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Between Heaven and Hell: Part One

Nitin stands on a quiet suburban street, holding a garish pink bicycle designed for adolescent girls. He keeps offering it to Debbie. A similarly garish cycling helmet hangs from the bike’s handlebars. Debbie is refusing to ride it.

Debbie: Look, Mr. Krishna…

Nitin: (Subtle Indian accent) Please, call me Nitin – you’ve been my neighbour for two years now. I’m telling you it’s a brand new bike.

Nitin Rings the bell on the bike.

Nitin: I bought it for my granddaughter but she’s hardly ridden it. Debbie, kids today – they’re so spoilt. Instead of playing outside with their friends, they sit inside, listening to music on their iPods and talking all day on their mobiles.

Debbie: Mr. Krishna, your granddaughter’s twenty-six. She drives a BMW.

Nitin: Nitin, please. Yes, and every time I see her I tell her how much damage that car is doing to the environment. I used to be a bus driver, you know?

Debbie: Global warming’s a terrible thing, but (sarcastic) I’m a big girl now. I don’t want to buy your granddaughter’s bike. It looks like it’s been designed for a 12 year old.

Nitin: The seat is adjustable. Even I can ride it.

Nitin puts the helmet on.

Debbie: That’s right, put your helmet on. (Aside) Though I think you must have banged your head already.

Nitin gets on the bike and starts riding in small and wobbly circles around Debbie. An old car slowly drives down the road towards them. It approaches Nitin from behind.

Debbie: (Shouts) Look out!

Nitin is startled, tries to look over his shoulder to see what is coming, and loses his balance in the process. He and the bike fall on top of Debbie. A few seconds pass and then the car very slowly pulls up alongside them. The driver, a frail looking elderly woman, winds the window down.

Lady Driver: Are you both alright? You really shouldn’t play in the street, you know. You should take your bike to the park. It looks lovely and new.

Nitin: (On the ground, holding the handlebars, lying on top of Debbie) I’m fine, thank you. Yes, it is brand new. I bought it for my granddaughter but she doesn’t like it. I don’t suppose you know somebody who might want to buy it?

Lady Driver: (Speaking to Debbie) Don’t you like your new bike, dear? I’m sure you’ll love it once you give it a try. I’m sorry if I startled you both – I don’t normally drive so fast, but I’m in a terrible hurry – I’m very late.

The driver adjusts her mirror, puts her car noisily into gear and pulls off excrutiatingly slowly.

Debbie: (Shouting after the driver) I’m not his granddaughter. (To Nitin) Are you going to get up?

Nitin: I hope we didn’t scratch the bicycle. Why did you shout like that? You gave me such a shock I thought I was going to jump out of my skin.

Debbie: (Pointing at the sky) Never mind that. What’s that bright light?

Nitin: What light?

A fireball smashes to ground, engulfing them. It clears, leaving a scorch mark where Nitin and Debbie were. The bike has disappeared too, except for the wheels, which are spinning around in opposite directions on either side of the scorch mark.

In a brilliant white space with absolutely no discernable features, Debbie and Nitin are lying on the ground in exactly the same positions as before. Debbie is still pointing upwards. nitin is still wearing the cycling helmet and holding the handlebars, but the rest of the bike has disappeared.

Debbie: That (pauses) light.

Nitin: (Looking at the handlebars he is holding) What happened to the rest of the bike?

Debbie: (Looking around) What happened to the rest of the world?

There is a ping and elevator doors open a few yards behind them. A lift operator, dressed in a uniform appropriate for a swanky hotel, is standing inside. Debbie and Nitin, still on the ground, look in his direction.

The Liftman: (Sniffs) Good. You’re here already. Come on then, you’d better get in. I haven’t got all eternity, you know (makes a sound between a cough and a laugh).

Debbie: Where are we?

The Liftman: I’m sorry, I’m not allowed to tell you. Summat to do with data protection or post-traumatic stress counselling. Summat like that (sniffs).

Nitin: Are we dead?

Debbie: You’re a dead weight and that’s a fact. Will you get off me?

