When you die, you are reincarnated as the item you value the most.
It was an utterly ridiculous concept, one which Peter Anderson had scoffed at when he saw the subject in his junk mail. Perhaps a scam from a low class scum trying to get a taste of his wealth or a carefully crafted virus trying to hack into his computer. Either way, he had never opened the mail.
And after experiencing a heart attack on his way to the airport – he wished he had. Because Peter Anderson was dead.
Except he was not. Not really. His consciousness was intact with foggy memories lingering in his mind as he tried to make sense of the situation. He had once been interested in pursuing medical entrepreneurship, with a brilliant idea of extending human life. Professors had told him that as long as the brain continued to function, the person would continue to live.
A part of him wished that this was the explanation to the phenomenon he was experiencing, but it did not rationalize with him. He stared at the large mirror at the opposite side of his home office – not seeing a pink gooey brain which would have been massive considering his intellect – but instead a golden frame of a hundred dollar bill.
It was his most prized possession. He had been 18 at the time, receiving his first pay cheque and naively investing all of it into the stock market, all but the hundred dollar bill.
40 years later the bill remained in his possession, with an extra 75 million dollars to his name. Still not enough as his assets were not easily liquified.
He glanced at his surroundings, the home office which he had spent most of his free time in. The polished wooden desk to his left was littered with stacks of unattended documents, the leather spinning chair that he would rest his aching back on remained empty and the maroon coloured curtains hid the view of his lavish swimming pool.
If he had a facial expression, he would have been scowling. Could he have not valued a more exciting item? His sleek burgundy Ferrari so he could spend his afterlife roaming the streets or his newly bought yacht so that he could live his days cruising the seas?
The door creaked open and a familiar blonde haired girl walked in, her back hunched, hands clutching a soaked handkerchief and brown eyes filled with grief – his daughter. He sighed inwardly, perhaps she would stack the strewn papers neatly and save him from such an eyesore.
This must be his hell, a workaholic staring at incomplete tasks for all eternity – living his life after death as a measly piece of paper, degraded from being worth millions to a mere hundred.
Another figure came in, a tanned dark haired boy that Peter did not recognize.
The boy blew out a low whistle as he surveyed the office, “Neat place.”
“Yeah well, my Dad used to spend every day here,” she said with bitterness laced in her tone as she plopped onto his leather chair. It was an action she used to do as a child before Peter had shouted at her and she had run out crying, punishing him with the silent treatment for a week. Not that he had minded, less distractions for him to focus on his work.
A long pause stretched between the two, with only the noisy sound of his daughter rummaging through the desk drawers to fill the silence.
After a while the boy closed the distance between them, spinning the chair towards him and crouching to meet her tired eyes. “I’m sorry for your loss,” the boy said.
Peter felt anger boiling in his consciousness, his vision blurred red. Who was this boy and how dare he invade his daughter’s personal space?
“Daniel, it’s fine,” she said, “I don’t need him anyway.”
All the pent up anger deflated as his daughter’s words sunk in, piercing his soul. He felt like he was being torn in two, an excruciating pain that could rival the pain of dying. To hear his sole heir, the young girl he wanted only to provide for, discarding him as though he was nothing more than a used tissue.
A shadow of judgement flickered on the boy’s features.
She laughed humorlessly, “You know he was barely home right? And we’ve only ever talked during the little pocket of time while he walked from the main door to his office door.”
“I’m sure he loved you.”
“You want to know what he loved? That,” she pointed accusingly at the hundred dollar bill and suddenly Peter felt as though they were looking straight at him.”Money, it’s always money.”
“We’ve been together for a year, and he still doesn’t know you’re my boyfriend,” she said, slamming the drawer shut as she stood up. “His car keys aren’t here, I’ll check the bedroom.”
A painstaking realization hit him, coursing through him all at once as though he had been struck by lighting. He had been the perfect man, providing financial freedom to his family, offering more to them than the average husband or father could ever hope to give. Had it not been enough?
“I’ll wait here,” the boy, Daniel, said as his daughter left the room.
Daniel roamed around the office, occasionally picking at the line of books on the shelves before putting them back in place. It was when the boy looked up did Peter feel exposed.
Peter felt his being moved as the boy took the frame from the hook. There was an awkward level of intimacy as this stranger peered at him, his face close enough that Peter noted that the boy’s eyes were hazel under the dim light.
