The Hell of Augustine Paul
He knew that the sun had set from the deepening shadows in the room. Other than that, he had already lost track of time and day, having lain on the floor for goodness knows how long, drifting in and out of consciousness. He had already ceased to feel either hunger or thirst, and he no longer tried to get himself up.
At the start of his collapse, he had thought constantly of Reverend Peters, who visited him about once a week, although not to any timetable. The thought had gone in circles around his head: ‘Father Peters, will come in; he will see me and cry out, ‘Augustine Paul! Are you all right?’; he will take me to hospital; Father Peters will come in …’
But now, having already resigned himself to death, his mind drifted among the images of the past. A noisy, agitated crowd, the sombre dignity of a courtroom, the packed gallery, journalists and the terrifyingly sharp face of a man in the docks. As the all-powerful judge, he had perverted justice to convict this man despite all evidences pointing to his innocence. On instruction from his political master, he had sodomized justice and conducted the most shockingly biased kangaroo court the nation had ever seen. Anwar Ibrahim! Oh, if he could only move his arm, he would write in the dust with a finger: ‘Forgive me.’
He was dying and he was all alone. The rats were getting nearer, becoming bolder. He knew that they could not wait to gnaw at his body. He only hoped that he would be dead before they came too close.
Then, suddenly, there was something like an electrical shock to his whole being. He felt himself jerked roughly upwards, as though by a strong hand. Reverend Peters? No, it was not any human hand. But he was now upright and as light as a feather. He looked about him. On the floor, lay a dirty old man on his stomach, and a couple of rats were gnawing at his toes. Shocked, he looked closer and observed that the face was none other than his own. He screamed in horror but could not hear himself.
Then the room began to spin about him, slowly at first, then gathering speed. It became a whirlpool, and then a tunnel. He was hurtling through this dark tunnel at lightning speed. What was happening? Where was he being taken? He could not even find the words to pray and soon lost consciousness.
* * *
When he came to, he found himself lying naked on a cold, stone platform, in the middle of a small dim room. Nothing else in the room, just the uniform greyness of walls and ceiling that had neither doors nor windows. He shouted for help but, again, could not hear himself. ‘Someone had better help me or I will surely die,’ he sobbed. But, at the same time, he knew that he was already dead.
So this was the afterlife, no souls to greet him, no dead relatives to tell him what it was all about, no God, no Devil, only the desolation of a small and empty room. He was too disheartened even to get up from the platform. And how long would he be kept in this prison? As quickly as he asked the question, an answer flashed into his mind, as though telepathically conveyed by an unseen force: six years. But why six years? ‘Because you once sentenced an innocent man to six years in prison.’ And what happens then? There was no response. He asked again and again, but there was only the silence of the tomb. In desperation, he jumped up and dashed all about, this way and that, trying to find the least opening out, banging his head and shoulders against the walls, clawing at the hard stone. But they were solid enough.
* * *
Augustine Paul spent his first six years after death reflecting on the sins of his earthly life. There was nothing else to do. The seconds dripped away with excruciating slowness in the unchanging dimness of the enclosed tomb, each drop an eternity in itself. There was not even his shadow to thank for falling on the floor or walls. Oh, if it were possible to die once more, he would have killed himself.
He went over in his mind, every minutiae of the trial of Anwar Ibrahim: he had declared every evidence supporting the defence to be irrelevant, he had allowed the prosecution whatever licence they requested, he had threatened defence lawyers with contempt of court and sentenced one of them to three months’ jail, he had ignored major inconsistencies in the testimonies of prosecution witnesses, he had prevented ten defence witnesses from testifying, and so on and so forth. He paced the length of the narrow space, back and forth, back and forth, countless times. He prayed for forgiveness, and blamed Mahathir for all his problems. How long was a year in the afterlife? Was it the same as 365 solar days or was there some other scale of measurement? Perhaps a day to God was like a thousand years to man, as the Bible had proclaimed.
And he sat hunched on the stone platform with his head in his hands, feeling that time had stood still and terrified that his punishment would never end.
