The man looked around, confused. A long, perfectly white corridor stretched out before him. A haze up ahead obscured his view, making it look as though the corridor went on forever. Behind him...he knew something was there, but his eyes wouldn't focus on it. Where was he? How did he get here? The last thing he remembered was being in a hospital—
He expected to be afraid, but he wasn't. He supposed that it made sense – he was dead, so what was there to fear? He hadn't been religious, and had honestly been expecting nonexistence to be his ultimate end for most of his life. This wasn't oblivion, which was good, maybe? He didn't really know enough to make that judgement yet.
He started walking down the corridor, running his eyes over the blank, featureless walls. After what felt like a short time, the haze in the distance began to lift. Now he could see a door, and before the door, a woman. She was dressed in all black, and the wide-brimmed hat she wore covered her eyes.
The woman smiled at him from under the brim. "Welcome," she said, "to the end, and to the beginning."
The man stopped in front of her. "I figured that it was the end, of me anyway. But, what do you mean by 'the beginning'?"
"You have a choice," the woman replied. "If you take the door in front of you, you will be born again in a new body. You will have a new life, and though it may be unknown and unpredictable, it will be different. You will begin anew with a clean slate."
She raised a hand and pointed behind the man. He looked back to see that what he hadn't been able to focus on before was another door, closer than he had thought. She continued, "If you take the door behind you, you will be reborn in the life you knew. You will have to start fresh, with no memories to help you, but you will have another chance to live that life."
The man was silent for some time as he tried to take all this in. "Can I ask some questions first?" he said at last.
The woman smiled. "You may ask. I may choose not to answer."
"Fair enough." He scratched his head while he thought of what to ask. "First, are there any other options?"
The woman raised her hand again and pointed at the wall on his right. A door that hadn't been there before opened, and beyond it was nothing.
The man shuddered, understanding immediately. "No thanks, I'm not a Theravada Buddhist."
She lowered her hand, and the door disappeared.
The man took a moment to compose himself, then asked his next question. "Does everyone get the same choice?"
"Have I made this choice before?"
"Who is 'I'? The 'I' that you see yourself as, or another 'I' that you may have been before you became this 'I'?"
The man sighed. "Guess I should be more specific. I mean, have I chosen to go back to my old life before?"
The woman smiled, but did not respond.
"No good? Okay, let me try something else. Do many choose their last lives again?"
She nodded, her head never lifting quite enough to reveal her eyes. "Some."
"But not all, huh? Because their lives were hard?"
"All lives are hard, for the people who live them."
"Sure, everyone has problems," the man replied, crossing his arms. "Objectively, though, some people have it harder than others, and there's always someone worse off than yourself. I mean, I've been pretty lucky—"
He broke off as a thought crossed his mind. "I have had a pretty easy life, haven't I?"
"Many would agree with you."
The man looked down at the floor and rubbed his chin. "And how many would choose my life over theirs?"
"But not everyone can, right? Even if they take the chance on a new life, the odds are against them. There can't be enough spaces for everyone hoping for a life as good as mine."
The woman nodded again. "It is unlikely."
The man pondered this for what felt like a long time, the woman waiting patiently. Finally, he shook his head. "I can't go back to my old life. I don't really want to gamble on a new life – and I don't want to not exist – but I can't go back."
She cocked her head to the side. "Why?"
"Because it wouldn't be fair," he answered. He let out a rasping breath and ran a hand through his hair. "Look, I'm lucky enough to know how lucky I was. I was a white man living in America, which is about as close to easy mode in the game of life as you can get. I can't think of a single time I experienced discrimination or prejudice, and I was straight so I didn't have to deal with any of the crap LGBT people have to put up with. My problems and struggles in life were almost all because of my own character and mistakes, not because of structural injustice or anything like that. I never had much money, but I never really wanted for anything either."
The man looked at his hands, noting the familiar wrinkles. "And I don't know for sure, but it seems safe to say that I died of old age in my sleep. How could I be so selfish as to keep that all for myself? Someone else can have a chance at a better life."
"And what about your family?" the woman asked.
"You don't th—" He swallowed, suddenly choked up with emotion. "You don't think I wouldn't give almost anything to see my mom and dad again? To grow up in my childhood home again with a family who loved me and raised me right? A lot of people never had that, and..." He trailed off, wiping his eyes with the back of his arm.
The woman watched him carefully for some time. "You have made your choice, then?"
The man smiled faintly and nodded.
"Then open the door," she said as she stepped aside. "I wish you good fortune in your next life."
"Thank you," he replied. He strode forward without hesitation and pushed open the door at the end of the corridor. Inside was darkness, but also light—
When the man was gone, the woman glanced at the door on the left wall, the one he hadn't seen. It cracked open, and a pair of eyes peeked out.
"You can come in now, child," she said soothingly, her smile warm. "There's a better home for you now, if you want it."
The smile she received was simply dazzling.