Nitin: (Rolls off Debbie) Sorry. (To the Liftman) How did we get here? Have we passed away?

The Liftman: (Surly) Look, I’m not here to play twenty questions. Stop muckin’ around on the floor and get inside, will ya?

Debbie: (Finally realizing what happened) I think something hit us. It came from out of the sky. Are we dead?

The Liftman: Corr, it’s like listening to a gramophone record repeating the same thing over and over. (Sniffs) Look, if I tell you the answer, do you promise not to let anyone know it was me what told ya?

Debbie: Okay.

The Liftman: Yeah, you’re dead. (Waves them inside) Now get in.

Debbie and Nitin enter the lift. Nitin is still holding the handlebars. The doors close behind them. the liftman presses a button and the lift starts to move.

The Liftman: Let me draw your attention to the interactive educational presentation (gestures to a large television screen built into the back of the elevator) which has been especially designed to help answer your questions during this transitional period. Just touch the screen when you’re ready to start watching. (Pause) By the end, you’ll be ready to hear the shocking revelation that you’re dead. Problem is, nobody gets in the lift unless you tell ’em they’re dead first. I’ve done this a billion times and it’s always the same routine. “Where am I?” “Am I dead?” “Is this Heaven?”

Debbie: Is this Heaven?

The Liftman: Like I said. Please, no more questions. I’m only here to operate the lift.

Nitin: Are we going up (gulps) or down?

The Liftman: Neither, really. This lift’s just a metaphor. It’s all explained in the presentation.

Nitin starts pressing the screen. Nothing seems to happen as a result.

Debbie: Are you the Grim Reaper?

The Liftman: No, sadly I’m not. I’m just the liftman. I used to be the boatman, but then they changed the layout of everything round here. They brought in some fancy bunch of designers, remodelled everything. I used to love punting my little boat up and down. Now I’m stuck inside all day, pushing bleedin’ buttons (sniffs) and answerin’ stupid questions.

Debbie: Are you taking us to meet the Grim Reaper?

The Liftman: What’s with you, you got a fascination for Ingmar Bergman films, have you? There’s no Grim Reaper any more. They had to let him go. They said he gave people a poor first impression. All that business with the scythe and wearing a hoodie so no-one could see his face. Too gothic. He wasn’t the right man to kick-off a meet ‘n’ greet session, if you know what I mean.

Nitin: So where are we going?

The Liftman: What did I say about watching the educational presentation?

Nitin: I can’t get it to work.

The screen looks like a computer that has crashed.

The Liftman: (Presses the screen repeatedly) Look at that, will ya? The software’s only gone up the spout again. Once this journey’s done I bet I’ll be stuck on the phone calling helpdesk support for a couple of hours at least, and that’s if I can get through to them. Marvellous. It’s that flippin’ Bill Gates’ fault. He’s a minion of the hornéd one, for sure.

Nitin: But Bill Gates gives all his money to charity.

The Liftman: (Coughs/laughs) That’s what you get when you don’t read the fine print. Fair play to the hornéd one. He’s got a wicked sense of humour. Agrees to make you the richest man alive, but doesn’t mention you’ll have to spend the rest of your life giving it all away again. Step aside – if I can’t show you the interactive presentation, I might as well stick the telly on.

The Liftman presses a button, and the screen shows a news bulletin.

Newsreader: In other news, two people were tragically killed when the remnants of a Soviet-era communications satellite came crashing down to Earth. The victims are believed to be next-door neighbours, twenty-two year old Deborah Pressman and sixty-seven year old Nitin Krishna, both of…

The Liftman: Look, (sniffs) you made the news.

Newsreader: A local resident, believed to be the last person to see them both alive, had this to say:-

Lady Driver: They both seemed very nice people. I saw them a few moments before it happened – the girl was playing with her brand new bicycle. If only they had heeded my advice and taken it down the park. Then I saw this blinding light in my rear view mirror and this terribly loud bang…

Debbie: Great. Now everyone’s going to remember me as the girl who got hit by a satellite whilst playing on a pushbike for a 12 year old. I can just imagine my gravestone: “Here lies Deborah Pressman, we will never forget her smiling face. She was playing on her bicycle, then was hit by junk from outer space.”