* * *
Then one day, he heard a sound break into the utter silence, a curious rushing sound like that of water. Excited and hopeful, he strained his ears. It grew louder and louder and, after a while, he could also pick out the sound of voices: coarse laughter, yelling and shrieking. He grew alarmed; it was as though a horde of barbarians were charging in from all sides, now that his prison was opened after six long years.
But there was nowhere to hide from the terror and, soon, the demons were upon him, flame-red, with ugly leering faces and carrying pitchforks. They smelt like sulphur. One of them aimed a kick at his buttocks and sent him flying; another caught him on the spikes of his pitchfork, whirled him about in mid-air, then tossed him across the room where he was sodomized by a pitchfork handle. So they were spitefully hurling him about like a ragdoll, all the time cackling insanely, as though in great enjoyment
He started to pray: ‘Please God, have mercy on me!’ but that only induced in his tormentors, greater merriment. ‘Oh, listen to him, he’s praying. HAAHAAHAAAHAAA!!!!’ one of the demons jeered. ‘The shit-face now wants mercy.’
‘Next thing we know, he’ll be asking for justice, this perverter of justice!’
‘Holy Mary, Mother of God, please save me!’
‘Now he’s asking for his mummy. MAMEEE … MAMEEEE …’
‘Please let me go,’ he begged.
‘You’re going all right — straight into Hell!’
The stone platform in the middle of the room disappeared. In its place, was now a rotating funnel. And they threw Augustine Paul head first into the dark mouth of the funnel which responded with a grateful sucking noise.
* * *
So he was falling, falling in the dark where, now and then, the laughter of demons mingling with the frightful moans of lost souls reached his ears. Which level of Hell would he end up? The lake of burning fire? To be tortured forever? Would he find Mahathir there? The filthy swine was the source of all his problems, may God damn his blackened soul. ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph, help me,’ he prayed again, desperately. His journey downwards appeared to go on and on without end.
But he eventually landed and, at first, there was nothing except the pitch darkness. Slowly, it lifted into a dirty grey light. He now saw that he was in a field of bare, scrubby ground. No lake of burning fire? He was flooded with relief, thinking that Jesus, Mary and Joseph had answered his prayers. In the near distance, he spied a group of people, probably a welcoming committee of saints, he thought. Despite his nakedness, he started running towards them, thinking to prostrate himself and beg forgiveness for his sins. Oh, surely they would help him, intercede on his behalf before the Throne of God.
But as he got nearer, his sweet anticipation changed to pure horror. They were not people, but kangaroos, and he did not like the expressions on their grinning faces, such long-toothed, evil-looking faces. They started charging towards him in a mob and, as fast as he could, he turned around to run in the opposite direction. But it was no use for another mob of kangaroos was rushing towards him from the other end as well.
It took hardly any time for them to reach him in the middle of the field. Kicked by a powerful hind leg, he found himself flying towards the gunmetal sky and, as soon as he touched ground, was kicked up again. So the kangaroos kicked him back and forth across the field and it did not take him long to work out that he was no more than a football in their vigorous game of soccer. Indeed, there were two goalposts at either end, one marked ‘Innocent’ and the other marked ‘Guilty.’ It was their way of working out his fate, and a most unpleasant way too, making him nauseous and queasy. Unable to help himself, he started cursing Jesus, Mary and Joseph, calling them useless and good-for-nothings.
But at last, one team scored a goal in the hard-fought contest. With one flying kick, he was booted at lightning speed into the mouth of the ‘Guilty’ goalpost.
* * *
Descending again down the throat of a funnel, he was panic-stricken for whatever fresh grotesquerie might await him. Apologising to Jesus, Mary and Joseph, he once more implored their kind assistance. ‘No more, no more,’ he pleaded.
