Slumdog Harris lived across the courtyard from Michael Millionaire in an apartment complex in Lucknow, India. Lucknow is in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous sub-national government unit in the world – if it were an independent nation it would be the world’s sixth largest country. That wouldn’t stop Michael from asking Slumdog if she wanted to go sledding with him. It was early winter, 100 years in the future, a time when global warming inexplicably caused it to snow in the immediate sub-tropics during winter, and the hill at the park down the block was a popular sledding destination.
Michael knew he would be heading off to the army the following summer to fight in India’s fifth war against Bhutan over the worlds’ most precious resource, used tires, and he needed to get as much sledding under his belt as possible before heading into battle.
Slumdog adored Michael. Boys in Lucknow 100 years in the future are given family names that reflect their economic status. Apart from being rich, Michael would always ask Slumdog along whenever he would descend a hill on a recreational instrument, be it used tire, toboggan, greased trash-bag, or sled. Also, Slumdog hadn’t met very many men because she had grown up in a strangers’ cellar, held against her will, speaking a made up language of grunts and pops.
Slumdog sounds in English like something sad and diseased, but it actually translates from Hindi very loosely to ‘chickpea and lotus paste used for brushing teeth and hair’. This is in the tradition of naming children after Hindu Gods, whereas Slumdog is the keeper and protector of the aforementioned paste and used tires.
After the narrator ignored him the first time, Michael asked Slumdog to go sledding again. This time she consented. But, she was terrified. The slope on the hill was steep, and her parents were killed in a sledding accident; when a Lear jet crashed into the hillside where her parents were sledding.
Michael mounted the sled and motioned for Slumdog to grab on. She sat between Michael’s legs and wrapped her arms around his biceps as his arms reached forward to grasp the string. Michael nudged his body-weight forward and the sled took off like a used tire rolling down a hill.
Snow shot up into Michael and Slumdog’s faces. Wind whipped their hair into their eyes, cheeks and noses. It was exhilarating. Half-way down the hill Michael leaned forward and whispered to Slumdog, ‘Slumdog, I love you’. He leaned back and remained silent the rest of the decent.
When the noise and excitement died down as they slowly slid to a stop at the bottom of the hill Slumdog was left with the question ‘did Michael just say that he loved me?’ Michael asked her to go down again, and she again agreed. He whispered his love into her ear again, and again, his lack of acknowledgment afterward left Slumdog confused. She began to question whether or not Michael was even the source. Perhaps it was the wind. It did not matter either way at this point; for she yearned that sweet declaration like the world economy yearned used tires.
After the second time down the hill Michael walked her home. He made no mention of any quiet confessions of love. Slumdog had begun questioning her own grasp of reality. Surely what she heard were words of a human. Wind could not declare a love for anyone? How nice would it be though if it could and did? What if it did? What if it was Michael? It would sort of be nice, but it would kind of make him a creep for whispering that into my ear and then pretending like nothing happened. Also, what if I’m schizophrenic?
Michael asked her sledding again the next day. She went expectantly and again she heard those sweet words in her ear. Of course, it was Michael whispering them but Slumdog became less interested in the source and more enamored in the concept. Something loved her. And it was telling her so. Heck, if she discovered the source at this point she would only be left to face some uncomfortable realities like, if it was Michael he would obviously only have been joking or at the very least too weird to date, and if it was the wind, well, that would mean that nature had the power to communicate with her but chose to ignore her for twenty-two years and she didn’t think she was ready to deal with what that would mean. She went sledding with Michael several more times over the course of that winter and had the same experience each time. But she never got up the nerve to ask Michael or the wind what exactly was going on.
The snow melted. Sledders on the hill in the park down the road were replaced with children inside used tires. Slumdog grew lonely. Michael prepared for Army.
Slumdog in her lonely fantasies would imagine that it was indeed Michael that professed his love to her and they would be married and she would become Slumdog Millionaire and how that would be funny to share the name of a movie that won a best picture Oscar 100 years ago. Then she would imagine being married to the wind. In her imagination the wind was surprisingly abusive. But that made her want it even more.
One night, the night before Michael would be shipped off to the trenches of Thimpu, Michael observed Slumdog standing outside in the courtyard. He saw her looking to the sky in a mournful yearning and agitated expectation. She was waiting to hear those words again, from whomever was willing to give them to her. She begun to need them more than air or used tires. It burned a hole in her stomach.
Michael whispered, “Slumdog, I love you,” without revealing his location or his heart. Slumdog’s face lit up then quickly retracted into dignified appreciation. Her heart swelled up to her tonsils. She still didn’t know where the words came from, but she would no longer have to bear the silence. Michael realized in that moment that he did indeed love her.
Michael was killed when he sled into a pile of used tires which was an Armenian neck-tie ambush, where a person is trapped inside a pile of tires and then set alight. Armenia was the last country to join the Coalition of the Grudgingly Consented with Bhutan and all other countries except India, Iraq and Afghanistan. Slumdog married a nobleman, Henry Hundred-Thousand. She may have married for love, she may have married for security, she may have married for the spacious cellar at Henry’s compound. What she knew for certain was that she was never happier than when something whispered it loved her to her and made her confused because she wasn’t sure if it was a person or a natural phenomenon. Sure, she had a husband and children, but when they told her they loved her, they never made her feel crazy.