Thursday 15 August 2013

Short Story 2013 Shortlist, Diptee Raut


It was just another day in paradise. Nina was not meant to be there. Actually she was not meant to be dead at all. Come to think about it, it all seemed very absurd now.

Nina had gone for a vacation alone. She had always enjoyed lone vacations. They left her to do things as she pleased in her own way. So this year she had gone to Africa. It had been a grand experience. She had spent some great time sight seeing. Chatting up with locals had been fun. And nothing compared to sipping cold beer lying on the beach, swimming and diving. She had saved the best for the last, the Safari.

It was on the last day of her holidays. Nina had gone for gorilla tracking at Rwanda. Rwanda, she had heard, is the premier destination to track gorillas. And it’s not easy to find them.

She was in a group of 6 people. Everyone was excited. There were rules like: No eating or drinking in the vicinity of the gorillas, No touching the gorillas (although they may decide to touch you), No pointing at gorillas. But when she did sight a gorilla, she forgot the rule. She pointed out to the gorilla and shouted, “Look”. While the rest of the group looked, the gorilla also “looked”, at her.
He looked at Nina with blood shot eyes; he snarled; he pounced. Before she or anyone else could realise, he had gobbled her up. Just like that. She was dead and gone within seconds.

Next when she opened her eyes, it was all white around her; bright white. So white that all she could see was white. And only white. Slowly as her eyes got accustomed to the whiteness around her, she saw a white tall gate. So tall was it that when she looked up she could not see the top end of it. Beside the gate was a white wooden board with the words “Welcome To Paradise” engraved on it. Below that there were a few more word engraved, “A place in which existence is positive, harmonious and timeless

Nina walked slowly towards the gate and pushed it open. As she walked in, the contrast hit her eyes. There were colours. All kinds of colours splattered all around. Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, Malachite, Gamboge, Razzmatazz, Xanadu and other colours she didn’t even know, existed. Wow, this looked interesting. It seemed like being dead was not such a bad thing after all. She was in fact secretly quite happy. Somewhere, for a long time, she had always expected to land up in hell after death (for reasons that cannot be explained here).

Nina noticed loads of people and non-people around. They were animate non-people like trees, animals, huge ice-cream cones, big pizza slices, enormous chocolate bars, short bamboo shoots, and other things she could not recognise. What was weird was that everyone was of the same height. As she turned around to look at the white gate that she had just entered, she noticed that everyone who entered either stretched or shrunk to the same height. So everyone was around 5.5 feet. Everyone was scattered around looking lost.

And then amongst the colours she noticed colourful counters with colourful beings behind it. Nina walked to the nearest counter. It read, “Overdose of arsenic”. She figured out that these were counters segregating everyone by the reason for their death. She started checking each of the counters one by one. Some were empty; some had many people/non-people standing in a queue in front. Some of the counters read the following: “Fell into the chimney”, “Got tangled in a spooling machine”, “Pierced by cacti”, “Crushed under sign boards” and finally “Eaten by Gorillas, Rhinoceros and Hippopotamus”.

Nina noticed the bamboo shoot standing at the last counter. She went and stood next to him. He looked at her and gave her a wide grin. She smiled back.

Gorilla, Rhinoceros or Hippopotamus?” the bamboo shoot asked.
Gorilla”, she replied, “and you?”
Well, Rhinoceros. When did you hear of a Hippopotamus eating shoots?
Probably, when I realised that gorillas eat human”, she said a little annoyed. He seemed quite haughty.
He grinned again, “Yeah, weird things keep happening all the time.”
The thing at the counter handed over a pamphlet to them and directed them to another gate which was green in colour with red stripes. When they entered the gate, they were pleasantly surprised to see a very beautiful colony. There were lovely little cottages lined up on either side of the road. Trees of various kinds were planted all around. The roads were spick and span. Not many beings were around. She walked with the bamboo shoot. Suddenly he pointed to a cottage and said, “Hey, that’s got my name on it”, and skipped towards it without even waving a good bye to Nina.
As she walked she came across a house with her name on the name board. “Wow this place is awesome”, she thought. A beautiful little cottage like the ones she had read in fairytales as a kid; a lovely garden; a gravel pathway. So happy was she that she did a little jig before she entered the cottage.
The inside of the cottage was beautiful too. It had a nice fireplace with a couch; a lovely fur carpet; tastefully done up drapes and paintings adorning the walls. The bedroom had a lovely four poster bed with nice soft mattress and patchwork quilts. It had everything that she had always wanted in a house. Except - except for the fact that there was no kitchen. She shrugged and sat on the couch and started reading the pamphlet that was handed over to her at the counter.
It read something like this:
Dear Nina,
We are glad you are dead and we welcome you here in paradise. You have been sorted into the ‘Eaten by Gorillas, Rhinoceros and Hippopotamus’ colony. You are very lucky to have been eaten by a gorilla, because only the ones eaten by Gorillas, Rhinoceros and Hippopotamus get a place in paradise. Everyone else, eaten up by any other animal, lands in hell.
Well let us familiarise you with the procedures and other stuff.
  1. As you must have realised, there is no kitchen. This is because you do not feel hungry once you are dead. The reason for this is, again as you must have realised, everything one eats, dies. So everything eatable is dead. Hence you are not allowed to eat something and kill it again. Everyone dies just once. So, no food.
  2. You might have also noticed that there are no books. The reason for this is that books don’t die. Ever. They are immortal. Sigh. Hence they are not available in paradise.
  3. There are no televisions. Oh no, they do die. But they get into hell. They are banned from paradise.
  4. You are free to roam in the colony; chat up with neighbours; dance around.

