• James Tam

End of the World 2012世界末日2012

I wondered why I had come to yet another alumni gathering. Year after year, we repeated the same dumb stories to the best of fading memories, and laughed with undiminished vigour. Luckily, I was seated next to Ken. I knew I could count on him to disrupt pathetic nostalgia.

“The world’s ending again,” he said when appetiser was served. “How’re you guys spending the last few days?” We were next to Vincent and Jill.

Vincent seemed instantly animated. “We—” referring to his tribally specific Brotherhood of Dongguan Christians “— will be dining together on the 21st.” He answered through a mouthful of salad, flashing a kaleidoscopic mixture of masticated lettuce and colourful capsicums.

“You guys plan to enter Heaven as a tour group?” Ken asked.

“That’s right,” Vincent replied, sucking his teeth.

“But this is a modern speculation of the pagan Mayan’s calendar, made long before the Conquistadores burnt their books and baptised those who survived the massacres,” Ken said.

“What are you guys talking about?” Jill asked, innocent as ever. She never pretended to be an intellectual, but was blithely successful as a senior government lawyer.

“End of the world Jill,” Ken explained. “The Mayan calendar ends on the 21st, finishing another b’ak’tun cycle. Some take that as a hint of the world ending.”

“Oh that’s terrible!” she shrieked.

“All calendars must end at some point don’t they?” I tried to be sensible.

Ken smiled, then turned to Vincent. “Tell me: why are you guys so obsessed with End-times?”

“Well, if you love God, death isn’t the end. It’s instead the ultimate reunion with Him, the beginning of eternal happiness.”

“I thought you prayed for your Dad’s recovery from heart surgery, and how it worked miraculously for three years? Why did you ask God to delay your father’s eternal happiness?”

“It’s different!” objected Vincent, indignant.

“Okay, sorry about the bad example. To be fair, non-believers seem equally excited about the Big Ending; but when it comes to personal death, everyone freaks out.”

“So why do you think that is, philosopher?” I asked.

“My take is life’s like a jail-term, and we’re subconsciously anxious to get out.”

“I hope the food’s better,” I said.

“Not if you have to eat lunch boxes.”

“At least we don’t have to wear uniform,” Jill said reflectively, then slipped a tiny leave of salad through her Botoxed lips and held it there, not chewing.

“No?” Ken raised his eyebrow. “Can you imagine anyone wearing a tie and jacket in 35 degree heat and 98% humidity voluntarily? We put on social uniforms everyday according to others’ expectations rather than our own taste or common sense.”

Jill smiled sweetly to herself, apparently not listening.

Ken continued: “Think about this: The average guy’s morning alarm is no more welcome than the wake-up sirens in jails. He hates his job as much as prisoners hate sewing. Lunch hour is just as fixed, probably more rushed. Office hours drag out into overtime dawdling because others aren’t leaving. Prisoners can at least drop a stitch half way when the clock strikes four.”

“Ha, but jailbirds don’t get to go home after work!” Vincent pointed out triumphantly.

“But what’s the big deal about going home for most?” Ken shrugged. “Loners are the fastest growing thing in this city. Modern families stare at the TV rather than talking to each other. Numbing the mind with video games sounded like a good escape at first. But my colleague’s thirteen-year-old is suffering from depression because he couldn’t advance to a new level in virtual world. He’s a cyber failure, getting nowhere. Poor kid.”

“Why don’t we see more suicides then. Jailbreak!” I chipped in teasingly.

“That’s the point! That’s why so many yearn for the end of the world but fear personal death. Imagine —” he pointed a finger to his temple “— if you’re born in a concentration camp and lived there all your life. After fifty years, they say you alone can go. You’d be scared to shitless. But if the gate is thrown open and everyone’s rushing out, you’d be rapturous like Vincent.”

“Well, I kind of share your jail analogy but I’m happy because there’s a destination for me, when this all ends,” Vincent retorted smugly.

“Heaven?” Ken asked. “Sure. But Eternal Life’s another story, a very long one.”

“Oh well, let’s drink to the possibility of imminent discharge then.” I toasted my old school mates. “A rapturous winter solstice! See you guys out there.”

我又不期然地參加了今年的舊生會聚會。一班從小相識卻平時甚少往來的初級老人家,每年一聚,重溫三十多年前的傻事,卻一年比一年笑得投入。再過幾年,部分人開始老化的眼膜,將會在笑聲中不隨意地落淚了。幸好今年我被安排坐在阿堅旁邊。他可能是最能夠擺脫這 「話當年」 困局的人。

今年搞新意,食西餐。阿堅和我,阿嬌, 和自幼虔誠,綽號「神棍」的沈冠坐在長飯桌之末。剛上沙拉之後,堅仔突然發問:「還有幾天又世界末日了,大家有什麼打算?」

想不到他的一句戲言,引起了沈冠一陣的興奮。他來不及咽下口中的沙拉,便搶答道:「21號晚我和團契弟兄們會一齊食飯。」 語氣帶有身負重任,所以 「不好意思,先走一步」 的告辭意味。他口中的生菜和各種燈籠椒經過局部咀嚼,五色繽紛,乍看有如拆散了的萬花筒。


沈冠似乎不覺得被諷刺,咂著牙齒,神氣十足地答了一聲 「沒錯!」















「起碼我們不用穿囚衣。」 阿橋溫柔地說,然後輕盈地把一小塊生菜送進微微張開的小口內含著,遲遲不嚼。

「你認為如此嗎?」 阿堅用懷疑的口吻問道:「如果不是環境所逼,你覺得一般精神健全的人會在大熱天時,汗流浹背地穿西服打領帶嗎?我們每天穿的,不一定是心頭所好,也不配合天時,只不過不穿不成,這不是制服是什麼?」



「呃!起碼他們可以回家!」 沈冠立即指出。


「既然如此,為什麼不見自殺人數大增呢?越獄哦!」 我插口問句。

「這就是關鍵!」 阿堅說:「人為什麼不怕末日,卻害怕死亡呢?假如你在集中營出生長大,轉眼過了五十個年頭。看守的人突然告訴你明天可以走啦!恭喜恭喜!我看你會怕得要死。但假設有一天營門大開,全體囚犯蜂擁而出,你會毫不猶疑地跟著跑,心情跟沈冠現在的一樣興奮。」




19/12/2012 过渡 19。12。2012

Rev. 15/12/2012

#随笔非常道 #短篇故事

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