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I'll Be Okay

 

 

I’ll Be Okay

By Mugdha Mittal

Copyright © 2016 Mugdha Mittal

All rights reserved. No parts of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author.

***

All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictious and any resemblence to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Dedicated to my family, for supporting me throughout.

Contents

Prologue 6

Chapter 1 8

Chapter 2 12

Chapter 3 15

Chapter 4 20

Chapter 5 29

Chapter 6 36

Chapter 7 43

Chapter 8 56

Chapter 9 62

Chapter 10 65

Chapter 11 75

Chapter 12 83

Chapter 13 88

Chapter 14 92

Chapter 15 99

Chapter 16 109

Chapter 17 113

Chapter 18 120

Chapter 19 127

Chapter 20 135

Epilogue 143

[] Prologue

July 31st, 2013

The frosty forests lay before her, the white of the snow reflecting off the sunlight. She stared ahead, her black eyes focused – there was no looking back now. A tear dropped down her eye, leaving a stain on her pink cheek. She wasn’t a person to have regrets, but somewhere deep in her heart, she knew she would regret this.

Only if she’d be alive to feel the regret. She stood at the edge of the cliff, counting her last breaths, lost in the memories of her gone life. She wasn’t very old, but there was nothing left in her life any more. Her gaze was fixed on the snow topped trees, the serenity and calmness filling the air with peace. The cool of the atmosphere seemed inviting – the trees ready to engulf her in their green arms, forever.

She took a step forward, and spread out her arms. This is it, she breathed. Her mind raced back to the few happy memories she had left. Happiness was rare. She was scared of happiness, because the moment she had a smile on her face, life seemed to be bent on knocking it off. She remembered all the time she’d passed on this earth – the friendships, the fights, the fame. And then, the downfall. She remembered the beginning of this all, two years ago. She’d been a mere teenager, and had an acceptably normal life. She had faced the basic problems almost every kid of her age faced, and she’d had the basic happiness most teens owned. She just didn’t know that two years were all the life she had left.

She bit her lip anxiously, sweat beads forming on her forehead though it was snowing, as she inched ahead. A voice inside her went insane, screaming at her to back off – a voice that had remained so silent for months. But it suddenly came to life, as she edged closer to her end.

She passed a glance to her watch, a silver Armani. It was one of her most prized possessions, for it was a gift from her best friend. The watch told her that perhaps she still had some time left to live. It was her birthday today. Only that she believed there was still some time to go. She was born on 31st July, at sharp 7 in the evening. It was only 6 PM. She wanted to be 19 before she died – and in true sense, there was still an hour to go.

She moved away, her footsteps tracing their way back to the tree under which they had spent the entire afternoon. She whisked off fresh snow that had fallen over the tree roots with her mitten, and settled down on the wood. She curled up into a little ball, her arms hugging her knees. She loved this position. It made her feel tiny and unnoticed by the accusing eyes of the world. And this was perhaps the last chance she would get to be like this, all by herself, no one caring about who she is, what she’s up to.

An hour more to go and I’ll be 19. And I’ll be dead. She sighed. She was scared – not of dying – but of the myth that she might have to start over, as another kid. She didn’t really believe much in the superstition that the soul switches body after death, but it did scare her. What if it was true? There was only one way of finding out, she knew that. Dying. If it turned our right, then she’d have to re-live all these years, and probably all these problems too, maybe even more of them. She didn’t want to do it, but staying alive was no longer an option. She was scared that staying alive would only lead her to destroying the earth. She was sick and tired of life, and these were perhaps the last of her thoughts.

She looked at her watch again, and groaned. It had been just two minutes since she’d last checked the time. Great. She sighed, let her head droop over her knees, and closed her eyes.

Her mind gently led her back to the start of it all – that day, around two years back. She had turned 17 the week before. She was a happy, bubbly girl back then, full of life and joy – and yet, incredibly shy. She had loving parents, and people to call her friends. But all those were things of the past. She didn’t know anything anymore – who to trust, who to love.

It all started on that one day, two years ago…only if I hadn’t gone.

[] Chapter 1

August 7th, 2011

She stood shivering in the aircraft, miles above the ground. She didn’t want to do this. She wished she had never even come.

“Come on Kim! It’s going to be fun!”

The person who said that earned a scowl. Kimaya, just any normal 17-year-old, was petrified of heights – a terrible case of acrophobia. It was the one thing that freaked her out to the core. Kimaya Verma, called Kim by those who were close to her, wasn’t much of an outgoing person either. She was pretty much what you could call ‘anti-social’. Except for her family and a particular group of friends, she barely ever talked to anyone. No one bothered about her – she liked to be left alone. Kimaya was overly shy; scared of what people said, whether they’d like her at all.

Her school had taken the students to a little trip to Mysore, a city near Bangalore, where Kimaya lived. Bangalore was the technology base of India, situated in the peninsular part of the country. Along with the many attractions of Mysore, there was skydiving. The teachers were reluctant, but the students, full of ebullience, had insisted, and finally the management gave in. Kimaya was probably one of the only ones who had campaigned against skydiving; but she was a minority, and was dragged by her friends into this insanity of jumping off an aircraft and risking your own life.

A voice shook her out of her thoughts.

“Look, there’s no way out. You have to jump.”

Kimaya turned to face Tashanna, one of her only true friends.

“You know I hate heights!”

“Bad luck, you have to jump now.” This voice came from another person. Kim frowned. Reha, according to her, was the most irritating person on earth.

“I hate you!”

“I love you too!” It’s a known fact – saying you love a person when they’re already pissed of makes them more mad. And Reha, being the tiresome girl she was, knew just when to use this tactic.

Tashanna sighed. She was used to these mini fights between her best friend and Reha. “Stop it, you two! Kim, what’s wrong in trying? I mean, it’s like a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

“Yeah right, you may never get out alive.” Kimaya muttered.

“I heard that.”

Oops!

“Tashanna, let this baby be. She’s probably going to ask the pilot to drop her off to her mommy when we’ve all jumped off this plane and had a blast.” Reha smirked.

Kimaya gave her an evil look, a look that could kill. “Get lost.”

“Sure,” giggled Reha. And she jumped off the plane, yelling in excitement.

“Kimaya, for God’s sake, go! You don’t want to be the last one to jump.”

“I am NOT jumping!”

Kimaya snuggled into a corner of the aircraft, too scared to move.

“Get up Kimaya.”

Kimaya sighed. She had enough of forceful friends. And within seconds, she had four girls around her, trying to pull her up from her cozy corner. Kimaya was quite strong, but at 5’5” and 120 pounds, she was not really capable of defeating the whole group of her friends. Reluctantly, she gave in and got up.

“You might have me up, but I’m never going to jump.”

“You’re useless.” And with that, another of the girls took off from the plane.

Tashanna pushed Kimaya towards the exit door.

“You’re next.” She whispered.

Kimaya tremored as she clutched at the side bars, her knuckles white with the intense pressure she put on them. She stood there timidly, hardly a few inches away from the clouds. The wind was ferocious at this height, and it blew her dark brown curls off her heart shaped face. Kimaya took a deep breath, trying to remember how exactly had Reha and her other friend jumped off.

“Kimaya, hurry up!” Tashanna was clearly frustrated with her best friend. “You don’t have all day! God, if you’re seriously not going to jump, then move aside, let me dive instead.”

And then, she jumped off. No, not Tashanna. Kimaya jumped off. She was not pushed; nor did the wind play a role in her departure from the plane. Kimaya had jumped off on her own, without a single scream, without the slightest trace of fear on her face. She dove like a professional skydiver, a figure of grace and beauty amidst the clouds; with satisfaction on her face as she flew towards the earth, the wind both soothing her and striking her face with the utmost velocity. Kimaya spread her hands out wide, enjoying herself as she soared down towards land.

In the plane, Kimaya's friends' jaws dropped open. They saw her go down, without a single yell. It was like she had forgotten her fears - like she had transformed into a brand new person. They knew that she would have to dive at some point, but this was not the least expected. They had expected that she would have had to be pushed, and she'd have gone screaming all the way to earth. But Kimaya had proven them wrong. She had not screamed even once. It was only when her toes touched the ground that a shriek escaped her lips - unable to believe what she'd just done, astonished at the sudden change in her.

Kimaya stood where she landed, unable to process the recent occurrences; unable to believe that she had just skydived, and had actually enjoyed it. Soon enough, all of Kimaya’s friends were gathered around her, like ripples that form around a pebble which falls into water. They wanted to know what had caused this abrupt conversion in her. What Kimaya had done was astounding – it was absolutely astonishing.

“Umm, excuse me, but are you Kimaya’s twin or something? Because she is so not capable of doing such a thing,” said Reha, incapable of holding back her smirks.

Kimaya stayed silent, not yet recovered from her shock.

“Hello? I am talking to you!”

No answer.

KIM!” Reha shook her violently.

“Get off me!” Kimaya yelled, as if she was suddenly awakened from a trance.

“Well, at least I got you to talk.”

“Oh… Sorry.”

“Now come on. Spill your guts. Who are you? And why didn’t Kim tell us about you?”

Kimaya glared at Reha. “You very well know I’m an only child.”

“Then HOW did you manage to do something like THAT?”

“Stop screaming!” Kimaya rubbed her ear. “I don’t know, okay? I guess… Tashanna, did you push me or something?”

“Of course not!” Tashanna protested.

“Jesus Christ, I don’t believe this! I mean, how could I just jump off like that?”

“Because, my love, you’ve probably gotten over your fear of heights,” said Tashanna. That did make sense. But—-

“All of a sudden? How on earth is that possible?”

“Well, you weren’t on earth at all!” Someone joked.

“It sure is,” continued Tashanna, “nothing is impossible in the human brain!”

“Oh no, there you go again. You and your psychology.”

“Well, you get it from a psychiatrist for a—-” Tashanna’s voice trailed off. She sighed in pain. “—-for an… Umm, ex-father.” She smiled weakly as she finally completed her sentence.

Tashanna’s parents had separated over a month back. Her father had been having an affair with another woman. Tashanna had been devastated when she found out that her happy little family would soon be destroyed. Her mother filed for a divorce, and in no time, Tashanna found herself living all alone. Her father moved out with her brother, and her mother busied herself in work to forget the pain. Soon, Kimaya was the only one left for Tashanna to talk to. A tear dropped from Tashanna’s eyes as she remembered how her parents’ marriage broke down, how her small family was torn apart.

“Hey, Tashanna… Don’t cry sweetie. I’m always there for you!” Kimaya gently put her hand on Tashanna’s shoulder.

“Yeah,” said Tashanna, wiping of her tears, putting on a brave face. “I’m fine.” She smiled at Kimaya. “Anyway, all I wanted to say is, you’ve gotten over your acrophobia, Kim.”

Kimaya was still doubtful about that, but she supposed it was true. Nothing else seemed to make sense anyway.

“What are you looking at? Let’s go, the teacher must be wondering where on earth we are.”

“Yeah let’s go.” Reha said.

Soon, they were all heading off to the meeting point where they’d find their teacher waiting. Kimaya was still in shock, but she was also crazily happy, amazed at her achievement. The teacher too, was amused to know that Kimaya had actually done it. Soon, they were off to their hotel, to get some food, and catch some sleep.

The girls were divided into pairs, and could choose their roommates. Kimaya and Tashanna were obviously together. At night, as they were getting into bed, Kimaya’s phone rang. It was an unregistered number. Sleepily, she lifted the phone.

“Kimmy?” A voice spoke on the other end.

Kimaya’s eyes flew wide open. “OH MY GOD!”

[] Chapter 2

Kimaya

I was talking on the phone for a whole hour. Tashanna stared at me with amusement for some 15 minutes, and then fell asleep. Even I was sleepy as hell, but who cares! I mean, I was hearing this person’s voice after years. I couldn’t help my excitement!

Astrid Anderson was my best friend, back in London. She was my love, my friend, my soul sister. The one person I could trust with my soul and heart, the one person I knew would never turn her back on me. When I lived in London, I had slept in Astrid’s house more than my own room. Our parents were the best of friends, and we both had grown up together. Astrid used to be my neighbour in London, and we used to be with each other all the time. We would play, laugh, jump, tease, joke, and study. We would pull the other’s hair and then chase each other across the house to reciprocate the pull. We were the best of buds, sisters by heart, if not by blood.

My family had moved to India when I was just seven years old. I had cried rivers at being separated from my friend, but nothing could be done. Dad was in the real estate and traveled a lot, but this time he needed to shift. For the first two-three years of our separation, I and Astrid would talk once in a while and mail regularly. We still kept in touch through mail, but time and geography had taken their toll. Our mails decreased slowly as we got caught up in our teenage lives, and the last time I had talked to Astrid was over a year back back. I didn’t even remember when we’d last mailed. A month or two ago maybe?

So obviously, last night when Astrid called, I was shocked beyond limits. And one of the main reasons was that the number through which she’d called was Indian. If Astrid was calling, I would expect to see an international code before the number. But it was Indian. So hers was the last voice I expected to hear. She sounded pretty matured, compared to the last time I heard her voice. But when she said Kimmy, I knew it was her. I didn’t let anyone else call me Kimmy. Honestly, I didn’t like that nickname at all. But Astrid was special. She had seen me in my weakest moments; she had seen me in my extreme happiness. She knew me; I knew her. And so, I let her call me Kimmy, though I wasn’t really a fan of that name. When she’d call me Kimmy, I’d call her Andy. She didn’t seem to mind the name, only that she felt like she was being addressed by her surname, seeing that Andy was a short form of her surname. But we never cared. We’d call each other whatever came to our mind, and we would laugh together.

Astrid’s voice was like a soothing sensation to my soul. I felt so happy to talk to her, because our friendship was falling apart through the past few months. And then I realised that if Astrid was calling from a local number, she had to be in India. We hadn’t met since when I’d left London, and that meant that it was almost ten years since I last saw Astrid.

But the real shock came to me when she told me the big news. The Andersons were shifting to India. What more, they were shifting to Bangalore. I screamed when she said that. I screamed so loud, that Tashanna, who had almost drifted off to sleep, jumped up, wondering what the hell was wrong. I chuckled at her reaction and talked to Astrid in a soft voice for some time so that she could fall asleep. Astrid’s parents were doctors, and had apparently visited the country a few months ago for a couple of days due to a patient who needed their help. But they soon fell in love with the place, and decided to permanently move to India.

Astrid and I decided to meet up once I’m home. I would be back home at midnight today. Since my school was ready to give only one extra holiday after the trip, we decided to catch up that afternoon or something. I was incredibly excited at the thought of meeting her. Oh, and her sister! Abigail! I missed her too. She was extremely sweet and loving. Abigail and Astrid helped to fill up the gap of my missing siblings, something I otherwise wouldn’t have. Abigail took care of me readily when I fell ill, and would always get me nice stuff. I smiled at the thought of meeting them.

“Kimaya, for how long are you going to look at yourself in the mirror and smile?”

I heard Tashanna come up behind me. I laughed. I couldn’t help it, I was too excited. Tashanna threw her hands in the air, pretending to be annoyed.

“This Astrid made my best friend forget me. I don’t like her! Come on Kim. For God’s sake! It’s the last day of the trip – you’ve got to give time to me!”

I grinned at Tashanna. She could fake all the anger she wanted, but she was a nice person at heart. “Sure Tissue,” I said, sticking out my tongue at her. I had made up that name for her, but I used it only to irritate her. “Let’s go grab some breakfast!”

Tashanna scowled at me before stepping out. We got out of the room and locked it. Tashanna tossed the key into her handbag as we walked towards the dining area. The room was flooding with the students. Tashanna frowned. “We’re a bit late. I wonder if they left us any breakfast.”

Thankfully, there was a lot of breakfast on the counter. Sandwiches again. I groaned. We had been eating the same sort of sandwiches for the whole of the 5-days trip, and I was seriously tired of them. Tashanna laughed at my irritated look.

“I know you you’re bored of these sandwiches. Honestly, even I am. But we can’t really do anything, right?”

This girl knew me too well. Was I really that transparent? I sighed and put some food on my plate. I grabbed a cup of coffee and we walked towards the sitting area.

“Where do we sit?” I asked. There was not a single empty place to be seen. I gave a light smack on my forehead. Now because of me, even Tashanna couldn’t sit.

The manager came up to us. “You girls can go sit on the couches and eat. We have run out of chairs, unfortunately.” He pointed at some couches in a nearby hall. We smiled, thanked him, and left the room with our plates.

We finished eating breakfast, sitting on the comfortable couches. Thank god we didn’t have to eat these sandwiches for another day. We put our plates away and went back to our room. Since we needed to check out pretty soon, and we had to get our luggage and make sure nothing was left behind. We checked the room carefully, and when we were sure that we hadn’t left anything, we dragged out our luggage, locked the room, and walked to the reception to hand over the keys. Soon enough, we were sitting on the comfortable seats of our bus.

We had a lake to visit, and then lunch. After a little time to shop, we would head back to Bangalore, stopping for dinner on the way. It was estimated that we would be reaching home by around midnight.

It was a nice experience. We’d had crazy fun throughout the trip, and having gone skydiving was the highlight, at least for me. It had been a hell lot of fun. And now, I had another great event to look forward to – Astrid. I was already damn excited, just thinking about her. I tried to form her image in my mind. It was a hazy image; I’d seen her so many years back. I could only picture a cute, bubbly girl, her brown hair plated into two braids, with short hair falling on her forehead; running around wearing shorts. Since none of us used social media much, I hadn’t seen any of her recent pictures. She would have surely changed a lot, and I couldn’t wait to meet her.

I remembered the last day we’d been together. We were both bawling our eyes out, wishing to stay together. I remember it was a warm, sunny day, except the rain that was pouring out from our eyes. Astrid was wearing yellow shorts and a green top. Green was her favorite color. I remember I was wearing my favorite red jeans. I even had a jacket on in that summer heat, mainly because it would be cold in the aeroplane. Red used to be my favorite color. It still was. I wondered if Astrid still loved green. Oh God! We had just so much to catch up on. How would we ever manage in a day?!

Soon, it was time for dinner. We had dinner in a hotel on the way. When we got back into the bus later on, I dozed off on my bus seat. The next thing I knew, Tashanna was shaking me, making me wake up. We had reached home. Tashanna and I lived next to each other, and our houses were on the way to the bus stop; so, we got down on the way itself. We gathered our luggage, and walked up to our houses. I left Tashanna at her door. She gave me a hug, saying that we’ll meet soon.

I walked up to my house and took out my set of keys. I’d called mom before, to inform her that it might get late, and I won’t wake them up; I’ll just open the door with my keys and go upstairs, to my room. I wasn’t quite sure if she’d have listened to me though, my mom was like that. I was about to slide the keys in the bolt, when I heard the crunch of a branch being stepped on, somewhere behind me. I was sure that it was not me who had made that noise. It was late and I suddenly felt scared. Before I could unlock the door, my hand was yanked away. And suddenly, every nerve in my body told me one thing – scream.

[] Chapter 3

A hand snaked around her and gagged her mouth. Before she knew what was happening, she was lifted up and held tight in the position.

Kimaya struggled, wiggling like a little fish in her captor’s arms.

“Take the key out. We’ve got some work to do,” said the captor, in a fierce whisper.

Kimaya shook her head. She had no intentions of going further away from her beloved home.

“I said, take it out.” This time, the whisper was more commanding, more menacing.

Scared, Kimaya slowly withdrew the key. She didn’t want the person to harm her. The captor let her get down, but did not let her go. Her arms were held from behind with one hand, the other hand covering up her mouth.

Kimaya was half dragged to a tree at some distance from her house, and was finally let free. Kimaya turned around furiously and stared at her captor. Her eyes grew wide.

“You?!”

“Yes, me.”

“I have no intentions of talking to you, and you know that. So, just get lost!”

“Kim, please listen. I need your help. You’re the only way I can do this.”

“One chance. If I say no, then you better go and never come back again. Shoot.”

***

Kimaya woke up late next morning, the memories of the previous night still fresh in her head. When she opened her eyes, she saw a figure staring down at her.

“What the..!” She yelled, not used to having someone by her side when she woke up. She usually got up early enough, and if she didn’t, no one was really going to come and stare at her while she slept.

“Relax, Kimmy. It’s just me.”

“Astrid?”

It had been years since Kimaya had seen Astrid. She could hardly recognize the pretty brunette she saw. The British teen was beautiful, with long, straight brown hair surrounding her diamond shaped face. Short front hair fell on her face, pushed to a side to reveal her twinkling grey eyes. She was wearing a light green jumpsuit, with a white shrug. Her pale white skin gave her an angelic look. The little chubby girl Kimaya once knew had transformed so much in those ten years, but then so had Kim. Kimaya’s hair was of the darkest shade of brown, and her eyes were jet black, which could give looks that killed. Her heart shaped face had almost perfect features, and her once pale skin now had a gentle rosy-brown tint, because of being out in the sun too much. She had an enchanting British touch to her accent.

Astrid smiled at Kimaya, making a line of memories flash back into her mind. A cute, bubbly young girl, with dancing eyes and a playful smile. A girl who always had something green in her dress.

“Astrid… Oh my God, Astrid!”

Kimaya jumped up from her bed and pulled Astrid into a gigantic hug, not ready to let her go.

“Let me go, you bear! You’re crushing me!” Kimaya’s bear hugs were agonizing.

Kimaya giggled. She set Astrid free.

“Nice room, by the way. So red is still your favorite, huh?”

“It sure is. Just like green is yours.”

They both laughed. Kimaya’s room was a combination of crimson red and white. It was a clean and clutter-free space, organised and well-maintained. And well, Astrid’s green dress couldn’t help but scream that she still loved green.

Astrid’s eyes wandered off to a corner of the room covered with photo frames. Many photos were of their times in London. The rest were after Kimaya had shifted to India. Astrid pointed at one of the Indian photographs. “Who’s that?”

“That’s Tashanna Arora. The house next to ours is hers. One of the only friends I have in India. She’s a sweetheart – I’m sure you’ll like her!”

“The next house? You mean that HUGE one? You’ve got to be kidding me!”

“Yeah, I know. The Aroras are filthy rich but trust me, they’re down to earth and loving. Mr. Arora runs an event managing business, and the fact that Mrs. Arora is a wedding planner only adds to their glory. Uncle is actually a psychiatrist by profession; but he took over his father’s business after working for a few years as a doctor. Their house is the only thing which shows off their money. Well, they couldn’t really help that, seeing that Mrs. Arora had great fantasies about her dream house and with the money in hand, no one tried to stop her. But to meet her desires, the house needed to be huge. Our house is pretty big too, but the Arora Villa has a charm of its own.”

“I see. Would be nice to meet them. And who’s that boy in that photo?”

Kimaya tensed. “That’s Vihaan. Their son, and the heir to half the business. He’s two years elder to Tashanna. But he has plans of his own I guess. He’s a budding musician, and is outstanding at piano and guitar. So of course, he wants to become a musician when he’s older. I suppose the Arora Event Planning will be continued by Tashanna alone.”

“They seem like an interesting family. I really want to meet them – when can I?”

“I wish you could. But…”

“But what?” Astrid urged.

“Tashanna’s parents got divorced over a month ago.”

“What? I thought you said they’re awesome!”

“Well… They are awesome. But every family has its problems. Tashanna’s been terribly upset about this. She hasn’t seen her dad and brother for one whole month.”

“Damn. Must be so hard for her.”

“It sure is.”

Kimaya stared out of the window. Her room had huge French windows, bringing in a lot of sunlight. Even though her best friend was here, she couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened last night. I need to tell someone about this. Or I’m going to go insane.

“Andy?”

“Wow, I missed you calling me that. Anyways, what?”

“I need to talk about something.” Kimaya held out her hands, as if asking for something. It was a little sign that she and Astrid had made years ago. A symbol of friendship, a promise for keeping secrets.

“Alright,” said Astrid, taking Kimaya’s hands. “I promise I won’t tell anyone about it. So what’s wrong?”

***

Astrid’s jaw dropped as Kimaya finished her little story.

“Are you serious?!” She said, stressing out on each word.

“Yes, I am.”

“Okay, so I know you like writing, but you can’t expect me to believe anything you make up.”

“That’s not a story, Andy!”

“But… It’s too fictitious to be real!”

“I know. But it’s the truth.”

The two friends stared at each other for some time.

“So now, what are you going to do?” Astrid asked.

Kimaya sighed. And then a smile made its way to her face. “Right now, I’m going to get ready and get some breakfast. I’m starving!”

They both laughed. It was 11 O’ clock already, and neither of them had realized.

Astrid got up and left the room, leaving Kimaya alone to get ready.

“Come soon,” she called out, as she went down the stairs.

Kimaya got ready quickly, and put on denim capris, and a red hoodie. It was August, and kind of hot, but there was a chill in the breeze. Kimaya had no intentions of catching a cold.

Kimaya was about to step out of her room, when her phone buzzed. It was a message from her captor.

“For God’s sake, don’t go and tell all this to you-know-who. That will seriously mess things up.”

“Okay,” Kimaya messaged back. She had no intentions of spreading this, but she knew she could trust Astrid.

***

“That was a great breakfast, mom! It’s been ages since I ate food made by your master-chef hands!” Astrid said. She would call Mrs. Verma ‘mom’, because her own mother being a gynaecologist hardly had any time for her. Kimaya’s mother was an artist, with a little studio built within the house. She had a few galleries here and there, but she would visit them only sometimes, because there wasn’t anything for her to do over there, and most of the accounting work was done by her assistants. So she could give Kimaya a lot of time, and Astrid was like another daughter to her.

Kimaya’s mom smiled. “Thank you Astrid. Okay now, I have to go to my gallery today. Kim, make sure you lock the house properly if you both plan to go out. The car is always ready to take you wherever you want. Take care, and be safe. Love you both!”

Kimaya and Astrid gave Mrs. Verma a hug, and closed the door as she left.

“So what should we do now?” Asked Astrid.

“Want to meet Tashanna? Or should we spend this day with only each other?”

“Let’s just be alone right now. I want to meet Tashanna, but let’s revive old memories today!”

“Sure! So what do you want to do? Tell me what you feel like, and I’ll take you to the perfect place for it.”

“Umm… Are there some good activity clubs in town? You know the type where there are a hell lot of things to do, and a lot of people around?”

“Yeah, of course! And I know just the place for it. Come on, let’s go!”

Kimaya got her purse. Astrid already had hers. They locked up the door properly, and walked towards the car. Kimaya had been to this place many times, if only to get some books from the library within it. It was always a cheerful atmosphere in the club, but Kimaya preferred the quiet of the library. She was seriously anti-social. But well, she would do anything for Astrid, just like Astrid would do anything for her.

The two friends got into the car, and Kimaya gave the directions of the club to the driver. They talked and they laughed; they had a lot of catching up to do. Little did Kimaya know that this day would change her life forever.

[] Chapter 4

They stepped inside.

“So what all can you do here?” Astrid wanted to do something crazy.

“Well, there’s a lot of stuff. There’s a swimming pool, a music hub, a gym, a dance hall, arcade gaming, you name it. But the best of all is the library. Anyways, where do you want to go?”

Astrid didn’t reply. Kimaya looked at her, and found her gaze fixed at the centre of the hall, where a huge crowd was gathered.

“What’s going on there?” asked Astrid.

“I don’t know. Let’s go find out.”

The two girls walked up to the place, and made their way to what was going on.

“Oh God,” said Kimaya, “It’s an arm wrestling competition with Jake. That guy never loses. Look on.”

A bulky man from the audience walked up to Jake. Jake’s next competitor. The wrestling started, with each man trying to push the other man’s arm down to the table. The crowd went wild, some supporting the competitor, the others supporting Jake, because he would always win.

The match ended. Of course, it was Jake who had won.

“See? He has not lost even one match. Too much power.”

Astrid chuckled. “Well, let’s go to the music hub, shall we?”

“Sure,” said Kimaya, and led Astrid to the music corner.

There were already three people inside the hub. Astrid and Kimaya quietly made their way to the piano, an instrument they both loved. Just when they were about to start—-

“Kim?”

Kimaya turned around.

“Vihaan!”

“Hey! Never thought I’d find you here! And who’s that pretty brunette with you?” Vihaan was flirtatious by nature. Astrid smiled at Vihaan, a little uncertainly.

“That’s Astrid, my best friend from London. And a warning, don’t even think of it.”

Vihaan laughed. “Okay, I won’t, Kimmy.”

“Don’t call me that!”

“Okay, sorry, Ms. Wildcat.”

“I’m going to murder you some day. I’m going to go to hell for that, but I’m still going to do it.”

Vihaan burst out laughing, earning glares from people who were trying to seriously play some music. Vihaan smiled apologetically at them, and turned back to Kimaya.

“So? How come you’re here? I never thought you were interested in music.”

“Yeah, but you don’t know me that well, do you?”

“Fair enough. So you’re here to play the piano?” asked Vihaan, glancing at the instrument behind Kim and Astrid.

“No, I’m here to bang on its keys and break it.”

Vihaan smothered a laugh, not wanting to be glared at again.

“See? You really are a wildcat. Why are you so pissed off with me?”

“You know why.”

“I know. But I’m not that bad, am I?

Kimaya looked up at his dark brown eyes, half covered by his black hair. He and Tashanna looked pretty similar… Except that Tashanna didn’t let her hair cover her eyes.

“Maybe not,” said Kimaya, after a little pause.

“Glad to know that,” said Vihaan, smiling at his sister’s best friend. “Okay, I have to go now. It was good seeing you. Bye!”

“Bye,” said Kimaya, and returned to Astrid.

They spent the afternoon playing piano, and checking out the library.

As they were stepping out of the library, Astrid stopped.

“I remember you said something about a dance section, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I did. It’s on the second floor.”

