It really looked pretty normal at first, thought Bill, if this was death. 'Nothing like he had expected. No going out with a bang, no misery, either. Just closing his eyes on one room and opening them on another. He would have to tell Knuckles, his brother, all about it at some point. Then he realized that the next time he might see Knuckles it would be no mystery to him anymore. Knuckles would know all about it - firsthand - by then.
If there was anything odd about the whole experience, it was the food. Bill had always liked a nice buffet from time to time, but this was like nothing he had ever seen. The catfish and the fried chicken certainly were finer than anything he had ever had before, but the amazing part was the availability of Asian foods at this particular buffet – General Tso's Chicken, Sweet and Sour Pork, Tangerine Beef, you name it. There were also a good number of dishes he could not identify, and which Bill, out of habit, avoided. He was making a trip up to the buffet for a third serving of spare ribs, when he heard a voice behind him.
“You find that odd at all?”
“I beg your pardon?” asked Bill, turning to face a nondescript male in his early thirties.
“The pork spare ribs. Do you find them odd?”
“No, I think they're pretty good. Kinda' like my Aunt Barbara used to make. She would pressure cook them or slow cook them or something first, and then put them on a brazier or a grill or something just to finish them off. She'd put the barbecue sauce on afterwards so it didn't burn on the grill.”
The stranger nodded and stared at the buffet. “It's just that there are so many different people here. Is it to teach some kind of lesson or something?”
“Well, this is heaven though, isn't it?” asked Bill, wondering if there was something wrong with the spare ribs on his plate.
“Oh heavens, no. No pun intended, of course. This isn't heaven.”
“Well, where are we?”
“We're at a buffet, and an awfully good one. I just wondered that since the whole heaven thing hasn't happened yet, there might be people who don't know the whole story and they might be offended by the spare ribs. The shrimp might pose a problem, too.”
Bill thought about the shrimp that were also on his plate...right next to the spare ribs. He saw nothing wrong with either food item, and fully intended to eat them. If this were the waiting room for heaven, then God must be picking up the tab at this buffet, and he figured if God is having them served at his very own buffet then there could hardly be anything wrong with them. Bill put an extra shrimp on his plate, in fact.
The stranger moved off and Bill watched him for a little while. The guy didn't seem to have a very big appetite, even for as slender as he was. He managed to put some flatbread and some broiled tilapia on his plate, just as he struck up a conversation with the elderly couple from Poughkeepsie who had succumbed to carbon monoxide inhalation during a power outage last winter. Bill had the chance to meet them earlier that day, and they found that they had shared a keen interest in genealogy and steam engines. “'Nice couple,” he thought.
He watched the nondescript fellow move through the people at the buffet and smiled to himself. “Such a nice fellow. I hope we get to chat again.”
Bill sat down at a clean, round table, gave thanks in prayer and dug into his spare ribs.
“You're welcome,” came a cheery voice from somewhere near the buffet.