By the Numbers

When I got home, my mother was crying.

Not just crying, but weeping. Weeping as if her heart would break.

As I moved my purse to my left  hand so I could close the door behind me, I wondered what could have happened to make my mother react this way. I didn’t have long to wait, as soon as she saw me, she ran to me, burying her face in my chest.

‘What will we do, Ayesha?’ my mother sobbed, her hands fisting in my blouse. I absent-mindedly patted her on the shoulder while looking around our little flat. Everything seemed more or less in place, so it wasn’t that we had been robbed. My mother looked physically fine, so it wasn’t anything like that. And nothing had happened to me at work, so that only left—

‘Is it Arun?’ I said, grasping my mother’s shoulders and drawing her away from me. At the question, her lower lip trembled, and she nodded before bursting into fresh tears. My blood ran cold as I imagined a hundred bad situations that could have befallen my younger brother, each one worse than the last.

‘What is it?’ I cried, resisting the urge to shake my mother, knowing from bitter experience that it would only make her sob harder and become more unintelligible. ’What’s happened to Arun?’

In reply, she pointed to the large chalkboard that hung from the back of the door to the kitchen. On it, in large chalk letters, were the words: Arun – 39

My heart stopped for a moment, and then I felt the blood rush through my veins, making my hands tingle and feel cold.  ‘How—’

My mother snatched up a sheet of paper that lay on the dining table to her right and thrust it into my hands. ‘This arrived in the mail today,’ she said, her voice shaking.

Department of Justice, the letterhead read, and I clenched my hands tight so that they wouldn’t tremble.  Dear Mrs. Kulkarni, the letter went on, we regret to inform you that your son, Arun Kulkarni, hereinafter referred to as the accused, was found guilty of a Sin on Thursday, the 25th of May

‘What?’ I gasped, looking up at my mother. ‘That’s just yesterday! What did he do, Ma?’

My mother only shook her head, still sobbing. I feverishly read on, mind racing as I tried to guess what Sin my brother had been found guilty of—‘Lying?’ I burst out, looking up at my mother in shock. ‘Arun wasted a Number on lying?’

My mother started to speak, but the words were muffled by her sobs, and she threw her hands up in frustration. ‘I don’t—I can’t understand,’ she finally wailed. ‘He’s already on 39, and he’s only fifteen, he still has his whole life to go! Why can’t you tell him to be more careful, you’re still only on 30!’

I turned away from my mother so she wouldn’t see the expression on my face. She didn’t know the real number of my Sins, the Number letters were sent to the parents only until their children became majors, and I had changed my receiving address the day after I had turned eighteen.

I had to be careful with this conversation, otherwise the number would go up. Lying to One’s Parents was one of the most paramount of Sins, and I couldn’t afford to squander any of my Numbers on Sins that could be avoided.

creepy short stories from India

 I only had four left, after all.

The Sisupala Law, they called it. When we were sent home from the hospitals where we had been engineered, each one us already had a nano-tracker embedded in our genome, our very DNA.

The nano-tracker kept a track of everything we did, thoughts and emotions to words and actions. The Department of Justice had a list of actions that were forbidden, the 155 Sins. If the nano-tracker recorded us as being guilty of any one of them, that was one strike against us—which we laymen called Numbers.

It was called the Sisupala Law because we were only allowed 100 Sins before we would be executed.

And I was already on 96.

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In Indian mythology, Sisupala was a cousin of Krishna, one of the Holy Trinity.

When Sisupala was born, it was prophesied that Krishna would be the one to kill him. Sisupala’s mother begged Krishna to forgive her son a hundred killing offenses, thinking that it would save his life. Further complicating things, Sisupala had particular enmity against Krishna, who had abducted Sisupala’s fiancee, Rukmini, and married her himself.

At a religious ritual, Sisupala insults Krishna, and it being the one hundred and first offense, Krishna beheads him.

[mood|creepy short stories from India Groggy with sleepiness]
[music| The Sore Feet Song: Ally Kerr]


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