Khamba was the first to understand

A little flash fiction... written December 2017


Pulkit saw it first from outside the hut. Past the open door, there was a blue shape of somebody’s leg. A human leg.  

“It’s a person!”

“Bullshit,” AJ said.

Khamba, who was the slowest to climb up into the clearing behind them, had already smelled it: a putrid mixture of dung cakes and rotten eggs. A dead body.

“It’s a person.” Pulkit repeated.   

“No, idiot,” AJ slapped him on the back of his neck. “It’s just a piece of wood or something. Wipe your glasses.”

“It’s a person, dude.”

“It’s a person,” Khamba confirmed. “He’s dead.”


AJ turned back to Khamba and waved his staff at him. “And how do you know it’s a ‘he’, bastard. Dead people can be women, too.”

“Fine,” Khamba nodded. “She’s dead.”

Three years ago, it had taken Khamba’s father sixteen full days to talk to him about his mother’s death. “Don’t worry, this just happens sometimes,” his father had said with an arm over Khamba’s shoulders in a warm embrace. “People think death is an accident, but no, son, life… life is the accident.

“Where are we?” Pulkit walked around the hut to see if there was anyone else to witness their discovery. The hut was thin and long, the shape of a train bogie somehow displaced in the middle of the Himalayas. Tall shrubs of green grass had overgrown around it. Its roof was a corrugated metal sheet, and the surface of the metal was folded into hundreds of smaller drains on both sides of the rooftop.

AJ decided to terminate his disbelief and take charge of the moment. He was, after all, the first to turn thirteen this year. It had been his idea to follow the trail snaking up this hill. “It’s fucking dead,” he said. “Someone should go in.”

“Are you wacko?” Pulkit pointed at the door. “It’s someone’s dead body. Smells so gross, man.”

“Khamba, you go,” AJ turned to his left and said. “You have smelled worse, haven’t you? Have you smelled Khamba’s socks, Pulkit? It’s a rotten gas chamber. Khamba: touch the dead He-She.” 

What are the chances of a planet supporting life in this empty universe? And for thousands of forefathers to carry her genes, and one sperm being chosen among a million, and then, for her to become something that never existed before?

AJ and Pulkit had invited Khamba on the trip to Dhanaulti with both of their parents, but Khamba was there without his father. The other parents had been extra cautious with him: they admonished their sons when the group played Chor-Police too late into the night, but let Khamba go easy. Khamba knew he would have to answer to his friends when the grown-ups weren’t around.

“Khamba, AJ’s right,” Pulkit added, but his voice grew sombre. “It has to be you. You are the only one who has touched a dead body before. If you do it once, you have the curse forever.”

“Yes, yes,” AJ giggled. “You’re already a cursed gas chamber, Khamba. Don’t give us your deadfuck curse.”

“Shut up, AJ,” Pulkit said seriously, “It was his mother.”

“So, what? He isn’t scared. Are you, Khamba?”

Khamba took a few steps on the grass towards the door. The shapes became a little clearer inside. The leg was folded on its knee, as if the person had been kneeling down before the body fell backwards. She wore blue pyjamas, and the closer Khamba got, the more he saw how much her limbs had bloated to fill up her loose garments.

What else was she destined to do after she was born, but die?

Khamba was close enough to the door to see the leathery skin sagging off her face, and her grey hair, and an army of unidentifiable small insects gorging over her.

Just then, there was a loud yelp, and he was pushed forward through the dark doorway. AJ closed the wooden door behind him and bolted it.

AJ and Pulkit laughed outside. “Let him out, dude,” Pulkit said, giggling

“Just give him one minute!” AJ pleaded. They waited for Khamba to plead or knock or cry or scream, but there was no sound.

It was pitch dark inside the hut, and Khamba couldn’t even see dead woman beside him. He sighed and waited, patiently, hoping someone would soon let him out. He inhaled her stench. He didn’t flinch when it rushed up his nostrils.