A mischievous smile crept up on Astrid’s face.

Kimaya realized what it meant. “No way! I am so not going there.”

“Come on,” pleaded Astrid, “It’ll be fun!”

“I said, no.”

“You know what Kimmy?”

“What?”

“This morning, before you woke up, I was checking out your room. And…”

Oh shit! Uncertainty was visible on Kimaya’s face.

“Yeah, I saw that.”

“Saw… What?”

“That stuff you keep in that huge cupboard? The stuff I’m assuming no one has seen and which makes you so possessive about your room. Right?”

“Damn you Andy! I never meant to let anyone know about that! Why on earth did you do that?”

“Come on, Kimmy. You share your darkest secrets with me. But you know, this one is a nice, juicy one. So if you don’t take me to the dance area right now, I might just…”

“NO! Fine, we’ll go there. But you better not spread this!”

Astrid laughed. She had no intentions of spreading Kimaya’s most cherished secret, but well, Kimaya didn’t know that, did she?

Kimaya took her best friend to the dance hall. There were crazy songs being played – Pitbull, Katy Perry, Maroon 5, and not to forget, Bollywood. It is India, after all.

“This is awesome!” cried Astrid, as they entered the hall.

***

Kimaya and Astrid left the hall, their moods high. Even Kimaya had enjoyed it.

“Never thought dancing and getting crazy like this could be so much fun!”

“It always is, stupid!”

“Well, for once, thanks for pulling me in here!”

“You’re welcome!” said Astrid, laughing.

“So now,” asked Kimaya, “Where to?”

“Let’s just go home maybe? I’ve got our old photo albums from London. We can sit and flip through them! With some popcorn and Pepsi, maybe!”

Kimaya agreed. “Fine, let’s go.”

They came down to the ground floor. They were about to head towards the exit, when they noticed that there was still a huge crowd in the middle of the hall.

“Don’t tell me,” said Astrid. “Does that guy wrestle all day long?”

“Sometimes. He can wrestle 24/7 and never lose.”

“Whoa. Let’s go watch him one last time!”

“Okay,” said Kim, as they made their way through the crowd.

Jake was almost about to defeat another guy. This man looked quite strong, and had pretty cool muscles. But no, he was nothing in front of Jake. The man threw his head back in pain as Jake crushed his arm. One more victory to Jake’s never ending list. Jake looked around at the mob expectantly. No one came forward to wrestle with him. Frustrated, Jake stood up, and boomed, “That’s it? There’s no one else who dares to fight with me? For Christ’s sake! Get some guts, you chickens! Who’s brave enough to fight with me? Come on, who will wrestle with me?”

There was pin drop silence, until a voice rang out.

“I will!”

Heads turned, as the people tried to see who was brave enough to challenge Jake. But what they saw was not a figure of strength or courage. Hell, who they saw was not even a man! It was just a girl!

“Kimmy, have you gone nuts? Just get away from here,” said Astrid, shocked and scared. “That guy will break your hand.”

“Like I give a damn,” Kimaya murmured, as she walked ahead. “He has no right to insult us.”

“Kimaya STOP! Are you out of your senses?! What the hell do you think you are doing?!”

Kimaya didn’t respond. She reached Jake.

“Hey, baby girl,” smirked Jake. “You want to fight with me, huh? You want me to smash your little hand into pieces?”

“Shut up,” said Kimaya, “I know what I’m doing.”

“Alright then. Let’s begin. Take a seat, Miss.”

The match went on for a total of five minutes. Everyone watched – their eyes fixated on the wrestling. But as luck would have it, no one noticed the stout man in the spectators, sending silent signals to Jake, as he let the girl win.

——-

The girls were silent on their way home.

“How did you do that?!” Astrid finally asked, unable to contain herself anymore.

“I don’t know. Maybe it was just really by chance. Besides, I’ve learnt karate when I was a kid.”

“Or perhaps he started liking you and decided to let you win. And when did you learn karate?”

“I doubt he’d do that. That would hurt his ego. I mean come on, why would he like me? And karate, well, around four-five years back maybe?”

“Oh, I see. You’re young, beautiful, challenging. He has every reason to like you!”

“Well, that’s his problem then. I’m just glad he didn’t break my hand.”

“I don’t believe this.”

“Honestly, neither do I. But can we please leave this topic alone? I’m tired of people asking me about it.”

Quite obviously, a lot of people had stopped Kimaya on her way out of the club, and asked her about her victory over Jake. Kimaya didn’t care. For all she knew, it was just a matter of the minute. It was only by chance that she had won. Or maybe, you know, the physics stuff. The lesser the surface area, the more the pressure. Maybe she had hit Jake’s pressure points, causing him to collapse. Well, she didn’t really know, and she didn’t really care.

“Oh, by the way, where’s Abby?” asked Kimaya. She did want to meet Abigail. Astrid’s sister was amazing, sweet, kind, loving; she was just so awesome.

“She didn’t come yet. She’s got her college to finish.”

“Right! I totally forgot. Which stream did she choose?”

“Art. Guess she was too inspired by your mom,” said Astrid.

“Thank God she did! I thought she’d give in to the pressure and become a doctor. She’s a beautiful artist. She made the right decision.”

“I agree. She plans to manage your mom’s galleries in London.”

“Seriously? Mom was planning to close them down because there’s no one to look after them. I guess it’s better they’re left open! Abigail will graduate in another year, right?”

“Yeah. Please don’t shut them. One more year, and then Abby can take over!”

“Yeah, I’ll talk to mom about it. I’m sure she’ll agree.”

Astrid smiled.

“So Abby intends on staying in London?” asked Kimaya.

“Yeah, maybe. She’s not totally sure, but I guess she’d prefer London.”

“I see.”

“By the way, where are you living in Bangalore?” inquired Kimaya. She hoped that Astrid’s parents hadn’t chosen a house across the city, because it would be very difficult to meet frequently then. Bangalore had a lot of traffic, and moving across the city would mean at least two-three hours.

“A place not too far from your house. I’ll take you there tomorrow. Tonight, I’m staying at your house,” said Astrid.

Kimaya laughed. “So how’s Uncle Flynn? And Aunt Olivia?

“Mom and dad are good! They miss you. Well, they’ll have to wait till tomorrow!”

“Can’t wait to see them!”

“We’ve reached home,” said the driver.

The two girls got out, a little tired after the fabulous-yet-weird day.

***

Kimaya’s mom was home when they entered the house. She greeted them warmly, and asked if they would like to eat something.

“Yeah, we’re starving!” said Kimaya. They’d eaten a bit in the dance hall-restaurant, but nothing other than that.

“Sure baby. What do you two want?”

“Popcorn!” said Astrid.

“You’re still not over your popcorn craving, huh?” asked Mrs. Verma.

“Well… No!” Astrid laughed.

“Okay, give me a few minutes, I’ll get it ready. You girls go and freshen up till then.” said Mrs. Verma, chuckling.

***

“Oh my God, look at that one!” cried Kimaya. It was a photo of her when she was a baby, crawling on her knees.

“You look too cute in that one, Kimmy,” Astrid laughed.

Kimaya smiled. She did look cute.

“And that’s you! Gosh, you’re so adorable, I feel like pulling your cheeks.”

Astrid groaned. “You leave my cheeks alone.”

Kimaya laughed. Astrid hated it when anyone touched her cheeks. But oh boy, she looked so cute in that photograph. She was just three or four weeks old in the picture, bundled up in her mother’s arms, with a little smile on her face.

The girls ate up all the popcorn. They took a break for dinner, but soon continued seeing the photos. They had captured so many beautiful moments. It’s amazing how photographs can be so perfect. Taking in the essence of the moment, capturing it in its complete sense.

There were some photos of their London homes too. The houses were beautiful. They had large gardens in the front, and were painted white. The interiors were marvellous. Kimaya’s house was filled with her mom’s beautiful paintings. Even her house in India was just like that. Astrid’s London home was quite different. It was clutter-free, though it had some of Mrs. Verma’s paintings too. Kimaya’s house had white and black interiors, but Astrid’s house was pure white. Even her room was pure white, with a splash of green here and there. Kimaya’s room was white and baby pink, the only shade of pink Kimaya liked. But everything else, like flowers, lamps etc. were a gentle shade of red.

Astrid smiled as Kimaya adored her house.

“Oh, I miss it so much,” murmured Kimaya, a bit upset as she longed to go back to London. London was beautiful, clean and safe. And Kimaya had so many memories over there, that it was hard to think that she had to spend the rest of her life in India. India was amazing too – but obviously every child loves the place of their birth, the place where they spent their initial years in.

“Cheer up Kimmy,” said Astrid.

“Okay, Andy!” said Kimaya, winking at her.

Kimaya looked up at the clock.

“Goodness! It’s already 11 PM!”

Astrid laughed. “Time flies by, doesn’t it? You want to sleep?”

“Well, I should be sleeping, because I have school tomorrow. But I’m not at all sleepy!”

“Then let’s spend a little more time together? We can sleep in another half an hour or something.”

“Sure.” They had seen all their pictures by now. Kimaya closed the last album and put it away.

“Kimmy… I wanted to see that.”

“See what?”

“You know, what made you enter the dance hall today.”

“Astrid no!”

“Please?”

“But… I thought you already did. I mean, that’s what you said in the afternoon, right?”

“I did see what’s in there, but I didn’t open anything.”

“Oh. But Andy… No, Please.”

“Come on. You can show me. I’m your best friend, am I not? I’m your Andy! I won’t go and tell it to everyone I find. Though it probably deserves to be known.”

“I know you won’t, but…”

“Please?” asked Astrid, making a super cute puppy-dog face.

Why are those faces she makes so irresistible? “Fine,” Kimaya said, giving in.

“Thanks!” said Astrid, giggling. She walked up to the cupboard, and drew out everything she wanted to. Then, she settled down on the couch, going through Kimaya’s works.

“All of this is by you?” Astrid asked.

“Yeah, is it so bad?” asked Kimaya, a little uncertain.

“Are you kidding me?! This is perfectly awesome! I didn’t know you were so talented!”

Kimaya smiled, blushing a little. No one had praised her in this way before – but then again, no one had really known.

“I have such a talented best friend! You have any more stuff like this?”

“Yeah. All of them except one are in the cupboard.” replied Kim.

“Why separate only one?”

“Because that one was too special. I didn’t want anyone to find it out, until it was completely ready.”

“Can I see it?”

“Now that you anyway know everything, you can.”

“Great! Where’s it?”

“You won’t find it,” said Kimaya chuckling. “I’ll get it, wait.”

Kimaya walked up to her wardrobe and opened it. She shuffled between some clothes, and finally took it out. She handed it over to Astrid.

Astrid examined what Kimaya had given her. “This is huge!” exclaimed Astrid.

“It has to be, I’ve worked on this for years!”

Astrid smiled. “Well, I’m sure, it has to be amazing.”

Kimaya suddenly yawned.

“Sleepy?” asked Astrid. “Well, our half hour is already over. We’d better sleep! I’m keeping this though, something to keep me busy.”

“Yeah, okay!”

The two girls adjusted themselves on Kimaya’s king sized bed. Mrs. Verma had given them extra pillows and blankets, and soon, they were both lying down comfortably.

“This feels so much like the old days. Like London,” said Kimaya.

“I know,” replied Astrid. “I missed this so much.”

“Me too. Okay now, let’s sleep,” said Kimaya, sleepily.

“Good night, Kimmy.”

Kimaya smiled.

“Good night, Andy. Sweet dreams.”

And with that, they both fell asleep.

[] Chapter 5

Kimaya’s phone vibrated. It was late at night, and Kim wondered who it was.

“We need to meet. State the place and time.” said the message. Kimaya frowned. It was from her old captor. What am I getting myself into?! She thought, groaning. But she knew that this was important for the happiness of her loved ones.

Tomorrow is Thursday; I should be free after school; guess 5 PM should do. She decided to reply back the same. “Tomorrow, 5 PM. At the Coffee Lounge near my school.”

Her captor was fast to reply. “Okay. See you then.”

Kimaya didn’t really want to meet up. But she had no choice. Talking on phone was not an option. She put her phone away, covered herself up with the blanket, and soon drifted off to sleep.

***

Kimaya was anxious the whole day. There were two reasons for that. One, she was anxious about what her captor had to say. Two, in case anyone saw her with that person, it would be disastrous. She rushed out of her school, and went home to get ready. She put on a casual tee and jeans, got her handbag, and left. Her mother had an art exhibition the next day, and was very busy. Kim didn’t expect her to be home before dinner.

She reached the coffee shop fifteen minutes earlier, and placed her order. She was about to occupy a vacant seat, when someone smirked behind her.

“I didn’t know you could be punctual.”

Kimaya turned to face her captor.

“I didn’t know that you actually even knew me,” she retorted.

“Thanks, by the way; for helping me out. I know you hate me, but… Well, just thanks.”

Kimaya smiled at the frankness. “It’s not for you,” she said. “It’s for the people I love.”

Her captor gave her a slight nod, and led her to a table.

“So, why exactly did we need to meet?” asked Kimaya.

“Because we can’t talk on phone. And this is important.”

Kimaya eyed the person sitting across her curiously. What’s going on? She wondered. Her expression earned a laugh from her companion.

“I’ll explain everything,” said the person, laughing. “Well, to put it straight, I think they are – or he is – going to strike soon if we don’t take any action fast.”

“What? Are you kidding me? The last time you met me, rather kidnapped me, you said it may take up months. And it’s not even a complete week right now!”

“I can’t help it, Kim. This was never in my hands. I said it may take months. But if it doesn’t, I can’t do anything.”

“I understand. So now, what’s the plan?”

“I… Don’t know.”

“What? Is that why you called me here?”

“Yes, actually. That is why I called you here. You’re the only other one who knows about this. I want us to discuss, and reach a solution. Please.”

Kimaya groaned. “You know I’m not good at this, don’t you?”

“Come on. If you can skydive, you can definitely do this.”

Kimaya looked up. “How did you know about that?”

“I know everything, Miss.”

“Aren’t we getting a bit cocky here? Too much for me to take,” said Kim, making a face.

“Alright, alright. I found it out through your mom.”

“Mom? When did you meet her?”

“Ran into her in the supermarket last night. She was talking to her friend. I overheard.”

“Eavesdropping is a bad habit, you know.”

“Oh God, now can we please stop arguing about this and focus?”

“Fine,” said Kim sarcastically.

***

An hour later, the two got up and went to the counter to pay the bill. Kimaya felt exhausted after the brain-whacking work her captor had taken her through, and had had quite a lot of coffee.

“Let me pay for you. As a gift for coming here?”

“Oh, shut up,” said Kimaya. “I pay my own bills.”

Her captor tried to pay the money, but Kim was faster. Soon, they were out of the coffee shop. Kimaya was about to hire a taxi, when her captor stopped her.

“Let me at least drive you home. I owe you this much.”

“But what if someone sees you?”

“I’ll take care about that.”

“Okay, then. I anyway don’t have a ride. So long as you don’t kidnap me again or something.”

Her companion laughed, and motioned her to get inside the car.

They reached her house, and Kim was about to get out, when her old captor caught her hand from behind. Kimaya snapped her hand out, and turned around. “What?” she asked.

“Thank you. I would have probably been considering suicide right now if you weren’t there. Seriously, how did you come up with such a great idea?”

Kimaya smiled. “Spur of the moment, I guess. And don’t consider suicide, okay? I mean, how can anyone do that? You’ve got your whole life in front of you. Why die for something which is probably temporary? You know, like they say – fall down seven times, stand up eight.”

“Yeah, I get it. Thanks,” said the captor with a crooked smile.

“Okay, now I better get going. Bye.”

“Yes. Take care.”

Kimaya went inside her house. It was almost seven. Wondering when her mother would return, she called her up.

“Hi sweetie,” said her mom.

“Hey! When will you be coming home?”

“I don’t really know. Tomorrow is important. Umm.. I was wondering if—-”

“If…?” urged Kim.

Her mom said something on the other line.

“No, that is so not happening!” yelled Kimaya.

“Please sweetie? It may turn out well. I’m sending the car. See you soon.”

Kimaya hung up. She sighed. Why did she need to solve so many problems in one day?

***

Mrs. Verma returned home late that night, with a very exhausted Kimaya. She had asked her daughter for a considerably big favour, requested by one of Mrs. Verma’s close friends. Kimaya had refused and refused, but to no avail. Her pleas had fallen weak in front of her mother.

“Change and sleep, baby,” said Mrs. Verma gently.

Kimaya sleepily dragged herself up the stairs, got onto her bed, and fell asleep, without changing or even getting a blanket. Her mother stepped into her room a few minutes later, and covered Kim up. She planted a kiss on her daughter’s forehead, and silently left.

She was proud of Kimaya, who had so excellently done the favour she had asked her to. But she had to say, she was surprised at this sudden change in Kimaya. Kim used to be silent and stubborn as hell. She didn’t seem to be like that anymore. But Mrs. Verma didn’t think too much about it, and soon fell asleep.

Tomorrow was a big day for her.

***

Kimaya woke up late the next morning. She skipped school for attending her mother’s exhibition. It was already 10 AM by the time she woke up.

Oh shit! She thought. Her mother’s art show started at 11:30, and would go on till 5 in the evening. The place of the show was half an hour away, which meant that she had just an hour to get ready, have breakfast, and complete anything else she needed to do.

Kimaya rushed to the washroom, and in half an hour, she was ready. It was an important day for her too, and she needed to be ready for it. She put on a pretty floral dress, to match with the colours of the art gallery. She made herself some sandwiches and packed them up, quickly tossing them into the car. She could eat in the car too. Even if she generally never was, this was the one time Kimaya wanted to be on time.

She reached the gallery forty five minutes later, thanks to traffic. Just fifteen minutes for the show to begin, and Kimaya could notice a few cars parked, indicating the presence of a few eager people.

“Mom!” She cried, spotting Mrs. Verma, doing some last minute preparations. “Why didn’t you wake me up earlier?”

“Come on Kim. You slept late enough last night. I didn’t think it would matter so much if you were a little late to the exhibition.”

“But this is important for me too, you know! Thank God I woke up just in time!”

“I know, sweetie. You look fabulous, by the way.”

“Thanks, mum,” said Kimaya, smiling.

“It’s time. Get ready, Kim.”

Kimaya nodded, uncertainly. Her mom gave her an encouraging smile, walking forward to welcome the audience. Soon, people were flooding in. Kimaya was proud of her mother. She was an outstanding artist, and had gained enormous success.

After half an hour, Mrs. Verma took her daughter’s hand, and led her up a little stage.

“And now, everybody,” announced Mrs. Verma, “I would like to introduce you to my daughter, Kimaya Verma. She is not a fan of painting, but trust me; she has magic in her hands. Now unveiling – her first artwork.”

A worker brought in Kimaya’s painting – she had made it just last night. It was a request – more of a challenge – from one of Mrs. Verma’s friends. However amazing her mother was at art, Kimaya didn’t like painting. She used to be a horrible artist when she was little, and had never tried it again. But last night, when her mother tried to show her how, Kimaya had come out with a masterpiece.

People clapped, and a magazine reporter asked Kimaya to say something. This was something Kimaya was not prepared for. She was still pretty much anti-social, and had no plans of giving a speech. But well, she had to. Her mom gave her a little push, asking her to speak just a few words, and then she’d take over. Mrs. Verma was completely aware of her daughter’s fears, and protected her.

“Well… I… I’m not really an artist. In fact, I don’t think I even knew how to hold a brush. I used to be a terrible artist when I was young, but when I tried now, it seemed interesting and amazing. Well, my mother is an amazing artist, and nothing is impossible, so here I am. Every credit of this painting goes to my mother; except that I’m the one who painted it.” Kimaya added with a laugh. She stepped off the stage, and suddenly realized that though she had not said much, she was not the least shy, and had actually been able to a little funny on-stage.

Soon, the people were just looking around at the displays, some of them inquiring about purchasing them. Kimaya looked for her mother and found her talking to her friend and a stranger. She walked up to them.

“I told you, Clarisse. My daughter can paint if she wants. You saw the proof today,” Kimaya heard her mother say.

“Yes Anisha. I’m sorry to have said that your daughter can’t paint. Well, all these years, and not a single artwork from her. It was just a little… Hard to believe,” said Mrs. Verma’s friend, Clarisse.

“That’s all right,” said Mrs. Verma. “Kimaya can paint – she is just not interested. I don’t want to force her to do something she doesn’t love.”

Kimaya glowed. She was glad she had such an understanding mom.

“Actually, a friend of mine had thought about this. You know, about Kimaya not being an artist? Aakash here is a big fan of yours. When he came to know that I know you personally, he asked me to tell him more about you, and when I told him about Kimaya, he started wondering why she had never painted. So I asked you,” said Clarisse.

“Hello, Mrs. Verma,” said Aakash, extending his hand. Kim’s mom shook his hand politely. Aakash continued speaking. “I love your paintings. They are beautiful. You are extremely talented.”

Kimaya's mother smiled. “Thank you, Mr. ---" Mrs. Verma wondered what his surname was.

“You can call me Aakash,” he said, amicably. “It’s Aakash Singh, by the way.”

“Alright,” said Mrs. Verma. “Thank you Aakash.”

“And this is your daughter, I suppose?” Asked Aakash, looking at Kimaya.

“Yes,” said Mrs. Verma, proudly.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Singh,” said Kimaya.

“Good afternoon, Kimaya. It’s a pleasure to meet you – you are a great artist,” said Mike.

“Thank you. It is all because of my mother though.”

“I am sure you are brilliant. What do you intend to do when you grow up, anyway?”

“Well, I’m not exactly sure,” said Kimaya. But in her head, she thought, liar. Kimaya knew exactly what she wanted to become. Except that only Astrid knew about it. No one else.

Just then, a media person dragged Kimaya away to her painting to get a couple of photographs.

“Excuse me,” she said to Aakash.

The journalist soon left her alone, and Kim stared at her painting, shocked that she could do it in just a few hours. She was glad that she made her mother proud.

“Nice work,” said someone behind her. The voice was too familiar and too close for Kimaya’s liking.

“What the heck are you doing here?” Asked Kimaya, without turning back. It was her old captor.

“It’s an art show. Anyone can attend it, right?”

“Yes, but… What if someone sees us together?”

“You didn’t even turn. Besides, no one can recognize me at the first glance.”

“What?” Kimaya turned around.

Her captor’s hair was dyed a medium brown, along with a pair of light brown lenses. The complexion of this person was already light, so, the new eye and hair color didn’t look too striking. Kimaya couldn’t help but gasp.

“Stop staring. Now who is giving us away?” Smirked her captor.

“Sorry!” Kimaya muttered, turning away.

Kimaya heard a chuckle, and then her captor walked away.

***

The Sun had fallen below the horizon by the time Kimaya and her mother reached home. Kimaya’s mom went inside the kitchen to get something to eat, and came back with some snacks and juice.

“I’m proud of you Kimaya,” said Mrs. Verma.

Kimaya glowed. “I just wish dad was here to see this,” She replied. Kimaya’s father was in the real estate business, and was most often out of town. She loved her dad a lot, and couldn’t help but feel sad that he wasn’t there at an important time in her life.

But in one way, she was glad too. The lesser the people, the lesser the chance of her getting caught. And the lesser the chance of them getting affected. Kimaya sighed. She wished she didn’t have to be caught up in this mess. But there was no more any way out of this.

As she lay in bed that night, Kimaya wondered what to do next. After half an hour of thinking, she decided that all she could do was let things continue with their own pace. She couldn’t think of a single idea; it was a miracle how she was able to think up a good idea in the coffee shop.

Kimaya had enjoyed at the show today. But she didn’t have the least idea about a pair of eyes; the pair which had been following her everywhere – the pair with the cunning gleam.

[] Chapter 6

The weekend went by lazily. Kimaya’s father came home Sunday night, and she was overjoyed. She was seeing her dad after two weeks. She went with the driver to receive her father from the airport. She saw her father come out from the terminal and a big smile spread across her face.

Mr. Verma gave his daughter a hug before they got into the car. They chatted for a little while about his work, and then about Kimaya’s school and her Mysore trip. Mr. Verma was shocked to know that his little girl had actually been able to sky-dive.

“So you’re not the little kid, scared of heights now; are you?” said Mr. Verma.

“Yes! I’m so happy I am not afraid of heights anymore. Awesome, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, Kim.”

They stayed silent for a few minutes, and then, Kimaya’s father’s smiling expression turned serious.

“Kimaya, it’s high time you decide about what you want to do in future. You are already seventeen. And if you don’t get serious from now on, it will be very tough for you later on. Admissions in India aren’t that easy, you know.”

“I know, dad. I…” Kimaya knew what to say, but she had no idea how she was going to say it.

“Actually,” continued her dad, “I’ve been thinking about this. How about engineering?”

Kimaya stared at her father, taken aback. Engineering?

“What? You are good at Math. I’m sure you can clear the entrance exam. And then, it gives you a steady life for years.” Said Mr. Verma.

“But dad… I’m just not interested!”

“Then what? Fashion design? Medicine?”

“Not medicine! I don’t like biology. Fashion design; I don’t know.”

“Fashion design will get you nowhere. Becoming an artist is better. You’ll at least have your mom to help you out.”

“Dad!”

“Yes?”

Kimaya sighed. She wondered how on earth she could tell her dad what she really wanted. She decided to be soft yet direct.

“Dad… I want to be a writer.”

Her dad burst out laughing.

“Writer? You’ve got to be kidding me! It is extremely unstable. Besides, even if it is stable, it will give you a tiny income.”

“But dad, that’s what my interest lies in.”

“You cannot live your life based on interests always.”

Kimaya stayed quiet. She knew it was no use arguing. She had been thinking about a course in journalism and literature, but she realized that her father would probably never let her do it. She was quite sure though, that her mother would support her in this. She just wished she wasn’t wrong.

They reached home. Kimaya was too upset, and went to her room immediately, denying dinner. Her mother stared at her, wondering what was wrong.

She decided to ask her husband about this.

“Honey, what’s wrong with Kim? She isn’t even having dinner.”

“Nothing,” said Mr. Verma coolly. “She has just gone out of her senses.”

Mrs. Verma raised a brow at this.

“She wants to become a writer – did you know about that?” replied Mr. Verma.

“Oh my God, no I didn’t!”

“I thought so. I refused. I want a secure future for my daughter; I don’t want her to become a writer, starving on the streets.”

“But if she really wants to, then why not?” asked Mrs. Verma.

“No, Anisha. It will not do at all. This is my decision and it is final.”

Mrs. Verma shot a glare at her husband. “Then what do you want Kim to become?” She asked.

“I was thinking of engineering.”

“Be careful with your decisions, hon. It’s your daughter’s life you are playing with. I would still—-”

“It’s my final word.” Mr. Verma cut off his wife.

Mrs. Verma groaned, and they spent the rest of the dinner time in silence.

An hour later, when Mrs. Verma went to check on her daughter, she found Kimaya curled up on her bed, hugging a pillow. She seemed to be asleep, but her face was tear-stained.

“Kim…” whispered Mrs. Verma sadly, gently stroking her daughter’s hair.

“Mom?” Kimaya was not into deep sleep yet.

“Baby, I’m so sorry…”

“For what?”

“Your dad told me that you want to become a writer. But he is too against it. He won’t even let me talk about it. I just can’t do anything about it.”

Kimaya let out a deep sigh. She had sort of expected this. She held her tears back, and got something from her cupboard, the same thing which she’d shown to Astrid the other day. It was a book, a novel which she was writing. She handed it to her mother, who looked at it blankly.

“Open it,” said Kimaya. “It’s what I’ve been doing from a long time. It’s almost complete. I’ll finish it within a few days and give it to you. Either dad gets convinced, or you throw it away.”

Mrs. Verma opened the book. The first page was a summary of Kimaya’s novel. It was a historical romance.

In the ancient empire of Lynessa, there lived a beautiful princess named Andromeda. Her father, the emperor, arranged her wedding with Ryder, son of the Lord of the first noble clan of Lynessa – the Phelps. The marriage is fixed at birth, and Andromeda is told about this when she turns thirteen. She accepts her fate readily. But what will happen when Andromeda realizes that the Phelps are plotting against her father?  Is Ryder the bad guy too? Or will he help the princess out?

Kimaya’s mother turned the page. The second page was a dedication.

To mom and dad – the best parents on Earth”, it stated. Mrs. Verma looked at it sadly, wishing she could do something to help her daughter out. But she doubted it. She looked at her daughter.

“That’s a great plot, Kim. I’m proud of you. I will try my best to make you a writer, just don’t throw this away.”

“No mom. I will throw it away if dad doesn’t agree. Because it’s no use keeping it then.”

Mrs. Verma sighed. She got up, and said good night. She went out of the room, and Kimaya soon fell asleep, wondering if she’d ever have her dreams come true.

Downstairs, Mrs. Verma picked up a fight with her husband.

“It’s her dream!” she said.

“Do you want her to die out of starvation, Anisha?”

“But what if she’s successful? She will make us proud!”

“Kimaya is our only child. I want her to live a settled life.”

“Oh, for God’s sake Nikhil! I’m an artist. Being an artist doesn’t make you settled either! Then why did you marry me?”

“Because you were talented. You were pretty successful by the time I met you.”

“Kimaya is talented too!”

“Where is the proof? She has not written a single story in her life.”

“Here,” said Mrs. Verma, handing her husband, Nikhil Verma, the book Kimaya had given her. “That is the proof. If you don’t like it, Kimaya wants you to throw it away.”

Mr. Verma opened the book and read the summary. He let out a snort. “Are you serious, Anisha? This is such a cliché! You call this talent?”

