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

R for Raincoat

A little kid, not older than ten, goes stoically through the raincoat-stock of another shop. His parents stand a little away, admiring the confidence with which their son talks — in English, that too! — to the shopkeepers.

He is done.
“I didn't like any of them” he declares.
“Buy any one. We've already been to all the other shops,” entreats his mother.
“No. I'll buy something next year.”
“The rainy season has already begun. Your books get wet,” his father reasons. His bag is positively wet. His floaters are muddy and his (unironed but meticulously washed) shirt is damp.
“I'll put them in a plastic bag next time. We'll buy a really nice one next year. Pukka!”

The three of them exit the store. It's sprinkling outside. He takes out their only umbrella from his bag. His mother holds it over them—mostly over him. His father walks a step ahead of them, worrying about mending the small hole in the umbrella even when his old shirt and trouser have quite a few more.

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