Life Insurance by Shih-Li Kow

Once a year, my mother catches the cosmic bus from Over There and we meet at the parking lot of the cemetery where she’s buried.

The reincarnation insurance scheme she bought into has turned out to be the real deal. Every year Over There, she becomes a year younger and she’ll keep aging in reverse until she’s a fertilized egg in a womb Over Here. Guaranteed rebirth. Life insurance boggles my mind.

Last year, her counting down and my counting up had coincided. We were both fifty-five, but I looked more undead than she did. She was a dead ringer for Maggie Cheung. Black jumpsuit, sunglasses, and stiletto heels like a page out of the Vogue magazines she told me to burn for her.

She said, “Shan, you really must fix your hair. The grey ages you.”

“Ma, don’t nag.”

“I left you good genes and enough money to buy yourself some nice clothes, but look at you.” She plucked at my sleeve. “Still shopping at thrift stores.”

“I’m keeping my carbon footprint low.”

“Well, at least buy designer vintage. You’ll never get another man at this rate.”

Every year, I spoke to her about saving the planet. “Ma, listen. Tell all those people Over There we can’t save the planet in one generation. It’s going to take decades. You all have to continue the work when you come back. You can’t just think of dim sum brunches, flying first class, and shopping holidays in Shanghai.”

“Darling, I’m no activist. You can talk all day about plastics and cars, but I don’t know if I’ll remember any of it. I’m coming back as a little baby, not some college professor. Why can’t we just have a good time? Really bond. We never did when I was alive. You were always so angry.”

I didn’t know why I bothered. She wasn’t interested when she was alive; she wasn’t interested now. Still, the thought of her returning in fifty years to a burning Earth and weather disasters every week was pleasing. There had to be some karmic payback.

When I asked where she lived Over There, she waved a limp hand. “Oh, some kind of social housing.” I asked her what she ate, if she ate at all. “This and that. You know I’ve never been a foodie.”

She said she had a problem. A little one that involved a bit of money.

I said, “I burn millions worth of those fake banknotes for you every year. Isn’t that enough?”

“That’s just for show, silly. Good for the ego and nothing else. I need you to go to the insurance office and pay them.”

“Why?”

“Because,” she sighed. “I’m in love.”

“With another undead?”

“Excuse me, his name is Colin.”

“Well, yay. What’s the problem?”

“He’s younger than I am. He was older, but he died earlier. So now he’s younger. You follow?”

Colin, it seemed, was twenty-five which meant he’d be fifteen when Ma turned forty-five. She needed an extension to his policy to keep him at twenty-five until she reached the same age.

“Can’t he pay for his own extension?”

“Colin has no family alive. He willed all his money to an orphanage when he died. Such a sweet man. And so good-looking. His insurance agent is in Miami and it costs a bomb to have things done in US dollars with the exchange rate and all.”

“It’s a scam, Ma. Sounds like a honey trap.”

“You’re too cynical, Shan. You don’t understand love.”

She gave me a business card. “Take care of it. And get the option that guarantees our rebirth in the same location.”

I looked at the card. “An agent named Raven? Seriously?”


Raven, short for Ravendra, had rainbow hair, big-framed glasses, and a velvet sofa with crystal buttons. He said, “Ah, yes, we have received your mother’s application. Quite straightforward. Credit card number here, sign here and here, and we’ll do the rest.”

“How do I know this isn’t a scam?”

Raven looked at me in distaste. “You’ve met your mother after her death. You already know we’re legitimate.”


This year, Ma’s in a tizzy and looking all of fifty-four. Maybe Colin dumped her.

She said, “You must see Raven and fix this. I just read the fine print on the reincarnation clause. It says rebirth depends on availability of wombs, not necessarily human. Colin and I might be reincarnated as mice or cats or something hideous.” She shuddered.

“At least you’ll be in the same alley.”

“Not funny, Shan.”

I stopped myself from saying she would make an excellent tree shrew.


I’m at the insurance office again with Raven who now has silver dreadlocks and green eyes. He confirms that the reincarnation clause doesn’t guarantee the type of rebirth. It’s explained in the footnote to the fine print.

He says, “Not to worry. There are options.” He pointed at a poster: Perpetual Coverage Policy. “Your mother might want to consider this once she reaches the age of twenty-five. This one defers rebirth for as long as the additional premium is kept up to date.”

“So, you keep taking money off the living Over Here and the dead keep partying Over There in some afterlife resort.”

“Right-o. Offshore investment is the most profitable.”

“What if I die? Or if I stop paying for my mother?”

“The original policy takes effect. She’ll get reincarnated, as we promised, subject to terms and conditions. But you won’t stop paying. She’s your mother.” He smiles and his green eyes gleam. “Can I interest you in our New Earth Policy? This one matures when the climate stabilizes or in a hundred years, whichever earlier. You could come back to a lush green world.”

“What if it’s a hellhole in a hundred years?”

“That’s a minor risk. Our business model is evolving. We’ll have something else to offer then.”

Karma, I admit, is no match for a devilish insurance salesman who knows the fine print.

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