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Excerpt from Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Temporary People

by Deepak Unnikrishnan

Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan X
Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan
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    Mar 2017, 272 pages

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"Sa O Roma babo babo

Sa O Roma o daje

Sa O Roma babo babo

Edelrezi, EDELREZI

Sao o Roma daje..."

They sang as the sun went to sleep. Swallowed by dunes. Temperature switching from hot to cold. Warming hands over wild bright fire.



The camel herder buried Pinto in the sands. Then recited the prayer for the dead. The sky turned cinder.

***

Vimto collapsed first. They (on Tinto's insistence) had taken off their shoes, wrapped their shirts around their heads, but no food to be found, no water. The watermelon had been eaten.

Tinto saw the rust-colored structures then, dots in the sand, some movement. People? He started to run, then exhausted, began to crawl. "Here!" he yelled, "here!" The dots ran towards him. The dots were speaking. Oak-dark men, five-seven, hung upside down when little. The dots brought water.



The Commander was tucking into dinner when Chandu interrupted him.

"Problem?"

"On patrol, sir, we found two men."

"So?"

"Drivers, they assisted burning consignments last month."

"They told you this?"

"Recognized them, I was there. Salvage Ops."

"They are here now?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Platoon thought they were us."

"And?"

"No."

"Sure?"

"Yes."

"They participated? In burning any of us? Executions?"

"Just ferried seeds."

"Okay." The Commander started to rise.

"But..."

"Yes?"

"Could be a third person?"

"Missing?"

"Looking."

"Find him."

"We are looking."

"And – "

"What else?"

"We found money."


July 19, 2006

As the men recovered in the sick ward, they told similar but different lies. Vimto mentioned a fight. Tinto's story spoke of booze, morning hangover clouding direction, and the men would only discover each other's version minutes before their meeting with The Commander. But they weren't too concerned.

"Sun muddles the brain," said Vimto. "Right?"

"Agreed," smiled Tinto.

They had both judiciously avoided mentioning the sultan or the money.

Vimto ventured out for some air. He observed his surroundings.

Shipping containers lined the land, strung like beads, camouflaged by colors mimicking desert dunes, stacked like cargo, holes punched in to enable circulation, acting as dormitories. Inside, little cities. Inside, grocery stores. Inside, laboratories. Inside, many graves.

Vimto and Tinto were unregistered visitors in an unregistered MALLUS camp, non-existent on maps, its inhabitants answerable to no one, but Vimto couldn't know any of this. A month ago, a truck was parked near the camp's main square. In the truck bed were burn victims, gunshot wounds, survivors. Lying next to them were five singed crates, the last of the lot, 300 seeds per crate. Not all viable to plant. Another truck was parked away from the campsite. There, volunteers washed bodies, others they wrapped in shroud. Pieces went into bags. Before they brought the dead over to the main square. Where some were buried, others burnt over palm fronds. For days the prayers for the dead tore holes in the wind.

"What are you building here?" Vimto had asked Chandu, one of his rescuers.

"Dreams," Chandu quipped, laughing.

Vimto laughed, too. Then added, "But no, seriously."

"Seriously?"

"Ya."

"A game reserve for hyenas."

"Seriously?"

"Seriously."



The Commander rose, adjusted his shirt sleeves, checked for stains.

"Sir?

"Yes?

"Orders..."

"Well, they know, don't they?"

"I –"

"They've seen the operation?"

"Possibly."

Excerpted from Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan. Copyright © 2017 by Deepak Unnikrishnan. Excerpted by permission of Restless Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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