She showed up to Bible circle with her iPhone, sprig-legs tucked neatly under her in the plastic chair. She scrolled Line. Kissy-face emojis–“wish I was there”–sawatdee ka–never lifting her face to the room of people.
“Talk with us.” Leke, her boyfriend, had brought her. She side-eyed his signing and that weird new gleam about his eyes, continuing to ignore the hands flying in the fluorescent, functional room. The hands debating Jesus.
“I am Buddhist.” She crossed herself at the shoulder and kept her hands to herself when they biked home on their scooter. She didn’t need him to balance. She didn’t need him to think.
They had already eaten Vietnamese rice wrappers at the Bible circle, so she spent the last hours before bed dancing with their dog and posting the video to Facebook. Then they were tired. Signing last thoughts on the day, they crawled into bed and slept.
The clouds were not white but radiant with a thousand colors. So full of light, it seemed they would explode if a butterfly lit upon them. Enameled gates shot up into the sky: smooth, softly luminescent as pearls. And she was there, a speck of dust staring up.
Her eyes were drawn beyond the gates to something standing in the white hills. Distant from the walls that barred her. A light.
Her frame was small on earth, and even here in this celestial place, the same. Without difficulty, she slipped through the throng of people gathered, waiting, at the foot of the gates.
It was beautiful, those hills. She yearned for the light that seemed to know her name. With one hand, she reached out to touch the diamond handle.
Someone pushed her back.
A guardian, whose brightness shrouded his face.
“You cannot come in,” he said.
In the peripherals of her sight–she hadn’t noticed before–there was a burning in the black universe behind her. Char and ash rose up to her nostrils and stung her eyes. But upon turning, she saw.
The remains of the world smoldered in its black socket. Earth was an eye put out, and in wispy tendrils, it unraveled into smoke. Destroyed.
Then came the screaming, a sound she had never heard before stabbing red shapes in her senses. A pit groaned in the earth’s unoccupied space: a flaming pit. And the pain, oh the pain, searing up in cries from that pit, annulled her deafness. Anguish–it struck her in all the ways she could know that a thing was–and fire. In the awaiting darkness, thousands of people. An unknowable hunger. Fear.
Sweat brimmed at her temples.
Hurling herself from the man, she slammed her body against the gate. Clutched the enameled rods. “No!” She did not know if she signed or spoke. All she knew was the light, calling to her:
…too late, too late.
The guardian plucked her off. In one more step, he had dragged her to the edge of the pit. Then he pushed.
She woke with a cry that she could not hear. Shaking, goosepimpling all over, she jerked Leke awake.
“What is this place of fire?” she signed. “Tell me! And less of fire–tell me of the light I cannot have!”
That look housed now in his eyes was at once so familiar and so strange. She drew nearer as he woke and sat up, beginning to unveil a world with his fingers.
“I have spoken to you before,” he signed, “of the man Jesus, who is not a man but God…”
[featured image: The Rodin Sculpture, The Gates of Hell in Paris, France]