Department of Prayer

“Dear Lord,

Grant me the strength to get through these terrible days. Help me to be strong for the children and to help them understand and accept their father’s passing. Have mercy on his soul, dear lord, take him to your side and give him peace and the knowledge that I will love him always.

Amen.”

“Hey, Volodia, where am I supposed to send this one?”

“Hell, Tanya, do I have to look at every bloody prayer that comes in here?”

“Oh please, I’m new here; this system takes some getting used to.”

“Alright, alright, let’s have a look…now then… 'Grant me…children…father’s passing…' it’s a B-470. Send it over to recent deaths."

“But they sent it over here, look it’s been stamped 'requests'."

“Eh, what bloody request?”

“Well, this 'take him to your side' business, I mean that’s a request isn’t it?”

“No, it’s standard issue, regulation 439/GN, 'Acceptance into heaven is entirely dependent on the deceased’s previous behaviour in all but the most exceptional circumstances.' Did you look through the department guidelines Tanya?”

“Well, I started, but there’s thousand’s of pages, I don’t know how I’ll ever remember them all.”

“Don’t worry; you’ve got time on your side. It took me years to get it all right. You can expect to make a few mistakes at the start; it’s only natural.”

“Mistakes? But Volodia, we can’t make mistakes; these are people’s souls we’re dealing with.”

“You’re new here aren’t you? How long were you in basic training?”

“Seventy four years, I think, I seem to lose track of time up here.”

“I see, and why did you request this department? I am right in thinking that you asked to be transferred up here aren’t I?”

“Yes, yes, I did ask to be here; I liked the idea of answering people’s requests; I thought it would be good to help people.”

“Help people? Oh dear me, did no one talk to you about this in your induction sessions?”

“Yes, Lyudmila did, she said it was our sacred duty to bring succour to the suffering.”

“Lyudmila, I might have known.”

“Why what’s wrong with Lyudmila? I thought she was nice.”

“Nice, yes she’s nice, very, very nice; did she tell you what she used to do down there?”

“No why?”

“She was a nun.”

“A nun? But that’s good isn’t it?”

“Oh dear; don’t you have any idea what it’s like dealing with these bloody Christians up here?”

“I’ll have you know, I’m a Christian, and you needn’t take that exasperated tone with me. I’m only trying to do the right thing”

“The right thing, the right bloody thing is it? And do you have any idea what happens to this department when you start trying to do the right thing? I’ll tell you what happens; administrative chaos, that’s what happens, total systemic collapse, backlog, complete inertia, gridlock, that’s what happens. And then what do you think becomes of all your suffering souls?”

“But… but…”

“Nothing, that’s what becomes of them, limbo, purgatory, oblivion. Did it never occur to you to wonder just why our sainted Lyudmila was stuck in the induction and training department rather than out here at the sharp end?”

“Well, I thought…”

“You know what thought did?”

“No… what?”

“Nothing; it just thought it did.”

“I don’t understand; if we’re not here to help people then what are we supposed to be doing?”

“We’re supposed to be functioning smoothly Tanya; providing a well organised operation, ensuring the effective processing of documents, avoiding uncomfortable glitches, keeping our bloody heads down in short.”

“No, no I’m sorry Volodia, but that just isn’t right. This is heaven; we have a responsibility to more than just bureaucratic efficiency. These people have a right to honest and fair treatment and I, for one, will see to it that that’s just what they receive. If you don’t like it then we can just go upstairs and see what the angels think.”

“Jesus fucking wept; may God preserve us from devout bloody Christians. Fine, fine, no problem, let’s go upstairs; let’s just see what your precious little angels make of your plan to save the world entire. No really, come on, it’ll be fun.”

“Now you’re just bluffing; you know they’ll agree with me.”

“Oh you’re priceless you are one in a bloody million. Look around you how many people do you see?”

“I don’t know, a thousand, two thousand, why?”

“Three thousand and forty three, that’s how many. Department of requests, sub-section 23 A, now how many of them do you know?”

“I don’t know, ten, twelve maybe, I haven’t been here long.”

“What are their names?”

“What”?

“Come on, those you know, tell me their names.”

“Well, there’s Katya and Elena over there, and that’s Andrey, sitting with Ivan and Irina. Ermm, that girl talking to Sergei is Svetlana and her Boss is called Ksenia…there’s Boris and his brother Yuri and Yuri’s assistant is called Marina I think…but why? What do their names matter?”

“Tell me Tanya; in the seventy odd years you spent in training did you meet any Simons?”

“No, but…”

“How about Wolfgangs, any Wolfgangs amongst those thousands of people you must have come across?”

“Look I don’t know what you’re trying to say.”

“Maybe Mohammed then or Giotto, perhaps the odd Jose or Linda or Ruth…no? Well how about Pierre or Tariq, Joshua, Ling Sang or N’bogo? No?”

“What?”

“Tell me Tanya; did you meet one person in all these years we’ve been blessed with your presence who wasn’t a Russian?”

“Alex, Alex from accounts, he’s not Russian.”

“He’s Byelorussian, Tanya, he was born in Minsk.”

“But there must be someone, they can’t all be Russians, it just wouldn’t be right.”

“I’ll tell you what Tanya, take a walk over to the personnel department and say that Volodia Bugaev wants them to show you the staff lists for the entire Ministry of Prayer. There’s five hundred and sixty eight thousand names on those lists, come back when you’re done and tell me how many non-Russians you found. I’ll be intrigued.”

“What, are you honestly trying to tell me that every single person in the whole ministry is Russian?”

“No, no, no, oh God bless you no, Alexei over in admin is half Ukrainian.”

“But that’s not fair.”

“There you go again, 'fair, right, just' Blah, blah, blah, wake up girl, do some thinking here”

“What thinking, so what if we’re all Russian, maybe God just likes Russians.”

"'Maybe God just likes Russians.' Hell, you’re an absolute gem Tanya. Does the name Stalin mean anything mean anything to you? How about Ivan the Terrible or maybe you’ve heard about Hitler’s little adventure on the Eastern front. If he likes Russians he sure as hell had a funny way of showing it.”

“Well, maybe that was because he believes that suffering gives men the chance to redeem themselves.”

“You’ve not met God yet have you Tanya?”

“No, but…”

“I’ve had that pleasure, and trust me; he’s not quite as big on redemption as you Christians seem to think”

“Then why, why are we all Russian?”

“Because then he won't have to deal with this mess himself: Rumour has it he used to have the placed staffed with Germans and spent all of his infinite days signing forms and wavers and approvals. He was none too pleased with that.”

“So what does he do all day?”

“Ponders?

“Ponders? God ponders?”

“Apparently so, yeah, just sits with one elbow crooked on his knee and his clenched fist on his brow and ponders”

“Well that all seems a bit pointless”

“That's my girl, you're getting there now, what do you say to a nice cup of tea?”