We are now entering a place some people call Bardo
and others call hooey.
(No cameras allowed…and shut your cellphones!)
It’s 1949, and I just spent the last hour reviewing my life with a panel of judges. Even though I’m fresh out of the screening room, I can’t remember a thing about who I used to be, where I used to live, or how I died. The only thing I remember is the sound of gunshots and then the panel of judges—all eight of them—laughing hysterically as the screening—i.e. my life—came to an end.
They say you get to choose your parents. This isn’t exactly true. You are gently yet firmly coerced into choosing the family that the judges think is best for you – best for you to learn, to grow. If you don’t agree with their choice, you’re stuck here for as long as it will take you to think it over and then supposedly “choose.” Some of these people have been here for over 800 years. This gives you an idea of how unappealing some of the possibilities for reincarnation can be. I’m dead set—pardon the pun—on getting myself a new life and moving on with my karma. I don’t particularly care what country I land in or what language I speak, all I want to do is go back and have another shot at being happy. I can’t bear to be around those who spend their in-between time trying on skin colours, exchanging eye shapes and nose samples, or even worse, debating on whether to be straight or gay or go for the combo. It’s driving me nuts!
So when the judges set me up with the Meilleur family in Verdun, Québec, I get all excited. It’s fun at first because it’s a privilege to watch them going about their humdrum lives; the judges want to make sure we know what we’re getting into before the final transfer is made. But watching this family quickly becomes very boring. The couple lives with the man’s parents, they’re cramped in a second-story flat, but still the woman insists on having boarders—her brother and a cousin who both left their small village in northern New-Brunswick to strike it rich in Montréal. The man’s parents seem like good, honest people—the old guy rocks in his chair all day, the old lady makes all sorts of intricate hats. And their son is obviously a hard-working husband because he always comes home late at night. Everything looks okay except for the woman; I can tell she’s not enjoying herself. She goes about—day in, day out—preparing the meals, washing the dishes, the clothes, the floors, making sure her in-laws are satisfied with the choice their son made the year before. A nice little robot, is what she is. A whistling robot, to boot ! She can whistle anything from the latest show tunes to the oldest church hymns. This can become annoying, I think to myself.
My thoughts are confirmed about a week later. I’m sitting in my usual spot under the tree of wisdom when Philippe walks up to me and introduces himself. He’s heard about my imminent voyage back to Earth and has information he feels I should know. It turns out he was assigned to the Meilleur family less than ten months ago. Being as eager as I am to leave this place, he signed up without even giving it a second thought. That very day, he was conceived and started growing inside the whistling lady’s womb.
Months go by, and Philippe realizes he cannot stand the whistling any longer. Though it’s muffled by the amniotic fluid and the fat around the woman’s belly, he can plainly distinguish the strident sound and occasional false note. Since it’s too late to abort, he comes up with Plan B: he’ll suck up whatever he can in order to gain a lot of weight, and when delivery time comes, he’ll bend over and come crashing through, butt first.
The plan works perfectly. The lady almost dies trying to get his ten-pound body to pop out of her uterus. Finally, the doctor has to cut him up and yank him out, piece by piece, all of them dead.
Now I know why the woman looks so sad—it’s only been a month since she lost her baby. Still, she gets up every morning before 6 and runs around all day, pleasing the people around her, whistling away the hours, the days, the sorrows.
And so my choice becomes clear: I shall be born into this family, and I shall try to make the best of it.
That’s it for today, my friends. I’m afraid we’ll have to stay the night, as we haven’t completed our visit yet. Let’s get the tents up and the fire burning—it will be bone-chillin’ cold soon. And don’t wander too far from camp, ‘cause you might not come back…at least not as who you are at the moment.