Flower delivery in Iran


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The prize
Short story

September 7, 2001
The Iranian

It was a busy day and I was exhausted when I got home from work. As usual, I threw myself on the sofa and turned on the TV. I had fallen into my daily routine, lying on the couch, flipping through the channels, not finding anything to watch because it was mostly the news. Thinking made me tired. I did not want to think. I did not want to do anything. I did not want to start on the honey-do's. Oh, and I just could not bare the thought of facing the mountainous pile of paperwork that has been collecting on my desk for weeks. I was just so cozy, stretched out on the sofa and I did not intend to let anything disturb my resting time.

Just as I started to doze off, it came -- that annoying telephone ring that shattered the serenity of the room. I ignored the first ring hoping that it was a wrong number and they would hang up. but the second ring came, piercing my head. It was much more annoying than the first. I tried to ignore it. Then came the third and fourth ring. This caller was not going to give up. I stretched my whole body just far enough to reach the handset.


"Good evening sir. I am calling from Restland. You have been selected to win a prize."

My mind was racing. I was furious that this person had disturbed my rest to sell me something. Nobody just gives away a prize without strings attached. I have heard my fair share of these sales pitches. So, I did what anybody in my situation would do. Without giving him an opportunity to say anything else, I said; "Sorry, I'm not interested. Have a good day." I slammed the telephone down hard on the receiver, cursing him under my breath.

Nothing is more annoying than listening to a telemarketer's sales pitch. The more uninterested you are the harder they try to sell. They hound you relentlessly like lawyers in a courtroom. They use their training to wear you down until you finally give in. Before you know it, you have purchased junk, and there it sits in your living room, you trip over it every night on the way to the sofa. You curse it, and the person who sold it to you. The worst part is that you pay every month for what seems like the rest of your life. My wife and I have been a victim of this type of abuse so many times we made promises to each other that we would just hang up. No more Mr. Nice Guy.

This call was no exception. Before giving him a chance to speak, I hung up. Rude? Perhaps. Sorry? Not at all. Frankly, I was proud of myself.

As I turned my attention back to flipping through the channels and getting comfortable again, the annoying shrill of the telephone pierced the calm. I tried to ignore the ring but by the second one, my anger had surfaced again. This time I leapt of the sofa, grabbed the telephone and snarled an angry hello.

"Good evening sir. I am calling from Restland. You have been selected to win a prize."

Feeling my blood pressure rise, I could not think of a nice way to say I was not interested. After all, I just hung up on this man and he called me right back. So, I yelled at him.

"I told you once that I was not interested. What part of NO do you not understand? The N or the O?" (I had just heard that line on the TV and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to use it.)

The man on the other end started to speak and I cut him off without letting him finish.

"I said no. I don't want to hear anymore. When you called me the first time, you were doing your job. I can understand that. But calling me a second time makes you a nuisance. This is an invasion of my privacy, and surely is not legal," I continued.

"Sir, you have really won a prize and I am not trying to sell you anything. My job is to make sure that winners are notified that they have won and that is all. I am sorry if you think I am a nuisance."

"I don't care about your prize, don't you understand plain English? Oh, maybe it's because I have a heavy accent, you think I'm from another country and you can harass me until I give in?"

I took a deep breath, lowered my voice, and repeated slowly. "I just got home from work. I'm tired and not interested in any prize that you are offering. You sound like every other salesman who calls my home. For God's sake! Spare me the sales pitch. I can barely afford to pay the bills. I know there is no way I can afford whatever it is you are trying to sell me. Now, are you a rookie or someone who will not take no for an answer?" I was back in control now and I was not going to let this man get the best of me. "Which one?" I prodded.

"Neither one sir. Please forgive me for disturbing you."

I had this one. He was going to let me have the last word. I started to get excited. I had never been let off that easily before. Being a foreigner, they tend to drill you until you finally give in. But not this one. I had him.

"The only reason I called you back the second time is because you did not let me explain." He continued. "You do not have to pay anything, not now and not in the future. You have won the prize and I'm the one who is supposed to call you and tell you. That's all. Good day."

