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

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 wasting our time on you. How easy it was for him to reach that conclusion. I like to think we were better parents than that.

Our grandson is now five. You’d have loved to meet him. He looks exactly like Robert used to. He even talks the same. Reminds me of the time when Robert won you a balloon at the fair. You were so happy.

If I arranged my happiest memories together, it would be a montage of you and me together. Buying our first car. That trip to Burma. The birth of our son. That smile on your face.

The doctor called me up yesterday. He told me to meet him today to discuss something important. If he knew it was our anniversary, darling, I don’t think he would have told me today that you’re quite brain dead.

I haven’t told anyone yet. I have a week to decide and I already know what Robert has to say. I’m looking at you in the bed, dear, a tube sticking into your stomach and I wonder what you might have said if you could. I wonder if you’re still there. If you’ve left, what was the moment you did. I never got to say a proper goodbye.

I’m leaving for now, dear, but please be here like always when I return for you tomorrow.

I initially planned to write this in reply to this reddit writing prompt but the story drifted so far away from the prompt and took so long to finish (as expected of me) that I decided to dump it here.

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