Nitin: (To the Liftman) I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, but couldn’t you explain a bit more about what is going on here? I used to drive a bus. It wasn’t my job to talk to the passengers, but I’d tell them where we were going.

The Liftman: Look, I’d like to tell ya, I really would. The rules say I’m not supposed to talk to the customers, in case I say summat that upsets them even more. Frankly, it’s not like most of them would listen to me anyhow. Everyone’s always complaining: “you can’t do this to me” and “please please send me back” and “I had so much to live for” and “who will take care of the cat?” like I can help them with any of that. I just operate the lift. All this “me, me, me, me” business gets pretty trying after a while. Nobody ever stops to ask what kind of day I’m having.

Nitin: I’m sorry to hear that. How’s your day been?

The Liftman: Mustn’t grumble. (Pause) Fair play to you two though, you’re both taking this much better than most. Normally there’s a lot more weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth – that kind of thing. That’s another reason why I normally don’t encourage conversation.

Nitin: My kids are all grown up, my wife is a terrible nag and I can’t afford the mortgage on the house we bought. Now she’ll get my life insurance and I’ll get some peace and quiet. That’s fate for you. And I always say “life goes on”. (Pause) Except in this case.

Debbie: I’m not accepting it was fate that we were hit by falling space hardware. I had my whole life ahead of me.

The Liftman: (To Nitin) You see what I mean. (To Debbie) Actually, it was fate. Or, at least, we had you both down as confirmed bookings for today. A booking’s a booking, at least in my book. Rumour was the Grim Reaper used to sometimes muck around with the clients, and that’s part of the reason he got the sack. He’d play punters at chess or let them live a little longer whilst he chatted to their daughters, that kind of thing. Not any more. Now it’s all automated. (Pulls out an iPad) I got a diary here that says who I’ll be fetching in my lift for the next hundred years, (pause) and they don’t allow no cancellations, if you know what I mean.

Debbie: Don’t be silly. You can’t schedule when a satellite will fall out of the sky. And who dies from falling space hardware anyway?

The Liftman: You’d be surprised. Normally governments hush that kind of thing up. Lord Lucan, Shergar, Jimmy Hoffa, Ricky Gervais, Paul McCartney – all killed by falling satellites. And I should know, every one of ‘em’s been in my lift. You should have seen the mess that Shergar left behind.

Debbie: Paul McCartney’s not dead.

The Liftman: That’s just what they want you to believe. He got replaced by an android in the 60’s. The android malfunctioned when it married Heather Mills. Blame Bill Gates, again.

Nitin: Paul McCartney may be dead, but when did Ricky Gervais die?

The Liftman: (Examines his iPad) You’re right. I’m getting ahead of myself. He’s booked in for next week. Not a moment too soon.

Debbie: (Talks to herself) This must all be a figment of my imagination. I must be dreaming, or in a coma, like the detective in “Life on Mars”.

There is a ping and the lift doors open.

The Liftman: Suit yourself; you can believe whatever you like. Everyone’s got free will here. (Looks at Debbie’s boots) Is those a pair of stilettos which I see before me, pointing toe-ward toward my door? No, those boots are made for walking. (He points the way out with his index finger. The doors ping again, as he presses the button to hold them open.) And the bell must be a knell, that summons thee – so hop it, will you?

Nitin: Where are we going?

The Liftman: Join the back of the queue.

Debbie and Nitin walk out of the lift. Nitin is no longer carrying the handlebars. They can see nothing around them apart from brilliant white light.

Debbie: Which way?

The Liftman: Walk towards the light.

Debbie: It’s light in every direction.

The Liftman: Then you can’t go wrong, can you? (Sniffs) Remember, it’s supposed to be a metaphor, know what I mean?

Debbie and Nitin start walking.

The Liftman: Oi! (Holds up Nitin’s handlebars) You can’t leave this here. I’m the liftman, not the garbageman.

Nitin: (Sheepish) Sorry. (Collects the handlebars)

Nitin and Debbie walk into the light, disappearing in the haze.

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