"But wait," I said, before I even realized what was happening. "I've never been lucky in my entire life. My marriage, my horrible job and two car accidents that nearly took my life are just a few of the examples I can think of." I suspiciously asked him "What's my prize? Tell me what I've won."

He did it. He got me. I was about to find out what it was. I thought I was a fool. I could have just ended the conversation and gone back flipping channels. But no, I had to find out. "What have I won?" I tried to hide the excitement in my voice.

"You have won a luxurious casket with a choice of satin interior lining color and a choice site in the Restland cemetery. All of this and a beautiful tombstone with up to 50 letters or numbers engraved for free."

I could not believe my ears! Hysteria got a hold of me and I screamed. "Prize? A casket with satin interior and a chunk of land in the cemetery? You call that a prize? What are you thinking? Are you not ashamed of yourself? This is why you called me -- not once, but twice? For a casket? Do you really think I care what color lining it has? Do you think I have even considered what I want for an epitaph? I can't believe this."

I tried to get myself under control but it was almost impossible. This man is offering me a free casket and plot in a cemetery. My life has been unlucky but I am not dead. Not even close.

The man on the other end of the telephone was patient as I shrieked at him.

"Sir," he said, "this is no joke. The casket and the plot are all yours. I have personally seen this land and it is breathtaking. It overlooks a lake and the view is stunning. The blue water shines through thick trees. It's amazing," he claimed.

I could not believe someone would be dumb enough to waste his time on a prank like this. Amazing. Then all of the sudden, my mind clicked. Okay, I thought, if he wants to play this game, I will play along. What did I have to lose? This could be fun; there is nothing on TV right now and my wife is not due back home for at least 30 minutes.

"The only problem is, I don't plan on dying anytime soon, so, will you hold the prize for me and give me a call back in about 30 years?" I countered.

"Oh! Sir, I completely understand your feelings. All you have to do is sign the paperwork and we will store the casket and save the plot as long as you need, and as I said before, there won't be any charges involved. This way, when you pass on, your family won't have to do anything; we will already have it taken care of."

Although this plan sounded far-fetched, it made sense. I have heard about the high funeral and burial expenses. For goodness sake, those morticians will rob you blind if you do not have any arrangements already set up. But I felt odd thinking about my own death. How could I possibly sign the papers? It was like signing my own death certificate. It was spooky just thinking about it. What kind of luck was this anyway? Why me? Why couldn't I just win the lottery? Who wins a casket? It can only happen like this in America.

"Can I trade the prize in for cash instead? I'm sure my wife would probably have more use for the cash right now."

"No sir; no can do."

I had to get rid of him somehow. I could not take it any more. I quickly said, "I can not possibly be qualified for this contest because I am not a U.S. citizen yet. You know what? To save your valuable time, when you call the next winner, the first thing you should ask is if they are U. S. citizen or not. Because this country is full of foreigners, you know. Please! Don't waste our tax money on illegal aliens. There are so many of them everywhere nowadays. Most of them are without legal documents. They live here for free; they live off our tax money. That really burns my butt. One more word of advice: don't be fooled by their English accents. Whoever speaks English fluently and throws a few 'Goddamns' and 'sons of bitches' in every sentence is not necessarily an American. Anyway, I like to thank you for selecting me, but I am not qualified for it."

I was hoping to get rid of him, but no, it was not as easy as I was hoping. He patiently listened and responded very assertively.

"The truth is that you don't know when your time is up. Do you? Nobody does. Death can come to you at any time. Let me make a point here. You live near the airport. Just imagine one night you are sitting in your favorite chair watching TV. Now imagine a 747 Jumbo Jet misses the runway by a few miles. Instead of landing at the airport, it crashes through your house. It could happen in a dark and rainy night, the control tower makes a fatal mistake..." He paused, waiting for an answer.

Being a very sloppy clerk, I could very well relate to making obvious mistakes at work. "I guess so," I replied.