“Shut up, Nikhil. I know historical romances all sound the same, but the difference lies in the climax. And this is a very interesting one! You have to support your daughter in this.”

“Well, I don’t think so. You can just throw it away. Tell Kimaya that she can think about writing once she has an engineering degree in her hands,” said Mr. Verma, and walked away to the bedroom.

Kimaya’s mother sat with her daughter’s book in her hands for a little while, pondering over a thought she had in her mind. Then, she walked off with a satisfied smile on her face. Her husband might have made her final decision; but she had different plans for her daughter.

***

The next day, Kimaya left for school quietly. Her mother didn’t say anything either. She needed to wait till Kimaya’s father left to implement her plan. Mr. Verma was leaving again that afternoon, before Kimaya returned from her school. He would be gone for more than a week, so no problem for Mrs. Verma.

Kimaya came home in a bad mood that day. Her mother beamed at her, doing her best to hold back the reality. Kimaya was shocked to see her mother’s happy face.

“Did… Did dad agree?” She asked, anxiously.

“Yes, sweetie!”

“You are joking right?”

“Why would I?”

Kimaya screamed and took her mother into a bear hug. Kimaya relished the moment, unaware of the reality. She was just too happy that her dream will finally come true – with her parents’ agreement. When she finally let go her mother, she asked, “Was that for real?”

“Yes, Kim.”

Kimaya squealed again. Her mother suddenly stepped back, worried that her daughter might just choke her with another bear hug. Kimaya burst out laughing. All the sadness that she had carried with her disappeared within moments.

Her mother opened a drawer and pulled out Kimaya’s incomplete book. She handed it back to Kim, and said, “Now you better complete this book within a week and give it to me.”

“Oh mom, sure! Forget a week, you’ll get it within three days!”

Kimaya’s mother smiled.

“Well, are you hungry at all?” asked Mrs. Verma.

“My excitement kind of increased my appetite,” replied Kim, with a wink.

Mrs. Verma laughed and disappeared into the kitchen to get Kimaya something to eat. Kimaya went to her room to change. Soon, after having a quick snack, and finishing a bit of school work, Kim grabbed her unfinished book and got started on completing it, which she did till she was too sleepy.

The next two days went by with school and studies, and mainly, writing. Mrs. Verma kept enquiring about Kimaya’s book now and then. After two days, Kimaya handed over her draft to her mother, exhausted, yet satisfied. Kimaya tried many a times to call her father, and thank him for his acceptance; but Mrs. Verma diverted all the calls.

Mrs. Verma

Kimaya’s excitement brought me a bitter sweet happiness. I felt extremely glad to see her so overjoyed. But it was disheartening to think that her father wouldn’t be a part of her joy; at least not now. Kimaya doesn’t know that, of course. I can’t let her talk to her dad right now. If she finds out that it’s all a lie, it would be a disaster.

Thank God that Kimaya handed over her draft so soon. Now, I can carry on with my plan with ease. My friend will make this all easy enough. I told Kim that I’ll do everything to make her dream come true; and I really will. I will get her book published.

I had to lie to Kimaya to make her finish her novel. Had I told her that her dad didn’t agree, she would have never written another line. Her book would never be completed, and I couldn’t let that happen. My daughter has a lot of talent; and I’m going to bring out her true potential.

It was only Wednesday when Kimaya handed over her sloppy copy. I didn’t have much time, so I did a night out and read her book through. By the time I finished the book, it was already 3:30 AM. But the time had just flown away. Kim’s words had me so engrossed; I was not the least sleepy. Her lines reflected everything – happiness and sadness, pain and joy, love and hate. She had this way of reaching out to the reader’s heart; she could make us laugh, or she could make us cry. I had tears in my eyes when I finished the book. I’d never been so proud of my daughter.

The next morning, I called up my friend who was the head of a publishing company. That was the best thing about being an artist – you had contacts everywhere. I had designed covers for a few books for this publishing company, and the head had been very pleased. I was sure that he would help me. When I told them that my daughter was a budding author and I wanted to get her book published, he was more than happy to help me out. I forwarded Kimaya’s draft to him within a little time, and he took it up as a first case. By the weekend, I received the confirmation that my daughter’s book was good enough to get published, but they needed some input and editing from her.

It was a Sunday the next day, and I decided to break the news to Kimaya in the morning itself. I entered her room quietly, and shook her awake. It was quite early, and Kim groaned, asking for a little more sleep.

“Oh come on, Kim. You’re going to love this. Wake up!” I said.

“What could be possibly better than a little extra sleep on a Sunday morning…” She muttered, sleepily.

“Your book getting published.”

Kimaya jumped up, all her sleep vanished within milliseconds.

WHAT?!” She yelled.

I grinned at her. “Remember when I did a few book covers for a publishing company? The head agreed to help me out and speed up the process.”

Kimaya stared at me, no words coming out. And then, she burst into tears and hugged me hard.

“Oh my God, mom, thank you so much. Thank you.. Thank you!”

I held her tight and told her that I’m glad she’s happy. I finally calmed her down and told her to get ready fast, we had a few documents that needed Kimaya’s presence.

I called up Nikhil in the meanwhile, and told him about our daughter’s success. He was at first very angry, because I took this step without even telling him. But when he did calm down, he was proud of Kimaya too. But he was still against letting her take a course in journalism or something like that. I groaned, and told him to play up for now at least. I couldn’t break Kimaya’s heart by telling her that she continued writing, even when her father was against it. After a bit of argument, Nikhil finally gave in and agreed to act his part out.

***

The procedures went on for weeks. It was either copyright documents, or making changes here and there, or other miscellaneous procedures. Kimaya went through the endless work tirelessly; it was her dream coming true. The cover of the book was designed by her mother of course, and everyone was pleased with the final copy of the book.

By the time the procedures ended, it was already mid-November. The book was set to be published on the first of December, and Kimaya was overjoyed. She knew how much time all the procedures took – it was sometimes over a year. But thanks to her amazing mother, Kimaya’s book was being published within five months. Mr. and Mrs. Verma organized a party to celebrate their daughter’s success on the same day the book was being published; and Kimaya was extremely excited.

As November neared its end, Mrs. Verma took Kimaya shopping for the party, and they came off with a knee-length red dress with matching red heels. Kimaya already loved red, and the dress made her face glow.

On 30th November, Kimaya walked around the house anxiously, feeling too restless to sit down. She could hardly sleep that night. She was very apprehensive – would her book be liked by people? Would they find it stupid? What was going to happen?

[] Chapter 7

1st December

Kimaya woke up before the Sun dawned that day. She wasn’t able to sleep. She got out of bed, and putting on a jacket, she went out to her room’s balcony. It was something she did every time she couldn’t sleep. She would just walk out, and gaze at the sky, staring at the stars and the moon, and letting the peace of the atmosphere take her over. She did just that, that night. The wind was chilled, and she loved the way it would strike her face. She stayed that way for a few minutes, and finally, a ray of silver light crept into the sky. It was finally dawn, and Kimaya stared up, watching as the Sun beautifully lit up the sky. Her book would go public at 10 AM that day. It was still around three and a half hours to go, and Kimaya was going a little mad with anxiety.

She stayed there for another half an hour or so, till it was all bright, and then went inside her room, to get ready. It was a Thursday, and Kimaya had to take a day off again, which she didn’t really want to, since the study pressure was high at the time. But this was important for her; unless she wanted to go into something like engineering. Kimaya’s father had asked her to take up a course which trained her for cracking the tough engineering entrance exams that India had, and Kimaya had been in great pressure, managing the time her to-be-published book demanded from her, and keeping up with studies for good results. She did not want to end up in some small engineering college if her father did not agree. If she was going to become an engineer, she wanted a degree from a good college.

Kimaya put on woollens – it was December and it was cold. She was thankful that the party was in a hall, so that the temperature could be managed, allowing her to wear her dress. The party was in the evening, and there was a lot of time for that. Once ready, Kimaya sat down on her table, staring at the copy of her novel that the publishing company had sent beforehand. The company had also forwarded her book to a few well-known reviewers, and their comments would be published along with the book, the part Kimaya’s copy lacked.

Kimaya sat there, aimlessly. Before she knew it, she had leaned over on her table, and fallen asleep. Her mother’s gentle shake woke her up.

“Damn!” said Kimaya. “Did I cross 10? Is my book published?!”

“No sweetie,” said her mother, laughing. “It’s just 9. Come down, have some breakfast. I know you’ve been worrying yourself sick over this.”

“No, I don’t want to eat, I have to—-”

“Kimaya, are you coming, or am I going to have to drag you down the stairs?” said Mrs. Verma, cutting Kim off.

Kimaya sighed in defeat, and got up. She went down with her mother, and had some breakfast. She stared at the clock almost the whole time, afraid that it will be ten any moment, until a very frustrated Mrs. Verma removed the clock from the wall and put it away.

MOM! Argh! I’ll get my watch!”

“You will not, Kimaya. I’ll tell you when it’s ten minutes to 10 AM. Till then, sleep, walk, study, or do whatever you want. It’s only 9:20 right now. You’ve got half an hour for yourself.”

Kimaya groaned, and picked up a book to study. After a few minutes, Kimaya realized that she just couldn’t study; so she decided to do what was bothering her the most at that moment. She decided to reread the book she had written. Although Kimaya knew this book by heart, she still liked to read it over and over again. Because it was her book; it was her dream. Kimaya lost herself in the story till her mother called her.

“Ten to 10, Kim! Come down!”

Kimaya let out a shriek, and sped down the stairs like a little kid running towards a bunch of chocolates. Her mother had placed the clock back, and Kimaya’s eyes were simply glued to it. Astrid had come to her house to celebrate with her, but Kimaya could just not think of anything or anyone else. Her book was being published in both ebook and hard copy forms. They had sent her a code to access the online copy for free, and she could use it at 10. Kimaya’s heart was beating fast as the clock ticked away. Half of it was because she was so excited, and half was because she was waiting for the reviews. What if they thought it’s not that good? Of course, they’ll probably publish only the best comments, but what if even the best reviews weren’t so approving of her book?

And then, the clock struck ten, cutting through her thoughts. Kimaya screamed, and opened the website through her laptop, desperately searching for her book. And there it was, complete and perfect, just as Kimaya had been told. Kimaya hugged her mom, and then her dad, and then Astrid. Now that half of her tension was over, Kimaya began to relax. Her book was published successfully. Now, to see the reviews. Kimaya opened the ebook site, and typed in her code. It granted access immediately, and she sighed in relief. She slowly read through the reviews, and a satisfied smile finally spread across her face. The reviews were good – Kimaya had made it; she was finally successful. She lay back on the couch, relaxed and happy at last.

“I’m going to be the first one to buy your book,” said Astrid.

“No Astrid, you know I’ll gift it to you. You don’t need to buy anything!”

“Oh, shut up,” she murmured, and hit the “Buy” button before Kimaya could stop her. The transaction was successful. Kimaya suddenly had tears in her eyes. This had been her dream for years, and now, finally, it had come true. All the efforts Kimaya had put in for this book, they had not gone in vain. Astrid wiped away her best friend’s tears, and smiled.

“Now, it’s time to celebrate!”

“Hey!” Said Kim. “There’s a lot of time left for the party.”

“Who’s talking about the party? You really thought I’m going to let you stay at home today? Wear something good fast, and let’s get going!”

“Astrid! Alright, where are we going?”

“Anything you want. We can go shopping, or gaming, or eating, or whatever. But I’m not letting you stay at home.”

Kimaya laughed, and nodded. She went up to change, and came back in casual, but good-looking clothes. They hit the malls first, did some gaming, and then had lunch. They soon came back, and Astrid set off to doll Kimaya up for the party. The party would include Kim’s mother’s posh friends and publishers too, so Astrid decided that Kimaya should look her best. Kimaya disagreed, though. But her pleas fell weak in front of the determination of Astrid, and an hour later, Kimaya was looking truly beautiful.

Her red dress had sequins on it, and the heels went perfectly with it. Astrid curled Kimaya’s already curly hair, and made her put on gentle make up. A bit of light blush, eyeliner, and lip gloss, and Kimaya turned into a perfect doll. It was nothing screaming for attention, and yet, it made her look stunning.

“Astrid, do you really think this much was needed? I mean, I’m a writer, not a model or something,” said Kimaya staring at her reflection in the mirror.

“Is it so bad to look amazing sometimes?”

“Astrid is right, Kim. You look beautiful. And you should. Today is your day,” said Mrs. Verma, entering the room.

Kimaya smiled, and let the topic go. They had to leave for the party soon. The hall was a little far away, and with Bangalore’s traffic, it would take up at least an hour.

***

When they reached the venue, Kimaya was quite surprised. It was not because all the decorations were in red, or because the party was bigger than she expected. It was because there were paintings all over the hall. Paintings which seemed to be right out of Kimaya’s book. Her mother had carefully picked up important scenes from her book, and put them on canvas. They were beautiful. Some people started clapping when Kimaya stepped into the hall, and she couldn’t help but blush. Kimaya couldn’t help thinking that this was a bit too much for just a book getting published – but she felt happy about it too.

The party was amazing. People would ask about Kimaya’s novel, but she would only tell the summary, and then ask them to read the book. Everyone close to Kimaya was present. Her family, her friends. There were others too, who Kimaya didn’t know; like some people from publishing companies, and her parents’ friends. Kimaya was pleased to meet new people, and Mrs. Verma found this strange. Kimaya used to be anti-social. Then what happened?

Soon, the party was over and the guests started leaving. Kimaya went with Tashanna, to leave her outside the hall. She was just retracing her steps to the hall, when she ran into a familiar face. Kimaya couldn’t at first recall where she’d seen him; but recognition soon crossed her face. She greeted him, asking why he hadn’t been to the party.

“Well, I was just crossing by. I wasn’t invited.”

“Oh,” said Kim.

They talked for a few minutes and Kimaya told him what the party is about. The man congratulated her, and they had a little more casual talk. But suddenly, the man’s face turned sober. The conversation turned serious. After ten minutes of talk, Kimaya nodded, and walked off with the man.

By the time people realized that Kim was missing, it was too late. No one knew where she had gone; and no one knew why.

The man led Kimaya to a quieter part of the city, a part which Kimaya had never seen before. It was dark and silent, and Kimaya suddenly felt a little scared. The man gave her a little pat to calm her down, and asked her to follow him. Kimaya moved forward, still a little afraid. They slowly went through what seemed like a never ending labyrinth to Kimaya, and ended up in a small house – no, it was just a little room.

Back home, Kimaya’s parents were worried as hell – their daughter was nowhere to be seen. The last person who had seen her was Tashanna, when Kimaya had gone out of the hall with her. Mr. Verma called up everyone who Kimaya knew personally, but no one had seen her anywhere. When she didn’t return within a few hours, police reports were filed and a search mission began. However, even the police couldn’t understand what exactly had happened – Kimaya had no reason to run away, and it didn’t seem like a kidnapping case either. And if Kimaya had gone with someone, or alone, on her own will, then she surely had her mobile phone with her. Then why didn’t she try to call up anyone? Kimaya was not so irresponsible. No one was able to understand the reason behind Kimaya’s sudden evanescence.

The man kept Kimaya in the little room for two days. He didn’t want to risk it more than that; he knew search teams were out. He was glad that Kimaya knew him beforehand, or it would almost be impossible to keep her in, with her mouth shut.

He fed her well, and gave her a comfortable bed to sleep on. He also brought in a copy of her newly published book, and asked her to read it, just to pass time. Kimaya was also well-supplied with paper and ink, in case she wanted to write.

Kimaya’s parents were now panicking. It had been two days, and Kimaya was nowhere to be seen. The police was not able to track down any leads, and no one seemed to have seen her, anywhere around the city. Mrs. Verma was in intense misery, and her tears just wouldn’t stop. Tashanna couldn’t help feeling that she was responsible for all this, because Kimaya had come out only because of her.

Kimaya’s father took time off from his work, and desperately roamed around the city, trying to find someone who could tell him anything about his daughter. And Astrid, she was simply devastated. Kimaya was like a sister to her; and she didn’t want all these things to happen to her. But nothing was working out. Kimaya seemed to have vanished into thin air.

In the little room, Kimaya would sometimes wonder what she was doing there. But she couldn’t find her phone anywhere, and the door would always be locked. And by the time she could be completely in her senses, the pudgy man would return, and convince her to stay for some more time. In just a day, Kimaya’s life seemed to have turned upside down.

***

3rd December, Saturday (evening)

“Kimaya?” Said the man, shaking Kimaya who had fallen asleep.

“Yes… What..?” Asked Kimaya, sleepily.

“It’s time. Let’s prep you up. I’ll see you in ten minutes; you can freshen up if you wish to.”

Kimaya slowly got out of bed, and entered the tiny washroom attached to the little room. She was done in around eight minutes, though she was still sleepy.

“Welcome, Ms. Kimaya Verma,” said the man. “You have to do a very important job today. And then, you’ll be free to go.”

“Oh, good. What do I have to do? And did you take my phone? I can’t seem to find it.”

“Oh princess, why would I do that? It must be here somewhere. We’ll look for it after you’re done with what you have to do. If you are successful in your work, and you don’t find your phone, I’ll even buy you a new one. But you have to successfully complete your job.”

“Alright, fair enough. So what exactly is my work?”

“Listen carefully,” said the man, a small grin forming on his face.

They spent around forty five minutes, discussing everything, forming their plans. The man managed to convince Kimaya for doing his work, though she was reluctant at first.

Kimaya’s parents put up an advertisement on the television and newspaper, after every other effort passed fruitlessly. And then, came help from an unexpected source – Vihaan Arora, Tashanna’s brother who moved out after their parents’ divorce. He rushed to Kimaya’s house, and barged in, to find himself in a sad environment.

“Kimaya’s missing?!” He asked.

“Yes, Vihaan,” said Mrs. Verma in a destroyed tone.

“For how many days?”

“Two,” replied Kim’s father.

“Oh no,” muttered Vihaan. “It’s all because of me. I shouldn’t have dragged her into this.” He punched the wall next to him.

“Vihaan? What’s wrong?” Asked Mrs. Verma, taking Vihaan’s hand and making him sit down. Although no one was so happy with his decision to stay with his father, he was still like a son to Kimaya’s mother, and she was concerned about his sudden reaction.

“Oh my God, what have I done…” he said in a low voice, covering his face with his hands.

“What did you do with my daughter?” Vihaan lowered his face, not knowing how to break to news to Mr. Verma.

“I told her about a secret I never should have. If only I’d kept it to myself… She would be safe right now.”

“What do you mean?” Asked Tashanna, entering the house suddenly.

“Tasha!” Vihaan was seeing his sister after months

“Don’t take my name – I hate you. And what’s the secret?”

“Tashanna… No. I can’t tell anyone else. I can’t possibly trouble you all more than what you already are. How’s mom?”

“Mom? What right do you have to ask about mom? You expect her to be fine after what dad did with her?”

“Tasha please! Dad did not do anything wrong! It is all because of me!”

“What did you do, force dad to have an affair?” Asked Tashanna, sarcasm clearly visible in her voice. Vihaan looked at her sister, as if he was seizing her up; like he was trying to figure out whether she could take what he was going to say. And finally, he decided to tell her the truth.

“Tasha… Dad did not have an affair at all.”

“Wha..  What?” Gasped Tashanna.

“Dad was in danger. We do not know why, or by whom; but he had been receiving death threats since the start of the year.”

Now, all eyes were set on Vihaan. No one could understand what exactly was happening.

“We tried a lot to figure out who was threatening us. But there was nothing to help us out, not a single clue.”

“But what’s that got to do with his affair? And why didn’t you tell us about all this before?” Asked Tashanna.

“We didn’t want to worry you,” continued Vihaan. “We thought that we could tell you everything once we discovered a lead. But that never happened. When the danger increased, we realized that if we didn’t find a solution fast, both you and mom would get into trouble too.”

Vihaan took a deep breath. “It was my idea to separate our parents. I knew that due to the time dad spent on all this, mom was beginning to get suspicious. I decided to use that suspicion to our advantage. I told dad to pretend like he was having an affair, and when mom became very doubtful, I asked him to confess. We paid a woman to act like she was madly in love with dad. Everything went according to what I expected. Mom divorced dad, and we pushed you both away from us. I know you hate me Tashanna, but trust me – it was all just for you and mom. This divorce was due to me Tasha… So if you are still angry, then be angry with me. Forgive dad. You have no idea how devastated he was.” Said Vihaan, sadly.

Tashanna burst into tears. She fell into her brother’s welcoming arms, sobbing. She had always loved her brother and her dad; but somehow, she had lost herself in the middle of this Armageddon.

“I’m sorry, Tasha…” Whispered Vihaan, as he embraced his sister.

“I forgive you,” she said.

“But I don’t get it,” said Mr. Verma. “How is my daughter related to it? Where is she?”

“Uncle,” said Vihaan, “I shared this secret with Kimaya. She was reluctant to talk to me at all; but I kind of forced her to listen. The night she came back from her school trip, I dragged her away and told her what was going on. I know it was wrong of me, but I needed an ally close to home. After realizing the truth, she agreed to help me out. I met her at a coffee shop one day, to discuss everything with her. It was the day before Mrs. Verma’s art show.”

“So that’s why Kimaya was already so tired when I asked her to paint that night,” murmured Mrs. Verma, shaking her head in pain.

“We thought that the people, or the person, who were threatening dad, would strike at Tashanna and mom next,” said Vihaan. “So, I asked Kimaya to keep a watch on both of them. That’s probably why she went out with Tasha when she left the party hall that day. We made a perfect plan. How many times did Kimaya visit your house after the art show, Tasha?”

“A lot of times. Kimaya and I are best friends – we visit each other a lot, remember?”

“Well, alright. How many times did an electrician visit your house?” Asked Vihaan.

“Electrician? Surprisingly many times. Like, at least once in a month, and twice in October, I believe.”

“Kimaya and I had decided to set up CCTV cameras in and around your house to protect you. We could view the footage of the camera through our phones. We didn’t want you to know, so Kimaya sometimes would meddle with your electric points, so that an electrician would be needed. And then, the electrician would set up the cameras, and our work was done.” Explained Vihaan.

Tashanna looked at him, dumbfounded. This was too much of information to digest. It was hard to believe that the two had been watching over her and her mother for all these months.

“But what we didn’t think of was that Kimaya herself could be in danger. Those people might have tapped my phone, or followed me. Every time I contacted Kimaya, it would have endangered her. They might have known that Kimaya was an easy way to bring my dad out in the open. Kimaya was vulnerable; she knew everything, but she had no protection. They must have been hawking her for a while to know about the party. But what I don’t understand is how someone could just whisk her away without her putting up a fight. I know that she knows some karate. Plus, it was in the middle of a party. It forces me to think that the person who kidnapped her was a known person.”

Mr. Verma sighed. He didn’t know what to do now. He just wanted his daughter back. Tears formed in his eyes and he held them back.

“Uncle…” said Vihaan, softly. “I have a solution to this…”

Mr. Verma looked up at him, wondering what the solution could be.

“The only way to find Kimaya now,” said Vihaan, “is to let dad out.”

“No!” Cried Tashanna.

“We don’t have another way!” Replied Vihaan.

“You can’t do that to dad! Please don’t do this Vihaan!”

“I’m sorry, Tasha… If this is what it takes…” murmured Vihaan, taking out his phone. He called up his father. It didn’t connect. Damn! Vihaan groaned.

“You’re lucky Tasha, Dad’s phone is switched off.”

Tashanna sighed in relief.

“I’m glad too, but now, how will we save my daughter?” Said Mr. Verma.

“I brought her into this mess,” said Vihaan. “And I will bring her out of it.”

***

Kimaya stepped out of the room with the pudgy man, who led her out of the maze of lanes. He left her in a part of the city she knew, and let her make her own way. A small bag was slung across her shoulder, containing everything she would need for her job that night.

As the man left her side, Kimaya’s heart started pounding. She was going to do something she hadn’t even imagined in her dreams. Kimaya crept through the shadows stealthily, unseen, unnoticed. I can do this, she kept reminding herself. She moved as smoothly as water, taking care to not make the least of noise.

Around eight PM, after half an hour of walking, Kimaya found herself in an environment too familiar. She had been here several times before – but for different purposes.

When Kimaya reached the end of her journey, she found herself in an area surrounded by trees and flowers. It was a very peaceful space, but not for much more time. Kimaya had come to her destination – it was time she completed her task. Kimaya’s eyes, sharp as an eagle, scanned the area; and soon found the target they were looking for. Kimaya drew out something from her sling bag. She edged closer to her aim silently, till she thought she was close enough.

She breathed softly, not able to understand why she was doing what she was about to do. She was scared, but confident too. Kimaya finally lifted her hand.

A knife went flying through the air, but it did not hit the target. Kimaya had missed her aim. Terrified, she began to run. She suddenly hit a slightly hard surface. But it was not a tree, not a wall. She was surprised when she was suddenly enclosed between someone’s arms. Unable to figure anything out, Kimaya began to cry. She sobbed silently, not caring to see in whose arms she was.

“Ssshh.. It’s me, Kim,” said a voice too familiar.

Kimaya looked up.

“Vihaan!” She said, amongst tears.

“You’re safe now,” he whispered.

“What’s going on…” she murmured. “Why am I here? Where did Aakash go?”

“Aakash?” asked Vihaan.

“Yeah.. Aunt Clarisse’s friend. I was with him for the past few days. How did I come here?”

“Kimaya? Are you okay, my child?” Said a voice from behind her. Kimaya sprung around to face the reason why she was here – her target, Mr. Arora.

“Dad! Thank God you’re safe!” Cried Vihaan. “I almost thought that I might be too late.”

Kimaya stared at Vihaan and his father for a few minutes before her knees fell weak and she fell to the ground. She raised her hand, and was almost about to hit herself, when Vihaan caught hold of her.

“What do you think you are doing?” He said, angrily.

“I… Argh. I deserve it! I ought to be jailed!” She was almost screaming, and her voice was piled with horror and pain.

“Kim? What happened?” Asked Vihaan, clearly concerned.

“Ask your dad…” She replied. “I’m sure he would have figured it out by now.” She looked at Mr. Arora, her eyes pleading him to save her from the pain of saying it out herself.

“They asked you to kill me, didn’t they?” Asked Mr. Arora, helping Kimaya up on her feet.

But before Kimaya could answer, events took a different turn. Kimaya’s sharp senses heard a little crunch behind her. She turned around, and stiffened. Before she could say anything, there was the sound of a gunshot.

Kimaya

The world slowly faded away before my eyes. The last thing I remember is people screaming. And then, everything went black.

***

“Oh Kim.. Please wake up baby..” I heard my mom say. I tried to move my head to look at her, but even opening my eyes was painful. Someone noticed my attempt to make movement, and the doctor was called. I realized that I was in a hospital. The doctor ushered the people out of the room, and checked me up. Around ten minutes later, I heard someone enter the tiny unit and stroke my hair. It was mom.

“Kim… Why didn’t you tell me about what was going on?”

I finally managed to open my eyes. The person I saw didn’t really seem exactly like my mom. This person had very dark circles under her eyes, which were still filled with tears. She wasn’t sunny and smiling like my mother; she was in fact, the exact opposite. I knew that my mother had become like this because of me, and I felt horrible. I looked at my mom in confusion.

“Don’t give me that look,” said my mother. “Vihaan told us everything. You could’ve shared it with me, sweetie. Maybe you wouldn’t be here right now if you had told us.”

“I’m sorry, mom…” I said, my voice coming out in a mere whisper.

“It’s okay Kim. Thank God, both you and Vihaan are safe.”

That was news to me. “Vihaan?”

“Yes, Kim. That night, he went after the person who shot you, only to end up getting hurt himself. It was a blessing that Aakash found Vihaan – or he would have probably died.”

Aakash? What the heck?

“Mom, where is Aakash right now? And Vihaan, how’s he?”

“Aakash? I don’t know. He disappeared the same night. He told us that he had a flight to catch. I wish we could’ve thanked him enough though. Vihaan is out of danger. The doctors kept him drugged though. He was quite hurt, and they thought that it’s better he’s kept asleep for a day.”

“Was Vihaan in his senses when Aakash brought him in?”

“I don’t think he was.”

So that’s why Aakash got away.

“Mom you need to find Aakash soon! Keep Tashanna’s dad safe. Please!” I said, with all the energy I could muster.

“Kim? Calm down baby! What’s wrong?”

“Aakash was the one who kidnapped me! He was the one who shot me – he is the real culprit! You need to get him! Uncle is still in danger!”

“What? You’re not serious, are you?”

“Mom, I’m sure I am pretty damn serious! Aakash Singh, the mastermind of this mess. Inform the police. Fast. Please!” My voice was now rising in fear, and the doctor came rushing inside, hearing the noise.

“Ma’am, please stay out for some time. You cannot excite her like this. It is risky for her health right now,” said the doctor to mom.

“No!” I protested. “Mom, please listen to me. I’m not hallucinating! It really was Aakash!”

“Kimaya.” The doctor looked at me. “Please calm down. I am sure your mother has already understood you. Mrs. Verma, let me deal with your daughter for a few minutes. You can talk to her later.” My mother nodded and walked out. I groaned.

“Doctor, please let me talk to my mother,” I said, pleading.

“I am sorry, Kimaya. You need rest. You should be thankful that the criminal only managed to wound your arm. A few more inches, and I’m afraid that you would have been dead by now. But you’ve lost a lot of blood. Panicking at this stage will only cause you more harm.”

“But doctor, it is about the criminal. We need to catch him, or it will be disastrous. But shockingly, he is one of my mom’s friends, and I don’t know whether she believes me. Please, just let me convince her that I’m not lying.”

“If that’s the case,” replied the doctor, “I will convince your mom for you. I am not letting you get hyper again.” And he left the room, leaving me to my thoughts. Will mom believe me?

