The sight of my corpse floating on the Vltava filled me with poisonous delight. I had spent the last two years fearing death and now that I saw my dead body floating, I felt at peace. It was as if I could once again breathe the fresh air deep into my lungs, and the sun that shone from a space I would never reach seemed pleasantly warm on my decomposing face.
I recounted in my mind the morning, to see if I remembered how I’d died. I had woken up from a somewhat strange dream of the vodník drowning me in the Amu Darya, but I hadn’t thought much of it since I knew I was going to listen to Dvořák’s symphonic poem on the water demon that very afternoon at the Municipal House. I had made myself a cup of Darjeeling tea with just a splash of milk—the only way I like it—and eaten it with buttered toast and a spoonful of St. Dalfour strawberry jam. After a hot shower, I’d worn a blue coat, bought in London years ago, over a pair of dark blue jeans and a black T-shirt. I had had an entire bottle of a woody Côtes du Rhône before the concert at a cafe not far from my apartment. It had been a somewhat melancholic morning but I’d had only melancholic mornings over the past two years, so it was nothing unusual. I had walked to the Smetana Concert Hall at the Municipal House. The concert that resembled my nightmare had lasted for more than an hour during which, many times, I’d felt as if I was swimming in the underwaters of the disappeared ocean above the black sand of the Karakum Desert of Turkmenistan. I had come out of the hall and decided to walk back to my apartment in a city that now moved like water. The city had looked like it had been submerged into water in the previous hour, and walking on its streets had felt like half-swimming and half-drowning. The muslin heat of the sunlight filling the day with an almost otherworldly air made me feel more tipsy than I already was. I remember noticing the three swans and a group of eagles and people near the bridge that crossed over to the newer part of the city.
I went through the entire morning in my mind again but couldn’t quite remember how I’d died. Maybe the child the vodník had killed in the poem was me, but my head was still attached to my floating corpse so it seemed unlikely. It was strange that I didn’t remember how I’d died on a usual-unusual morning, but death arrives sometimes at a moment that is impossible to remember. Maybe I’d died during the concert, maybe something ferocious killed me, maybe I had always been dead, maybe I am alive, maybe I am not, maybe there is nothing called life and hence nothing called death, maybe there is no earth, not even a black hole. It didn’t matter how I’d died or exactly at which moment. The exquisite reality was that I was now dead and could no longer die. I was a sputnik floating in space. I was the extinct Caspian Tiger amused by the research being conducted on my disappearance. I could see the curious and anxious faces of people I didn’t know—and who never had any interest in knowing me—fade away at a distance as I floated further and further away. Among them, I even recognised my own surprised face. I don’t know why no one had jumped into the water to check if I were alive or not, but I preferred the indifference or maybe I had also forgotten this little detail, just like my own death.
What I remembered was that a long time ago, as a child, I had read about the Amu Darya flowing into the Karakum Desert in a book of Hindi translations of Turkmen folk tales. About thirty million years ago, what is now black sand was covered with a sea. Having grown up in the Thar desert, I had always been fascinated by disappeared seas and oceans and far as I remember, my childhood was spent collecting ancient seashells buried in sand while tracing the route of invisible water on golden dunes. The scent of a eucalyptus leaf, broken in, half smelled like the ocean. The folk songs of Kalbeliya women often referred to a disappeared ocean and every second son born in the desert was named Samdar, or sea. Just this year, I’d read in the newspaper that researchers from the Geological Survey of India and the Indian Institute of Technology had discovered a new extinct species of hybodont shark in the Jaisalmer Basin of Rajasthan. Over thirty teeth specimens collected from the region proved that the species lived about 160 and 168 million years ago. The extinct shark from Jaisalmer was named S. Jaisalmerensis.
I was another Jaisalmerensis floating into extinction and the beginning of the Karakum Desert appeared in front of my putrefying eyes like the event horizon. I don’t know how long it had taken me to float from the Vltava to the Amu Darya but it was likely that what entered the black hole of the black sand ocean would disappear forever. As I moved towards extinction, weightless like thought, I spotted a hyena looking at me from the Siberian forest. I wasn’t sure if I had floated into the lost past or the lost future, but I looked into the hyena’s eyes for a long time and they reminded me spottily of what I knew as ‘information paradox’: when a black hole decomposes (like a body), that energy comes back out of it, but the information that returns to the universe is randomly redistributed. I am not sure if the paradox has been solved yet, but when I looked into the spotted hyena’s eyes from a distance, I knew that I was neither a corpse floating on an unknown river nor a spirit hovering like a phantom. I was a brown-eyed spotted hyena in a Siberian forest with a piece of flesh hanging from the mouth. I call it the extinction paradox.
I will chew the fresh flesh. I will hunt you. You will forget that I hunted you.
Saudamini Deo is a writer, photographer, and translator. Her translation of Bhuwaneshwar’s short stories, Wolves, was published by Seagull Books in 2021. Her translations of Rajkamal Chaudhary’s short stories, Traces of Boots on Tongue, and poems of Alok Dhanwa, The World is Made Every Day, are forthcoming from Seagull Books. She is the co-editor of the esoteric literary journal RIC Journal. She lives in Jaipur, Rajasthan.