The back end of the frame was removed and he felt his body being groped as the boy hastily shoved him into his pocket. Darkness engulfed him and distress seeped into his consciousness, his mind throbbing painfully from fear. The pocket suffocated him and he felt himself folded in a cramped position.
How dare this low life kidnap- or steal him!
A voice broke him out of his angry train of thoughts of how he would have sued the boy. “What are you doing?”
A nervous chuckle was heard, “I-I can explain.”
“Don’t bother, keep it. I don’t want that stupid reminder of my father anyway,” his daughter said.
If Peter’s physical form had a heart, it would have been shattered by now. But all his consciousness could feel was a dull ache.
“Babe,” the boy started.
“Please leave, I would like to mourn in peace,” her voice broke at the end and if he could see her, he would have seen angry tears trailing down her cheeks.
“I understand, call me if you need me,” Daniel said before leaving.
Peter stayed still, listening to the sound of doors being closed, steps echoing down the staircase of his house and the slight sigh of the gate being swung open. The boy’s fingers grasp onto Peter every once in a while as if to make sure he was still there.
The concept of time was lost until he was finally pulled out and shoved into a glass jar. The light blinded him momentarily, severing his vision while his body was nestled against other dollar bills. His sight returned and he found that he was pressed in between a one dollar and five dollar bill. It had been years since he saw such low currency.
If his position was sad, his surrounding was plain pitiful. The room was small, slightly bigger than his home office except for the depressing sight of a worn out mattress on the floor with some springs popping up. The walls were plastered with distasteful floral wallpapers which had become discoloured and ripped through the trials of time. There were barely any decorations, save for a plant by the messy heap of kitchen utensils on the other side of the room.
A frail man was trying to start a fire on the stove, grumbling each time he failed but continuing on until a bright flame illuminated the room. The man quickly placed a frying pan over it, cooking eggs.
Peter would have appreciated that his sense of smell had been restored had it not been the odour of piss and rotten food greeting him.
The plastic door swung open and Daniel came out in a different pair of faded clothing and a towel on his neck to catch the water dripping from his hair. The boy walked towards the man, who Peter assumed was his father due to the resemblance in hair colour and sharp features.
“Abah, you should rest, I’ll cook tonight,” Daniel said, gently putting his hand onto the man’s shoulders who shrugged it off.
“I am capable, boy,” the father replied gruffly, flipping the egg. Then, as if fate decided to taunt him, a coughing fit erupted from his throat, raspy and painful. Daniel guided his father onto the mattress. He eased a glass of water onto his father’s lips who drank it desperately in between coughs.
A few moments later, the heavy coughs receded and the man hung his head, from weariness or embarrassment, Peter could not tell. But he did know that this man needed immediate medical attention and a proper diagnosis. Why had he not received medication yet?
As if the boy could read Peter’s mind, he said, “We must take you to see the doctor, Abah.”
The man shook his head, “No, it is just a mild cough, no need to waste money.”
“Abah, this has been going on for weeks,” Daniel tried to reason but the man simply shook his head even firmer. “My girlfriend gave me a hundred dollars, we can use that.”
With that said, the man recoiled as though the words stung him, “Did you beg for money? Never beg!”
Daniel’s eyes darted to the glass jar, his voice uncertain, “I did not beg, Abah. It was gifted to me.”
Peter would have rolled his eyes if he could. The boy was a thief, not the most ambitious considering the countless expensive possessions he could have stolen in his house, but a thief nonetheless.
The man sighed heavily, “Save the money, child, prepare for your future.”
Peter turned his attention to the other glass jar beside him with a messily scrawled paper ‘College Funds’ taped onto it. He looked back at the glass jar that he was trapped in, the wording was backwards from his view but it was written much more delicately ‘Medical Expenses’.
A burnt smell wafted in the room and Daniel scrambled onto his feet to take the eggs out of the pan. It was too late, the eggs had been charred black. “I’ll cook another one,” he said.
The man slowly got up, “No, do not waste food, boy. I’ll eat it.”
The man gave his son a firm look and took the plate out of his son’s hands. Peter watched as the skinny man ate the burnt eggs, a foreign emotion stirring within him. Was this sympathy?