———

I must have fallen asleep because I felt a nurse by my side, gently waking me up. My parents stepped in, with Astrid and Tashanna’s dad. I smiled at dad and Astrid, but when my eyes turned to Uncle, I became grave.

“Please stay indoors, Uncle,” I said. “They are still trying to kill you.”

“I know Kim. I’ll stay safe. Don’t you worry about me,” he replied.

I smiled at him. Uncle loved me like his own daughter. I knew he would accept this request of mine.

My mom had finally excepted the fact that Aakash was the criminal, and had instantly filed a police report. They would be here in a little time to interview me and Vihaan. The doctors were in the process of waking Vihaan up. I wondered how Aakash had the guts to bring Vihaan in – he could have been caught. Vihaan had been unconscious, but he could have woken up. Uncle had seen him too, but unfortunately, he had been in my room when this happened. Aakash had been lucky in hiding his identity.

I talked to my dad and Astrid while we awaited the police. I had been away from them for quite a few days now, and I felt like I was seeing them after years. I asked them how bad Vihaan’s injuries were.

“Not life-threatening,” replied my dad. “It doesn’t look like Aakash had any intentions of killing you both. Either that, or he has the worst aim possible.”

I couldn’t help frowning at that. It was pretty obvious that Aakash did not want to kill us. He was right in front of me when he shot me. He can’t possibly have that bad of an aim. And besides, in the two days I stayed with him, he taught me to throw knives. I was pretty bad at it, of course; and thank God that I still am, or I’d have killed Uncle. But I faintly remember that Aakash would always hit bulls-eye. No, he did not have such a deficient target. But why did he keep us alive then? He surely knew that we were trouble to him.

“Apart from that,” said my father’s voice, bringing me back to reality. “Vihaan has a few wounds here and there. He got hit on his head; the doctors don’t believe it was that disastrous, but they thought it better to keep him out for a little extra time, to prevent any mental damage. Good thinking on their part, I must say.”

Suddenly, the door of the little hospital room opened, and Uncle walked in.

“Kim,” he said. “I just thought of something that I should have long ago. Why did you just walk off with this Aakash? I know that you know him, but you could have at least called. And how did he convince you to murder me?”

I stared at Uncle blankly. For the first time, I realized that what had happened was a little… no, very weird. I am not that irresponsible. And I’m definitely not a murderer. I remember being scared, but in my head, I was thinking that I could do it; that I simply have to do it. But I love Uncle. I would never even imagine of hurting him, let alone killing him. Then what had happened to me?

“Kimaya? What had happened?” Asked Uncle, once again.

“I.. I don’t know…” I muttered, completely confused.

“Nikhil,” said Uncle to my father, “I guess I should do a little check up on her. That Aakash guy, he might have hypnotized her or something. But hypnotism is not so simple; yet he achieved it with ease. As far as I know, that is only possible if Kimaya’s brain is soft enough, or faint, to accept the impression so easily.”

I looked at Uncle, confused by what he said. I was not into psychology; and could certainly not understand such stuff. However, when Uncle suggested this to the doctors, they accepted it, and soon, the room was totally deserted, except me and Uncle. He told me to lie down and be calm; he wanted me to stay at peace for this to work out. I suddenly felt muddled and nervous. What was wrong with me?

[] Chapter 8

After half an hour, the little session was over. Mr. Arora had tried to make Kimaya remember what had happened, but when nothing really worked out, he hypnotized her. He was shocked at the effortlessness to bring her to that state. And in the hypnotized state, Kimaya was able to recollect things more clearly. Mr. Arora asked her specifically about Aakash.

“Aakash… Aakash Singh. I met him at my mom’s art show. He had asked Aunt Clarisse to challenge me to paint. I had done that painting well, so he appreciated me. The night when my book got published, I went out to drop Tashanna to ensure her safety. I ran into Aakash as I was returning to the hall. He was just passing by, and we made small talk. And then, he said something seriously. He said that he needed a favour from me, and that he needed me to come with him. I knew him beforehand, but he was still more of a stranger to me, than a known person. I told him that I cannot do that. He asked me to look into his eyes, and asked me once again; this time, more firmly. I do not know what exactly happened to me, but I agreed. He took me to a small room in a silent part of the city. I don’t know where that is, I haven’t been there before. The room was tiny… It was a little scary too.”

Kimaya paused, as if trying to recollect more. Mr. Arora urged her to continue.

“The room was very small, but big enough to hold a single bed and a couch. There was a smaller washroom attached to the room, and I believe it also had a little balcony. I would sleep on the bed, and as far as I know, Aakash would sleep on the couch. The next morning when I woke up, bewildered at where I was, I tried to call someone up. I distinctly remembered that I had my phone with me when I left with Aakash. But somehow, I couldn’t seem to find it. Just then, Aakash emerged from the washroom and calmed me down. He disappeared in the middle of the first day, and came back with all sorts of targets. I remember I had wanted to go out when he was gone – but the door was locked. He showed me how to point, how to aim; and soon, I was learning how to throw daggers at general target boards, and even those shaped like humans. I was very surprised at this, but he just said that a little practice won’t do any harm. He kept me well dressed, well fed. From where he got hold of those female dresses that fitted me perfectly, I don’t really know. We spent two days in that room. And finally, on Saturday, he told me the job I had to do; the favour he had asked for.”

“And that was to kill me?” Asked Mr. Arora.

“Yes,” continued Kimaya. “I did not know your name though. I was just told that I had to kill someone. I remember being reluctant at first; but he was insistent. He forced me into thinking that I had to do this at any cost. I have no idea how he made me agree so easily. He led me to a known part of the city, that night, with a sling bag dangling from my shoulder. It contained only one dagger, as far as I know. And then, I made my way alone to the destination. That is a few blocks away from your office, I believe. That is why the place seemed so familiar to me. I took out the knife and aimed it at you, but I was nervous. My hands were shaking, and the aim went all wrong. I missed my target, and the knife went flying over your head. I freaked out and starting running away, and that’s when I ran into Vihaan. I wasn’t able to understand anything at that moment, so I simply started crying. When I saw you, I finally realized what I was about to do, but before I had the chance to explain anything or anyone, Aakash came from behind. And shot me. I remember the pain and  the screams. I remember the world getting a little dizzy. And the next thing I know, I’m in the hospital.”

Mr. Arora had gotten his information, and had recorded everything Kimaya said. He decided to let her sleep for a while. She had a lot of information to digest, and he wanted her to have enough time to let her mind accept the facts. He got up, and quietly left the room.

“How’s she?” Asked Kimaya’s father, as Mr. Arora stepped out of Kimaya’s room.

“She’s fine. I had to hypnotize her to get the information out.”

“You did what? She is too weak for that!”

“I don’t think so, Nikhil. And hypnotizing doesn’t tire anyone out. I think it was better than forcing her to remember the facts, which she probably didn’t.”

“But I don’t understand that. How can Kim not remember what she did in such recent times?”

“I am not so sure. I believe that this Aakash had some sort of control over her. But I doubt it was pure hypnotism.”

“Then?”

“Nikhil… I think your daughter has a kind of personality disorder. It allows people to easy control her. Has your daughter done anything out of the ordinary in the past few weeks? Or months, maybe?”

“Like what?”

“Anything. Easily overcoming her fears, or doing something she has never particularly been interested in before this.”

“Kimaya is scared of heights. But in August, on her school trip, she went sky-diving with her friends. I’m sure you know how terribly afraid of heights she used to be.”

“I wish I’d been there to recognize these symptoms before,” sighed Mr. Arora.

“It’s not your fault, Mayank. It’s all because of Aakash. I swear to God I’ll catch him.”

“Dad, Uncle Nikhil, please go and have something to eat. It is very late.”

“No, Tashanna. We must stay here. The police may be here any moment, too.”

“Please dad. I don’t want you to fall ill now. Right now, you need to be safe too. And for that, it is very important that you stay healthy. You too, Uncle. Please have something to eat.”

“She’s right, Mayank,” said Mr. Verma. “You need to be safe.”

Mr. Arora sighed and gave in, and they walked away towards the cafeteria.

Just then, a few policemen walked in. Tashanna looked at them, and relief marked her features.

“Inspector Aryan Sharma?” She inquired.

“Yes. Could I meet Mr. Nikhil Verma? Or Mr. Mayank Arora.”

“Yes sir. They are in the cafeteria. I’ll take you there.”

Tashanna felt relaxed as she led the policemen to her father. Finally, help had arrived. Now everything would be fine. But she had no idea how wrong she was.

A shadow entered Kimaya’s hospital room, as quiet as a church mouse. He put his hand on her mouth. Her eyes flew open in a fraction of a second, and the scene in front of her filled her with terror.

“Hello, Kimaya.”

And all Kimaya could do was stare, as the lights slowly blacked out.

***

They stared at the empty bed before them.

KIM!” Screamed Mrs. Verma.

A nurse came rushing in.

“Ma’am, please don’t make any noise. There are other patients in critical conditions on this floor. Please cooperate.”

“I’ll teach you how to cooperate! My daughter is missing from your hospital! This is one of the best hospitals in town and I must say, you have amazing security standards,” said Mr. Verma sarcastically. The frightened nurse scurried away.

“We should have never left. I would have been safe enough,” groaned Mr. Arora.

“No, Mayank. It was all just a very bad timing,” said Kimaya’s father. It was true. As Tashanna led the police away to the cafeteria, Aakash, or whoever it was, had kidnapped Kimaya again. Everyone was devastated again, and Tashanna, she had not stopped crying ever since Kimaya was discovered to be missing. She felt that she was responsible for all of it, and was extremely upset.

The security manager of the hospital entered the room.

“We are really sorry, Sir. I have no idea how this man managed to escape all the security,” he said, looking ashamed.

“What do you mean by sorry? Sorry does not fix anything! Can you bring my daughter back? Do that, instead of saying sorry! Don’t you have any cameras around the place?” Roared Mr. Verma. His daughter was missing yet again; and his anger knew no bounds.

“Yes sir, sorry sir. I will check the recordings immediately,” said the security manager, stammering a bit.

“I will go with him,” said Mr. Arora.

The guard and Mr. Arora went out of the room, leaving Kimaya’s parents to stare at the empty bed where their daughter had once been.

“Where do you think they took her this time?” Asked Kimaya’s mom.

“I don’t know, Anisha. I just hope she’s safe; and that she comes back to us soon.”

“I don’t think Aakash will hurt her. He could have killed her, or injured her seriously. But he hardly hurt her.”

“Unless Aakash was just a player in the game. Unless the real mastermind of this all is a different person, much more ruthless…” said Mr. Verma, his anxiety clear in his voice.

“Nikhil, I need my baby back. I need her back soon! If anything happens to her…” said Mrs. Verma, breaking down.

“Nothing will happen to Kimaya. I’m going to tear these criminals down – from their very root.” Mr. Verma had a sense of extreme determination in his voice. This time, he was not going to let these bad guys get away. This time, he was going to get to them. And he was going to pull them down; he was going to tear them apart.

He walked out of the room. He wasn’t wasting any time. Mrs. Verma looked at the bed and wiped her tears away. Her husband was right; it was time to be strong. Not a time to sit and weep. She followed her husband out and went to the security room, where the security manager and Mr. Arora had just finished watching the CCTV recordings.

“Found anything interesting?” She inquired.

“Yes,” said Mr. Arora. “There’s a clipping of a person moving a trolley of dirty sheets; but Mr. Mehra here says that the person looks a little unfamiliar to him,” he continued, gesturing towards the security manager.

“A trolley of dirty sheets?” Echoed Mr. Verma.

“Yes, Sir,” replied Mr. Mehra, the security manager, who looked like he had only partially recovered from the fright Kimaya’s father had given him.

“I’m guessing that Kimaya was drugged and hidden away in the sheets,” said Mr. Arora. “That’s our most likely chance for now.”

“Well then, why are you waiting here? Follow up that trolley! Someone must have seen it go somewhere!” Said Kimaya’s mom. Mr. Verma looked at her wife and smiled. These kidnappers were playing a damned game with his family. Well, he was ready to face it now. And he was sure that his wife was ready too. Game on, he thought.

Suddenly, the door of the little room opened, and Astrid entered, panting.

“Uncle,” she said. “Vihaan has woken up.”

“Vihaan!” Said Mr. Arora, immediately getting up. He followed Astrid to his son’s room. No one had been allowed to stay in Vihaan’s room for too long, since the doctors said he needed a lot of rest. Mr. Arora had hardly been able to look at his son for a few minutes.

Mr. Verma gave the security manager orders to find out about that mysterious man and the trolley, and hurriedly went to Vihaan’s room.

“Vihaan! My son! Are you alright?”

“Dad? Yes, I’m fine. What happened? How did I end up here?”

“Vihaan..?” asked Mr. Arora, confused.

A pin-drop silence took over the little room, as everyone realized what had happened. Vihaan didn’t seem to remember anything. Mrs. Arora looked at her son in horror, as she feared the worst. Had her child lost his memory?

“Vihaan…” said Mr. Verma gently. “Try to remember. Try to remember the man who shot Kimaya, will you? You went after him. Remember?”

“What man? What happened to Kimaya? And why is mom here?”

Mr. Arora sighed. Vihaan had been hit on the head, and the impact probably made him lose part of his memory. He seemed to remember everything… Except from when he included Kimaya in the plan. But he didn’t want to jump to conclusions without a proper check-up. Just then…

“Dad, what did you say about Kimaya getting shot…?” Asked Vihaan, uncertainly.

A slight smile touched Mr. Arora’s lips. His son had not forgotten anything. All he needed was a little memory push.

“You remember Aakash?” Asked Vihaan’s father.

Vihaan stayed silent for a minute, trying to recall. And in the next minute, a lot of emotions were clearly displayed on his face. First, he was angry, as he slowly started remembering the past events. Then, he seemed upset and slightly scared. And then, he went pale.

“Vihaan?” Asked Mrs. Arora. “Vihaan!”

Suddenly, Vihaan fainted.

Mrs. Arora was almost panicking, when her husband told her to calm down.

“Relax,” said Mr. Arora. “He’ll be fine. This happens sometimes, when the person remembers things in a flash. We should leave the room now. Let him rest.”

Reluctantly, everyone left the room. Just then, the Inspector arrived with a couple of policemen.

“I hear you daughter has disappeared again, Mr. Verma? A kidnapping case this time?” Inquired the Inspector.

“Yes, Inspector Sharma. We went to get something to eat. A mistake we should have never made.”

“It is terrible, Mr. Verma. I assure you that the police force is doing its best to reach the origin of all this.”

Mr. Verma just nodded.

“Our team checked out the crime scene. I must say, either this person is a novice, or the ultimate fool. He left behind valuable evidence.”

“Why? What did he do?” Asked Mr. Arora, surprised. He had been looking for these people for months, and there was never a single clue.

“Well, for one, he left behind the bullet which hit Kimaya. We can trace them down using it. Second, the mud in that area was wet, and there are clearly noticeable footsteps. The shoes seemed to be very large, and I don’t believe any of you have such a large foot-size. And third, I believe you have seen him, right Mrs. Verma? Do you think you can help us make a sketch of Aakash?”

“I would love to help, Inspector. But I’m not sure if I can provide such a clear sketch; I only saw Aakash for a minute or so. But I’m sure my friend Clarisse will help us out. She was the one who introduced us to Aakash.”

“Alright, Mrs.Verma. But I’m not so sure if your friend is such a dependable person. I don’t think she ought to be trusted.”

“No, Inspector. I’ve known Clarisse ever since we shifted to India. I doubt she is mixed in all this. The maximum she can do is refuse to provide a sketch. In that case, I will make the most out of whatever memories I have of him.”

“If you say so, Mrs. Verma,” said the Inspector, still looking uncertain. “I shall carry on with the investigations. Please excuse me.”

“Yes,” said Kimaya’s dad.

The Inspector went away, leaving the rest in the gloomy atmosphere.

“What has happened to our happy little world…” groaned Vihaan’s mother.

“Don’t worry, Sanjana,” said her husband. “These people have troubled us enough. Now it’s their time to suffer.”

[] Chapter 9

Vihaan

I arrived at the station in one piece. My chest was pounding, it had been a long way to run. I went to the counter for a ticket for the closest train. I got one which would drop me near my destination, and started walking towards the platform. I was about to take a seat when I noticed someone take sit down opposite to me. I felt the urge to get up and pin down that man right there, but I realized that I may only get into trouble for it. It’s a public place, and violence is definitely not appreciated here.

The man grinned at me, his eyes glistening with malice. I shot him a death glare, fisting my hand and holding it close to me, afraid that it may just go against my wishes and onto that irritating man. We spent twenty minutes like that, and I almost wanted to kill myself, for not being able to kill him. The train arrived to its final destination at last, and I jumped out. My first instinct was to get hold of that man. But then, what seemed to be a better idea popped into my head. I ran, as fast as I could, thanking heavens that I was a good athlete. The person behind me took off too, but thankfully, I had a good lead. And I was pretty sure, that plump little man could not run half as fast as me!  I smiled to myself, and kept running. I was right, the man was lagging way behind me.

“Hey! Wait! I give up!” Shouted the person, asking me to stop.

I slowed down, but I didn’t stop. I valued my life more than to be so stupid. The man slowly caught up with me, but I kept my pace. I was still more than a few feet ahead of him. I was pretty sure that he didn’t have a knife with him, and I had snapped his gun right out of his hands before reaching the station. He had no way to harm me, unless he wanted to pick up a brawl. Or so I thought.

I felt the person stop a few feet behind me. I kept running, but my curiosity got the better of me and I looked back to see what happened. And that, was a very big mistake on my part.

A sharp pain took over my head, and the last thing I saw was a venomous smile on the horrible man’s face. He had hit me with a stone, with a perfect strike, straight on my temple. He had done what I had least expected him to do. I blacked out, and after that, nothing was known to me.

——-

I woke up at the hospital, and blinked to adjust my eyes to the brightness. I stared at the nurse, who saw me open my eyes and rushed to call the doctor. The doctor came in with my dad, and they checked me up. I was still furious. How could I let Kim be hurt?! And on that, end up like this myself! Dad noticed the anger visible in my eyes.

“Calm down Vihaan. It’s alright. It was never your fault, you very well know that!”

The doctor left, so that my dad could do a mental check-up perhaps.

“It is my fault dad! He bloody shot Kimaya! How is she now? I hope you and Kim made it to the hospital safely.”

“We did make it to the hospital safely.”

“Thank God!”

Dad stared at me sadly.

“Dad? Is everything okay?”

“Vihaan, someone kidnapped Kimaya again.”

I stared at dad. How is that even possible?

“But you said you reached the hospital safely?”

“Yes we did. But… Someone stole her from within the hospital…”

“What?”

“Relax Vihaan. We’ll find her. You know we will.”

I groaned, and tried to calm down. I knew that my blowing up will not do anyone any good, and definitely not Kimaya. I heard my dad asking me to rest, and he got up to go out. Suddenly, I remembered something.

“Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“How did I reach here?” I remember nothing after blacking out, and I don’t really know how and why I ended up in the hospital.

“Aakash brought you in. I didn’t see him, so he escaped. Only you, Kim and I knew that he was the criminal.”

How pathetic can I be! I let myself be hit by a person who looked like an idiot, and more over, I let him take care of me. But why did he?

“We don’t know why he brought you in. You were injured enough, he could’ve let you die,” said dad, as if he just read my mind.

He left the room, and left me wondering. What is going on? What’s the story behind Aakash?

Even though I had just woken up, I still felt damn tired. I guess it’s because all this is just too much to take. Before I knew it, I fell asleep.

***

I woke up again, after an hour or so, but I didn’t recognize the room I was in. It was not the old ICU. They probably shifted me to a proper room as I was recovering fast.

“Vihaan!” Said a voice near me. I turned a little to see my little sis coming towards me.

“Oh God! You had us all worried!” She said, taking me into a small hug, careful to not hurt me.

“I’m fine, Tasha. Come on, your bro is not so weak!”

She managed a small smile, and got up, saying that she’ll call up mom and ask her to come to the room. They were probably with the police or someone, and Tashanna was determined not to leave me. She told me that the last time, she left Kim alone and she was gone. I was pretty sure I could take care of myself, but I decided to not worry anyone anymore and let her call through phone.

My parents came rushing in, and my mom burst into tears as she saw me.

“Vihaan! Do you have any idea how scared and upset we were?”

“Calm down mom, I’m fine.”

“I’ll calm down if you tell me that you’re not going to go messing with your life again!”

“Mom, I never intended for all this to happen, you know that right?”

“I know Vihaan,” she said. “Just take more care next time, okay?”

“I will, mom. Any signs about Kimaya’s whereabouts?”

“Not yet,” replied dad. “But Aakash left behind a lot of clues. I’m sure we’ll find her soon.”

“I know. I just hope we’re not too late…”

[] Chapter 10

Kimaya

I opened my mouth to scream, but before even a word came out, a strong hand covered my mouth and blocked out all my protests. I tried to push his hand off, but he hit my bandaged hand and the immense pain that overtook me didn’t let me try any more. My eyes widened in horror as I realised what he was about to do. He raised the handkerchief to my nose, and watched me go unconscious.

***

I woke up in the same tiny room. I couldn’t understand what was going on. If he was going to kidnap me, why would he bring me to the same place again? Although I didn’t know the address, it was a risky thing to do.

“So the princess has woken up?”

I snapped my head and saw Aakash sitting there, with the most devilish smile possible.

“You! What problem have you got with me?”

“Nothing, young Missy. It’s your uncle I’ve got a problem with.”

“What did he do? He’s one of the sweetest people I know!”

“Well… He did a lot to us. He almost destroyed us. And now, we will destroy him.”

“We? You mean there are others too?” Asked Kimaya. She couldn’t get out of there so she decided to get the some information out of Aakash.

“Now now, I never said that, did I? I have problems with your uncle. Don’t act smart now, you’re the only way I have.”

“But why me?”

“You were fragile. Vihaan and you took enough care of his mother and sis. Vihaan was not an option either, as his father would only think that he could take care of himself. So who’s left? You, sweetheart. You knew everything, and you had no protection. You were our easiest catch,” said Aakash with a smirk. “Now, princess, you must sleep again.”

“No!” Screamed Kimaya, but it was too late. The towel filled with chloroform covered her face and she fell asleep again.

——-

“Bye Tashanna!” I said in a chirpy voice. The party had been amazing, I was so happy!

“Bye Kim, take care! And trust me, your book is going to be very successful!”

I laughed. The party’s highlight was my mother’s paintings on my books. They were awesome. The publishers were pleased with me, and said that they’d await my next book. I didn’t really know what to write next, though. I was good at romance, but I wanted to try something new. Mystery maybe? I smiled and smacked my forehead. I needn’t worry so much! I’ll just let the idea come to me when it wants to.

“Kimaya?” said a familiar voice.

“Yes?” I asked turning around. I didn’t recognize the person immediately, but I suddenly realized who it was.

“Mr. Singh?”

“You remember me,” he said with a smile. “You can call me Aakash though. No need to be so formal, I’m good as a friend.”

I chuckled and nodded.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“Well, I was just passing by and I saw you, so I thought I’d say a hello. What’s the party about?”

“Oh! My book…my dream just came true. My first book was published. It’s on Amazon; you can get it if you want.”

“Oh my God, that is amazing! Congratulations!”

I smiled and thanked him.

After some more small talk, he suddenly turned serious.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Kim, I need your help. A lot of help. It is very, very important.”

“What is it?”

“Will you come with me for a while? I’ll show it to you and explain.”

“I’m sorry, I should really be going back to the party right now. Some other day maybe?”

He looked me in the eye, and I felt a strange sensation taking over me. Like when I’d gone sky diving. Or dancing. Or talking to people. What’s going on? But I couldn’t really think.

And before I could analyse anything else, “Alright,” I replied.

He led me through a series of lanes, and at times I thought that he was taking too many turns simply to confuse me. I wasn’t really sure of where I was when I reached. I was good with directions but this was a part of the city I’d never really seen, and the way was just too muddling for me to remember at once.

We arrived in front of a small building which looked like it was about to fall down any second. He opened the door and led me through a staircase to a little room.

“So?” I asked. “Where do you need my help? Don’t tell me you need to fix this room or something,” I said, staring at the damaged walls and their worn off paint.

“Of course not. I believe you are in some need of a little rest. You have a little nap, I’ll just be back,” he said, making eye contact again. I felt myself fall weak again and obeyed him.

He went out of the room and I fell asleep on the tiny bed lying in the room.

The next day when I woke up, I couldn’t remember the events of the past night. What had happened? I wondered where I was, and searched for my phone. It was nowhere to be seen. Just then Aakash stepped in.

“Calm down, Kim,” he said as he saw me struggle to remember.

“Why am I here?” I asked.

“For helping me out. Now, freshen up.”

I followed his orders like a faithful puppy, but I wasn’t really sure why. When I came out of the washroom, Aakash was gone again. He came back in an hour or so, with a huge cardboard box in his hands. I stared at the box wondering what it contained.  Aakash opened it to remain some magnetic target boards with some sticks which were probably their shooting things, and some real target boards along with knifes. I looked at him, scared.

“Come on princess. We shall start practicing.”

I moved forward hesitantly and picked up the magnetic stuff first. We spent almost two days in that tiny room and he prepared me for the job he wanted me to do. We started with the magnetic targets first, so that no one got hurt; and as I got better, he made me use real knifes. I was freaked out at first but he insisted and soon, I was aiming almost like a pro. Aakash was a pro already, of course. I mean, he seems to have a best aim I’ve ever seen. Soon, my time in the little room was over, and Aakash told me of the job I had to do.

I was horrified.

“Kimaya, you have to kill someone for me.”

“No! How can you even imagine I’ll do that?”

“Look at me Kim.”

I stared at him and I felt like I was losing control again.

“You will do it, won’t you?” He asked.

“Yes, I will,” I replied, shocked at my own words.

“Good then. Here’s a bag for you. You’ll find everything you need in it, including a knife. Just one knife Kim. You have to have a perfect shot. Don’t get caught Kim, don’t let all your effort of two days go waste.”

I nodded.

“I see you are ready. So I shall take you to a place and leave you alone there. You can make your way from there. Here’s the exact address and time at which you’ll find your target, harmless and waiting for his death.”

I looked at the piece of paper he had given me, and was shocked.

“I know this place! It is—”

“I know. Don’t worry. At the particular time, you won’t find more than a single person at that place. And that person, Kimaya, will be your aim. You are his death. Now come.”

I went out with him, frightened out of my wits.

“Calm down Kimaya.” He spoke softly to me all the way. Finally, we reached a place which I was familiar with.

“I must go now, Kimaya,” he said. “I’m sure you can make your way from here. Good luck.”

I walked ahead; feeling braver and more confident than before. I knew that I can do this.

I reached the place – a place so very familiar to me. I had been here many times before; for different reasons of course.

And then, I spotted my target. And I aimed. But I missed it. I felt scared, like a prey out in the open. I did the next thing my body asked me to – run. And that’s what I did until I ran into a hard surface and collapsed, not caring of what will happen next. Strong arms wrapped around me and I burst out crying. I had no idea what was going on, everything seemed to be such a blur.

“Ssshh.. It’s me, Kim.”

I looked up, my vision blurred with tears. But I knew who this person was. Vihaan. I sobbed in his arms, finally feeling safe.

“You’re safe now,” he said, gently comforting me.

As I was wondering what had happened, Vihaan’s dad came to us – the person I was going to kill. I stared at him, guilt and panic crossing my face. I was just starting to explain, when I saw someone. Aakash. With a gun in his hand. And before anyone could react, he shot me – on my arm. Aakash took off, and Vihaan screamed, running behind him.

I was bleeding heavily. Vihaan’s father tried to stop the blood, but it was no use. I suddenly felt dizzy and then, I guess I fainted. And finally, when my senses slowly started slipping in, I could hear my mother’s pleas and tears. “Wake up Kim, please wake up…”

“Mom!” I suddenly said, awakened. I dizzily looked around the room, the same tiny room. I remembered the past events. Aakash. That bastard. I had to get him arrested at any cost. I quietly crawled out of the bed and saw Aakash in the balcony, having a smoke with a man I did not recognize. I inched closer, looking for a way to control him. I didn’t think I had any.

Suddenly, the man with Aakash moved and stood up, his back facing the door. I ducked down, so that he wouldn’t notice me through the adjoining window. He put something on the window sill. I waited till he sat down, and slowly moved to see what he had left on the window.

I smiled to myself as I realized what he had done. He had left me with a perfect chance. I grinned. Your time is up, Mr. Singh, I thought.

***

“Yes, Mr. Arora. I believe he is absolutely fine. He’s fit to go home, you can take him any time you wish from now.”

“Thank you Doctor. We can focus on Kimaya now that Vihaan is fine.”

“I’ll pray that you find her soon, Mr. Arora,” said the Doctor.

Mr. Arora nodded and went inside Vihaan’s room.

“Good news, Vihaan. They have discharged you. But it is late at night, I’m thinking we’ll leave tomorrow morning.”

“No way dad! Kim is in danger! We should get out of this hospital and try to help her!”

“But Vihaan we cannot do anything at night!”

“I don’t care, dad. I’m getting out of this place right now,” said Vihaan, getting up.

“You’ll never stop being stubborn, will you?” Asked Mr. Arora with a smile.

“Not when someone’s safety is concerned dad.”

“Alright, Vihaan. You get ready, I’ll sign the hospital papers.”

Vihaan nodded.

***

“Stay down or I’ll shoot,” said Kimaya in a smooth voice. She was scared as hell but she knew better than to show her fear. Right now, if her voice went unstable, she knew she would be in soup.

