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

S for Spontaneity

The rain stopped as suddenly as it had begun—typical Konkan weather! Raj folded his old patched-up umbrella and boarded the train.

“Hi. Can you please get me a cold Bisleri bottle?”

“Sorry?”

“Can you please get me a cold bottle of Bisleri? I’ll pay, of course.” calmly repeated this strange girl who was now standing in front of him.

“Oh… Okay,” he said and walked out of the train towards the stall. He must surely have felt a little suspicious. He had never seen her before. He took his bag and the umbrella along.

The stall was busy. He tried to get the shopkeeper’s attention but there were others clamouring for his attention too. Sawantwadi was a quick stop for the train. He kept eyeing the train. The girl was now sitting on the seat opposite to his.

The train whistled once. Raj ran back to the train. It would not start to move right away, but he didn’t want to take a chance. He had returned empty-handed, feeling guiltier than he should have for not being able to do a favour for someone.

“It’s fine, I have some water left” she replied to his wordless apology. “Thanks for trying. I’m Purvi, by the way.”

“Raj.”

The train whistled once more and chugged away. The rhythm picked up and the train was on its way in earnest. The town was long behind now and the sky had darkened. They began to talk.

Purvi’s seat had been the one on the adjoining berth but she wanted a window seat and also the family sharing her berth were happier to have some more free space for the kids to romp on.

“I’ll move back if the person who booked this seat turns up. You don’t mind, do you?”

“Of course not. Please sit”

No one would turn up to claim the seat that night. They introduced themselves. She was from Ernakulam.

“And I’m travelling to Lonavala”

“Alone?”

“Yea”

“Isn’t it a bit scary?”

“Yup. Just a bit. Also the language barrier. My Hindi isn’t very good. What about you?”

“Not bad. I grew up here.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to college. IIT Bombay”

“Oh. Great. My cousin studies there... Don’t you guys have a summer break right now?”

“Yea. I am working on a project. I need to finish it before the semester starts, or I won’t get any time later”

“Okay”

They sat quietly for a while. She started to read a novel and he got busy texting. They reached Kankavali fairly quickly. He bought a bottle of cold water for her. She offered him some. He refused politely.

“Do you take the umbrella everywhere with you?” she asked. He hesitated a bit. “Oh, I didn’t mean to intrude.”

“No problem. Actually, I don’t even notice it anymore. I carry it everywhere with me. It's special to me. Sort of our family umbrella."

They talked for another hour about themselves. He learnt that she was supposed to travel with her cousin, who had to cancel at the last minute.

“I thought it’d be an adventure to travel to Lonavala alone without a plan. Now I think that maybe it’s too much of an adventure for me! I don’t even know anyone there!”

She learnt that he would be entering the third year of his engineering soon.

“I’m in Civil. I wanted to be in Computer Science. I’m doing this project to strengthen my resume for CS jobs.”

They discussed their hobbies and lives in general. He felt a connection. They compared their colleges and their parents. He confessed how he always wanted to travel but never had the time or resources.

“You only need the will to travel. Everything else will fall into place. Why don’t you come with me to Lonavala? I do have an extra seat. Also, no TT will come at this time. Even if he does, I’ll deal with him.” She winked.

“I… really shouldn’t. There’s so much work to be done. I didn’t even spend any time at home because of this project.”

“Are you sure you can’t give one day for fun? Where’s your spontaneity? Where is your sense of adventure? What is a life lived without ever living? There is no fun in always planning ahead and making the safe choices. Sometimes you just have to take the leap without seeing what lies beneath. Also, you’d be helping me immensely.”

“Thanks for the offer, Purvi. You are very persuasive. But I really can’t take a day off. If you need any help from me, give me a call. I’ll help you to the best of my ability.”

“No problem at all. I thought you’d enjoy too.” She smiled.

“Sorry”

They talked for some time, after which she went back to reading her book while he set his alarm and tried to take a short nap.

It was almost three in the morning. Panvel station was approaching. He had not been able to get much sleep but now there was no time. He had to get down. They exchanged numbers. “Let me know how your Lonavala trip goes,” he said.

“Sure”

“Maybe we can go on a trip like this sometime when I’m free”

“Sure. Let’s see.” She smiled.

He got up and wore his bag. She extended her hand for a handshake. They shook. He couldn’t help but feel that there was something different about that touch. It felt surreal. It had the quality of a dream. Admittedly he was still groggy from the sleep. He climbed down onto the platform. She was now sitting in his old seat—looking at him smilingly.

The train slowly started to move again. Like every other station before it, it’d leave this one too. He peered longingly at her and waved once more. She waved back. It was 02:45 am. The platform was almost empty. The train had started to move. What is the meaning of life? What is a life without a few mindless adventures? He half suspected that she wanted him only because she didn't want to deal with the trouble of not knowing the local language. But--what the hell?!--he needed it too. He felt like he--the unsatisfactorily-slept teenage philosopher--was being pulled towards her by an invisible thread. He moved ahead as the train did. He walked, strode and then finally ran, as the train gathered speed. Purvi ran to the door and in a reversal of sorts of the Bollywood archetype, she held out her hand and Raj ran towards her—ran like his life depended on it. The platform was slippery. He kept struggling to reach her hand. He’d get closer but then slip a bit and have to cover some more ground. The train had started to gain some serious speed. He kept running but kept losing to the train. It all felt dream-like.

“Take the leap, Raj! Jump!” she screamed.

He looked into her eyes and in a dilated moment in which he felt as if everything had stopped (including his heart), he leapt!


‘This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.’

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