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


        Madhumita was perched on her favourite rocking chair, leisurely reading a murder mystery, when her phone vibrated. She absent-mindedly switched it to silent as she read in great detail about Pedro's love for predatory birds. Her phone started to vibrate again. She slowly took off her glasses and kept them on the table along with her book, carefully placing the bend of her glasses on the page she was reading. The phone went silent. She picked it up nevertheless. It was some local landline number. It couldn't have been from Manoj's office. He was not in town. She was about to call back when her phone rang again. 
        "Mum?" It was Sayantani. "I did something really stupid. I'm at the police station. Please don't ask me anything. Just get me home. And don't tell papa about any of this." The call ended.
        Madhumita was startled. The shock took a moment to register with her. Sayantani had always been stupid, but this time, she had raised the bar.
        Madhumita remembered the time Sayantani had stood in front of a bulldozer when the municipality tried to demolish her favourite playground; she had to be dragged away - it had felt terrible. Once Sayantani had picked up a fight with a group of seniors who were trying to bully a classmate; Madhumita had had to apologise to all the students and parents since Sayantani refused to. Manoj also had to pay for the medical expenses of the boys.
        'Why does she have to be so difficult to raise? Why can't she just be a normal teenager?', Madhumita thought to herself as she put her car keys and some extra money in her purse and set out. She had thought of telling Manoj, but he was away from home, and she didn't want to worry him.
        It was fifteen minute's drive from her place to the police station. She parked her car a block away and started walking towards the building. Unpleasant thoughts started flooding her mind. She hoped Sayantani was fine. Despite everything, Sayantani was her only daughter, and she had loved her more than anything else. A police case would have meant that she would have no chance of getting the college education they wanted for her. The gravity of the situation was hitting her now. She hurried to the entrance.
        Sayantani waved her hand as she munched on the samosa. She was sitting across the table from the inspector, dipping her samosa in the ketchup. She grinned like a monkey at her mother, who was panting a little.
        "Sorry mum. Had to do it." Sayantani said, licking the ketchup. "My purse fell in the drainage. I didn't have my bike keys. So I came and sat inside."
        Madhumita didn't know how she was supposed to feel. She was obviously angry, but she was also truly relieved. Raising Sayantani had her ups and downs, but it was an adventure she thoroughly enjoyed.

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda. Every weekend, we give out creative writing prompts for the love of writing. The prompt this weekend is 'This time, she raised the bar…’

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