“Put that gun down Kimaya!” Screamed Aakash.

“Uh-uh. Don’t try that on me, Aakash. Whatever weapons you have, out. Right now,” said Kimaya, slowly edging towards the other person. He had put his gun on the window sill, a big advantage for Kim; and she was pretty sure he didn’t have any more weapons with him. Besides, she was sure Aakash wouldn’t hurt her. If he wanted her dead, he would have killed her the first time.

“What makes you think I’ll obey what you say, princess?” Asked Aakash.

“This,” she replied, suddenly forcing her arm around the man and pushing the gun to his head.

“Get away from me!” Yelled the man in Kimaya’s hold, trying to hit her and free himself.

“I wouldn’t try that if I were you. Seems like you don’t care about your life, Mister,” said Kimaya, tightening her grip on the gun. The man immediately fell limp, scared to move. Kimaya grinned. Oh, the power of a gun!

“Kimaya let him go.”

“And may I know why?”

Aakash stayed silent.

“Your weapons, Aakash. Out with them, NOW. Unless you want your friend here dead…”

“Okay! Here you go!” Said Aakash helplessly, throwing his knife on the table.

“I’m sure that’s not the only thing you have on you,” said Kimaya, noticing a lump near Aakash’s ankles.

“Oh fine,” muttered Aakash as he took out the gun, which was safely tucked away in the sock of his left foot.

“Move,” ordered Kimaya, pushing the man she was controlling. She picked up the knife and the gun, and secured it in her belt. She next moved and carefully looked at Aakash, not wanting any more weapons with him.

“Damn, I didn’t know you’re such a detective. That’s all I have with me, princess,” said Aakash, noticing what she was doing.

“Good. Now, tell me what problem you have with my Uncle.”

“Don’t talk about that—-”

“He’s my Uncle!” Snapped Kim. “A word against him and I will kill you both!”

Aakash stared at her like she had turned into the devil.

“Now start speaking. What’s your problem?!”

“Your uncle and his profession.”

“Profession? What’s wrong in being an event manager?”

“No, not that one. I have a problem with him being a psychiatrist.”

Kimaya looked at Aakash, waiting for him to continue, her gun still aimed at the other man’s brain.

“Look Kim. You wanted to know my problem, I told you that. Now let my friend go.”

“Do you really think I’m so generous?” Laughed Kimaya. She could see that both Aakash and his friend were in a position to be easily controlled now. She was not scared any more.

Aakash didn’t reply.

“Will you explain or do I fire?” Said Kimaya, her finger on the trigger.

“NO! Okay! I’ll explain! Just let my brother go!”

Brother, thought Kimaya. So that’s why he’s scared. Well, I’m going to use his fear to my advantage.

“You start talking Aakash. Or I assure you, your brother will soon meet God,” said Kimaya, with a slight smirk.

“Fine. I’ll explain.” Aakash finally gave in.

“Start.”

“Two years back, when your Uncle was about to give up his profession of psychiatry, my wife’s niece went to his hospital. She was very depressed about the death of her best friend. She’d keep crying all day long, and finally, we decided that she needed help. I am a psychiatrist too. I tried making her understand, but it was of no use. I dare say, I’m not such an excellent one. I just did it for the sake of becoming a doctor. I was never really much interested. At that time, your uncle was one of the best psychiatrists in town, and we decided to take my niece, Naina, to him. Her best friend was like a sister to her. She committed suicide under the pressure of studies and Naina could just not handle that. Naina became suicidal herself. We found her with sleeping pills and blades every other day.

I went with Naina to the hospital. When we reached, we were taken to Dr. Arora’s space. It was a nice one, calm and serene; perfect for a psychiatrist. I remember your uncle’s soothing voice. He spoke to her in a manner almost unimaginable to me. After two appointments, when Naina refused to calm down, he decided to give her an anti-depressant. But Naina never took any. She flushed them down, threw them away. I don’t what exactly she did, but I don’t think she ever had any of those anti-depressants.

On the fourth meeting, when Naina’s condition showed no signs of improving, Dr. Arora felt that there was something else that she had hidden away, deep inside her. He tried a lot to make Naina speak, but when nothing worked out, he finally decided to hypnotize her.

And that one session revealed everything. Naina and her best friend had been eve-teased by some boys the night before the suicide. The boys were aiming at Naina, but to save Naina, her friend pushed herself forward. Naina’s friend couldn’t take the amount of abuse and humiliation she went through – and she committed suicide the next day. Naina spent all those weeks thinking that she was responsible for her friend’s death. She kept her feelings to herself, the humiliation and pain cutting through her every second.

Your uncle was furious at this. He wanted those boys arrested. The revelation calmed Naina down a bit, and she soon regained her senses. Her anger took over the pain, and she decided to get those boys punished. Mr. Arora started filing a case about it. But unfortunately, one of those boys was my cousin’s son. I was horrified, I wanted him punished too. But I had promised my cousin a favour years ago. And he asked me to do it that time. I protested, but ultimately, I gave in. I helped my cousin out. We started sending death threats to your uncle to make him stop the case. He was stubborn to do that at first, but when we threatened his family, he quietly obeyed.

But now, he was starting to get braver. One of our spies saw him go to the police station once. We freaked out, and decided to so something fast. We decided to hit on our easiest target. And you, Kimaya—”

“I was the best hold you could have on Uncle,” finished Kimaya.

“Yes…” Replied Aakash.

“You should be ashamed of yourself! What sort of man are you? Not only did you shield a crime, but you also cheated on your niece! How could you?”

“Calm down princess; you’ll pull the trigger!”

Kimaya suddenly remembered that her hand was still holding the gun to Aakash’s brother’s head.

“Oh you don’t worry about that Mr. Aakash. I’ll take care of that,” she said.

“So now that you know the whole story, let my brother go.”

“I’m not foolish, you idiot. You both are coming with me, right to the police station.”

“What did I do?!” Protested Aakash’s brother.

“Nothing – don’t worry I’ll tell the police that,” said Kimaya. “You can at least be a nice brother and comfort Aakash in his days in the prison, right?”

Kimaya tugged on the man’s shirt and made him walk. Aakash silently followed. Kimaya realized that Aakash was never the mastermind behind all this. He was not that bad at heart, or he would have killed her by now. There were no casualties in this case till now; it was only blackmailing. And Kimaya intended to put an end to that too.

They went down the stairs of the building, and Kimaya ordered Aakash to show the way out. This place was still pretty much of a maze to her.

“Beware,” she said. “One wrong move of yours and your brother is dead.”

Aakash nodded and slowly led them out. Just as they were getting out, Kimaya tripped. The gun flew out of her hand, and Aakash picked it up.

“Too bad, princess,” he smirked.

“Let me go!”

“I’m not so kind hearted.”

“Keep her tight,” said Aakash to his brother. “I need to get out of here first.”

Aakash turned around and started walking, before coming back to Kim for a minute.

“You know, I’m wondering how my cousin’s son would have felt when he did all that. I think now is a nice time to try it out. You controlled me for so long, now it’s time to control you a bit, isn’t it Kim?”

“Don’t you dare!” She screamed.

“Ssshh… Don’t worry princess, I won’t hurt you.”

“Let me go!”

Aakash moved towards Kimaya menacingly, he came so close. And as he moved to do something wrong, a hand caught him.

“That was a damn wrong move, Singh.”

And before Aakash could respond, a hand struck his face.

Kimaya looked at the person who had appeared like a shadow from behind Aakash. A smile of relief spread across her face. Dad! And then she noticed someone else -Vihaan. She sighed in relief, happy that he was alright.

And as Aakash stared, he was rewarded with another slap across his face.

“Shame on you!” Screamed Mr. Verma. “How dare you!?”

Aakash’s brother left hold of Kimaya, scared. Vihaan came up to her and hugged her. Kimaya felt protected. Her dad was here. And so the person who had become a true friend to her over the months. The police stepped up and took hold of Aakash and his brother. Mr. Verma caressed his daughter for a few minutes, and then left with the police for some legal procedures. The police was going to talk to Kimaya the next day.

As Vihaan led Kimaya away, she noticed tears in his eyes.

“Why are you crying?”

“It’s all because of me that all this happened. I should have never involved you…”

“Come on Vihaan. I’m glad I could help. But Aakash is only a little coin in the game. The real person is probably his cousin, I believe.”

“Cousin?” Asked Vihaan, confused. He obviously had no idea about what Aakash had told Kimaya.

“Long story,” replied Kimaya. “Let’s go home first.”

[] Chapter 11

Two hours later, Kimaya was finally done with her long story. Everything that had been happening with her from the past few days – the little room, the shooting practice, Aakash and his brother – everything.

“So that’s how he could easily control you. He is a psychiatrist himself,” commented Mr. Arora.

“Yeah,” replied Kimaya. “But uncle, is it possible to hypnotize that easily? I mean, all he had to do is look me in the eye and there – I’m as good as a little dog.”

“That’s what I thought. Don’t worry, you’ll get over it Kim. This sort of thing happens when a person feels low about himself; he starts feeling others are better and does whatever the other person does or asks him to.”

Kimaya looked at him dumbfounded. But I don’t think low of myself!

“It happens, Kim. Take it easy!” Said Mr. Arora, in a soothing voice.

Kimaya nodded, still feeling lost.

“Okay, enough of sadness now. What really matters is that everyone is fine, and the culprit – or at least a relative of the culprit – is in jail,” said Astrid.

Kimaya smiled.

“You could make this your next book you know!” Said Tashanna, suddenly. She had been quiet all this while, still feeling guilty.

“Come on, Tashanna! Not much of a story, is it!”

“Of course it is! My sister has all the brilliant ideas!” Laughed Vihaan. He earned a punch from both Tashanna and Kimaya, and ended up laughing harder.

“Oww!” He faked a yelp. “I’m still weak! Please be softer, ladies!”

“Oh, let me show you what softness is. May I?” Challenged Kimaya.

“No, please. I’m in no mood of taking on a karate champion!”

Everyone started laughing. With Aakash in the police’s hold, they didn’t have much to fear. Everyone was finally relaxing.

“Oh, reminds me, what happened to Kim’s book?” Asked Vihaan. “I’m sure it must’ve been a hit!”

“Yes, it was,” replied Kimaya’s mother. “The publishers came to us, saying that they wanted to talk to Kim for expanding the sales. But Kimaya wasn’t there that time… And we were too upset for all that. We’ll contact the publisher tomorrow itself!”

“Awesome!” Said Astrid. “Let’s party!”

“No more parties for me. Not yet!” Groaned Kimaya.

Astrid suddenly remembered that it was the party which started it all. “Sorry,” she said, slapping her head.

“Party or not, what you all must do now is sleep,” said Mrs. Verma firmly. “Astrid, stay the night. I’m not letting you go home at this time. Tashanna, Vihaan, it would be great if you stayed too!”

“Thank you, Anisha,” said Mr. Arora. “But I guess we should go home now. If not, we’d never end up sleeping!” He added, with a laugh.

“Alright, then. But I still insist, do stay!”

“Really sorry Anisha. Some other day maybe?”

“Oh well, okay!”

The bell rang.

“Dad!” Said Kim, getting up to open the door.

“Hello,” said Mr. Verma, coming in.

“Good timing, Nikhil,” said Mr. Arora. “Or we’d have to wait till the morning to meet you!”

“What, you’re leaving?” Asked Kimaya’s dad. “No way! I know your house is literally the next one, but I insist you stay. Even your wife has fallen asleep here!” He said, seeing Mrs. Arora dozing away on the couch.

“But Nikhil we really must—-”

“I won’t take no for an answer. Anisha, prepare the guest room. They are not going anywhere at this time.”

Mrs. Verma got up, and Kimaya followed her to the room.

“I’m sorry, mom…” Said Kimaya, as they entered the guest bedroom.

“Why are you sorry, Kim?”

“For all this trouble. I should have been more… careful.”

“It’s not your fault sweetie! Trust me; I’m going to kill that Aakash for what he did to my child!” Said Mrs. Verma, taking her daughter into her arms. Kimaya smiled.

“Okay now let’s get this room done!”

They put in a water jug and glasses, so that no one needed to go out of the room at night. When they went down again, Mr. Verma was busy telling them about what happened in the police station.

“So now he is officially under arrest?”

“No, he will be from tomorrow, after Naina and Kimaya’s statements.”

“Naina too?”

“Yes. She was the real reason behind all this, right?”

“Hmm.”

“What about that cousin of his? Whose son harassed those girls?”

“He shall be brought too, along with his son. If Naina recognizes the boy, he’s done for.”

“Good for him. Such disgusting people should be locked up forever.”

“I totally agree. Aakash committed a huge crime too, by hiding the facts. I pity that girl, Naina. For so many months, she must have lived under the burden of her friend’s death; probably knowing that she could never get justice done.”

“Yes. I hope she’ll be fine from now.”

“I’m thinking I’ll have a few sessions with her,” said Mr. Arora.

“That’s a good idea,” replied Kimaya. “She shouldn’t feel depressed any longer.”

“And you all shouldn’t stay awake any longer!” Said Mrs. Verma.

“God, look at the time! It’s 2 AM already!”

“Anisha is right,” said Mr. Verma. “We’ve got a long day up tomorrow – we all need some sleep!”

“Hopefully things will be quieter now.”

“Yes they will. Now let’s sleep!”

And with that, everyone went to their rooms.

Kimaya lied down on her bed. She was sharing the bed with Astrid. She stretched out, feeling the comfort of her bed after days. The last time she’d slept on this bed was the night before her book released – and she’d been so anxious that time that she hadn’t really been comfortable.

“Astrid?”

“Yeah?”

“Do you really think Aakash’s cousin won’t strike back? I mean, he’s still roaming free, right?”

“If he does, I must say he’d be a pretty damned fool. He cannot save his son any longer. There’s no reason for him to harm uncle or any of us, actually.”

“There’s still revenge…”

“I don’t think he’s that bad, Kimaya. Well, at least I hope not. If he’s anything like Aakash, he won’t do anything. Anyway, the police will arrest him tomorrow itself. He’s only got the night to hit us, and we’re all here together. Surely we can manage him!”

“Hmm. I hope so too.”

“Now you sleep; you have a big day tomorrow!”

“Yes,” Kimaya replied. “Goodnight, Andy.”

“Goodnight Kimmy.”

***

“So is this your final statement, Ms. Kimaya Verma?”

“Yes sir. Aakash Singh hypnotized and kidnapped me twice, and tried to murder my uncle, all for the sake of shielding the deadly crime of his nephew. Last night, as some of you witnessed, he also tried to touch me.”

“What do you have to say about your failed attempt of murdering your own uncle?”

“I was in the state of hypnotism at that time. I swear I would have never even imagined such a thing in my right mind.”

“What proof do you have regarding that?”

“Excuse me? I know my daughter well. Please don’t harass her by asking such questions and putting the blame on her,” said Mr. Verma, angrily.

“Forgive us, but it is our duty. Tomorrow, if your daughter tries to kill someone else and succeeds at it, what would you say then?”

“She is suffering from a personality disorder, allowing her to be hypnotized easily. You can get the symptoms checked through any renowned psychiatrist,” said Mr. Arora.

“Then we shall have that done,” replied the inspector.

Kimaya was almost in tears. The burden of the guilt she was already feeling was terrible. Kimaya weakly fell on her knees and started sobbing.

“Look at what you have done! My daughter has suffered a lot in the past few days and you are putting the blame on her? Don’t you realize the pain she’s already feeling?” Roared Mr. Verma.

“Sorry sir. Now, can we please have her checked?”

“You—-”

“No dad… He’s probably right. I’ll go with them, it’s better to have me checked,” said Kimaya, cutting her dad short.

“But Kim… Baby you don’t have to do this.”

“It’s okay dad. I’ll be fine.”

“Okay.”

The police led Kimaya away to a hospital nearby, and the rest of the people present there gave their statement too. A date was fixed as the judgement day when Aakash would be presented in the court, and be officially sent to jail after Naina’s statement. That was two days later, to allow Aakash to get a lawyer. Kimaya was tested and declared innocent too.

Meanwhile, another senior team of the police was sent in the lookout of Aakash’s cousin, the person who started this mess. Aakash had given them the address, but the police wasn’t exactly sure if the man was still there.

***

“Hurry up, Sameer,” said Aakash’s brother on the phone. “They’ve captured Aakash and he’s spilled the beans. You gotta get out of there fast.”

“Oh shit. Yeah, I’ll take Tej and vanish. My stupid son. I wish he’d never touched Naina and her friend in the first place. None of this shit would have happened then.”

“Yes. Now cut the crap short and run. I have to go. Be careful,” replied Aakash’s brother, hanging up the phone.

“Had a nice talk with your cousin, eh?” Said a voice behind him.

Aakash’s brother went pale. The inspector. Oh no.

“I… It was my wife… She—-”

“I thought ‘Sameer’ was a boy’s name.”

“No. It’s short for… Umm… Sam. I mean Sameera! Yeah. Sameer is short for Sameera.”

“Then why were you telling your wife to run? Is she an athlete with a running race tomorrow?”

“Yes sir… I mean no! Actually…”

“Actually, you’re under arrest.”

“No! I didn’t do anything! It was completely Sameer and Aakash’s plan! Leave me alone!”

But it was too late. The inspector had already handcuffed him and pushing him through the door of a cell.

“You have some company, Aakash,” he said as he pushed Aakash’s brother in the same cell.

Aakash looked at his brother and let out a frustrated sigh. Idiot, he thought.

“I’ll let you two brothers have some time alone and regret on your deeds. Meanwhile, we’ve got your cousin to catch – Sameer.” And the inspector walked off.

***

The car stopped in front of a bungalow.

“Are you sure this is Sameer’s house?” Asked Senior Inspector Aryan.

“Yes sir, this is the house according to Aakash’s directions.”

“Alright then. Search the house properly.”

The policemen got down from the car and went inside the house. They looked around, but it seemed like Sameer had already disappeared with his son Tej. As one of them searched the bedroom, the landline rung. The policeman picked it up, careful to not say anything in case the person on the other line recognized a change in voice.

“Sameer, man, the flight to Guwahati has been delayed by an hour. Be careful, I’ll meet you at the airport.”

The policeman cut the call, and went to the Senior Inspector.

“Sir!” He said.

“Yes Venkatesh?”

“There was a call on the landline. It was a man saying that Sameer’s flight has been delayed by an hour. He’s going to Guwahati.”

“Brilliant! He has no way to escape now.”

***

Half an hour later, the policemen entered the airport.

“Sir, you cannot go any further,” said a security guard.

The inspector shoved his badge into the guard’s face. The guard stepped back and let him enter. He went to the nearest inquiry centre.

“Which flight to Guwahati has been delayed by an hour?” He asked the attendant.

“Just a minute sir. I will check and let you know.”

“Yes. Fast, please.”

“Is anything wrong, sir?”

“A lot! There’s a man on that plane who oughts to be in jail.”

A little scared, the attendant quickly gave him the details of the particular plane.

“When does the boarding start?”

Before the attendant could answer, an announcement was heard.

“Assam Airways flight from Bangalore to Guwahati is now boarding.”

“Give me a ticket for that plane, fast!”

“That is not possible once the plane starts boarding, sir.”

The inspector cursed his luck and muttered a hurried thanks to the attendant, rushing towards the boarding area.

“Your ticket, sir?”

“I don’t have a ticket, but I have to catch a man on that plane.”

“I am sorry sir, but you cannot enter without a ticket.”

“You care about my ticket or the lives of the passengers on that plane?”

The flight in-charge stepped away hurriedly, frightened. The inspector smothered a smile. Sameer was not that dangerous; but to make him sound dangerous was the only probable way that he could enter that flight.

The inspector passed a glance to the sketch of Sameer and Tej he had. There was no photo available, so he had made Aakash describe them.

His eyes searched the plane desperately, looking for Sameer. Damn him! Thought the inspector. Sameer had probably disguised himself to avoid recognition. Just then, he noticed a young man with a dark scar near his ear, something that Tej was supposed to have, according to Aaskash.  So this man, who didn’t really look much like the person in the sketch, could be Tej. Bad luck, Sameer. He smiled to himself.

The inspector walked up to the person with the scar. “Excuse me?”

“Yes?” Asked Tej.

The inspector didn’t reply – instead, he lingered his hand near Tej’s mouth and gave a sudden tug at the beard. It came off easily, revealing that it was just a disguise.

“Mr. Singh,” said the inspector triumphantly. “You are under arrest. And now, please reveal where your father is.”

“I don’t know any Tej Singh!” Protested Tej.

“But I never mentioned that Mr. Singh is Tej Singh, did I? Asked the inspector, acting innocent.

Tej went pale and looked down, afraid. The inspector cuffed him up, and ordered him to show who Sameer is. The boy silently did so.

“Hello, Mr. Verma?” Said the inspector on the phone. “Both Sameer and his son have been arrested.”

[] Chapter 12

December 7th, 2011 (Two Days Later)

“Ms. Naina Agarwal, please give us your statement,” said the lawyer.

“It was over a year ago. My best friend Sharon Scott and I were returning home from our coaching centre. We were preparing to write the medical entrances. We weren’t able to find a taxi near enough so we had to walk a bit further than our usual point. It is not a very crowded area, so it was quite silent. Suddenly… A group of boys including Tej came to us. There were five of them. Two or three even seemed drunk. I didn’t know any of them except Tej. They tried to tease us, but we just ignored them and kept walking. Just then, two of them came from the front on motorbikes. They surrounded us completely. When one of them tried to touch us, I started begging for help from Tej. But he simply laughed and did nothing. In fact, he came forward and started harassing us too. No one tried to help us. Just when one of those boys was starting to hurt me, Sharon slapped him. And after that, those boys, including Tej, went wild on Sharon. Two of them held me back. I could not do anything – I could not save my best friend the way she saved me. The next day, she sent me a mail, and hanged herself. She was my best friend… She took all the blows on herself, just so she could save me…”

Naina burst out crying. She still missed Sharon, her best friend. The lawyer led Naina away. Kimaya couldn’t help but feel bad for Naina. She had lost a best friend, and hadn’t even been able to get justice done. Naina came back and took her seat near Kimaya.

“It will be alright…” Said Kimaya soothingly to Naina.

“I hope so,” said Naina, with tears in her eyes.

“You’ll be okay, Naina. Stay strong.”

Naina managed a weak smile. Kimaya smiled back.

“The Court declares Tej Singh and his friends to be guilty of harassing Naina Agarwal and Sharon Scott – sexually and otherwise. His father Sameer Singh and Uncle Aakash Singh are guilty of hiding Tej Singh’ crime. The Court sentences Tej Singh and the rest to one year and six months of imprisonment. Sameer Singh and Aakash Singh are also arrested for hiding the crime and misleading the police. Court dismissed.”

The judge got up, and walked away. Everyone slowly got up, talking among themselves.

“Well, I must say, this case got on pretty fast. It could have taken months and years!” Said Mr. Verma.

“I agree,” added Mr. Arora. “We were very lucky.”

Naina hugged Kimaya and started crying.

“Thank you so much! If you hadn’t been so brave… I guess Sharon would never be justified.”

“It’s alright Naina. You don’t need to say thank you. But what you must do now, is forget the past and move on.”

“Kimaya, you’re so much like Sharon… Practical, brave, loving. Will you be my friend?”

“Are you asking? I’m already your friend!”

Naina smiled; a real smile, after so long. Sharon was an inseparable part of her life – and the feeling that she herself was the reason behind her best friend’s death was unbearable for Naina. After months, she saw a ray of light, a ray of hope. Sending Tej and his friends to prison was a big step for her. She felt lighter, happier.

***

“Sharon… Sharon you’ve been justified. Those horrible boys are in jail. I wish you were here to see this day, Sharon. You shouldn’t have killed yourself… I miss you…”

“Naina… Come,” said Kimaya gently. They were in the graveyard, where Sharon lay.

“No… Just five minutes. I haven’t visited this place since her burial. I was too guilty to even face her grave…”

Kimaya nodded.

“Sharon, I want you to meet Kimaya. She’s the reason why Tej is in jail today. She’s so much like you, Sharon. And you know what, she fought with those bad guys. They tried to kidnap her. But she fought on… And here we are today. I’m sorry Sharon, I could do nothing for you…”

“Sharon… I’m sure you were a beautiful young lady. And all those terrible people who did anything wrong with you, they are where they ought to be. You had a lovely friend, Sharon. Naina is an amazing person. She loves you so much. You were very, very lucky to have her…” Said Kimaya.

Naina looked up at Kimaya and smiled.

“Thanks… For bringing me here,” she said.

Kimaya hugged Naina.

“Don’t say thanks… Just wipe those tears off your pretty face. You look so much better without them!”

Naina let out a little laugh and wiped her tears away.

“Good! Now no more crying. I’m sure that’s what Sharon would want. So, smile?”

Naina nodded.

“The pain is inevitable, Naina. But the wounds will heal. You have to move on, how much ever it may hurt.”

“It’s just so hard… Sharon and I, we were like soul sisters. I miss her so much…” Said Naina, starting to cry again.

“Naina, I know how hard it must be to stop those tears. But time will heal everything… All you need to do is give time some time.”

“Yeah,” said Naina. “I’ll try my best, Kim.”

Kimaya smiled.

“Now shall we go home?”

“Yes…”

They got into the car which led them to Kimaya’s house. Naina was staying with Kimaya for a few days. It was thought that what Naina really needed at that moment was a friend – a friend to take her thoughts off Sharon. And Kimaya seemed to be the best choice.

They reached home in sometime. It was pretty late in the evening by this time, and everyone had dinner, trying to sound as cheerful as possible. It was not good for Naina to be in a dull atmosphere.

“So how’s the princess?” Asked Mr. Verma, entering the house just as dinner was being served.

Kimaya almost choked on her soup, remembering how Aakash would call her princess.

“I meant that for Naina, a very beautiful princess,” said Mr. Verma, laughing at Kim’s reaction.

“I’m fine, sir.”

“Sir? Wow, I’m not your teacher or something. You can call me uncle!” Exclaimed Kim’s father.

Naina laughed. “Okay, uncle!”

“Much better! So do you like the food?”

“It’s amazing! Probably the best I’ve eaten in months. Tastes like a restaurant’s food!” Said Naina. She had not eaten out for months… Since Sharon had gone.

“I’m glad to hear you like it!”

They finished dinner and talked about random stuff for some time, just to keep the atmosphere light. Finally, Kimaya said, “Hey, it’s quite late. I guess we should sleep!”

“We sure should. Especially Naina.”

“Why especially me?” Asked Naina, confused.

“Oh, you’ll know that tomorrow!” Kim replied, winking.

“But I’m a very curious sort of person!”

“Even better! Let it be a surprise, you’ll like it!”

“Damn you. Alright!”

“Good!” Kimaya laughed.

Within fifteen minutes, the lights were off, and dreams took over.

***

The Next Morning

“And now, you can open your eyes!”

Naina slowly opened her eyes, a wide smile forming on her face as she saw the beautiful scene in front of her. There were balloons and streamers and ilovely music played in the background. But the best of all was the cake. Naina had almost forgotten that it was her birthday that day.

“Happy birthday, Naina!”

“Mom!” Exclaimed Naina. “When did you come here?”

“Did you really think I’d miss my daughter’s birthday celebrations?” Asked Mrs. Agarwal.

Naina laughed and hugged her mom. She didn’t remember when she felt this happy before… It was surely before that  fateful night. Naina suddenly felt upset. She missed Sharon… How amazing it would be to have her here right now…

Naina’s mind wondered back to her birthday before Sharon died..

“Happy birthday Naina!” Sharon cried, waking her up in the middle of the night. Naina’s room was decorated and her parents were there too. There was a pretty cake. It had a photo of Naina and Sharon made on it.

“Oh my god! This is so… Amazing!” She said.

“I’m glad you liked it!” Said Sharon.

She cut the cake and made Sharon eat it before anyone else.

“It’s your birthday, stupid!” Said Sharon, and smeared a piece of cake on Naina’s face.

“Sharon!”

“Say cheese!”

Mrs. Agarwal clicked a photo of the two best friends. It was cute, with Naina’s face covered with cream.

“And now, you just wait!” Said Naina, picking up another piece of cake to put on Sharon’s face.

“Don’t you dare!” Said Sharon, running around the room.

In the end, both of them had cake on their faces, and everyone was laughing.

“Hey… Don’t cry baby…” Said Mrs. Agarwal.

Naina suddenly realized that there was a stream of hot tears pouring down her face.

“It’s alright, I’ll smear the cake on your face instead!” Said Kimaya, with a wink.

“No way!” Naina ran out of Kimaya’s way. Kimaya suddenly tripped and the cake flew out of her hand, landing on Vihaan’s face, who was just coming in. He stared at them, with mock anger and amusement.

Everyone burst out laughing. Vihaan looked absurd! Kimaya was happy to see Naina in a better mood. Everything seemed just so perfect.

[] Chapter 13

June 7th, 2013 (A year and five months later)

New York

“Wake up sleepyhead!” Said Michelle.

“Let me sleep some more…”

“You’re going to be late for college.”

“Then I’ll skip college today!”

“I thought you had a test today?”

“Oh shit, I totally forgot!” Said Kimaya, jumping up.

“Get ready fast, you’ve got to drop me,” said Michelle. “I don’t have a ride today!”

“Okay.”

Kimaya went into the washroom and snapped the door shut. She sure was going to be late today! How could she forget about the test? It was the last test before the break started and she didn’t want to screw this up. She had to give up a lot to come here, to the New York City. Now the last thing she wanted to lose was her good grades!

She was out and dressed in a little time, and found her roommate, Michelle, waiting for her.

“So what happened to your ride?” Asked Kimaya, as they got into the car.

