The Sorting

Submitted into Contest #49 in response to: Write a story that takes place in a waiting room.... view prompt

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The Sorting

Saddam Hussein (b. April 28, 1937; d. December 30, 2006)

Gerald R. Ford (b. July 14, 1913 d. December 26, 2006)

            God must have a great sense of humor, or at least an appreciation of irony.

            Allow your imagination to roam regarding events of a few years ago.

            Envision a large anteroom.  This is a typical room that can be found in any bureaucracy.  The lighting is typically sub-optimal and the air is slightly astringent and almost medicinal.  The walls are an unremarkable institutional color.  They are that ubiquitous blue-green-grey color we all remember from the license bureau.  The area is identifiable as a universal reception area.

            Sitting in a corner is a solitary figure.  He is slumped in his folding chair.  His elbows are on his knees and his chin rests in his hands.  He looks only to his right and has a habit of rubbing his neck as though he had slept a long night in an odd position.  He is wearing white slacks and shirt with a dark grey suit coat.  His beard is neatly trimmed as is his hair, but the hair is decidedly out of order.  He has the appearance of someone who has waited a long indeterminate wait, but has become resigned to it.

            As he waits, another figure enters the room.  It is as unclear to the waiting man as it is to the new arrival from whence he came or even how he entered the room.  He has merely arrived.

            The new arrival walks slowly with the characteristic gait often associated with the elderly.  He is an aged man, stooped and frail, with only a hint of a once vigorous physique.  His gait is far from natural. His walk is that of one who must be careful lest he misstep and suffer a fall or fracture.

            He sits gingerly and turned somewhat to the left facing the original waiting man.

            He presents a smile of one acknowledging a stranger in such strange circumstances.  The waiting man gives the new traveler the slightest of glances, a bored recognition of the old man’s presence.

            “Have you been here long?”  The old man asks as he shifts his position on a bench trying to find a posture his arthritic joints will tolerate.

            There is no answer to the question.  One minute, then two pass.  Finally the first man replies, “I don’t know.”  The original waiting man thinks to himself that as confused as he is, he is at least  fortunate that he understands the language of this new companion.  The only person he has seen in…in…well, in some time is at least an Arab.

            Finally a door opens.  The first waiter sees a woman come through the opening.  He is pleased to see that she has the appropriate dress of his homeland.  Her head and face are modestly covered.  Her clothing is of a sedate color and loose fitting and non-revealing.  She speaks.

            Again, he is happy to hear a pleasing voice.  The voice is soft, soothing and almost familiar.  Can it be?  Why it can almost be the voice of his mother—though he has not heard that voice in over forty years and cannot be sure!  He knows that this person is definitely not his mother.  Yet that voice is certainly comforting.  Why, even that nagging pain in his neck seems to be improving!

            “Good, you have arrived.  You are Mr. Hussein, Mr. Saddam Hussein, are you not?

            The voice is in an accent if the Northern Province of his home, the speech of his childhood.  She walks directly to him and he feels compelled to respond.

            “I am President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein al-Majid al-Tikriti.  That is who you are currently addressing.”

            “Yes, you have been expected, will you come with me please?”

            He is unclear as to exactly where he is, or in what circumstance he finds himself, but he is gratified to be among his own people.

            He stands, straightens has sore body and neck and notices the pain and discomforts are almost totally gone.  He prepares himself to ask the questions expected of a true leader.   He readies himself to take command of the situation, as is his habit.

            She turns to him again and says in that familiar Arabic tongue.  “Please, just one moment.”

            The older man also sees the previous encounter.  He sees an efficient appearing young woman enter and speak to the first gentleman.  He sees the arch-typical Fortune 500 executive assistant.  She has perfectly coiffed honey-blond hair and a perfect milky complexion.  She is made-up and dressed to the nines in clothing he identifies as “business formal.” He can’t quite discern her conversation with the other man, but then she turns to him.

            Now he hears perfect East Coast English.  “Mr. Ford, Mr. Gerald Ford?”


            “Your arrival has been expected for some time.  Would you please come with me?”

            Mr. Ford arises and as he does, he notices that the stiffness of his joints appears to lessen.  The age-imposed stoop of his shoulders begins to release, and he gradually, that is to say over a minute, feels a level of comfort he hasn’t known for years.  Not in years…not in decades!


            The two weary travelers accompany the young lady from the reception area to the next room.  The nest room is more pleasantly appointed than the previous one.

            Mr. Hussein sees rich tapestries on the walls.  Gold appointments and fine Arabic art further define the room.  Floor coverings indicative of the best Middle-Eastern weavers are noted.

            Mr. Ford sees accouterments expected in the most lavish CEO’s anteroom.  Plush carpet and a mahogany desk are in place.  The artwork on the walls is not immediately identifiable, but the style of the old masters certainly is.

            The two are escorted through the anteroom into an inner office, not large at all, yet seemingly expensive.

            The room is so white that corners and edges are not easily discernable.  Even the floor is white, and presumably of the same material as the walls.  In this aspect, both travelers would agree.  The only object in the room not totally white is a pearl grey block the size of a desk.  Two white chairs are in front of the desk-size object are almost invisible in a monochromatic way.  The travelers each are seated per gesture of the attendant and seem, for the first time, to be more than casually aware of each other.  More appropriate is to say, they are first aware of each other’s thoughts or even their hearts.

            There is recognition of each other.  There is communication.