Everything else that you need will be provided to you. Everything you want may not be provided
Have fun and a great stay at Paradise.
The Human Resources Department.

She put the paper aside and sighed. No food, no television, no books. This really didn’t sound too interesting. Just then she heard a knock on the door. She opened up to find a gigantic banana and a blob of something pink standing at her door way. Both were grinning.
Hi” said the Banana. “We are your neighbours. I am Mr. B and this is Bubbles. I stay to the cottage on you left and Bubbles on the right.”
Nina smiled and asked them to come inside. She then realised that the pink blob was actually a chewed chewing gum. Mr. B was eaten up by a gorilla and Bubbles was, well, chewed and swallowed by a hippopotamus. They were nice guys. She had a great time chatting up with them all evening. Mr. B was quite funny and witty. Bubbles was a sweet shy lady. During their conversations she also realised that there was another human couple that lived just across the road, Mr. and Mrs. Trotter. Nina decided to go and meet them the next day.
That night Nina slept well. It was nice and snugly. If she ever felt cold the temperature would automatically rise to make her comfortable. This felt great.
Next day morning Nina went to meet Mr. and Mrs. Trottle. They were a nice couple but after a point she got really bored talking to them. Mr. and Mrs. Trottle had been eaten up by a rhinoceros when they were out with their son James. James had survived and gone on a long journey inside a giant peach. The peach was also there in paradise now in another colony. Mr. and Mrs. Trottle had once met up with the peach on special request from the authorities and they had heard about the entire journey.
So they told Nina about the whole story of James and the Giant peach and then they told her the story again, and again, and when they were done, they told her the story again. Finally she could not take it anymore and she left. She roamed around to realise that all the cottages and the gardens were exactly the same so there was nothing much to see. She went again to spend some time with Mr. B and bubbles. But their conversations were exactly the same as the day before. What had seemed like a fun conversation yesterday was annoying today.
The next day was even more boring. Nina had absolutely nothing new to do here. Another day and another day and finally a fortnight were over. Nina had explored every corner of the colony to find something new, something of interest, but all in vain.
Nina sat that day on her couch by the fireplace. She had to get out of this place. It was getting on to her. She had to find a way to get expelled. There had to be some way out. As she thought and she thought hard, her eyes fell on the rule pamphlet that she had got when she had arrived here. She started at it for a moment. An idea slowly sneaked into her mind. Her eyes opened up wide. She smiled to herself.
That night when everyone was fast asleep, Nina left her cottage softly. She quietly walked up to the next cottage and peeped in through the window. Mr. B was fast asleep. She climbed in through the window. She tip-toed and went and stood next to him. He was breathing peacefully. Nina took out a cloth from her pocket and gagged his mouth so that he could not scream. And then she started eating him. She ate him and ate him all night. He was a nice sweet banana. She wasn’t hungry but this was important. She had to breach a rule to get expelled. She kept on eating him. By the time she was done she had bloated to double her size.

Sick and satisfied she went back to her cottage. She slept till late the next morning and was awakened by a rude knocking on the door. She opened and found a group of paradise vigilante waiting outside.
“Madame, does this belong to you”, one asked showing her the cloth she had left behind at Mr. B’s cottage.

Yes”, she answered as her heart skipped.
Please come with us. She walked out with them. They walked out of the colony. There was a glass house where they took her. Everything in the room inside was made of glass. The furniture, the window panes, the d├ęcor, even the photo frames were made of glass with glass as photographs. A woman was sitting behind a table there. She looked extremely authoritative and powerful. On the table was a glass name board.

Her name and designation was mentioned there. “Ms. God, Director, Human Resources”.
“I am sure you have realised that you have broken a rule here, Nina.”
“Yes, Ma’am.”
“Do you have anything to say in your defence?”
“No, Ma’am.”
“You shall be punished for this”, said Ms. God with stealth in her voice.
“Yes Ma’am.”
“You shall be immediately deported to Hell,” She said sternly.

As Ms. God said that, everything around Nina went blank. It was black everywhere. It seemed like she was inside a whirlwind. Her head was hurting. She felt that she was suddenly dropping off a cliff. She was happy. At least she would get to see television now.

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