“Lost a tire, I guess,” Michelle replied, frustration clear in her voice. Michelle was an aspiring lawyer, and she hated to be late to college. Kimaya was not usually late to her college either… But she had slept late the last night – making some last minute changes to a report – and was still very sleepy. Kimaya was doing a journalism course from Columbia University.

“So you’re done with your report?” Asked Michelle, as Kimaya drove.

“Yeah. I just hope it’s good enough.”

“Of course it will be good enough. Christ knows when you’ll start trusting yourself.”

Kimaya laughed. “Well, here’s your college. Am I picking you up in the evening or you’ll come back on your own?”

“I’ll be fine. Best of luck for the test!”

“Okay, thanks!”

Michelle got down and Kimaya drove off towards her college, reaching just in time. Sighing in relief, she made her way to her class.

***

A year had passed since Kimaya had come to New York to study. Her father had finally given in to her pleas of doing a course in journalism, and she had earned a scholarship in the Columbia University. It had been painful for her, leaving all her family and friends behind; but no worries for now as she was going home in a week. Her college ended two days later, and then, giving herself time for packing up and finishing any leftover things, she was leaving for India.

Kimaya missed her home a lot, but New York was a wonderful experience. Michelle, who was originally from Boston, had been looking for a roommate around the time Kimaya had come there – and the two had been great friends since then.

Kimaya enjoyed New York – it was lively and fast paced. She was glad she was finally able to fulfil her dream, her passion. After graduation, and a master’s degree, Kimaya intended on joining a newspaper or a good magazine, and continue as a novelist in her free time. She was just happy that she was able to live her life based on her own choices.

***

India

“Call Tej out,” said the inspector. “It’s time he’s let free.”

“Yes sir.”

“Come, my boy,” said Sameer, Tej’s father.

He stared at his son, with outgrown hair and beard, and angry eyes.

“Kimaya. I will…” Started Tej.

“Shut up Tej. Get out of this place first.”

Tej nodded. They completed the needed formalities and filled the documents.

“You are free to go now, Tej Singh,” declared the inspector.

“Thank you sir,” said Aakash, leading Tej away.

“You idiot! Do you have any idea what a risk you’d be taking if you said anything in there?!” Aakash shouted.

“But Kimaya is such a… Argh. If I don’t make her suffer for her deeds, you can change my name.”

“Calm down, son. Let’s go home, your mother is waiting for you.”

***

“Kimaya is coming home next week!” Cried Naina, cheerfully. She was sitting with her mother and her Aunt, at Tej’s house, not knowing that he was being let free that day. Her aunt had purposefully called her there, wanting the two cousins to make up their broken bonds.

“Oh, she is?” Asked Tej, entering the house.

“You?”

“Yes, me. Why, you didn’t know? I’ve completed my term in the prison.”

“Mom, let’s go,” said Naina.

“Wait, Naina,” said her aunt. “Please, I want you and Tej to talk.”

“There’s nothing left to talk.”

“Yeah, she’s right,” said Tej.

“Apologize to her, Tej,” ordered Mrs. Singh.

“I will not, mom.”

“He doesn’t need to, aunty. I won’t forgive him anyway. I’m going now. Mom, are you coming, or should I go alone?”

Naina’s mother cast Mrs. Singh an apologizing look and went out with her daughter.

“You could have said sorry, you know,” said Tej’s dad, coming inside his room.

“No, I should have said thank you instead.”

“Why?”

“She gave away Kimaya. One week. One week, Kim. Enjoy as much as you want. After that, I’m going to make your life hell.”

“Tej you just came out of jail. Do you seriously want to go back again?”

“Let’s just hope I won’t go to jail again. But I won’t let Kimaya stay happy for long.”

***

A week later

New York

“Come on Kim!”

“No Michelle!”

“You won’t agree so easily. Do you want me to pull you off your chair?”

“Michelle!”

“You have to dance, this is the last night of this year!”

“I’m tired Michelle. And I have a flight tomorrow!”

“Shut up and get up,” said Michelle, pulling Kimaya off her chair.

The music finally got Kimaya dancing. The two girls danced the night away in their little apartment.

An hour later, they fell back on the couch, laughing. Michelle was leaving for Boston the day after, and Kimaya was going the very next day. This was the last few hours they could spend together for the next month, and Michelle decided to have a little party for the two of them. They painted their nails, made up their hair, and decided to end it with music and dance.

“I’ll miss this craziness of New York. India is quite calm, you know,” said Kimaya. “But well, I’m too excited at the idea of going home!”

“Me too! I love New York but I miss Boston! Hey Kim, you going to go skydiving these summers?” Said Michelle, teasing Kimaya.

“Michelle, you idiot!” Kimaya picked up a cushion to hit her.

“What?” Said Michelle, picking up another cushion. Bad luck for her, Kimaya struck her before she could defend herself.

It became a full blown pillow fight and fifteen minutes later, Kimaya stopped, laughing. “Now unless you want these pillows to burst into feathers, stop!”

Michelle chuckled as she put her pillow down.

The Next Day

“Happy journey Kim!” Said Michelle, seeing Kim off at the airport.

“Thanks! See you in two months!” Replied Kim.

“Don’t forget me okay? Keep in touch!”

“Yeah!” Kimaya laughed. She just didn’t know that what would happen in the next days would make her forget everything… Except, perhaps, pain.

[] Chapter 14

June 16th, 2013

Kimaya

“Mom!” I said.

“Sweetheart!”

I engulfed her in a big hug; I was seeing her after a year, after all. It felt so good to be with her again.

“You’re still a bear.” My mom laughed. Honestly, my bear hugs could seriously crush people sometimes. But at that moment, I couldn’t care less. All I wanted to do was hug her tight.

“I missed you so much!” I said, almost in tears.

“I missed you too sweetie,” she replied. “And so did your dad and Tashanna and everyone else.”

I was about to ask about Astrid when I remembered that she too had gone back to Europe for her higher studies. I looked at my watch and smiled. It was an Armani; Astrid had given it as a parting gift when I’d left for the U.S. I wondered how Naina was; I just hoped that she was happy.

“How’s Naina?” I asked.

“Absolutely fine. Her depression was almost fine before you left. After you went to New York, she was a little upset again. But she recovered soon. You taught her how to live again, Kim.”

“I’m so glad she’s happy.”

“Come, let’s go to the car,” said mom, smiling.

“Yeah,” I smiled.

We got into the car and mom and the driver helped me get my suitcases in. There was a lot of luggage, since we weren’t allowed to leave our stuff in our New York apartment when no one was there in it.

I rolled down the windows of the car and looked out, letting the wind hit my face. I liked the feeling of it – that Indian feeling. The traffic of Bangalore was still the same, but for some reason, even that felt good.

“So?” Asked mom. “How’s New York City?”

“It’s amazing. It’s so different from our lives in India. People there are fast moving and fun loving. It’s a good place to be in!”

“Glad you like it. I wouldn’t want my daughter to be in a place she doesn’t even like as much as her home town!”

I laughed. “I absolutely love New York!”

Mom and I talked throughout the way to our house. We talked on the phone and Skyped many times… But never face to face, of course, and I missed this so much. We anyway had a lot to talk about! And I was sure, even if we did run out of topics to talk about, we would still not stop talking. It was a mother-daughter reunion, and it was just so wonderful.

The car stopped in front of our house, and we got down. Dad was waiting for me at the door itself.

“Kimaya!”

“Dad!” I cried, hugging him.

“How are you?”

“I’m absolutely fine! How are you?”

“I’m good! Glad that New York took good care of my daughter!”

I smiled. We went inside the house, where Tashanna, Vihaan, and their parents were waiting.

KIM!” Screamed Tashanna, hugging me as hard as she could.

“You’re more of a bear than me!” I laughed.

I gently hugged my uncle and aunt.

“Hey,” said Vihaan.

“Hey!” I replied.

“How have you been, wildcat?”

That earned him a punch.

“You’ll never stop that, will you?”

“Nope!” He said, and we both started laughing. This felt good – it felt good to be home after so long.

An hour later, all the reunions were done and the food soon vanished. Jet lag was taking over me slowly and I almost fell asleep on the couch, when mom took me up to my room and asked me to sleep there. My eyes opened wide as I stared at my room. It was decorated beautifully, with flowers and new sheets and a new carpet – all in red and white to match the theme of the room. My room smelt fresh and felt awesome!

“Thank you so much!” I said.

“Now get into bed before you lie down on that carpet and fall asleep right there!”

I burst out laughing. I used to love to lie down on the carpet, and many-a-times, I would fall asleep on it. I slowly got into bed, and mom took out a blanket from the closet and spread it over me. Before I even knew it, I was asleep.

***

“Kimaya is back, dad.”

“Don’t even think of hurting her Tej. You’ll only end up getting in more trouble than you already are. She’s overcome her disorder too, as far as I know. You’ll be dropping a bomb on your own self if you try to cause her any harm.”

“Like I care. But I will take my revenge.”

“You will not!”

Tej smiled maliciously and shook his head.

“I’m afraid that ain’t possible, dad.”

He walked out, leaving his father in despair.

This idiot will cause some trouble again… And I doubt I’ll be able to save even a hair of him this time, thought Sameer.

“Where are you going Tej?” Mrs. Singh asked.

“Just to meet some friends, mom,” he replied, and got out of the house. Mrs. Singh heard him turn on his bike and disappear. Just then, her husband came to her.

“What’s going on, Sameer? He’s not behind Kimaya, is he?”

“I… Hope not.”

“Which means that he is. Listen to me Sameer. If he does anything foolish this time, I am not going to let you protect him in any way. The last time he did all that with Naina and his friend, I was against you protecting him. But you did. And what did you do? Almost destroyed so many lives. I won’t let you do that again, Sameer.”

“Okay,” said Sameer sadly. He just hope that this time, his son wouldn’t be so stupid again.

***

Tej

“Hey, Danny,” I said. Danny had gone to jail with me for abusing those girls that night, and was one of the only people I knew would support me.

“Hey Tej. How ya doing?”

“I’m fine. I’m sure you remember that night… You know, that night?”

“Because of which we ended up in jail! Of course I do. We got arrested for it, but man, it was still fun.”

“I know,” I said. “Want to do something like that again?”

“Are you crazy bro? I don’t want to go to prison again!”

“And if I say we won’t get arrested?”

“How can you guarantee that?”

“Ninety percent guaranteed. Now, would you?”

“For sure!”

“Awesome!” I said. “We’ll meet in two-three days? I’ll let you know when and where. I gotta fix some things before we hit on her.

“Sure bro! You got my number, message me when you want to meet.”

I smiled, and left. Kimaya Verma, you are in for a big surprise. Oops! Not surprise… Shock.

Three Days Later

I had kept in touch with Danny for the past couple of days, and finally had a plan that seemed fool proof to me.

“Hey, Danny,” I spoke on the phone. “Let’s meet up. When are you free?”

“Dude, I just got out of jail; don’t really have a job yet! I’m free all the time. Just name the place.”

“Cool then. I’ll see ya for lunch then? Choose the place.”

“Okay, we’ll go to the fast-food centre near my place. 1:30 will do?”

“Yeah, sure. Bye.”

I hung up the phone. God, I felt excited. As far as I knew Kimaya, she would have to give in this time. I just hoped that my plan wouldn’t backfire; I had no intentions of going back to prison.

1:30 PM

“Hey bro,” said Danny, taking a chair next to me. “You’re punctual for like, the first time!”

I laughed, and then I got serious. “Time to cut the jokes short. It’s important to discuss this out for now. First of all, are you sure you want to do this? I don’t want to force you – you may get into trouble because of me.”

“Well, I want to do this, I’m just not sure whether I should. Actually, so long as we don’t have to go to jail again, I’m good.”

“I can only be some eighty-eighty five percent sure about that. I really can’t say a thing, Danny.”

“That ratio is good enough. So yeah, I’ll do it. I had the time of my life last time. I’m sure it’ll be just as good this time too!”

“Great then!” I said, grinning. “So, have you got some plan in mind, or do we use just mine?”

“Umm, not really. I can’t even imagine what sort of a plan you have. That Kimaya girl is real tough – she’d do anything for justice.”

“That’s the point. Stop her from saying anything at all. If she can’t speak, then what will she get justice for?”

“Yes, but how are you going to do that Tej?”

I smiled devilishly. “Well, there are two ways, one of which is a too stupid one.”

“What?”

“The stupid one, to make her fall in love with me.”

“Impossible!”

“Exactly, that’s why it’s stupid!”

“And the second one?”

“You’re not going to tell even a word of all this to anyone, Danny. Get that?”

“I’m not an idiot to do that. Now tell me, what?”

“Listen carefully…” I said.

Fifteen minutes later, I finally finished explaining my plan to Danny. He was not so sure at first, but as I explained in detail, he was pretty impressed.

“Genius!” He exclaimed.

“I know,” I laughed. “So you’re in?”

“Definitely.”

“Awesome. So, you know what you have to do right?”

“Of course I do.”

“Good, I’ll see you that day then. Don’t contact me till then, unless it’s something important. I don’t want anyone to doubt you.”

Danny nodded, and we left the place. I got on my bike and started towards my home. I suddenly realized something. I turned my bike, and made my way towards the market instead.

***

“Are you sure these won’t come off too easily?” I asked the shopkeeper.

“Yes sir. A lot of pulling is required to make it come off,” he replied. “What do you need them for?”

Oh no! I thought. I hadn’t thought about that before. What reason do I give?

“Oh, for a play in my college. It’s about a little fight between two thieves and the housekeeper, and the thieves are masked. There will be some pulling and fighting but the thieves get away. So I needed masks which can withstand the pulling.”

“Oh I see. You can absolutely depend on these masks sir!” Said the shopkeeper, with a little hint of pride in his voice.

“Great. Give me two of these then, please!”

“Yes sir.” He scurried away to pack the masks up. Two minutes later, I paid my bill and he handed me a cover containing the masks. I thanked him and walked out of the shop. I then headed to Danny’s house. When I was like a hundred meters away from it, I called him up and asked him to come there.

Ten minutes later, I saw Danny approaching me, with a curious look on his face.

“I thought you said no contact till that day?”

“Yes, but this was important. Here, take this,” I said, taking out a mask from my bag.

“What’s this?” He asked.

“Open and see. Wear it that day.” I replied, as he started opening the package.

“Good idea. Gives Kimaya even lesser opportunities to get us caught!”

“Yeah. Now go!”

We both hurriedly left the place, and I went home. I had a satisfied smile on my face as I entered my house. Kimaya Verma, you’re going to hate yourself for causing me all of this pain!

“Tej? Where were you till now? And what’s that cover in your hand?” Asked my mom.

I groaned. “Mom, I like going out. I’ve been in the jail for so much time, fresh air is good for me. And that’s just a cap I saw. I liked it a lot, so I bought it,” I said, hoping that she would not ask me to open that bag and show her.

Thankfully, she didn’t. “Oh, okay. Tej, please don’t do anything wrong with Kimaya.”

“I won’t mom. I’m not going back to jail again,” I lied.

“Good,” she said, looking slightly relieved.

“I’m going to my room, mom,” I said, and went away.

Once in my room, I switched on my laptop. I had to make sure my plan was almost a hundred percent fool proof. I went through some online law books, and legal procedures. I spent nearly two hours on that, but by the time I was done, I felt happy and relaxed. This plan cannot backfire. Too bad, Kimaya!

I lay back on my bed, satisfied. I would have the perfect revenge. And Kimaya wouldn’t be able to do a thing about it! Well, good for me! I thought happily.

Suddenly, I decided to sketch my plan out. I got some paper and a pen, and wrote “Kimaya” in the middle of it. Then, encircling her name, I wrote the names of all those who were close to her. And then, I wrote a very special name. I drew a line from that name, connecting it to Kimaya’s. I sketched out the rest of the details on the paper, connecting things when necessary. Then, I lied back and stared at the paper, looking for any flaw in the plan that I may have overlooked earlier. It didn’t really seem like that. Kimaya’s morals wouldn’t allow her to make this plan ricochet; everything was perfect.

I took the paper in the washroom, burnt it and flushed it down. I was not leaving behind any clues which would lead to my destruction.

I’m so sorry, Kim. But this time, you don’t have a way out.

[] Chapter 15

June 26th, 2013 (A Week Later)

Kimaya

“Wow, this is so much better than your first book!” Exclaimed Vihaan, as he read the manuscript of my second book. It wasn’t complete yet, but I’d told him the ending I was planning.

“Thank God. It should be better.” I said.

“How do you write so well?”

“I don’t.”

“Of course you do!”

“Of course I don’t!”

“Yes you do, wildcat!”

“Vihaan!”

“Yes, wildcat?” He teased.

“Stop that!”

“Never!” He said, bursting into laughter. I stared at him angrily for a few seconds, before starting to laugh myself.

“So do you think the critics will like this one better?”

“I’m sure they will! When will you complete this?”

“I don’t know, in another week or so!”

“Complete it fast, wildcat. I’d love it if you got this published before you left for your college!”

“That’s impossible! The procedures and everything, they take up months! And I’m here only for a couple of months more!”

“I’m sure they will speed up the process a bit because you’re already a published writer.”

“Maybe, but it will still take more than two months. Plus, I was planning of getting this book published in the United States. The characters, the setting – everything is in New York. So it won’t work out that well in India!”

“Oh, I see.”

“Thanks, by the way,” I said.

“Whoa, wildcat said a thank you to me! And that’s for?”

“For reading this.”

“You’re welcome! And I read it because I like reading books.”

“Hmm.”

Vihaan was the only one who had read the book till now. I’d asked mom, dad, Tashanna… But they were all busy. Tashanna’s college hadn’t closed yet, and dad was off to a business trip. And mom, she had a big delivery coming up, so she was almost always at her art studio. So finally, I asked Vihaan, and he readily helped me out.

“So do you think I should change any part in it?” I asked.

“Nope. That book is amazing the way it is. You really are a hopeless romantic, aren’t you?” He asked, laughing. I couldn’t help laughing too. This one too was a romance. Not historical, like my previous book, but it was still a love story.

“Well, I’m not a hopeless romantic… I just like writing such books! And that’s what’s selling these days.”

“Oh good! It was kind of weird imagining a wildcat loving romance!”

I shot him a glare, and he just grinned back.

His phone suddenly rang. The person on the other side was literally shouting, and I could catch bits of the conversation.

“Dude, do you want to get late again?”

“Oh shit,” said Vihaan. “I’m so sorry, I’ll be right there!”

He cut the call and faced me.

“So sorry wildcat, I gotta go. Music club; we had our practice today and I’m almost late again. I’ve been getting late for the past week!”

“I don’t think you were ever punctual! Why just the past week though?” Kimaya giggled.

Vihaan muttered something along the lines of because of you that made my jaw drop. He quickly covered that up though. “Well I must go now. Take care okay?” I must have imagined the whole thing.

“You’re only going for an hour or so right? What possibly could happen to me?” I said. Mom was in her studio, and dad was on his trip, so mom had asked Vihaan to stay at my house and see that I’m okay till she’s back. Protective, I guess, seeing what had happened the last time I was here.

“Yeah, but even then, be careful. I don’t want you getting into any trouble again!” He said. Now why was he being so protective?

“Gosh, okay!”

“Good!”

He went out of the house and I locked the door behind him. We just didn’t know of the danger lurking nearby.

***

“Bro, the way is all clear,” he muttered into his phone. “Vihaan has gone.”

“Awesome. Show time!”

——-

Kimaya’s phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Help please! Someone help! No!”

“Naina?” Asked Kimaya.

HELP! Please… Please!”

“Naina!” Cried Kimaya frantically.

“Save her if you can,” came a man’s voice on the phone.

“Who the hell is this? Leave Naina alone!”

“Come here, we have to talk.”

“Who are you? Where do I have to come?”

“I’ll give you the directions. Come out of your house.”

“You can see me?”

“Yes. You want proof? You’re currently standing near the door of your house holding a glass of water.”

Kimaya shuddered. Whoever this was could definitely see her, and that was not a good sign. She had no way of calling for help.

“Why don’t you come here instead?”

“Are you coming, or Naina…”

“No! I’ll come.”

Kimaya stepped out of her house and bolted the door.

“Good,” said the voice on the phone. “Now walk ahead.”

Kimaya did so, slowly lowering her phone, aiming on messaging Vihaan.

“Don’t you dare call for help! One wrong move and…”

“Do not hurt Mia!”

“We won’t if you follow our orders, Miss. Now take a left from the second tree in front of you.”

“Aakash?”

“Who’s that?”

“N… No one.”

“Good. Because no one, not even this Aakash can help you now.”

“Who are you?”

“Stop asking questions. Take another left.”

Kimaya quietly obeyed. Damn you Naina, she thought. She always seemed to be getting in trouble.

The voice on the line kept giving her instructions until Kimaya found herself in the middle of nowhere. All she could notice was a graveyard, and it was getting scary. Kimaya’s house was almost in the outskirts of the city, and was sometimes a serious disadvantage, just like now.

Suddenly, a man caught her from behind.

LET ME GO!” Kimaya screamed.

Immediately, his hand was on her mouth, and she could only make smothered sounds.

Just then, another person came from the front, on a bike. Something suddenly clicked, as Kimaya remembered Naina’s words… “Two of them came on a bike from the front, and they completely surrounded us…”

Kimaya struggled till the man let her mouth free.

“Tej?!”

“Who is Tej?” Asked the man.

“Take that damned mask off, I know it’s you!” Said Kimaya, struggling to be let free.

“Look girl, I don’t know who is Tej, and I’m not taking that mask off, so shut up.”

“Where’s Naina?”

“Well, I don’t know!”

“What did you do with her?!”

“Nothing. She’s probably at her home.”

“Then that voice?!”

“Here, doll,” said the man, playing a recording.

“Help!” Rang out Naina’s voice.

“What do you want from me?! What did I do?!” Asked Kimaya, desperately.

“I want you, sweetheart.”

“Bastard! Move off!”

“Of course not, sweetheart!”

MOVE!”

His hand snaked around Kimaya’s mouth within moments, not letting her scream again.

The man nodded to his partner, and the biker moved menacingly towards Kimaya. Kimaya’s eyes grew wide in terror, and she shook her head vigorously, not wanting anything more to happen.

Just then, the biker stopped, and her captor loosened his grip on her. Kimaya almost thought that they were not going to proceed, when Kimaya’s captor roughly pushed her, and she went tumbling into the other man’s arms. She was scared witless when she saw the man smiling devilishly at her, through his mask.

“No! No! Please don’t!”

“Sorry sweetheart,” said the man coolly, as he turned Kimaya’s hour to a nightmare.

Kimaya

Forty five minutes later, those two men were done with me. I had a feeling they were Tej and his friend, but I had no proof. Even if I asked for justice, I would never be able to prove who my abusers were – I would never be able to get them punished. They did with me what they’d probably done with Sharon. I was glad they did not rape me, but I had ended up with bruises and cuts.

“Listen, girl,” said one of the two in a harsh tone.

“What?” I asked as I turned to him, shivering.

“Don’t you dare say a word about this to anyone.”

“And what makes you think I won’t do that?”

“The fact that we can hurt Naina any time.”

“But how will you find out if I do tell anyone?”

“Oh, we have our ways. Don’t you worry about that. Your one word and Naina… Well, don’t really know if she’d even be capable of feeling the pain by the time we’re done with her.”

“Who are you?!”

“Stop shouting Miss. Do you want us to hurt you again?”

“N… No…”

“Good. Now get out from this place. See that tree there?” He said, pointing at a tree in the distance.

“Yeah…”

“Take a left from there, then a right from a bench nearby. I’m sure you can make your way home from there.”

“Why did you do this with me?”

“Just for fun!”

“You could have had fun with any random girl on the street. Why develop a plan to call me out and then do this?”

“Because you’re special. Now get lost, or…” He said, taking a step towards me.

“No! I’ll go!” I cried as I ran away.

I reached my home in five minutes. I stared at my reflection in the mirror and burst into tears. Parts of my clothes were torn, and there were scratches on my arms – the result of my struggles. Those men were ruthless; they didn’t care about how much they hurt me.

The bell rang.

I quickly wiped off my tears and wrapped a shawl around me to hide the scars of the past hour. I opened the door and saw Vihaan.

“Hey, I got out early so that you don’t have to spend too much time alone!”

“Thanks…”

“Kim? What’s wrong?” He asked, staring at my dull expression and swollen eyes. “And what’s with that shawl? It’s so hot already!”

“Vihaan… I…” I said, debating whether to tell him the truth or not. “Oh, come in first!”

“Yeah,” he said, and I closed the door behind him.

“So now, what happened?”

“I got a call from someone…”

“Who?”

“From… Umm… I don’t know,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

I stayed silent as Vihaan stared at me. I didn’t know what to do… Would those men really hurt Naina if I spoke up? I couldn’t let that happen. Maybe I should stay silent and try to forget about this.

“Kimaya?” Vihaan said softly. I must have stayed silent for a long time until I suddenly realized that I had to tell someone.

"Vihaan, I heard ---"

My house’s land-line suddenly rang.

“I’ll get that,” I said, going away.

“Hello?” I said into the phone.

“Kimaya! It’s Naina! She’s been into an accident!” Spoke Naina’s mother.

WHAT?!”

“Kim? What happened?” Came Vihaan’s voice.

“Where is she?” I asked urgently.

“They’re taking her to a hospital!” Mrs. Agarwal gave me the address of the hospital.

“Please get there fast Kim! It’s too far from my house, I can’t reach there before a minimum of forty minutes. Please!”

“Yes aunty! I’ll be there as soon as I can! I’ll go right now!” I said, hanging up the phone.

“What’s going on?” Asked Vihaan, entering the room.

“Get the car keys. We need to go to the hospital, now.”

“But what happened?”

“I’ll tell you in the car! FAST!”

Vihaan, obviously worried by my tone, rushed outside. I locked the door and followed him into the car.

“Kim what’s wrong?”

“It’s Naina. She’s been into a car crash… The hospital is closer to our house more than anyone else… Her mother called up and asked us to rush there immediately.”

“What?! How the hell did this happen?!”

“I have no idea!”

We reached the hospital within a few minutes and went inside.

“Excuse me?” Vihaan asked the receptionist.

“A girl was just brought here, she’s been in a car crash. Named Naina Agarwal?”

“Yes sir, she’s in the room to the right. Please hurry up, she’s lost a lot of blood,” said a nurse, coming towards us.

We ran towards the room and peeked in. There was Naina, lying in a pool of blood.

“Are you her relatives?” Asked the doctor, coming out of the room.

“We are her friends, doctor. Please save Naina…” I said, almost in tears.

“And her parents?”

“They’re on their way… They live far away, they’ll reach in another half an hour. I’ll complete your procedures doctor, please start your treatment immediately.” Said Vihaan anxiously.

“Okay. Nurse, take them to the receptionist and give them the documents. I’ll start the surgery immediately then. I hope she had insurance?” Asked the doctor.

“Of course sir. Whatever the cost, just make her alright.”

“Good then. Nurse, fast.”

The nurse took us away and the doctor shifted Naina to the operation theatre.

Half an hour later, after all the documents were filled, Naina’s parents arrived along with the police. I had been crying non-stop, and Vihaan was doing everything he could to console me, but was terribly failing at it.

“We’re afraid the other car involved in the accident got away, but we will do our best to find them,” said a policeman to Mrs. Agarwal.

“Kimaya!” Cried aunty and came running to me. “How’s Naina?”

I looked up at her, blinded by my tears, not able to speak anything.

“She lost a lot of blood aunty… They have taken her into the operation theatre.” Said Vihaan gently.

Naina’s mom burst out crying, with fresh tears running down her already tear-stained cheeks.

“Naina is a fighter Aunty,” said Vihaan in his most reassuring tone. “She’ll be just fine.”

“I hope so…”

“What about the legal documents?” Asked Mr. Agarwal.

“I signed them. Hope you don’t mind. But it was impossible to wait, so I had to…” Vihaan replied.

“Thank you son,” said Naina’s father. “If you and Kimaya hadn’t reached here on time, I don’t know if my daughter would even be alive.” He cried softly.

I walked away from the group, wanting to be left alone. The shawl I was wearing draped off a little bit, revealing some clothes and skin. I realized that in all the hurry, I hadn’t even changed. My clothes were still torn, my arms were still visibly bruised. I suddenly remembered something… Something that those bad men had said.

“Your one word and Naina… Well, I don’t really know if she’d even be capable of feeling the pain by the time we’re done with her.”

As if to confirm my horrifying realization, my phone rang and the voice I heard was of my abuser.

“I told you, not a word to anyone. Now look at Naina, what a sad condition she is in,” he spoke, cutting the call before I had a chance to react.

My tears increased as I realized that I was the reason behind Naina’s pain. I had almost told Vihaan… And here was Naina, in the worst condition possible. I felt like dying at that moment, I felt so horrid.

“Your arms! What happened to them Kim?”

I suddenly noticed Vihaan standing right in front of me. In all these messed up feelings, I hadn’t even seen him come.

“How did they get so scratched Kimaya?” He demanded.

“I… I fell down the stairs…” I lied. I couldn’t tell him the truth.

“Why didn’t you tell that before! Let me get some medicine!”

“No no I’m fine.”

“Shut up. Look at those bruises… It looks like you were beaten up!”

“I’m seriously okay, Vihaan.”

“A little ointment won’t hurt Kim. Wait a little, I’ll get it from the pharmacy,” he said, walking off before I could stop him.

[] Chapter 16

Kimaya

“Here!” Said Vihaan, coming back. “Put some of this ointment on, it should help.”