And so the days passed, with Peter watching a whole different life unfolding before him through a glass jar. The two would spend their time together playing chess, the son laughing each time he had the upper hand and the stoic man grinning when he would be the one to win at the end. The father would cook eggs every afternoon and dinner; they did not eat breakfast. At night, the two would curl up at their respective side of the mattress, wishing each other goodnight before dozing off. And the glass jar of medical expenses would grow with Daniel sneaking in a dollar bill every day while neglecting the college fund jar.
The days had been good until the man’s coughs became louder, his hunch grew more prominent and his cheeks turned sunken with cheekbones jutting out unnaturally. There were times when Daniel would bathe him and he would leave the bathroom with his wet torso bare, ribcage digging into his skin and mumbling that the boy did not need to take care of him.
And then the tension shattered, like a vase falling with an ear-piercing scream.
“I’m taking you to the hospital tomorrow,” the boy said, his lips pursed.
“No, you will attend the college fair tomorrow and you will register yourself in.”
“Do you have any idea how expensive it is to enroll? The application fee is almost a hundred dollars itself!”
“Hospital fees cost more.” The two were at the opposite ends of the small room, the father cooking eggs and the son looking out at the night through yellow stained windows.
“I do not care! We have the money,” the boy gestured towards the glass jar. Although it was almost filled to the brim, the contents were still nothing more than an accumulation of one dollar bills squished together.
For once throughout Peter’s life span of being a mere hundred dollar bill did he feel the weight of his worth.
“Do not argue with me boy, you will enroll tomorrow and that is fina-” the man did not manage to complete his sentence as he fell into another coughing fit, this one strong enough to knock him off his feet that he was on the floor. Blood sputtered out as he tried to breathe and Daniel quickly carried him onto the bed followed by the same routine of helping his father drink water.
Peter held his breath as the coughs dragged on, with more blood staining the green carpeted floor. After what felt like an eternity, the cough ceased and the man was too tired to sit upright, slumping onto the bed.
The man fell asleep, leaving his son to clean the blood. Peter watched as tears spilled out of the young boy’s eyes as he scrubbed on the floor, his sobs silent and his shoulders shaking.
Peter wished he could help this family, just a single percentage of his wealth would have saved them from this nightmare.
The next morning the man woke up before dawn, and his clumsy hand fished into the medical expense jar. His bony fingers grabbed onto Peter, yanking him out. Peter felt cold for a brief moment before he was carefully tucked onto the man’s T-shirt pocket.
The pocket material was thin and the hundred dollar bill was poking out enough that Peter could vaguely comprehend his surroundings. The man travelled out of the apartment, stopping to ask a security guard the directions to the town-wide college fair before disappearing into the alley.
The sun had not risen and the alleyway was dark, with grimy brick walls and dirty pavements which held a sharp smell of decaying matter.
A large boy blocked his way, his fat arm covered in scars and tattoos. “Where do you think you’re going, old man.”
Peter felt a surge of fear when the man replied gruffly, “Out of my way.”
In a few seconds the man was knocked onto the wall with the intimidating boy inches from his face. His eyes were bloodshot and clothes reeking of cigarette smoke.“This is my street. No one passes without a fee.”
“I don’t have any money.”
The fat boy’s face morphed into a sinister grin as he plucked Peter out of the man’s pocket. “Do not lie to me, old man.”
“Return it,” the man grabbed onto Peter, pulling him, but the boy refused to ease his grip, crumpling the money further.
“Let go,” the boy warned, his voice low and threatening.
And it happened too fast, the man had yanked the money, causing it to tear in half. A painful pierce entered into Peter’s consciousness, jaggedly cutting away his mind, unable to form a thought.
In a fit of rage, the large boy took a knife out and plunged it deep into the man in the chest. The boy threw his split piece of the money onto the ground before running away, leaving the knife behind.
The old man released a cough, this time it was hollow as he choked on his own blood as though he was drowning. As the man’s legs gave out and he slipped onto the dirty ground, all Peter could witness was life draining from this man’s eyes, while his hand remained tightly clutched onto the piece of torn paper – its value meaningless.
Peter died from the pressure of working 14 hours every day.
And this innocent man had been killed in cold blood.
Two men had lost their lives,
all for a hundred dollar bill.
By Natasha Maya