"It has happened before and it is very likely that it could happen again," he continued. "If this was to happen, what is the chance of your survival? Not a whole lot, right?"

"Right... "

"Now let's make an impossible assumption. Let's suppose at the time of the crash, you and your next door neighbor's Mexican maid, Isabella, have taken this opportunity to fool around while your wife is out. At this precise moment, the plane crashes through your house. Luckily, you and Isabella were in the basement at the time of the crash. You were both alive but unconscious. Now your wife comes home, frantically searching through the rubble, she finds you and Isabella, naked embracing each other. Now, you tell me, do you really think your wife would let you explain when you come out of your coma -- IF she let's you come out of comma, that is? You and I both know you had better die in the plane crash."

What was this man doing to me? How could he possibly know I lived by an airport? How could he know about Isabella and me? There was nothing between us; it was all a fantasy. A chill shot through my body. I had never mentioned her name to anyone before. How could he ever know her name, or my wildest dreams? Suddenly I was sick to my stomach and I was cold. Who was this guy? Why was he calling me? What did he want? Oh my God!

The caller's voice became creepier when he said, "You see! By definition, you can not predict accidents. It just cannot be done. That's why we suggest you prepare for them instead. As I stated before, the casket and the land is all yours, they are waiting for you to pass on. It won't cost you anything."

Feeling weak, I had to hold on to the table to keep from passing out. "How do I know this isn't a joke? Who are you? From where did you say you were calling? I haven't entered any contest. How could I have possibly won anything?" I pleaded for answers, without trying to sound panicked.

He tried to sound soothing. "You have not entered any contest. Our guidelines state that if you live in the United States, you are qualified. Our computer selected you out of millions of eligible people. The name of the organization I represent is called Happy Endings and we are based in New York City."

Then it hit me. "I get it. You must be from the Immigration Office, aren't you? Well, let me assure you, sir, my wife and I filed our papers for citizenship more than a year ago. We have already sent them our pictures, our fingerprints and signed the documents. We even sent them a check for $200 for the application fee. You must be with the Immigration Office. You are just trying to scare me back to my country with all of this talk about death, right?"

I tried not to sound terrified. My brain was reeling. I was trying to logically reason with myself but it was no use. My emotions were all on overdrive.

"You know," I continued uncontrollably, "next time, you need to do your homework first before harassing people."

"No. I'm not calling you from the Immigration Office. You were selected because you live in the United States.We do not look at you past. We try to plan for the future."

I tried to calm down but this man was scaring me more and more. He was so calm, he made me feel worse. "I told you before, the prize is yours. All you need to do is sign the necessary papers," he continued, his voice unchanged.

That was it. I could feel the cold sweat running down my back. I had to sit down. My legs were weak and I was shaking. All I could think about was my luck; I win something for the first time in my life and I have to die first to get it. Suddenly, I had a thought.

"I've got a better idea. I want you to give my prize to my boss Mr. Howard. Mr. John T. Howard. He is so old he cannot even remember when he was born. I bet you he would love to get this. I bet he will not turn something away if it is free. He is the most shameless man I know. He dresses like a pimp in his tight black leather pants and red silk jacket. You can find him at the seediest strip joint in town. He definitely needs to die as soon as possible."

"Your prize is non-transferable sir," he said.

I could not control my hysteria anymore. I screamed, "Please leave me alone! This is a conspiracy. Who else but the CIA could know so much about private lives of people? Let me tell you something, you don't scare me. I'm a free man and I will not stop voicing my political opinion and beliefs. I am not afraid of you...."

By now, I was a raving lunatic. The truth was I have never had any political beliefs or principles. I had never been even a bit interested in political matters. My god, I was going nuts. I did not know what to think, what to say or what to feel. All of my rational thoughts went out the window. I wanted to hang up but I could not. I needed to find out why this man had decided to call me. Deep down I knew he was not with the government or the CIA. I knew he was telling me the truth. I knew it was for real. He was calling me to tell me my life was over.

