Chuk and Gek were fizzing with so much life that they soon got bored of their ‘dead uncle Nabokov.’ Neither the gilded mahogany casket nor the sombre people in black could hold their interest for long. Death wasn’t as exciting as they thought it would be. All uncle Nabokov did was just lay there, frowned upon by the people.
The previous morning, their Mama had woken up the twins from an entangled slumber. ‘Uncle Nabokov is dead!’ She announced, her face shimmering with happiness. Or was it just the morning sun? The whole day Mama had been in one of her good moods. She incessantly talked on the phone and didn’t smoke a single cigarette.
Whoever this ‘uncle Nabokov’ is, him dying is a good thing. Chuk and Gek thought to themselves. Being inseparable twins, they couldn’t often separate their conversations and collective thoughts.
The next day, they flew in an airplane (Chuk and Gek almost killing each other for the view). Just in an hour, they were at uncle Nabokov’s wake (whatever ‘wake’ meant). It puzzled them how Mama’s smile changed into tears as soon as they entered the funeral parlor. She stood staring into the half-open casket, dabbing her tears. They stood close to Mama, trying to ‘behave’ as she had instructed. Soon, they got distracted by the huge arrangement of carnations in a copper vase by the foot of the casket. Chuck counted the flowers, and Gek blabbered rubbish to get his numbers wrong. Chuck elbowed Gek, and Gek pinched him back. They finally managed to topple the vase with a clap of thunder. Everyone at the wake woke from their phones. Even uncle Nabokov stirred in his casket.
‘Go, sit on the chairs, and be quiet.’ Mama banished them from the receiving line. The twins plodded towards the array of chairs at the back of the hall. Their mere walk was quite a show. In their oversized suits, they resembled circus clowns. The hem of Chuck’s shirt was hanging haphazardly outside his trousers, and Gek’s tie was almost undone. It was the first time they were wearing so much clothing, let alone suits. They didn’t care a dime about carrying themselves gracefully.
‘Let’s count the socks. If you count all the black socks, I will give you my bullet,’ Gek announced after being silent for two-minutes – the longest he had ever been after he started to speak. Chuk readily agreed. He began prowling between the rows of chairs, gently lifting the edge of people’s trousers. Hardly anyone noticed except when Chuck pulled too hard or tickled someone.
Mama didn’t notice their little adventure. She was too busy sobbing on the receiving line. She was taking a mental account of the riches her brother had left for her.
‘Thirty-six black socks,’ Chuck whispered to Gek.
‘No! Wrong. You won’t get my bullet,’
‘Cheating. cheating!’ Chuk jumped up, toppling a wooden chair.
‘No. You didn’t count uncle Nabokov’s socks,’ Gek declared.
‘He is dead,’
‘So what? Dead socks do count,’
‘How do you know?’ Chuck asked, his ears now growing red.
‘Because I am older,’ Gek said. That infuriated Chuck. How dare he say that! He pinched Gek’s plump forearm. It was something they always fought about. No one, including their Mama, knew which of them came out first. Chuck claimed it was him, and so did Gek.
‘Go, see what color socks he’s wearing,’ Gek flashed the metal casing of the bullet. He had managed to steal from a hunter who was Mama’s friend once (who made loud noises from the other room).
‘Count uncle Nabokov’s socks, or lose,’ Gek threatened. Mumbling, Chuck reluctantly walked over to the casket. He ignored Mama’s glaring eyes as he climbed onto a small wooden stool to get a better view of Uncle Nabokov. The casket lid was half-open, revealing uncle Nabokov’s made-to-order suit and a silk tie. He saw the rope marks around uncle Nabokov’s neck. The thick layer of foundation wasn’t doing a good job hiding it. Chuk stood next to the casket, pretending to be looking at uncle Nabokov’s face. His eyes scanned the lock on the lower half of the casket. The shiny golden lock seemed to be not too difficult to open. But people kept coming. They peeped into the casket in disgust.
No one really likes uncle Nabokov! Chuck realized. He found it sad. Death suddenly dawned upon him as a reality. Will Mama die? Will Gek die too? He heard that peculiar low whistle. It was a signal from Gek to hurry up. Chuk visualized the bullet and its shiny casing. He stood next to the casket, looking for the perfect opportunity. After a few minutes, he managed it. He flicked open the lower half of the casket. Standing on his toes, he glanced at uncle Nabokov’s legs – they weren’t there.
“No legs, no legs!” Still standing on the stool, Chuk announced. Mama let out a loud ‘huh.’ Everyone sprang up from their chairs and rushed to the casket. They crammed their heads into the lower half of it. There it was, uncle Nabokov’s six-foot-seven-inch frame, sans both legs. They were cut-off at the knee. Much to Chuck’s disappointment, Mama instantly fainted and stole the show.
‘Uncle Nabokov has no legs and no socks. The bullet, NOW!’ Chuck waded through the people and reached Gek.
‘Okay, you win,’ Gek brooded and handed over the bullet. If he knew that uncle Nabokov’s severed legs were really there, tucked away neatly under the lining of the casket, he wouldn’t have given up his prized procession.
The manager had arrived, pale like a paper. We couldn’t find a fitting casket for this giant of a man. We tried to bend his legs and but they were too stiff. Finally, we had to cut off the legs. But don’t worry, it’s all in there!
Chuck and Gek were pleased – death wasn’t a boring affair after all.
Image: – Pixabay.com