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


In 2022, after intense negotiations, the Indian and Pakistani governments agreed to hold a referendum in Jammu & Kashmir. Armies on both sides retreated to allow peaceful resolution of the dispute.

However, the separatists in the state, led by the veteran leader Sajjad Lone capitalised on the lacuna and quickly grabbed hold of the power with the help of local militia and declared independence for United Kashmir.

After a few weeks of fighting, the armies of the two nations regained control of the state. Many leaders of the separatist movement, including Sajjad Lone escaped to China, where they lived the rest of their lives in misery, most of them marrying poor local women to palliate the Communist Party’s suspicions.

Descendants of the separatists grew up in a confusing environment. The land of their ancestors had disowned them. The land of their birth didn’t want them. Sajjad’s grandson, Inteqaam, was one of them.

Inteqaam was a despondent purposeless man, afflicted by a rare condition of the heart. He didn’t have long to live. One day when he was contemplating suicide an extremely bright light shone in his face.

“Don’t give up yet, Inteqaam!” boomed a voice. ”Your God is here! Don’t be afraid. Just follow my instructions and your life will have an aim. Reach People’s Square at 7 in the morning. You’ll find a man named Phil. I want you both to close your eyes and walk together southwards until you feel my presence” The light disappeared, leaving a dumbfounded Inteqaam trying to make sense of what he had seen.

In the morning, Inteqaam reached the People’s Square. There indeed was a Chinese man named Phil waiting for him. The two of them closed their eyes and started walking southwards alongside each other like they had been instructed to. They walked for a long distance but nothing happened. Finally Inteqaam gave up. He opened his eyes and shouted at the sky.

“Show me the meaning of being Lone-Lee!
Is this the Phil Ling I need to walk with?
Tell me why I can’t be there where you are?
There’s something missing in my heart!”

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