I took the tube from his hand and turned away. He couldn’t see my torn clothes at any cost – falling down the stairs wouldn’t really cut the cloth that bad. Thank God, Vihaan didn’t question why I did that. I quickly put the ointment on, covered myself again, and turned around. I gave it back to Vihaan, who stuffed the tiny tube away in the pocket of his jeans.

Just then, my mom came rushing into the hospital, worried. She went to Naina’s mom first, talking to her, trying to make her feel better. Then she came to me and hugged me. My face was heavily stained with tears. Seeing mom, I started crying again.

“Don’t cry baby,” said mom. “Naina will be just fine!”

“I hope she is.”

“Are you okay?” Mom asked, noticing my shawl.

“Yeah, just a bit cold. Out of tension, I guess.”

“Oh.”

I was thankful that the talk ended there, because I didn’t want to answer any more questions. I stared at the operation theatre, wishing I was there instead of Naina.

The light on the top of the surgery hall went off, and the doctor came out in a minute.

“Vihaan?” He asked, since Vihaan had finished all the necessities and procedures.

“How’s my daughter, doctor?” Asked Naina’s dad.

“She is out of danger. But…”

“But what?”

“If she doesn’t wake up in around ten hours, I’m afraid she may go into coma,” said the doctor softly.

Naina’s mother almost fell to the ground. I felt weak too… All this happening to Naina, and I was the only reason.

“Doctor wake her up somehow! Help my daughter please!” Cried Mr. Agarwal.

“She has to take her own time, sir. Our input will not help her anymore, we’ve done all we could. Now all we can do is pray.”

“Yes doctor…” Said Naina’s dad sadly.

The doctor nodded and left. We stayed there in silence… No one wanted to speak at all.

Naina’s mom went to the little praying area in the hospital. I followed her.

“Save my daughter, God,” she said. “The person who did this to her, may he rot in hell.”

I looked down, feeling horrible. You are right, aunty. I ought to rot in hell.

I refused to go home. I stayed there with Vihaan and Naina’s father. Vihaan needed to stay because he had filled the documents. If something went wrong, he was required.

“Vihaan, take Kimaya home,” said uncle, after half an hour of everyone going.

“No I won’t go!” I cried.

“Kim uncle is right. There is no reason you should stay here. I promise I’ll pick you up as soon as Naina wakes up.” said Vihaan.

“I said I’m not going.”

“But Kimaya, you really don’t have any work here,” said uncle.

“Please uncle. Naina is one of my best friends. I won’t leave her in this condition and go,” I said firmly. No one tried to argue after that.

***

Eleven Hours Later

“Doctor, so much time has passed! When will Naina wake up?” Asked Naina’s father frantically.

“I’m just going to check her, sir. Please be calm,” said the doctor, entering Naina’s room.

Ten minutes later, the doctor came out with a sober look on his face.

“Doctor? What happened?” Uncle asked.

“I’m afraid… Your daughter has gone into coma.”

Uncle collapsed on a nearby chair, all fragments of hope slipping away. Vihaan sat down with uncle, trying to calm him down. I walked away… I wanted to be alone. I found a desolate spot in the hospital and sat down. The tears wouldn’t come. I felt numb – I had never felt this destroyed before.

It’s all your fault, Kimaya. It’s your fault. Now Naina may never wake up! Scolded my brain.

I stared at the ground, finding it more interesting that anything else around me. I wished it would open up and swallow me. I wanted to die, to disappear. I felt helpless; hopeless. I knew that Naina was lying there because of me. My phone buzzed and I let it ring. I was in no mood to talk to anyone. But the caller seemed desperate; my phone kept ringing until I finally picked it up.

“So, Kimaya? I told you. A word from your mouth, and we’ll leave Naina in a condition where she can’t even feel the pain she is in.”

It was my kidnapper… My abuser.

“Who are you? Why did you do this?!”

“I’m your ill-wisher sweetheart,” came the reply.

“Then why did you hurt Naina?! You want my pain, then hurt me!”

“Well, I’m sure you’re more hurt right now than you would have been if I hurt you. Now you better be careful. Another word and we’ll kill Naina.”

“No no! I won’t tell anyone! Please!”

“Good girl. Bye, Kimaya.”

“Kim?” Asked Vihaan coming into the room. “Who were you talking to?”

“N… No one!” I said, slightly panicky.

Vihaan raised an eyebrow, staring at the phone in my hand.

“Oh, just a wrong number,” I replied.

He nodded and sat down next to me. He stared at my emotionless face.

“Naina will be okay, Kim.”

“I hope so,” I said.

He stroked my head. Normally, such a gesture would have made me cry. But today, I couldn’t even feel the pain, let alone crying. That man had surely left Naina in a condition where she couldn’t feel. But along with her, he had made me numb too. I didn’t know if I could get justice for Naina and myself. Maybe I could – at the cost of Naina’s life.

It was morning already. Mom and aunty came back. Uncle hadn’t told anyone about Naina till then. When Naina’s mother realized what had happened to her daughter, the pain on her face was more than I could even imagine. She fainted, falling back into her husband’s arms. They’ve all been crying non-stop. I even saw Vihaan cry – the person who I’ve never seen with a single drop of tears in his eyes. And me? I didn’t even know what to feel; what I was feeling.

“Let’s go home, Kim,” said Vihaan, coming up to me.

I nodded. I wanted to sleep… Only if this nightmare would let me.

We reached home in sometime, and Vihaan took me to his house instead of mine.

“Drop me home Vihaan!” I protested. “Anyway, I can go from here.”

“No Kimaya,” he replied. “You’ll only make yourself worse if you stay alone. Come to my house; you’ll feel better with Tashanna.”

I had forgotten that Tashanna’s holidays started that day.

“Okay,” I gave in.

“Good.”

He opened the door and let me in. It was pretty early in the morning and Tashanna was still asleep. Vihaan wanted to wake her up but I stopped him.

“Let her sleep. We need to get some sleep too. What will she do staying awake? Stare at our snoring faces?”

Vihaan smiled, perhaps only to cheer me up. “Okay wildcat,” he said.

Not in the mood for jokes, I shot him a glare, before turning away to the guest room to sleep.

[] Chapter 17

July 26th, 2013 (One Month Later)

A lot of things happened in that one month. Kimaya slipped into depression, unable to carry the burden on her shoulders any more. Mr. Arora tried hard to make Kimaya tell them why, but she would not speak. When he’d think of hypnotizing her, she would simply run away. She did not want the truth out – she did not want Naina dead. Most of the time, Kimaya would just sit in her room and stare at a random object, doing nothing that made sense. They all knew it was related to Naina’s coma; but no one knew why it had such an extreme effect on Kimaya. Mr. Arora prescribed some anti-depressants when the situation started going out of hand, but Kimaya would only flush them down. She anyway couldn’t feel much; she didn’t want to become totally numb. Kimaya had not cried since the incident. She knew that crying might actually help her, but the tears just wouldn’t come.

Ultimately, Mr. Arora declared that Kimaya needed a holiday. Anything to lift her thoughts and spirit. So, after some discussion – excluding Kimaya – Mr. Verma decided that they were going to go to Gangtok. Gangtok is the capital of Sikkim, a north-eastern Indian state. Since the weather was already very hot, it was decided that a hill station would be best.

Kimaya refused to go, so finally, her mother packed her bag, pushed her into the car, and off they were. Gangtok was not accessible by air, so they took a flight to the nearest airport, from where Gangtok was a six-hour drive by car. It was late evening by the time they reached, and it was very cold.

There was not much to do that day. They would be doing sight-seeing from the next day onward, so after they reached that night, they simply had dinner and slept in their respective rooms.

“Wow, this is so awesome!” Cried Tashanna as she stared out of the window, early in the morning. Fog covered everything around the hotel and there was a little beam of sunshine, cutting through the mist. Slowly, the mountains became visible, and there were light patches on them where the sun reflected off. It didn’t snow in Gangtok – but it did snow a lot at places near Gangtok.

“What’s wrong Tasha?” Asked Kimaya sleepily.

“Wake up! Look at this view – it’s beautiful!”

But Kimaya simply shook her head, turned over, and slept again. Tashanna and Kimaya were sharing a room. Kimaya’s parents had a separate room, and so did Tashanna’s parents. Vihaan was sleeping in his parents’ room on an extra mattress.

Around twenty minutes later, Tashanna was already ready. Suddenly, there came a knock on the door. Tashanna opened it, and found Kimaya’s mom.

“Hi aunty.”

“Hi Tashanna.”

Mrs. Verma made her way into the room and found her daughter sleeping. She stared at her sadly, hoping that the trip would cheer her child up.

“Wake up, Kim,” she said gently.

“No mom I want to sleep…”

“We have to go sight-seeing today. Look at the place, it’s so beautiful! Wake up!”

“I’m not going sight-seeing, mom.”

“What? Why?”

“You brought me here by force. Now will you stuff me up in the car to take me sight-seeing?”

“But Kim, Gangtok is a lovely place! And I know you love mountains.”

“I don’t care, mom.”

“I don’t care either. You are coming and that’s it,” said Mrs. Verma, taking a little water and sprinkling it on Kimaya.

“That’s so cold!” Shrieked Kimaya, waking up.

“Sorry. Now you better be ready soon, or I’m going to have to soak you with this cold water.”

Kimaya groaned and got up. That water was icy cold – given the low temperatures – and Kimaya had no intention of get sprayed with more of it.

Half an hour later, everyone met at the dining hall, totally covered with woollens.

“Kimaya what are you doing? Wear something more warm, you’ll catch a cold!” Cried Mrs. Arora, seeing Kimaya wear just a t-shirt, no way sufficient for Gangtok’s cold temperatures.

“Oh, I’ll be just fine, aunty,” replied Kim.

“Shut up Kimaya. I know I packed warmer clothes – go wear them right now,” ordered her mother.

“No.”

Mrs. Verma grabbed a water bottle threateningly. That was enough to make Kimaya scurry away.

“What was that?” Asked Mr. Verma, amused.

“Want a demo?”

“Huh?”

Kimaya’s mother took a little water in her hand and sprinkled it on her husband, who almost jumped with the coldness of the liquid.

“She has every right to be scared!” He cried, and Mrs. Verma laughed.

Kimaya came back in a few minutes, with the warmest of her jackets on.

“Good,” said Mrs. Verma, as they all proceeded to have breakfast. Kimaya didn’t have much to eat. This time, her mother didn’t threaten her. Kimaya had eaten enough to keep her full for some time. Plus, if she threatened too much, it would lose the effect and Kimaya may not heed to her at all.

After the breakfast, the families got into hired taxis to take them sight-seeing. Vihaan, Tashanna, Kimaya and Mrs. Verma in one car, Mr. Verma, and Tashanna’s parents in the other. The city was immensely beautiful. There were little natural waterfalls almost every twenty metres or so, and the view of the mountains was captivating.

They visited many places. Huge waterfalls, temples, monasteries, gardens, viewpoints – you name it. Gangtok would be the perfect haven for stressed people – but perhaps, only if they could bear the long travel hours. The views were breath-taking. There was greenery all around, and the city was clean and beautiful. A river ran through the outskirts of the city. But the best part were the mountains. From any point, you could easily view the tree-covered mountains. The view-points made at higher parts of the city gave a picture perfect view of the scenery. Rain was unpredictable in Gangtok – it may start raining any moment of the day. You had to be armed with umbrellas at all times.

There was a well maintained mall road in the heart of the city. No vehicles were allowed beyond the starting point of the mall road. The road was a stone one, and it was very even, compared to the up-and-down roads of the city. It was divided into two halves by evenly spaced antique-looking benches for visitors, and on each side of the road, there were rows of shops. There were all sorts of shops – general stores, travel and tourism offices, photography centres, and stores selling clothes, souvenirs and food. Tashanna, a shopping fanatic, was overjoyed. However, Kimaya remained with a fathomless expression on her face. She had been quiet the whole day, and had not shown any interest in the beautiful places they had visited.

“Look, that store seems to have nice stuff! Let’s check it out,” said Tashanna.

“You go,” replied Kimaya.

“Oh come on. I’m not going alone. Even if you’re not going to buy anything, just come along.”

Kimaya let out a frustrated sigh and went with her friend.

The store did have some good stuff. It was a souvenir shop, and had wonderful products. But nothing managed to spark interest in Kimaya.

“How’s this one, Kim?” Said Tashanna, dangling a wind-chime in front of Kimaya.

Kimaya just shrugged.

“You can give a better reply, you know.”

“It’s okay. Buy it if you like it.”

Tashanna shook her head and bought the piece. She paid the bill and went up to Kimaya.

“You done?” Asked Kim.

“Yeah.”

“Good.”

The two girls walked to the shop where their parents were waiting for them.

“It’s pretty, isn’t it?” Asked Tashanna, showing her newly purchased item to her parents.

“Yes sweetie.” Mrs. Arora replied.

They did some more shopping. Mrs. Verma forced her daughter to buy a pretty dress and a couple of souvenirs. Kimaya refused at first, but Mrs. Verma insisted.

“Come on Kimaya! It’s so pretty! And you’ll never find anything like it in the normal city shops!”

After five minutes of Mrs. Verma insisting, Kimaya finally gave in. They purchased the stuff and went away.

***

The days they had spent in Gangtok were extremely memorable and fun. They visited the India-China border, called the Nathula Pass, which was a three-hour drive from Gangtok. It was a stunning place. Covered with pure white snow, with a staircase leading towards the border. They had to stop on the way for jackets and boots, because snowfall here was as unpredictable as rain in Gangtok.

It started snowing as soon as they reached there. The view was mesmerizing. For a change, a wondrous expression occupied Kimaya’s face as she saw the beautiful place, instead of her usual enigmatic look. But the snowfall resulted in them having to leave earlier than what they planned, because if the roads got blocked, they’d be stuck over there.

They visited south Sikkim too, which too was an immensely incredible place. This was considered to be the most industrialized part of the state, because the land was flat, not mountainous. There were tea farms and gardens, and a lot of  monasteries too.

Their last stop was Zero Point, in north Sikkim – the highest place in the state. It would take seven hours to reach a place called Lachung, where they would make a night halt. They reached Lachung late at night, with a plan to go to Zero Point the next day.

July 31st, 2013

They reached Zero Point. Here too, they had to stop in the middle for coats and boots.

There was a beautiful rhododendron sanctuary on the way, and even though it was not the full-bloom time, many blossoms were visible. They were in all sorts of colours – red, pink, yellow, white, violet. It was simply fantastic.

By the time they reached Zero Point, Kimaya’s spirits seemed to have been strangely uplifted. Maybe it was because of the flowers, maybe just the thought about the high altitude. But the best part was that it was Kimaya’s birthday. Mrs. Verma was glad that Kimaya was fine on her birthday. Kimaya was generally excited about her birthdays, and everyone was afraid that she would be sulking this time. But after a whole month, Mrs. Verma saw her daughter smile. Everyone was very happy. They all felt that the trip was finally having a little positive effect on the depressed Kimaya. They just didn’t know that it was all part of a plan – Kimaya’s plan.

“Hey wildcat!” Called Vihaan, throwing a fistful of snow at Kimaya as she turned.

Kimaya shrieked and threw snow back at Vihaan, and before anyone realized, they were all enjoying a full-blown snowball fight. Finally, they all stopped, tired. They took some photos and got into the car for their return journey.

On the way back, Kimaya suddenly asked the driver to stop the car.

“What a magnificent view!” She exclaimed. “Let me take a picture of this, please?”

“Sure Kim!” Said her mom, amazed at Kimaya’s sudden excitement and interest in the trip. It looked like she had finally given in to the beauty of the place.

Kimaya got out of the car happily, staring at the beautiful view. Suddenly, she appeared at the car window, and said, “Mom, if I move a little away, it will be a much better picture. I’ll be back in two minutes okay?”

“Okay! Just be careful, hmm?”

“Of course, mom!”

Kimaya walked slightly away from the car. She took one last look at the view, and then looked back at the car. And then she turned around. She ran, away from the car, towards the trees. She ran as fast as the rough terrain would allow her to. She moved away in the trees, making her way higher, back to where she had been coming from. Towards Zero Point.

As the two minutes Kimaya had asked for came to an end, Mrs. Verma grew a little worried.

“This stupid girl. Vihaan, please go and call her back.”

“Yes aunty!” Said Vihaan, getting out of the car.

Five minutes later, he returned. He had a sad and shocked expression on his face.

“Aunty…”

“Vihaan what’s wrong? Where is Kimaya?”

“I… I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“I searched everywhere I could. She is nowhere to be seen.”

“Jesus Christ! NO! Nothing can happen to my daughter!”

“No aunty I’m sure she’s fine!” Said Tashanna.

“Just a second ma’am,” Interrupted the driver. He asked Vihaan to take him to the place Kimaya had wanted to go. Vihaan did so. The driver stared over the edge and searched for something. He carefully observed the side of the road. Then, they returned to the car.

“Ma’am, I am sure that your daughter did not fall off the cliff,” said the driver.

“How can you be so sure?” Asked Mrs. Verma, who was already in tears.

“There is no such sign. The whole area is clean – not a footprint near the edge. The footprints are towards the inner side of the mountain.”

“Then where did she go?”

“Perhaps somewhere towards the trees. But why would she do that?”

Mrs. Verma sighed, as she finally realized that Kimaya’s happy behaviour had all been just a facade.

“What did you do, Kimaya…”

Vihaan got out of the car.

“Where are you going?”

“To find this stupid wildcat,” he declared, storming off into the depths of the trees.

Kimaya

I walked through the trees, making my way upwards. I was not going to back to Zero Point… But I was going to go as high as I could. I made my way, admiring the beauty of the nature around me. The area was so calm, so serene. It felt good. I wished I could stay here forever. But I couldn’t. I would die out of starvation. Anyway, I was going to kill myself one way or the other, so I decided not to procrastinate and do it off today itself. I would jump off the cliff when I was sure no one could find me. I didn’t want anyone to find my dead body lying on the rocks; I didn’t want them to feel worse than what they already will. I had already written my last letter and left it in my suitcase, which was in the car. Someone would surely find it someday.

After over an hour of walking, I reached a spot isolate enough. I was surprised I even made it till here. It was almost three in the afternoon by then. I walked closer to the edge and looked at the scene before me. This place was beautiful. I felt sorry that very soon, I was going to destroy it’s peace. I walked back to a tree and sat down. I placed my head on the trunk and dozed away. A few last moments of peace before I meet my end, I guess.

I woke up around two hours later, by the brush of cold wind across my face. It was beginning to snow, and the place looked enchanting. I smiled. God had made my last moments so beautiful… So astounding. The snow might cover up my body, which was good. But as I looked at the view, I started crying. I didn’t really want to die – but it seemed to be the only option left. After half an hour of crying, I finally got up.

[] Chapter 18

July 31st, 2013 (5:45 PM)

The frosty forests lay before her, the white of the snow reflecting off the sunlight. She stared ahead, her jet black eyes focused – there was no looking back now. A tear dropped down her eye, leaving a stain on her pink cheek. She wasn’t a person to have regrets, but somewhere, deep in her heart, she knew she would regret this.

Only if she’d be alive to feel the regret. She stood at the edge of the cliff, counting her last breaths, lost in the memories of her gone life. She wasn’t very old, but there was nothing left in her life any more. Her gaze was fixed on the snow topped trees, the serenity and calmness filling the air with peace. The cool of the atmosphere seemed inviting – the trees ready to engulf her in their green arms, forever.

She took a step forward, and spread out her arms. This is it, she breathed. Her mind raced back to the few happy memories she had left. Happiness was rare. She was scared of happiness, because the moment she had a smile on her face, life seemed to be bent on knocking it off her face. She remembered all the time she’d passed on this earth – the friendships, the fun, the fuss. And then, the downfall. She remembered the beginning of this all, two years ago. She’d been a mere teenager, and had an acceptably normal life. She had faced the basic problems almost every kid of her age faced, and she’d had the basic happiness most teens owned. She just didn’t know that two years were all the life she had left.

She bit her lip anxiously, sweat beads forming on her forehead though it was snowing, as she inched ahead. A voice inside her went insane, screaming her to back off – a voice that remained so silent for months. But it suddenly came to life, as she edged closer to her end.

She passed a glance to her watch, a silver Armani. It was one of her most prized possessions, for it was a gift from her best friend. The watch told her that perhaps she still had some time left to live. It was her birthday today. Only that she believed there was still some time to go. She was born on 31st July, at sharp 7 in the evening. It was only 6 PM. She wanted to be 19 before she died – and in true sense, there was still an hour to go.

She moved away, her footsteps tracing their way back to the tree under which they’d spent the entire afternoon. She whisked off fresh snow that had fallen over the tree roots with her mitten, and settled down on the wood. She curled up into a little ball, her arms hugging her knees. She loved this position. It made her feel tiny and unnoticed by the accusing eyes of the world. And this was perhaps the last chance she would get to be like this, all by herself, no one caring about who she is, what she’s up to.

An hour more to go and I’ll be 19. And I’ll be dead. She sighed. She was scared – not of dying – but of the myth that she might have to start over, as another kid. She didn’t really believe much in the superstition that the soul switches body after death, but it did scare her. What if it was true? There was only one way of finding out, she knew that. Dying. If it turned our right, then she’d have to re-live all these years, and probably all these problems too, perhaps more of them. She didn’t want to do this, but staying alive was no longer an option. She was scared that staying alive would only lead her to destroying the happiness of everyone she knew. She was sick and tired of life, and these were maybe the last of her thoughts.

She looked at her watch again, and groaned. It had been just two minutes since she’d last checked the time. Great. She sighed, let her head droop over her knees, and closed her eyes.

Her mind gently led her back to the start of it all – that day, around two years back. She had turned 17 the week before. She was a happy, bubbly girl back then, full of life and joy – and yet, incredibly shy. She had loving parents, and people to call her friends. But all those were things of the past. She didn’t know anything anymore – who to trust, who to love.

It all started on that one day, two years ago…only if I hadn’t gone.

So much had changed in those two years. Skydiving, the start of it all. Then, Aakash, Tej, and Naina. Michelle. And those two men. Her life was nothing what it used to be like… It seemed to have become a complete complicated mess.

Kimaya put her head down on her knees and stared at her feet. There was almost an hour to go and she had nothing to do, except recall events from her past life. She thought about the times when she was young. A cute little girl with curly hair, frolicking about their house in London. Astrid, her best friend, would be running around with her. And her lovely parents. It was all so perfect.

Damn it! I wish I’d never grown up at all!

“Kimmy!” Said a voice in her head. Oh shut up. Kimaya thought. Don’t make this harder than it already is.

And then Kimaya thought of something. Why was she delaying this so much? Why couldn’t she just go and it all? It wouldn’t hurt much, she was sure of that. One jump, and no one would ever find her. Like she just evanesced off the face of earth. Did she really want to die at all? No I don’t, she realized. But then again, more than wanting or not wanting, Kimaya felt that she needed to die. If she stayed alive, someone may eventually find out what had happened with her that night. And then, those men would probably kill Naina. She was already in coma, all because of her. The doctors said Naina was a fighter, and would soon be well, but Kimaya was scared. Vihaan had pretty much forgotten about that night; but if one day, he did remember, he would ask her about it. And it would be simply terrible. Kimaya wouldn’t be left with any more excuses. And Naina, perhaps, wouldn’t be left at all. Lost in her thoughts, Kimaya dozed away.

She woke up exactly an hour later. She jumped up, wondering if she’d slept too long. A look at her watch made her relax. She smiled a little.

“Happy birthday, Kimaya,” she said. “And, goodbye.”

She stood up, and walked over to the edge. Her heart was hammering hard inside her chest.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” She said softly. “I can do this. It’s like I’m jumping into the… the swimming pool. That’s it.”

Kimaya burst into tears. She didn’t want to do this. She shouldn’t be doing this.

“Who am I kidding… This is no swimming pool.” She murmured. “Okay. At the count of ten.”

Kimaya moved back ten steps. She’s just going to walk off the cliff. There was no need of jumping. Just a little walk.

She started counting.

“Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven—”

“Fall seven times, stand up eight…” Said a voice behind her. She almost jumped off at the sound.

“Life is a gift, don’t waste it. Who knows, you may never get another!” The voice continued.

Kimaya stared at the trees. She didn’t have the courage to face this person.

“Isn’t that what you once told me, Kim?”

Kimaya remembered that night before the art show when she’d gone to meet her captor… Vihaan. When he’d thanked her and told her how he’d been a little suicidal.

Those were the exact words she’d said.

Vihaan’s strong arms picked Kimaya up and led her away from the edge.

“Let me go…” She muttered.

“Shut up. You, Miss Kimaya Verma, are coming with me. And giving a reasonable explanation on what made you take such a step.”

“Where are you taking me?”

“Home, of course.”

“No please! I’ll explain here… Not in front of everyone! Please!”

“Fine,” said Vihaan putting her down. But he didn’t let go of her hand, scared that she might just go and jump off.

“But… I can’t tell you anything Vihaan. Those people… Those people might do something to Naina. No.”

Vihaan looked at Kimaya, shocked. Kimaya knew the people behind Naina’s accident?

“Kimaya…? What are you talking about?”

“It’s all because of me, Vihaan. But if I tell you anything, those people will hurt Naina again. That night… The night of Naina’s accident… I had just started to tell you about it and they hurt Naina within seconds. I can’t do this Vihaan.”

“Do you really think someone will be eavesdropping on our conversation in the middle of the mountains – heck no, practically in the middle of absolutely nowhere?”

“I don’t know…”

“Kimaya, you have to tell someone. Tell me Kim. Tell me what happened. Who was it who hurt Naina?”

“I am not really sure… I think it was Tej.”

“Tej?” Vihaan’s eyes widened. How horrible could a human be?

“That night when you went out for your music practice, I got a call. It was Naina, screaming for help. A man’s voice took over, and they ordered me to meet them right then, without telling anyone, or Naina would suffer. I wanted to inform someone… But they could see me. I couldn’t call for help. They gave me directions, till I reached some isolated spot. A man grabbed me from behind, and as I struggled, another came from the front on a bike. Naina’s voice had been recorded on a tape recorder, to lure me in. I had a feeling that it was Tej and one of his friends; but they had masks on and I couldn’t see their faces. However much I tried, those masks would just not come off.

They did what they did with Sharon and Naina years back, Vihaan. They teased me, harassed me… When I tried to struggle, one of them took off a knife from his pocket, and cut open my sleeves, maybe just to scare me. My struggles earned me a few scratches and cuts on my arms too. I didn’t fall down the stairs that night, I’m not so clumsy. It was all so terrible, Vihaan. It was only then that I could understand what had made Sharon kill herself… They held me tight… And I was so helpless. They let me go so that I’d reach home just before you did. But only with a warning that if I opened my mouth about all this, they would her Naina. But I made a mistake… I didn’t take their warning too seriously… And Naina paid the price… She’s in coma today, Vihaan… And the fault is only mine. I ruined her life. And I lost the right to my own. You shouldn’t have stopped me Vihaan…” Kimaya completed, crying.

Vihaan just stood there, trying to digest this whole new outlook to Naina’s accident. Kimaya kept crying, not knowing what else to do.

Vihaan took Kimaya into his arms. The poor girl had kept all this in for over a month… And finally, the result of the depression had come out. Had he not reached on time, she would probably be dead.

“It’s not your fault, Kimaya,” he said gently. “Now stop crying. It’s payback time. Those men who did this to you and Naina, they will suffer for it. They can’t hurt two wonderful young women for no reason and get away with it. Come, Kim. Let’s go back.”

“No… How will I ever face the others?” Sobbed Kimaya.

“Then what do we do? Set up an igloo in the snow and live here forever?”

Kimaya couldn’t help a little chuckle.

“You don’t have to face anyone. All you need to do is go home and relax.”

He picked Kimaya up and carried her to the car, where she had a little reunion with her family.

“Where did you go Kim? Do you have any idea how worried we were?!” Demanded her mother.

Kimaya looked at Vihaan pleadingly. She did not want to talk to anyone at that moment.

“Aunty, I think we should leave her alone for some time. I’ll tell you everything. But let’s just take Kimaya home for now,” said Vihaan. He did think it was better for Kimaya to tell everything herself; but he knew that she was too upset and unstable at that moment to explain anything more to anyone else.

“But Vihaan, what happened?”

“I’ll explain, Aunty. Just get Kim into the car.”

Mrs. Verma nodded and made Kimaya sit inside the car, after wrapping a warm blanket around her. She’d been in the cold for too long, she could fall seriously ill. Everyone got into their cars, and soon, they headed towards Lachung. They would go back to Gangtok and then to the nearest airport the next day, since their flight was scheduled to leave the next night.

When they reached, Kimaya got into her room, changed, and buried herself beneath the blankets.

“Kimaya?” Said her mom, coming into the room. “Have dinner, sweetheart…”

“I’m not hungry…”

“Please? A little?”

“No mom…”

“Kim, Vihaan is refusing to tell me anything… What happened baby?”

Kimaya turned away. She didn’t want to answer. She knew how much she was hurting her sweet mother, and it hurt her much more to do that. But sometimes, you just can’t help some things. Mrs. Verma pressed on for a few more minutes, and finally left. After a little time, Tashanna entered the room. She didn’t say anything. She could sense that something was very wrong; and she didn’t think it would be good to worsen the situation by questioning much. As she lay down to sleep, Vihaan came in.

“Tasha… Could you sleep with mom and dad today? I need to talk to Kimaya.”

Tashanna looked at her brother curiously, and got up, without a word. She went out of the room, leaving Kimaya and Vihaan alone.

“You need to tell them on your own, Kimaya,” he said.

“No.”

“It will be much better if you tell them.”

“Please Vihaan, I don’t want to talk to anybody.”

“Kim… For how long will you avoid people? Days? Weeks? You can’t lie to them for so long. You can’t lie to yourself for so long.”