All of those times, I laid awake in bed at night wishing my life was over, I never thought it would be like this. I never thought I would get a telephone call with an Officer of Death telling me I had won a casket. He did not sound like he had been with this Happy Endings Organization for very long. May be he was just a rookie. Maybe they reserve their veterans to kill the actors in Hollywood or even the politicians in Washington. Maybe they sent their trainees to kill foreigners first and work their way up.

Maybe if I play my cards right I can get him to give me some information about the time frame or even the way I'm going to die. Then I could avoid it. Since I am not a religious man and I do not believe in God, I doubt I will get any lenienc. Maybe at least, I could have a chance to do something good before I die; maybe that will count in my favor. Maybe I could cut a deal with this man to leave me alone and I will do something good for everybody I meet from here on out. Maybe I could give him something; some money or something. What am I thinking? He was not interested in earthly possessions; he was the Messenger of Death.

I have gotten myself out of many tight situations in the past, but I have never dealt with death before. This one was going to be a lot harder to get out of. I did not think I had any other choice. I had to deal with the Messenger of Death and I had to do it delicately. This was the chance of a lifetime; no pun intended.

"What kind of lining did you say the casket has?" Without waiting for an answer I continued; "it's waterproof right? I don't want any moisture getting into the casket. Water damage is the worst. You said my plot is close to the lake. Please make sure I'm not too close. I don't want the water to rise and have me floating around in the lake."

Without waiting for his reply I rattled on: "I won't sign any paperwork until I have it checked out by my attorney." I was grasping for things to say.

"I don't have a problem with that," he said. "You must know though, if you do consult your attorney, we will have no choice but to take his life as well, it's a matter of divine security." He countered.

"In that case, I will take it to a dozen attorneys." I tried to lighten the seriousness of this conversation. I did not want to make this guy mad. I know when I am the underdog. I was amazed that he had the patience to listen to me. But I guess he had all of the time in the world.

"I totally understand and agree with your position; you can ask as many questions as you want."

I became more aggressive to get more in this deal. It was obvious by now that I was going to go. At this point I was not pleading for my life, instead I was planning for a better afterlife.

"Okay, one more thing. I want all of your promises in writing and I want a painless death. I would hate to die a horrible death."

He interrupted, "Sir, I can not negotiate any of these issues with you. As I said before, I agree with your position and understand your concern. I don't always agree with the way things happen around here. We're trying to change the way things are done, but you can't change them overnight you know."

I knew I would not get any of the information I wanted but I listened anyway.

"Traditionally," he continued "we would take your life without any notice at all but we have been debating the morality of these practices for quite some time now. We are trying to modify the severity of death in light of the new millennium. We are asking the Higher Council to add more finesse and dignity to death. Take your case, for example. You practically hung up on me twice and you are trying to bargain with me. This is unprecedented. Anyone else in my position would whip your ass in a second and smoke you before you get a chance to put down the phone. But we, the new generation, are really trying to work with our clients and improve our image."

I felt better with what he had just said. I decided to ask him one more thing: "Since I'm not a strong believer in God, can I have a chance to make amends by doing something good before I die? Do you think you can grant me that? I just don't want to go to hell because I was blinded all my life."

"We are strictly prohibited from getting involved in your personal life. The whole purpose of the afterlife is for you to be accountable for your actions while you are alive. That is why you have free will. I'm tired of you asking me all of these tricky questions to help you beat the system. I'm just a simple messenger of death who tries to make death a little easier for you, that's all. I have no power to do favors. I can loose my job for being too helpful. I have a time limit when I'm on the phone with new clients, and all the calls are recorded for training purposes and quality control. Please sir, for my sake, let's wrap this call up."

"I can understand your strict rules, but remember, you said yourself, we are on the brink of a new millennium and you are trying to get out of your ancient practices. Think about it, it really doesn't matter why I'm doing the good work. The issue here is that I'm a good person, right? Sure, you tipped me off and you bent the rules, but you're not doing anything against divine purpose."

I tried to be as logical as I could. I wanted answers but I was not getting them. I was losing the battle here; he was running out of patience. This was not a good sign, especially when dealing with death.

