There is something utterly disconcerting about expecting death, only for it to not arrive.
Of all the things that one might expect Death to be, late is not one of them - or so I should think. If anything, Death is usually berated for donning her terrible cloak ahead of time. Thus, when the opposite happens and She misses her dread appointment, it is more often than not cause for great relief and celebration.
I wonder why, then, out of the entire spectrum of emotions, it was annoyance that I registered when my colleague walked through the bookstore door at 8:30 in the morning on Monday, as per usual.
I stood there, bewildered, like some morbid spectator who has just been informed that the play they have come to the theatre to watch has been suddenly and inexplicably cancelled. He said something, but I was too perplexed to pay proper attention - I mumbled an automatic greeting and hoped he hadn’t asked me a question. He smiled, and we both got on with our work. At one point my curiosity took the better of me and I asked him, with as much nonchalance as I was able to muster, if he was feeling all right. He gave me a puzzled look and replied that he was doing just fine, although he admitted to being rather tired; he told me that he hadn’t been sleeping very well of late. I got a sinking feeling in my stomach but left it at that. We spent most of the remainder of the day in silence.
That evening I sat in front of the radio, but it simply stared back at me in quiet mockery - I almost felt like I was being taunted, if such a thing were possible. My colleague should be dead, I heard him die, I know it was him. How had he done it? How had he managed to cheat it? Did he know something I didn’t? Had I unknowingly become the centre of some sick, twisted farce? I quickly discarded that thought - the radio was genuine and so were its broadcasts, there was no doubt about it. Something must have happened; something had gone wrong.
I barely slept that night. I stayed up for as long as I could manage, expecting, hoping for the radio to turn on and broadcast again, to fix whatever unfathomable mistake it had made. I nodded off more than once, exhausted, each time waking up with a start as I dreamed of white noise and dark shapes with no mouths and too many eyes. Every time I did, I could swear that the radio had just been transmitting something, only to turn off the very moment I regained consciousness. The mounting frustration, and the feeling that I was being toyed with, were maddening.
The next day, it was my colleague’s turn to comment on my haggard appearance - I replied that, like him, I had been having trouble finding sleep; he nodded and didn’t inquire further. I spent the day furtively observing him, studying him. I looked for signs, details, anything that could give me a clue as to how he was achieving this exasperating feat of defiance. The longer I watched him, the more certain I became that he was living on borrowed time, time that was not his, time he did not deserve. The radio had not amended its initial broadcast - it hadn’t been a mistake. He should be dead, but he was not.
And that felt terribly, terribly wrong.