The first few months had been relatively simple, so he’d expected the whole transition to go as smoothly. As an onlooker, he spent his time in coffee shops and Internet cafés, where he went unnoticed except for his exceptional height.
“Are you a basketball player?”
He’d heard the question dozens of times but had answered it with only with a smile, until he’d attained enough skill on the computers in his favorite hangout to research the sport. It took awhile because before he got to basketball he had to figure out sports in general. But once he’d done so, he answered the question with a smile and a, “No, I’m not, though I think I might have to take it up.”
The trouble, of course, was that the more information he volunteered, the more the questioner wanted to know. So he learned to circumvent their next query by saying, “I grew up in a small town in northern Canada”—close enough to the truth—“and we played hockey.” He picked hockey because here, in this small town deep in the South, hockey was as foreign as a demon. So it was a lie, but the type of lie he had learned to call a white one.
Those nuances, Morteza often thought, were what made his transition to human so difficult. Demons weren’t much for nuances. It was mostly kill or be killed in the Underworld. And you were either at the top of the pile or you weren’t. And if you weren’t—and Morteza definitely hadn’t been—your life was hell.
Doing all the human things—buying groceries, getting a job, going out for beers with acquaintances (Morteza wasn’t yet ready to call anyone a friend)—didn’t make him human.
So he settled in and he studied. Hard.
He bought magazines—and read them, cover to cover—about everything from cooking to dressing to sports, though to begin with they were mostly about sports. He needed to become a sports fan. Quickly. All the men he knew from Big Dave’s Internet Spot and the Bar None were sports fans.
He knew no women except the serving staff at the coffee shop where he had his breakfast, and for a long time he had no idea what they were interested in. He figured he couldn’t go wrong with cooking and renovations and decorating, given the number of television channels dedicated to those pastimes.
Television—and all five hundred of the channels that came with his satellite purchase—was another of his teaching tools. But even though he started with reality shows, it didn’t take long before he realized that the fake shows gave better advice. Didn’t matter whether they were dramas or comedies, movies or made-for-TV shows. If they were fiction, they were gold.
If he wanted to learn how to interact with humans, how to dress, how to act as if he were a bouncer or a friend or even a lover, fiction had a lot more to offer than reality.
The instructions on those shows were clear and easy to follow. If they had nuances, Morteza didn’t get them, and he didn’t worry about them. Because now, eighteen months after he’d crossed over from the Underworld, Morteza figured he might finally be getting it.
Okay, almost getting it.
Because despite the hours at Big Dave’s, the money and time he spent on magazines and how-to books, the long, noisy nights he worked keeping order at the Bar None, and the hours of television he watched, there were still a whole lot of things about humans that didn’t make any sense.
Still, he wasn’t the only male who didn’t get it. In fact, he got it more than most.
Big Dave spent a whole lot of his time worrying about what his wife wanted, about what he’d said to upset her, about how he could fix things. The other guys, all of whom seemed to be a lot like Big Dave, didn’t get it either. They couldn’t help Big Dave because they didn’t know the answers.
The funny thing was that Morteza did.
He knew that when Big Dave didn’t notice his wife’s new haircut, the first part of the answer was to stop on the way home to buy some flowers and a bottle of wine. The second part was to say I’m sorry and then you look beautiful and I’m sorry one more time.
When Big Dave stayed late at work, Morteza reminded him to phone and tell Mrs. Dave he was going to be late and ask her if she wanted him to pick something up on his way home.
And when Mrs. Dave was crying when Big Dave came home, Morteza told him not to ask what was wrong but to gather her up in his arms and hold her until she stopped.
Because it was obvious that women often cried for no reason at all. And the only way to make it better was a hug.
Morteza hadn’t had a hug in a long time.