“But they’ll hate me Vihaan. They’ll hate me for what I’ve done. I destroyed Naina’s life, her future!”

“You told me, didn’t you?”

Kimaya nodded.

“And did I ever say I hate you? You are not at fault Kimaya. And I’d say, you’re one of the bravest girls I’ve known. You walked towards danger, just to save a dear friend. You didn’t bother about the fact that you may end up getting hurt. You just wanted to save Naina. And you bore all this pain for a month… Just so that they don’t hurt Naina any more. They have no reason to hate you Kimaya. You are brave. You are amazing.”

Kimaya stared at Vihaan.

“Anyway, I’ll let you think over it. I’d still suggest that it’s you who tells them. But if you really don’t think you can, then I’ll help you out. Now sleep, Kim.”

“And where will you sleep?” Asked Kimaya.

“The couch will be good enough,” he replied.

“No don’t. You can sleep on the bed, I don’t mind.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

Vihaan uncertainly got onto the bed next to Kimaya, lying himself down. He suddenly heard sniffs from the other side of the bed and sighed.

“Kimaya, don’t cry…”

Kimaya let out a muffled sob. “I don’t know what to do Vihaan. I miss Naina, and I hate the fact that she’s so ill!”

Vihaan switched the bed lamp on, only to find Kimaya curled up on her side of the bed, shaking as she tried to hide her tears. He pulled her up and she threw her arms around him, finally letting out the sobs.

“Kim, it’s going to be fine,” he whispered, as she drenched his t-shirt with her tears. He stroked her hair gently as she cried, trying to calm her down. They finally fell asleep like that, but before they did, Kimaya had made up her mind. Vihaan was right. She was going to have to tell everyone everything.

[] Chapter 19

The next morning, Vihaan woke her up.

“Wake up, wildcat.”

She woke up… She had this small smile on her face. A real smile. She didn’t know why but she suddenly felt better. Like things were finally falling into place.

Vihaan felt relaxed to see her smile. He still had this fear that she might run away again.

“I’ll tell them myself, Vihaan,” she said.

“That’s a good girl. I’m so proud of you, wildcat,” he winked.

Kimaya shook her head, knowing that he will never stop teasing her with that name.

“I have a name, you know,” she said sarcastically.

“Yes, your name is Wildcat!”

“For God’s sake!”

Vihaan laughed. “Now get ready,” he said. “We gotta leave soon.”

Kimaya nodded and got up. Half an hour later, she met everyone in the dining hall. She had a sober look on her face, as she braced herself to tell everything to her family. She poured out the story over breakfast, and everyone listened to her wide-eyed. Kimaya’s confessions came as a huge surprise to everyone. Finally, she was done. She felt relaxed and calm; the burden had been lifted off her shoulders.

“Kimaya, are you sure it was Tej?” Asked Mr. Verma.

“I think so, dad. But I’ve got no proof.”

“They took all the caution they needed. If we don’t have a proof, we can’t get them arrested.”

“But I don’t get it. Why couldn’t you take their masks off?” Asked Tashanna.

“I don’t know. I couldn’t struggle too much or they’d hurt me worse. And those masks were tightly fixed to their faces. It didn’t come off when I tried to pull them down.”

“They must have bought it from some shop, right… We could go talking to the shopkeepers who sell masks maybe?” Suggested Vihaan.

“But there will be too many shops like that! We can’t go inquiring in each of them! Plus, most of the shopkeepers won’t bother to try to remember an event that happened months back. We are not the police or anything,” argued Tashanna.

“Tasha has a point Vihaan,” Mr. Arora said. “No one would bother to give such data unless we have the police on our side.”

“No! No police please! They’ll kill Naina!” Cried Kimaya.

“But Kimaya…”

“No! This is why I didn’t tell anyone anything.”

“Kim, do you really think they’d had the guts to kill a person?” Vihaan asked.

“They put her into coma. They could kill her as well!”

“I doubt they wanted to so seriously hurt her, Kim. They might’ve been aiming at a smaller dash, but it got serious. They just wanted to scare you.”

“But if they do hurt her, then?”

“One of us will stay with Naina all the time then. But we have to tell the police.”

“No… The person who stays will end up getting hurt too…”

“Then more people shall stay with her. You don’t worry about Naina, Kim. You just need to follow the path of truth and justice.”

“B.. But…”

“Vihaan, I don’t think it’ll be safe to leave Kimaya alone too. She’s more vulnerable than any of us. And even Tashanna,” said Kimaya’s mom.

“I will take care of the two ladies. The skin which dares to touch them will be shredded off before anyone even realizes it.”

Tashanna smiled at her brother. But well then, big brothers are supposed to be protective, aren’t they?

Soon after, everyone was getting into the cabs which would take them to Gangtok, and then to the airport. They didn’t stop anywhere except for lunch, and Kimaya actually enjoyed the views. No, she didn’t fake it this time!

Kimaya finally became normal, on the last day of their trip. But Vihaan, who was still frightened that she might do something stupid again, refused to leave her side. At one point, Kimaya became so frustrated with him that she almost started yelling at him.

“I won’t!” He shouted back. “See, you really are a wildcat!”

The others stared at them, wondering what on earth was going on.

Kimaya burst out laughing and gave Vihaan a playful punch. Soon, they left the place where they’d had lunch and continued their journey to the airport. And then, they were off to Bangalore.

Over five hours later, with a stop at the Delhi airport, they finally landed at Bangalore. Kimaya grew tense as they approached the airport’s exit. She was scared; now that they were in Bangalore, those men could get to her more easily. They could hurt Naina.

“It’ll be fine, Kim,” whispered Vihaan, sensing her worry.

“We are not going to talk about this till Naina has protection.”

“Yes, everyone knows that. Now relax.”

Kimaya nodded. They got into their cars and were home soon. It was decided that they would go to Naina the next morning, so they’d be fresh and ready after a good night’s sleep.

The next day

“Ready Kim?” Asked her mom, waking her up. “Naina’s parents, and Vihaan’s parents, both have already gone to the hospital. Naina is safe now.”

Kimaya looked at her mother, fear visible in her eyes. She almost wanted to stop all this, when she remembered something. Naina had lost her best friend because of these predators. And now, she’d lost over a month of her precious life. And what was Kimaya doing? Naina had fought for her best friend. And Kimaya was scared to do that. She was scared to fight, to demand for justice. No… I will kill you Tej.

“Yes mom. I’m ready.”

“That’s my baby. Now hurry up. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

“I’ll be down in twenty,” replied Kimaya.

And she was down in exactly twenty minutes. She was dressed up in rough jeans and a baggy t-shirt, her hair a little wild. She was angry, and her appearance showed it. She looked like a woman on a mission; and she was not going to stop before she had those horrible people behind the bars.

“You look like a complete wildcat,” gasped Vihaan.

“Good,” Kimaya replied. “Because this wildcat is going to scratch the skin off the people who hurt her friend.”

Vihaan looked at Kim with mock astonishment in his eyes, as Kimaya walked towards the door.

“Coming?” Asked Kimaya. “We’ve got some questioning to do!”

“Yes!” Vihaan said, following Kim.

They hit the shops first. They weren’t really sure if they could get some information out of the shopkeepers, but it was worth a try. Even Vihaan had a feeling that the later the police got involved in all this, the better it would be.

They entered the first shop.

“Welcome bhaiya!” Cried a young boy, probably an assistant. Vihaan felt annoyed to see a boy as young as that working. Isn’t child labour prohibited?

“What do you want? We have all kinds of things!”

“Umm, we were looking for masks that don’t come off even when they are badly pulled.”

“I’m sorry sir, but we don’t sell such masks,” said an older man, coming into the room.

“Oh. Do you have any idea which shop would sell that?”

“I’m not sure but you could try Chandu’s shop. It’s the third shop from here.”

“Okay, thanks,” said Vihaan, and walked out with Kimaya.

They walked up to the shop they’d been told. When they entered it, the first thing they saw were lots and lots of masks hanging down, and many types of costumes. For Christmas, Halloween, theatre.

“Hello,” said the man at the counter. “Can I help you?”

“Do you have the kind of masks which don’t come off easily when pulled?”

“Yes, we do!” Replied the man, beaming. “I’ll just get them!”

“Brilliant!” Said Kimaya to Vihaan.

The man came back with a few masks in his hand. One of them was black in colour.

“Can you show the black one?” Kimaya asked.

“Yes ma’am,” he said, handing it to her.

“This is exactly it!” she said.

“Are you sure?” Enquired Vihaan.

“Yes!”

“Does any other shop sell masks like this one?” Asked Vihaan.

“There’s another costume shop nearby which may have. Why are you asking sir? It is top quality, you can buy it from here!”

“I see. Do a lot of people buy such masks from you?”

“No, they are not the ones commonly in demand but I keep the stock anyway.”

“In that case, you might be able to remember the last few customers?”

“Perhaps, but why are you so interested in the history and geography of this mask? I am telling you sir, it is top quality!”

“Could you tell us if someone bought this mask from your shop, around a month back?”

“I will check sir, but aren’t you going to buy this?”

Vihaan and Kimaya realized that this person was just interested in selling his stuff.

“Ah yes, sure! We will buy it.”

“In fact, can we have a look at the other masks of this kind?” Asked Kimaya. Anything to extend their duration here.

“Yes, yes ma’am!” He said eagerly, displaying out the masks to her.

“As I was saying, did a kind of tall guy with nerdy specs come here around a month back?” Continued Vihaan. “He wanted to buy such masks.”

“I am not sure sir. He may have. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, we had a sort of bet you know. I wanted one of those masks for myself, but he wouldn’t tell me where to find them. So he challenged me to find it, that too from the same shop.”

“Oh you boys!” Laughed the shopkeeper. “Always up with some or the other challenge. Anyway, for your sake, I will check my record. I remember my son used to hate losing bets!”

The shopkeeper disappeared into a room attached to the shop and came back a minute later.

“Yes. A boy did come here around a month back. He rented two of such masks, so I have his data.”

Kimaya and Vihaan looked at each other. They had come to the right place.

“I see! Yes, he would’ve needed two masks! His name was Tej, right?”

“The name is a little blurred, but I guess it was Tej. Now that I think of it, I guess it was a guy of your age. Maybe a year or two older?”

“Yes yes!” Cried Vihaan.

“Ah yes! He needed strong masks for a college play. A thief scene or something, I believe!”

This was a little weird, but then one didn’t exactly expect Tej to say that he needed the masks for eve-teasing a girl, right?

“True enough! That play was a big hit at our college, thanks to you!”

The shopkeeper beamed. Finally, they bought the mask and left.

“You were right Kim. It was Tej after all.”

“I always had that feeling.”

“Let’s call up your dad, and we’ll head to the police station then.”

“So soon?”

“We have the proof right?”

“Vihaan, anyone can buy a mask. That’s not illegal, is it?”

“Then what do we do?”

“I don’t really have anything in mind, but this won’t be enough to get him arrested!”

“Now what do we do?”

“I’ve got no idea,” replied Kim. She was walking fast, lost in her own thoughts; like she always did when she was tensed.

Not looking, she almost dashed into a person talking on the phone. As she made herself stable and started walking ahead, she overheard a bit of the man’s conversation.

“Bro, they’ve reached the mask seller. And Naina…”

Kimaya shook her head and started walking when she realized something. Naina?

“Vihaan get that guy!” She cried.

“Kim?”

“Just get him please! He knows about Naina!”

Vihaan went after that guy and got him by the collar.

“Whoa bro, take it easy!” Cried the boy.

One look at the boy told Vihaan that he was one of Tej’s friends; among the ones who had once been arrested for harassing Sharon and Naina. Kimaya caught up with them and snatched his phone. She cut the call, which was obviously with Tej, and switched it off.

“What do you know about Naina?” She demanded.

“N… Nothing!”

“Lie. Tell the truth!”

“I said I know nothing!”

“Oh really? Then let me remind you. She was one of the two girls you abused years back!” Vihaan was yelling at the boy, earning looks from the passers-by. “Don’t call for help or you’ll pay for it,” he added with a glare.

“That’s the last thing I know about her!”

“Lie again. Tell us the truth, and stay out of trouble. Or would you prefer speaking in the police station?”

“No no! Please, I don’t know anything!”

“Then why are you scared of the police?”

“I have a bad record already. Why would I ever want to return to that place?”

“You’re Danny, right?”

“Yes, that’s me.”

“Hey Danny, what happened to your hand?” Asked Kimaya, noticing a deep cut on his right arm, which was pretty much healed by now. But the scar remained.

“Oh that. I.. Uhh..”

“It’s the scar I’d given you, isn’t it?”

“What are you talking about?”

“The cut I made with your knife when you were trying to hurt me that night?”

“No!”

“Oh yes, it is! You guys got me good that day!”

“No no!”

“Well, then who took me to that place?”

“How am I supposed to know who took you to that graveyard?”

“Kim never said a word about any graveyard.”

“What? I.. No!”

“You’re coming with us to the police station, Danny.”

Kimaya called her dad up, and soon, they were all at the police station.

***

“And what proof do you have, Mr. Verma?” The inspector asked.

“My mate here will tell you,” he said, pushing Danny towards the inspector.

“You better tell me the truth, young boy. You’ve got a serious accusation on you,” warned the officer.

“Sir, it was all Tej’s plan! I didn’t do anything!”

“Arrest this Tej,” the inspector ordered to another officer nearby.

In half an hour, Tej was at the police station, horrified.

“You two already have a record of eve-teasing. So it’s not hard to accept another case,” said the officer.

“But sir, we didn’t do anything!” Tej argued.

“Get your lawyers, young men.”

***

The court hearing was in two days. The lawyers couldn’t defend Tej and Danny. Danny had already confessed, and the proofs and their criminal background didn’t help either. Tej and Danny were put into prison again, and this time, for a longer term.

***

“Everything is so perfect now, isn’t it Kim?” Asked Vihaan, as he drove Kimaya home. He had taken her out after the court hearing, for lifting her mind off things.

“No Vihaan. Naina is still in coma… And if she ever wakes up, she wouldn’t get back this precious time of her life. And it’s all because of me.”

“Stop blaming yourself Kimaya. Naina will be fine soon.”

“I just hope she is..”

“Just relax, Kim. It’s going to be okay.”

[] Chapter 20

3 months later

New York

Kimaya

My phone buzzed. I picked it up.

“Hello?”

“Kim, catch the next flight to India. Come back as soon as you can!”

“Vihaan? What on earth is wrong with you? I have a test tomorrow and a lot of important assignments to complete!”

“Nothing can be more important than this, wildcat.”

What does he mean? Did… Did something happen to Naina? No, the last time he said that her reports are improving.

“Is this about Naina?” I ask him, half freaking out.

“Yes. Hold on for a sec,” he said in a rushed tone which completely freaked me out.

But the next sound on the other end of the line was like music to my ears.

“Hi Kim,” said a voice on the other side. The voice was a little weak, maybe a bit shy and soft, but it was still as sweet as ever. Unexplainable emotions took over me and my eyes became glassy. I had been dying to hear this voice for months now.

“Naina,” I whispered.

“I miss you Kim, please come back,” the voice continued.

“Yes! Of course yes! I’m coming back today!” I was kind of yelling now, earning looks from the passers-by.

“Kim, that isn’t possible,” she said, and I could hear a trace of laughter in her voice. Of course that wasn’t possible, I was in New York and she was in India.

“I mean, I’m taking the next flight I can get and coming back!”

“Good,” but this time it was Vihaan speaking.

“Give the phone back to Naina!” I groaned.

“No. Enough for now. Now go complete your assignments or whatever, but book a ticket first! You’ll have enough time to talk to her when you return.”

“You sadist! You just wait! Let me come back, I’ll…” And I continued with my endless rant, till I realized that I was rambling.

“You about done, wildcat?” He smirked on the other side when I finally calmed down. “Now go, catch a flight!”

“Yes,” I muttered and rushed away.

***

I stared at the girl lying asleep in front of me. She was wearing a light yellow hospital gown, and looked paler than she normally did. But she was still beautiful, and it felt amazing knowing that this time she was just asleep. That she would wake up any moment, and that it wasn’t just a possibility this time.

I moved forward and put my arms around her. I was known for bear hugs, but this time, I was careful to be gentle. I didn’t want to wake her up, nor was I going to cause her any more pain.

Naina moved under my embrace, and I let go, moving away from her.

“No… That felt nice,” Naina muttered.

“You’re awake?” I asked, staring at her closed eyes.

“Yes,” she said, opening her eyes and smiling. “Kim.”

The tears I’d been holding back since I received Vihaan’s call finally spilled out.

“Hey, don’t cry, Kim,” Naina whispered as I made a mess out of myself.

“I did… I did this,” I stuttered. “I did this to you. You lost so much time of your life, all because of me.”

Naina’s eyes started to water too, and I mentally smacked myself for making her cry. She was still weak.

“Shut up Kimaya. It’s not your fault. Vihaan told me how you’ve been chastising yourself for the past few months. But you know what? You’re one of the bravest girls I know! You fought so that Sharon would get justified. You bore all that pain all alone so that I wouldn’t get hurt. And then you fought again, to give me justice. I don’t know anyone braver than you, Kim.”

I stared at her, tears still falling out of my eyes.

“And now, I feel so guilty,” Naina continued.

“Why are you feeling guilty?” I asked, confused.

“Because I should have been more careful. That accident could have been a lot less serious had I been less careless but I was giving that much attention to my driving. I was missing Sharon so much, I was lost in my thoughts. And I didn’t see that truck till it was too late. I… I’m sorry. But I guess, now you’ll stop blaming yourself, won’t you?”

What?

A sudden wave of anger and annoyance gushes over me. She only told me this so that I would stop blaming myself? What is wrong with this girl?!

“Are you crazy Naina?” My voice was low, as I tried to contain my anger.

She didn’t reply.

“You are crazy!”

“I know,” she muttered.

“Of course you do! You are completely crazy! You almost died! You could have never woken up!”

“I’m sorry Kim..”

I sighed and let the topic drop. We started talking about what had happened when Naina was asleep, my life in NYC, and all such things.

Soon, the nurse ushered me out of the room, saying that she needed to check up on Naina. I stepped out of the clean white room, looking around for Naina’s mom who had been there in the morning, when I reached. However, the only person I could find was Vihaan.

“Where’s everyone else?” I asked.

“They went home to change and relax for some time.”

“Then why are you here? I’m pretty sure you need some rest too,” I said, eyeing the dark circles which were beginning to form under his eyes.

“Yeah, I’ll go once the others are back. I had to stay for some stupid hospital formality.”

“Oh.” I realized that since Vihaan had signed the initial papers for Naina’s hospitalization, he still had to do the formalities.

“So how’s New York?” He asked. “Written any new books yet?”

“New York’s fine. And no, I’ve been too worried about Naina to write anything new.”

He nodded, understanding me. It had taken a lot of arguments to just make me go back to New York; I hadn’t wanted to leave Naina’s side. Writing was simply out of the whole scenario.

“What about you? I suppose it’s your last year before you graduate?” Vihaan had been doing business studies, though he wanted a degree in music instead. But Mr. Arora was insistent and argued that if Vihaan completed his education the way his father wanted, he could become a musician. Vihaan had reluctantly agreed.

“Yes. And I realized that maybe business isn’t as bad as I thought. I’m planning to do a post-graduation in business studies from a good college abroad, and then come back and handle dad’s business.”

Whoa. That was news to me. The last time I’d met him, he was adamant on becoming a musician.

“Whatever happened to the rock star dreams?” I asked.

“Let’s just say that I found event managing just as interesting.”

“Awesome!”

He grinned at me and I grinned back. It was nice talking to Vihaan after so long. I suddenly wondered where Tashanna was.

“Where’s Tasha?”

“At home. We’ll go meet her tonight.”

“Tonight?”

“Yeah. Aren’t you coming home with us?”

“Yes, but I thought I’d go back to my house later on.”

“No, I’m not letting you do that. I mean come on, let’s have a movie night or something! It’s been ages since we did that.”

That sounded good.

“Okay then! But I’m still going to go to my house for some time. I’ll come back after dinner okay?”

“Well, okay then.”

The doctor came along.

“How is she doctor?” I asked.

“She’s doing fine, but I noticed something off in one of the recent reports. The accident messed up with her insides, something we didn’t realize when she was asleep. We might need to hold her in the hospital for a little bit longer till her reports are clear.

“That’s not a problem, sir. Just make sure that she is okay,” I said, tensing up. I wanted Naina to be completely okay. Messed up reports were a bad sign.

The doctor nodded and left.

I felt scared, suddenly. What if there’s something seriously wrong? No, that’s can’t happen. That can NOT happen. She simply has to recover. She’s already spent too much time in hospital.

I felt Vihaan’s hand on my arm and snapped out of my thoughts.

“Just relax okay?” He said. “She’ll be alright.”

“I hope so,” I said, still upset.

“Stop thinking about it Kim. She’s going to be fine.”

I nod.

“So how’s that book you’d written? Contacted some publishers yet?”

Trust Vihaan to change the topic. But I let him.

“Good. One of the editors was interested.”

We talked for some more time, and I told him about Naina’s confession. He was shocked.

Soon, the nurse came out and told us that we can go talk to Naina. We went inside her room and soon lost track of time as our conversation filled the room.

***

Vihaan

That night, after all our crazy fun, I lay awake in bed. Tashanna and Kimaya were already asleep. But I couldn’t sleep. The doctor had said something which was worrying me. Thank goodness Kim hadn’t been there when he’d told me this; or she wouldn’t be sleeping right now either.

The accident had damaged Naina’s insides more than we had earlier realized. The hospital was doing the best it could, but the doctor was uncertain about how much more Naina’s body could take. It was a miracle in itself that she had even woke up, perhaps a sign that she was getting better, but the negative signs her reports showed after her waking up were ominous.

I felt scared. Naina’s return had brought back the piece missing from our lives. If something happened to her again, the impact would be worse this time. It had taken everyone a hell lot of time to get back to their normal routines after Naina had first gone into coma. And Kimaya… She would probably slip into depression again.

I groaned. Maybe I was just overthinking. Naina would be okay. I should probably try to sleep.

And sleep I did, until I was woken up by my phone ringing. I glanced at the time. 4:12 AM. Who is it at this time? But the caller ID shocked me. Scratch that, it scared the living daylights out of me.

“Vihaan?”

“Doctor? What happened?”

“It’s about Naina. She’s critical.”

And that’s all I needed to hear.

“I’ll be right there.”

I rushed off to the hospital. I didn’t bother waking anyone up. I knew I should probably tell Kimaya, but I couldn’t think. All I could think of was Naina. She was critical. She could die. She could slip into coma again. All the terrible possibilities crossed my mind as I drove to the hospital. This can’t happen. This shouldn’t happen.

I reached the hospital and rushed through the formalities. She needed another operation. They were in the middle of the surgery now. Naina’s parents were already here. Her mom was crying uncontrollably, and her dad was trying to comfort her mother. But it was quite useless, actually. You couldn’t ask her to stop crying. That would be just… Inhuman, I guess. Any mother would be sobbing if her daughter was in a critical condition… Again.

“Vihaan?”

Naina’s father’s voice shook me out of my thoughts. I looked at him.

“I think you should inform everyone. Before it’s… Too late.”

Too late? Did the doctor say something? I asked him that.

“He just said that she was extremely serious. Her body is starting to give up.” His voice was shaky, and I could tell he was trying to hold back tears. Honestly, that was kind of what I was trying to do too.

I just nod, afraid that I wouldn’t be able to speak.

“Go tell everyone,” Mr. Agarwal told me.

I nodded again, and left.

I drove back home, wondering what to tell to Kimaya. I thought about it again and again, until I realized that there was no way to reveal the news to her without breaking her heart. I would have to tell it to her, no matter how much it would hurt.

I entered the room she and Tasha were sleeping in.

“Kim…” I said softly.

She didn’t wake up.

I walked up to her and gently shook her.

“Kim,” I said again, this time a little louder.

She woke up with a jolt and looked around. First at me, then at the clock, and then her gaze settled on me again.

“What happened?” She asked. Her voice was gentle and concerned. Suddenly, I couldn’t hold it back anymore. The tears slipped out of my eyes.

“Vihaan? What happened?” She asked again.

“Naina…”

She didn’t need to be told twice to understand what was going on. She was up and dressed in a flash.

Tashanna too had woken up by now. She told us to leave for the hospital, saying that she would inform everybody else.

We reached the hospital and hurried to operation theatre where Naina was supposed to be. But when we reached there, the lights of the theatre were off, and no one was around. I found a nurse who had known Naina and asked her where Naina was.

Kimaya

The nurse didn’t say anything, but just asked us to follow her. She led us down the halls, through the spotless corridors, to a section of the hospital containing small rooms. She quietly opened the door of one of them, and let us inside.

The sight that greeted us made me crumble.

Naina was lying on a small bed. There were no wires attached to her. Her mom looked terrible – there were heavy tear stains on her face, but she wasn’t crying anymore. She was just staring into the space, and her gaze was empty. Her dad sat silently, his head in his arms. He did not look up to acknowledge our presence. There was no one else in the room, no doctor, no nurse. The atmosphere was depressing. But then my eyes settled on Naina and I fell back into Vihaan’s arms.

She wasn’t breathing.

Naina was not breathing.

There wasn’t even any external device helping her to breathe. The heart monitor showed nothing but a straight line.

This couldn’t be happening. Right? It’s all just a joke – it has to be.

I rushed to the bed Naina was lying on. Her face was pale, and her chest didn’t rise and fall in its smooth rhythm. I couldn’t speak. The tears were flowing freely, and I made no attempt to stop them. I threw my hands around the girl who had become so precious to me in the past year, somehow wishing that she would hug me back. But she didn’t. Her skin was cold and unmoving.

I stayed like that, hugging her, till I felt a strong pair of arms pulling me back.

“Stop it Kim,” I heard Vihaan’s voice.  It only made me cry harder.

“Kim…” His voice was hoarse. He’d been crying too.

“Let me go…” I whispered, speaking up for the first time.

“No,” he said, still pulling me back.

I struggled for a little while, before giving in. He pulled me to a bench in the room and made me sit down, pulling me into his embrace. I cried on his shoulder, still not believing what had just happened.

Naina was dead.

The girl with the sparkly eyes, a bright smile. The girl who was filled with so much love, it was impossible for anyone to not like her. She was gone. I had met her just today. She was alright, she was smiling.

And now she was gone. Just like that.

Vihaan stroked my hair, trying to calm me down. But I didn’t want to calm down. I wanted to cry out all the water I had inside me. I wanted to cry till the world ended. I just wanted to cry.

“It’s okay,” Vihaan whispered. “It’s not wrong to cry… You can cry as much as you want.” It was like he read my thoughts. Others came and went, but I couldn’t think about anything else. I wanted Naina to wake up. I wanted all this to just be a nightmare. But it wasn’t. Naina was really gone. And there was nothing I could do to bring her back.

[] Epilogue

Kimaya

Naina’s funeral was three days later. Everyone was there. Even Astrid had flown from London to meet Naina one last time. It had felt nice to meet her, but I was still too devastated to care about anything else.

“Stop crying, Kimmy,” she said.

I simply shook my head. I had tried to stop, I really had. But it was only a matter of time, before I remembered another sweet memory with Naina, and started crying again. Vihaan was my rock; I knew he was trying to be strong for me. He would cry occasionally too, but not as much as I thought he would. I needed someone to help me right now, and that’s exactly what he was doing. My parents weren’t much of a help either, they too were depressed.

Vihaan wouldn’t tell me to stop crying, or that I’d moped enough. He wouldn’t tell me I was being stupid and unrealistic. He wouldn’t push me to stop denying the fact that Naina was gone. He would just hold me as I cried, letting me pour my tears out. He didn’t tell me that it was okay, he just said that it would be alright someday. He didn’t tell me to move on; he told me that it was okay to cry. He wasn’t trying to make me feel better – and I guess that’s what I needed right now. I needed to cry all I could. I knew that it was going to hurt, and I couldn’t deny that hurt. I had to face the pain; I couldn’t run away from it. And all I needed was someone who wouldn’t force me to run away.

I had still not accepted the fact that Naina was dead. I would start crying at random times, and once I started, the tears would take hours to stop. Just like right now. It was her funeral. It made everything feel so real. Everything which I had thought to be a horrible nightmare. I knew it was real, but I did not want to accept that fact. A funeral was too real. She really was gone. And I couldn’t save her.

The accident had destroyed her body’s insides; something which the doctors hadn’t noticed till it was too late. They had tried their best to save her, but she was too damaged. When she woke up, her body started demanding more energy, which she couldn’t provide. The problem which had started due to the accident worsened, and finally, her body gave up. She was gone, dead. She would never come back.

No matter how much I prayed or cried.

“Hush, Kim,” Vihaan said in a soothing voice. “She’s in a better place now. And you know what? She’s with Sharon. She’s happy. And I’m sure she would want you to be happy too… Just stop crying Kim… You’ll be okay.”

I nodded. It felt better to think of it in this way.

And in that moment, I really did believe that everything would be okay someday. That we were going to be fine. And till then, I could just hang on to the last shreds of hope left, and try to believe, that I’ll be okay.

 


I'll Be Okay

Meet Kimaya Verma. Born in London, Kimaya is a half-British half-Indian teen with an acceptably normal life. Everything seems to be perfect, until the family next door starts having problems. What seemed to be a simple case of cheating turns out to be more dangerous, and Kimaya is the only one who knows. As things get complicated, Kimaya battles the problems alone - but will she be able to unscramble the mess before it's too late?

  • ISBN: 9781370235889
  • Author: Mugdha Mittal
  • Published: 2016-07-29 21:05:14
  • Words: 49220
I'll Be Okay I'll Be Okay