’re being honest, you should know that I’m far too attached to you. What would enlightenment be without you by my side?”

“Don’t fret. We’ll get it right in one of these lifetimes. Certainly there must be an end.”

“Must there?

“What else is there to strive for?”

“Why strive for anything? We’ll simply go on. Together.”

“All right. But let me die first next time.”

“If you insist.”

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