There were no horns, no mask, not even a faint rippling memory of a blood-stain. My devil was just an unpretentious fellow, always lounging by the corner. Every day, when I passed him by, I would see him smile. And I would think to myself, “don’t you dare come to me today.” Just leave me alone. Just leave me alone.
It is not that I was scared of him. Or rather, I was so scared of him that I had convinced myself that I didn’t fear him – not his torn pants, or threadbare shirt or the decayed feet. No, I didn’t fear him. He was harmless if silent. I only feared what he would ask of me – and to answer him means answering that other useless scoundrel who usually sits in that corner shop, calls himself Life, and sells experiences for a living. For a long time, I didn’t know what to call him, this almost faceless creature, who would almost always be alone. I never dared ask his name, you see.
I would call out to Life, sitting always surrounded by a motley crowd, thrilled with happiness if that slouching figure who so terrified me, ignored me on a day. And Life? Oh! He would wave back, and then, strangely, wink. “What’s the wink for?” I asked Life one day, irked. The throng around him gaped. Most of them usually went to Life seeking him out as a guru. Me? Aha, I was not made for that. I didn’t worship him. He was just a guy with a shop that sold experiences. Who needs experiences? What are they anyway?
Life paused a while, scratched his rather corpulent belly, and smiled. “Come on, tell me, I don’t know have all day,” I muttered. Life just smiled more. “Sorry to keep you waiting, I think slowly, you know. It takes me time to form my words. It takes me time to give out experiences. Ah, time. I would like some time, would make my work so much more easier. But, to come to the point, why do I wink? Well, I see you rush past that scoundrel opposite my shop. Everyday you go by, trying not to look at him, and when he speaks to you, I see you get so confused, worried, and flustered that you scarce know where you are going. And then, there are days when he doesn’t talk to you, and I see a skip in your step, you smile to yourself…you are happy. So I think to myself, why, what is there in that scoundrel? What does he talk? You see, in a way, I know your secret, but I know not why it is a secret. The wink, says it all.” I listened intently to this long monologue, delivered with the same steadiness that characterized all of Life’s moments but his words held no meaning to me.
I looked around at the shop. There was not much there. Or rather, not much that I could say stood out in grandeur. It was a small, cluttered shop, crammed with various labels, potions, and strange looking bottles. I turned to Life, who was still looking at me, still with the same smile. “Who is that guy, anyway?” I asked, referring to my nemesis. Life scratched that belly again. “Hmm, he is a character, isn’t he? But he is not all bad.” I looked away. “Do you want anything?” Life asked, hopefully. I peered closer. I saw green bottles of sadness, lots of bottles of ugliness, a few potions that glistened evilly in the afternoon sun, variously labeled as envy, enmity, lust, loathing, sloth, sin, and so on. Towards the corner, I saw some carelessly strewn rags. They had characters etched on them. It didn’t look like many used these rags. But they looked beautiful still with the strange symbols on them. “Those,” I said, pointing at the rags. “What are they?” Life turned. “Oh! That! You want them? Not many come here to purchase them. I am kind of thinking of stopping their supply. The bright golden rag you see is happiness. That symbol there stand for the soul. Then there are a few others like love, (that sells more), and friendship, laughter, those also sell sometimes. Some others are just contentment, which no one wants, and trust, which is the one I use to wipe my feet.” I looked at them. And I looked at the carefully preserved potions of envy, evil, hatred, sloth, hypocrisy and so many more, shining in their purity. It was obvious what kind of experience people came to buy.
Life was still looking at me, making me uncomfortable. I turned. “So, you want any?” he asked. I shook my head. “I got one you might like,” he said, reaching out for a shiny blue bottle. “What’s that?” I asked. “Oh, you will love this! It’s vintage!” And dropping his voice to a whisper, “it is 100% pure, unadulterated indifference.” “Indifference?” “Yes! The best defence there is! You take a bottle of this, and you don’t have to fear that guy there!” he said, nodding towards that horrible figure, now smoking by the wall opposite. I gulped. “You sure?” “Of course! Go on! Try it. For you, I will give you a special discount too!” “Do many people buy this?” I asked, turning the bottle over, hearing the liquid content slosh delightfully. “Oh yes! Many do. Only my most experienced ones do, though. They usually buy the rest, and then find that it was better to have taken this in the first place.”
The bottle felt warm in my hand. Oh, I wanted it. I wanted to drink deep of indifference. Get rid of that guy forever from my life! That guy! “Say! What’s his name?” I startled Life who had turned to his waiting audience. “And yes, I will buy 2 of this,” I added, hoping to sweeten Life into offering me the answer. “Tell me,” Life replied instead. “Tell me, why does he annoy you so much?” ” It’s not annoyance. He…he just makes me nervous. And scared. About my future. About what I am doing. What am I not doing. And his questions! He asks me questions to which I must only say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. And based on that, he has the power to somehow change me. My answers to HIS questions change ME. Do you get that?” I said, irritated already by the emotions that evil guy aroused in me.
Life nodded. “Yes, it is difficult. You wish to avoid him. He is not good for you. But I can’t send him away, you see.” “Why not?” I asked, wondering what Life had to do with that guy. “He…well, he is my chief supplier.” I blinked. “Chief what?” “Supplier, you know. He is the one who gives me all these potions, these bottles.” I gasped. “And those rags too?” I asked, scarcely wanting to know the answer. “Oh yeah! Happiness, love, friendship, trust, he gives them all too. And, he actually owns this shop too.” I looked in disbelief. How could this torn, beggarly-looking guy own Life? He must have guessed my thoughts because Life said, “he is poor because people take so much from him. And in return he gives them all these experiences. But people? They keep cursing him for that – for the very fact that they are taking from him. That in some way he controls them, you know.” “So..” the truth slowly dawning on me. “So you are saying he gives them every single experience?” “Yes, every single one of them. Me, Life, just manage the shop,” he grinned affably. “What’s his name then?” I asked. “His name? Choice. He calls himself Choice.” I sunk to my knees. Life looked at me, concerned. “That yes or no? Each time he was asking me my choice, wasn’t he?” I said weakly. “Yeah, the guy is kinda eccentric,” Life said rather worriedly, looking at my countenance. I got up. The world spun around me. “Oh good Lord. He wasn’t my devil. He owns all that Life can give me,” I half mumbled.
My d-evil was waving at me now. Suddenly, I loved him. And hated him in the way you can hate love. But then, I realized I had a choice. I had a choice! I could love him or hate him. Choice could own me, yes, but that fact, far from stifling me, liberated in me a sense of relief. If I choose well, I knew that Choice would give what I want – he owned Life, after all! How much I could choose! How much of Life’s delectable shop I could own! The experiences I could gather! I half screamed, leaped in the air, and threw away the bottle of Indifference, the blue shattering into a 1000 colors, which spelled all the experiences I could hope to see in one dazzling stain on Life’s clean floor before melting away into the sun’s yawning embrace.