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Z for Zero-sum (Part I)

Freida Dantas stepped out of the queue to look around. The machine wasn’t that far from here–only a few hundred more. She looked behind. The queue went on for as long as she could see. She too had started from the end of the queue many hours ago. The machine took only a second to judge, so the queue had kept moving continuously. But she worried if there were more hopefuls in the queue than seconds in a day. She had been queueing up religiously for her pronouncement every day since she had died.

She’d learned of the system the day she had arrived at the purgatory. Learned is probably not the best word to describe the process. She had woken up in the purgatory a week ago knowing about it instinctively, with no recollection of her prior life. She knew exactly when and where to queue up for the machine. The machine would tell her if it was her time to ascend to the heaven yet. She’d witnessed thousands of ascensions on her first day. The ascendants one after the other had stood under the
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Y for You

I see you lying on the bed and I want to scream out to you. But I know it won’t reach. I feel like giving up. I see your body on the bed but it isn’t you. You’re gone. You have deserted me.

I’m sitting on the chair besides your bed holding a bouquet of Bougainvillea for you. It’s not a common flower for bouquets–the nurses looked curiously at the bouquet as I walked to your room–but you used to love them. And today is a special day.

I always get you Bougainvillea. The florist at the corner keeps a bouquet ready for me every year. It’s a newer shop. You’ve never seen it. So many things have changed in the neighborhood since you left. Our favourite ice-cream shop is gone. There’s a bookstore in its place. I visit it often. The year before the last when the car wouldn’t start, I bought a book and taught myself how to fix it. I figured I was going to need it often. Robert tells me we can now afford a new car.

I don’t talk to him much lately. He is rarely at home nowadays. He thinks we’re…

X for X023

Sheena Zavheri was in the bathroom touching up her make-up when she heard the muffled explosion of a gunshot from the corridor. She instinctively grasped at the gun hidden expertly under her saree and slid towards the entrance--instincts one would hardly expect from the socialite wife of an a-list actor. Sheena, born Hridi Quazi and codenamed X023, was a sleeper operative for the Bangladeshi secret agency. Hridi had married Toufique Zavheri--recognized popularly by the pseudonym: ‘Milan’--after a short affaire planned, funded and effected by the agency in coffee shops and fancy restaurants. More than fifteen years later, Sheena and Milan were at a resort on their wedding anniversary at her insistence trying to resuscitate their gasping relationship.

Hridi spied through the fisheye a muted tussle going on in the large corridor between two dark figures almost out of her field of vision. It could be an unrelated murder attempt on another guest. It would have been risky to step out. But…

W for Wait

“Babe…” called Tarun slumped into the sofa staring into his mobile. “Babe?”
“Yes, babu,” came the reply from the other room.
“We’re getting late.”
“Just two more minutes, baby. Doing the eyelashes”
“They’ll be waiting.” There was no reply. “Babe?”
“Wait, na. Your friend can wait some more time. He’s not the president of the America or something.” The door opened. “How do I look?”
“Patakha,” he replied. “Now let’s go?”
“Just two more minutes. The lipstick smeared,” said she returning back into the room.
He slumped deeper into the sofa.
“Why do you even want to meet them? I’m telling you, your middle-class friends are pulling you down. You should hang out more with people from our society,” she spoke pausing in between for the lipstick. “You’ll get business ideas. How many more years will you keep running? I’m telling you, start investing. You understand what I’m saying?”
“Yea babe,” came the reluctant reply.
“Or just ask your father for money. I’ll start a business. I was talking to Sh…

V for Visitors

It was almost nine and the house was still in a disarray. ‘Could’ve at least informed me she’d be late,’ Sudeep thought as he collected newspapers from under the couch. ‘The guests will be arriving any moment now’. He checked his mobile. There was no message from her. He knew they were going to get into a fight over this. The only consolation was that their son wouldn’t be home to witness it this time.

A strong draught from the bedroom window scattered the newspapers. He collected them and stuffed them into a drawer this time. The bedroom was messy. He didn’t want the guests to see it. He latched the bedroom door shut and entered the kitchen. He was checking for supplies when he heard a screech and a thud as the bedroom door flung open again. He latched the door and made sure that it was properly closed. The bungalow was old but it conveniently located. The previous owners had also agreed to sell it to them much below the market rate.

He reentered the kitchen wondering if he should ju…

U for Under the covers

The blaring primetime television would almost drown out his arguing parents, but a harsh sound or two would still invade his bedroom through the gaps threatening to spread and fill his room up with unhappiness; but he would be safe, for he would be under the sheets, duvet or a cover, dreaming of magic, love and a future.

T for Television

Travesty of primetime news was on television again. The reporter walked frantically towards an old mud house.
“We are on our way to the home of the IITian who died yesterday at the Panvel railway station,” she reminded the viewers. The anchor sat ready with debaters in another panel on the overcrowded screen and in yet another panel were images of the dead person—pixelated enough to avoid any lawsuits but clear enough for the gore to be obvious. Below the panels flashed in bold: ‘When will the Government wake up to the need for better safety for passengers?’.
The reporter barged her mic into the window of the latched house and asked loudly, “Ma’am…. Your son died yesterday trying to board a train. What do you have to say?” Someone pushed away her mic and latched the window from inside. “As you can see, the family is clearly still in mourning. We will try to get them to speak to us. Over to the studio”
“Thank you….” said the anchor. “I’d like to remind all our viewers that this story is e…