He responded, "I don't know how long you'll live. It's not up to me to make that decision. But you don't have much time. As much as I would like to help you, I don't know how."

He sounded sincere and sympathetic.

"Okay, maybe you could help me do something good then. Maybe I can help a blind man cross the street. Let me pay for years of getting cable TV for free. Let me pay for all those two free weeks of newspaper subscriptions. Let me pay for every towel I took from hotel rooms or even for the life jacket in the airplane..."

I could go on and on but I knew full well that he was not that dumb. As I expected, he promptly rejected my offer. Then suddenly I came up with a great idea.

"Since I don't have the time, why don't I pay cash for the good deeds. What's wrong with that? Do you have any objection to that? If I can come up with some cash, can you use your connections to give it to a charity for me? All I'm asking is for you to use it for the good of all concerned. Is that asking for too much?" I continued, "I think if I pull all of my money out of savings, I could get together about twenty thousand dollars. I could max out my cash advances on my credit cards, the interest rate is high, but who the hell cares? They can send the bills to my address at Restland."

My thoughts were spinning. "I can send my wife to stay with her parents for a week and I could hold a garage sale and sell everything in the house at bargain prices. It won't do me any good when I'm dead anyway. If I sell my car, I could probably come up with about another six or seven thousand dollars there. In about two weeks, I could have about forty thousand dollars. Do you think I could have that much time?" I pleaded, "Do you think you can do that for me?" Now I was practically begging for salvation.

Surprisingly enough hes accepted my offer.

"Well, I can not promise you anything but I'll see what I can do. I can not promise you salvation, I can not even promise you a break on the length of your stay in hell. I don't think this could hurt your case though."

I was feeling a strange sense of calm; this whole ordeal was about to be over. I had a lot of work to do but I also knew it was almost done. I had to get started if I was going to do all of this in two weeks. I was determined to save my life after death. For first time in my life I felt so pure and unattached to any earthy possessions. I was not thinking of myself but the good of others. Oh that was the best feeling I had ever experienced.

The man then said; "I agree to these terms, but you only have one week. I can give you until Thursday, next week. At 7 o'clock in the morning, the Salvation Army donation pick up truck comes to your neighborhood. Put the cash in a donation bag, write on it 'Old clothing for charity', and put it out for pick up at the closest point from your home. I can promise you that it will go to a good cause. After you complete this task I will call you back to arrange a time for you to sign the necessary papers."

I thanked him from the bottom of my heart for his mercy and compassion. He had really changed my life for the better. I had seen the light of salvation. Maybe I was the only man who was blessed to have contact with God or his representative.

He kindly added, "Remember you only have until Thursday, 7 a.m." and hung up.

I didn't think I could do it. But in that week, I sent my wife to visit her parents, maxed out my credit cards, sold my car to the first customer at a bargain price and sold everything in the house. I didn't tell anything about this to my wife; I wanted to protect her from death. I had failed to make her happy in this life, therefore I sure didn't want to cause her untimely death as well.

By Wednesday afternoon, I had closed my savings account and even sold my wedding ring at a pawnshop for an extra four hundred dollars. I remembered the instructions. I counted all of the cash I had in the house, and it came to 48,569 dollars and 35 cents. I put all of this cash in a donation bag and labeled it "Old clothes for charity" just as I was instructed. On Thursday morning, I took the bag to the pick-up location and dropped it with the other bags, but I could not leave it there unattended. I wanted to make sure the truck picked it up and it was not lost or stolen. So I hid behind some bushes close to the pile of bags and waited. At 6:57, an old Chevrolet truck approached the intersection with a young man driving. It stopped at the pile of bags and a Spanish girl quickly got out and picked up the bag labeled "Old clothes for charity". She got back into the truck and it sped off. I was in a state of shock; I could not believe my eyes. I recognized the Spanish girl, it was Isabella, the next door neighbor's maid.

Two weeks later, the Messenger of Death and his new bride Isabella sent me a postcard from Acapulco thanking me for the wedding gift.

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