When he came to a halt, it was at first into the grateful stillness of a totally dark space. He slumped down on to the floor with his arms around his knees, rocking back and forth. ‘Oh God, oh God,’ he whimpered. Oh, where were his dead wife and his children who had preceded him into death? Perhaps they despised him no less than when they were alive for his part in Anwar’s trial. Never had he imagined the afterlife to be so nightmarish. It was worse than anything the kindly Reverend Peters could have told him. But here at last was peace, albeit a dark and lonely one.
Suddenly, a coarse laugh, loud and deep, echoed mockingly around him, inspiring him to absolute terror. He looked all about, but could see nothing. ‘Get up, your honour,’ the voice boomed in a tone dripping with contempt.
He felt himself levitating, feet off the ground, suspended in mid-air; he felt strings around his ankles, wrists and neck and jerked hither and thither, in obedience to the pull of these strings.
‘Would your honour like to consider the evidence?’ His right leg jerked up, then his left and then they were made to pedal furiously.
‘Would your honour charge me with contempt of court?’ A vicious tug at his neck made his head spin like a top.
‘Would your honour rule my testimony irrelevant?’ His arms were compelled to flail wildly like the wings of a bird in flight.
So his unseen, demonic puppet-master continued in this vein, punctuating each remark with uproarious, derisory laughter. Augustine Paul began to scream, but his was a pitifully thin voice compared to the thunder of the other’s. He bad-mouthed Jesus, Mary and Joseph with unmentionable invectives, to the great delight of his tormentor; he demanded a second death and total extinction.
After an age, his torturer appeared to grow tired of the play. He found himself flung away like a like a boneless puppet into the darkness, thrown a great distance it seemed, although he had no idea how far.
* * *
When he landed, it was on to a garbage heap that smelled horribly of offal, sewage and the decomposing corpses of loathsome animals. Getting up to explore, he found himself in a small cave with no way out. The light was a vomit-green emanating from the walls, just enough to see by. There were seven spouts on the ceiling that were labelled: Lies; Hypocrisy; Injustice; Corruption; Unfairness; Cruelty and Immorality. From these, dripped repulsive black muck, each with its own peculiar bad odour.
He crouched in a space not directly under any spout, but they appeared to move at random across the ceiling so that now and again, one type of muck or another would fall on to his head wherever he shifted. At last, he lay down full length and resigned himself to being pelted by the steady drops of his seven deadly sins.
The muck that fell solidified quickly so that periodically, he had to dig himself out. Inexorably, the whole cave was being filled in and the ceiling was getting nearer. Gradually, the space between floor and ceiling diminished until there was only a foot left. But still the disgusting rain fell and what was the point of praying when there was nobody to hear? Never had he felt so utterly abandoned, so despised and unloved. In his agony, he cried out: ‘Mahathir, you piece of dog shit. I only hope that your soul is going through worse tortures than I am. May the devil roast your oversized balls!’
He lost any sense of time as the floor of the cave slowly raised. It may have been years or decades. His nose was now pressed against the hard ceiling. He felt himself being pushed from below against the rock and the pressure was becoming unbearable. Just when he thought the very stuff of his soul would be squeezed out of existence, he broke through in a moment of supreme relief.
To his amazement, he found himself lying on the floor of his living room, in the same position as when he had first collapsed. There was the dull light from the window, the legs of tables and chairs and the rats scurrying about and getting bolder. As before, he could not get up and could only feel the life draining away from him. He hoped the Reverend Peters would walk in, cry out, then take him to hospital. But at the back of his mind, he knew that this would not happen for the knowledge had been lodged there by some unknown force. He was condemned to a hell of endless repeat; he would die again, then spend six years in solitary confinement, at the end of which, the demons would come to fling him into the funnel of Hell. And then he would once more be the football for a match of kangaroo soccer, the puppet doll of a malicious demon and then he would find himself once more in that muck-filled cave, then to be pushed through the roof to re-live the last few minutes of his life on his living room floor.
And would this cycling ever end? He did not know.
You may also be interested to read:
“An Augustine Event” in which judge Paul is flattered in an award ceremony befitting his obedient service.
“I Watch the Sparrows Fly” in which judge Paul regrets in old age.