            Mr. Ford recognizes Mr. Hussein and Hussein recognizes the ex-President.  Neither is aware of the events of the preceding weeks regarding the other.  Each is, in fact, somewhat vague regarding his recent affairs. 

            Mr. Ford acknowledges Mr. Hussein with a perfunctory nod.  He considers offering a handshake as any mid-westerner will likely do to a new acquaintance, no matter how famous or infamous he might be.  But he thinks better of this, considering his uncertainty regarding his circumstances.

            Mr. Hussein is feeling better and better by the moment.  He recognizes Mr. Ford, returns his nod with a slight bob of his head and then checks his own posture.

He becomes even more erect in his chair, straightens his nest which by now is no longer aching, and repositions himself slightly angled away from Mr. Ford using the universal body language that cuts off further communication.

            Both seem so suddenly taken with their acknowledgement of the other’s presence that they are somehow unaware of the new personage sitting behind the desk.

            Both men are visibly taken aback.  Mr. Hussein sees a thin olive skinned man in a flowing white robe with a typical black Arab headdress His face is enclosed in the shadow of his wardrobe, but he appears to be bearded and mustachioed.

            Mr. Hussein recovers and is instantly relieved that he sees an Arabic figure rather than a Western personage.  He is, however, still puzzled as to his own circumstances.  Is this an American or an infidel trick?  He removes a cloth from his breast pocket to mop his brow, and is mildly surprised to note a lack of perspiration.

            After a moment he chances a glance at the other traveler, Mr. Ford.  He is now aware of Mr. Ford’s status as an ex-President, a previous ruler of the great satanic nation.  He also wonders what such an old man is doing in Iraq.  He expects the American to show some distress at seeing an obvious Arab personage in command of this meeting.  The American does not, however, show any distress.

            The American, Mr. Ford, is not distressed because the person appearing to him behind the desk looks different than Mr. Hussein’s vision.  Mr. Ford is also surprised at the sudden appearance of the man at the desk.  He considers that he may have nodded off for a moment, as he does more often these days, and the new man in the room entered during his short nap.  He had often told his wife, Betty, that he was just resting his eyes.  She in turn had quipped that a train could come through the house when he was “resting his eyes,” and not awaken him.

            Mr. Ford sees and executive who is in his mid-fifties and at the height of his corporate career.  He is well groomed, dressed neatly but not flamboyant.  He is perhaps a bit conservatively dressed.  Yes, he appears conservative, and, well, a bit dull, but he certainly has Mr. Ford’s undivided attention. 

            The man behind the desk speaks.  His speech is directed at each man individually and collectively.

            Each man hears the voice in his own language.  Mr. Hussein hears Arabic nuanced in the specific dialect of Tikrit.

            “I know you have questions.  Let me try to explain.  Mr. Hussein, you have been convicted of mass murder and, following failed appeals, have been executed by the courts of the Iraqi people.  Do you remember this?”

            Mr. Hussein instantly puts his hands to his neck remembering the tightness and suffocation of the noose.  The noose is, however, gone and the stiffness of his neck has significantly decreased.

            “Muham…I mean, yes, I am beginning to recall my unlawful imprisonment and…and.”  He cannot make his all too human brain reach the moment of his own execution.

            “Yes, Mr. Hussein, you were executed and now you find yourself here.  What is here?  Here is sort of a clearinghouse or a warehouse if you will.  There is, you see, after-life after all.”

            Mr. Hussein still looks visibly puzzled.  He is more at ease hearing this from an Arab, but still looks quizzically at the man behind the desk.

            “What, you expected seventy-two virgins?  That, my son, is a construct of your previous existence and not your current reality.  I can give you the illusion of seventy-two virgins.  I can even give you the illusion of being physically able to ravish those virgins.  But we must all deal with your current reality.”  He holds his hands out and gestures about the room.  “This is your new reality.”

            Mr. Ford hears this.  He sees the executive speaking to Mr. Hussein and understands that he is not included in this conversation.  He understands because he is hearing it in English with a  mid-western accent. 

            The executive now turns to Mr. Ford.  “You, Mr. Ford, lived a long and full life.  You suffered crises, tragedies, but also triumphs.  You lived to an age older than most of your contemporaries.  You saw much of history unfold after you ceded your power.  And, now, you take your place in that long trail of mankind, passing, passing on through time.”

            “I have passed on? You mean, I’ve expired?  I’ve died?’

            “Yes, Mr. Ford, as all humanity must, given time, that is, assuming I give your species time.”

            Mr. Ford is given time to consider this and apparently has no questions.  After all, what more is there to say?

            He now turns and is clearly addressing both men.  They each hear him in their own language.  They now notice that while they perfectly understand the man, they are not actually hearing him.  He is communicating but has actually quit speaking.  His thoughts are just there with no room for misunderstanding.

            “People say I am humorless, but you must admit that sometimes I allow apparent strange coincidences to occur.  I process many thousands of souls each day.  Most have impact on several others, or sometimes thousands are affected in ways that are good or evil.  But to have two such notable souls present in less than a galactic moment is truly unusual.  Men of your influence must be handled specially or, I should say, even more specially.  To bring both of you together in one sorting is an unusual experience.  You both should consider it an honor to have my undivided attention. 

            “I will consider your futures together since your countries and their futures are so inextricably intertwined.”

            “You are God then,” Mr. Ford is visibly trembling and beginning to move from his chair to his knees.

July 04, 2020 23:40

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1 comment

Sam Newsome
18:38 Jul 14, 2020

To meet PROMPT criteria, I cropped the original story by one half so literally (you don't know half the story).


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