Breathless

Breathless

 Naika entered Metropolis College’s cafeteria balancing a stack of books on her arms.

Roma, the college’s rich lass chipped in “Here come maids daughter! You are done with enticing the rich popular guy?”

Naika forced herself to concentrate on her tower of books so that they don’t stumble over.
“Everyone knows of your sneaky meet ups in the library. You are such a baby to be thinking that he will stick with you afterwards.”

Roma had previously thought that, Naika being her maid’s daughter, would tail her  around like a docile puppy in college. Instead she went on to date the college’s most popular guy and cared less about Roma. And Roma wasn’t used to being ignored, certainly not by a simpleton girl who was dating a guy SHE had her eyes upon. Her constant attempts to show Naika down hardly seemed to flicker their love flame.

Naika rushed to her locker and inhaled deeply. She had been holding her breath throughout Roma’s sneers. She never retorted to her bitter remarks lest her mother had to bear the brunt of it. She had even tried cutting off ties with Jay to be freed from those daily remarks but the latter only pursued her with more vehemence. She took her duffel and book and went in the parking area. She dropped her books in her bicycle basket and cycled away.

The next morning Mona and Lisa scurried towards Roma. They were her faithful minions and sincerely bore with her haughtiness.
“Roma we heard Jay telling Naika’s friends that he will be proposing her today.”
“And I saw a small corner of the library being decorated. Pink flowers and all, I think it’s going to be a special corner for the proposal,” added Lisa

“Hmm…thanks for the details  secret agents, we shall meet in the library during lunch time.”

“Ok let’s go and tear down that special corner.”
Mona and Lisa hesitated.
“You bunch of cowards! I’ll do it myself.” She blurted and went about ripping off the colourful streamers and small flowers adorning a small table between two bookshelves. She kicked off the chairs, pulled off  the tablecloth and stamped on it.
” Oh what fun will it be to propose amidst such a mess!”  She quipped.

Durin g the next class, she kept throwing surreptitious glances at Naika and Jay, bubbling in excitement in anticipation of their reaction to the mess.

A peon interrupted the class, “The Principal is asking for Miss Roma Grewall.” He announced.

“May I come in Sir?”
“Yes  Miss Roma ,Our librarian states you damaged a special corner in the library.”

“She had been embellishing that part since the past two days to welcome specially abled children from a shelter for a book reading session. And you Miss, you destroyed that in two seconds!”

“Wait what?”

“Miss Roma your behaviour at the library was very abhorring. Do you care to explain your action?”

“I- I didn’t mean to do it ma’am.”

“That’s all you got to say? Did you see the look on those children’s faces when they saw your mess?”

“It was a mistake and I apologise,”, She said between clenched teeth.

“You are suspended for the next five days!”

She came out of the office seething with anger. She glared at Mona and Richa, who were not able to meet her eyes.

From the balcony, she saw Jay kneeling and proposing Naika under the mango tree in the yard with a bouquet of lillies under the applause of their small group of friends.
Her feet angled to kick the dustbin next to her.
“Roma!” Mona exclaimed.
“Yeah! Right no more trips to the principal!” She said retracting her foot.
“Now you two! The encounter with the principal never happened! Do you get that?”
They nodded.
“You have put me in enough trouble for today. I don’t want the news of me being suspended to leak!”

“Yes Roma. Count on us!

“So am not coming as from tomorrow because…”, she thought her index finger drumming on her chin

She snapped her fingers, “A party! Am planning a grand party in two days! That’s what you got to say.”

Roma’s palatial estate was tastefully decorated.  The whole batch of freshers of Metropolis were invited, the “high society” ones were the ones who mostly turned up. The get together was held on the patio on the first floor of her mansion.
“’Let me call my maid to serve us. You know Naika right? The nerdy girl in college? Her mum, Sarita, works here as a maid.”

“Oh I never knew about that.”

“Of course she won’t tell you she is maid’s daughter, will she?”

‘Maid come upstairs, we have some new guests!’

“So you didn’t invite Naika?”

“Oh I definitely would but surely she wouldn’t like being at a party where her mum is being a servant, I mean server.” She answered loudly making sure Sarita heard her, and at the same time a devious plan took form in her head.
“Get my friends a jug of mineral water.”
“With ice?”
“Excuse me?”
“With ice, choti memsaab?”
“No!”

Sarita went downstairs and brought a jug of water and placed it on the table.
“Where are the snacks?” Roma snapped.
“I will bring it, ma’am.”
She did three trips downstairs to fetch the different varieties of snacks, she was huffing and puffing by now.

“And where are the dhoklas? Shanaya is vegetarian she can’t have these starters. You know that!”

“Roma we could go downstairs and eat.”

“Oh don’t bother Shanaya, she is just a lazy ass!”


“And bring along three cans of beer, a glass of orange juice and three glasses of lemon sherbet.”

“Sarita what is this? I said ONE orange juice and THREE Lemon sherbet! You brought only two sherbets.”
“Ma’am…there… w-was no-no place on… the tray,” she said between panted breaths


She was starting to feel dizzy now, her lips started getting a bluish tint. She placed the glass of sherbet on the table and leaned on its edge for some support. She inhaled a mouthful of air, and wiped the beads of perspirations on her forehead.
Seeing Sarita close to the table, Roma deliberately pushed the jug of water sending it crashing on the floor.

Sarita was startled by the sound.
“No problem guys she will clean it.”
“I need my inhaler. Am an asthmatic ma’am. I am having difficulty to breathe.” Sarita was hyperventilating by now.

“Roma, easy sis, she seems sick.”

“Can’t you see the water is spilled all over the table? And you will leave those broken glass pieces lying around, huh?  If anyone gets hurt by a glass piece , it will be your responsibility. You will pay from your salary.”

She mopped up the water and brought a broom and dustpan to clear away the glass shards. Her fingers were almost blue with cyanosis. She bent down to sweep the mess, her face flushed. Suddenly she collapsed on the floor.

All the guests surrounded her, trying to wake up her up, except Roma who stayed glued to her seat, with the slightest hint of wicked smile.
“Call Naika quick!”
“Yeah I’ll take care of that.” Roma said standing up, her calm composure in sharp contrast to her panic stricken comrades.

“Dev, I’m going to call Naika at my place. You have to delay her at all costs. And you know HOW!”

 Dev agreed to her plan and jogged along looking for Naika.

“Hey Naika! Jay got hurt during the football practice. We don’t have any antiseptic. Can I borrow your cycle and go grab one from the pharmacy?”

“Yeah sure. Is he badly hurt-”

Just then her mobile phone rang.

“Naika, could you come here. You mum was asking for you. She mentioned forgetting her inhaler at home.”

“Are you sure? She always keeps a spare one in her handbag. Is she fine?”

“Um yeah I guess. She just wanted the inhaler, you know just in case she needs it.” She replied looking at Sarita’s mottled face, without an ounce of remorse.

“Can I talk to her?”

“Oh Naika, you know there is a party here right. She is busy serving and all.”
Roma went to find Sarita’s bag and discreetly took her inhaler and slipped it in her handbag.

“I’ve informed Naika. She is on her way! I will call my family doctor in the meantime.”

Bereft of her cycle, Naika had to run to her house for the inhaler.  Naika rummaged around her mother’s medicine box looking for an inhaler.
“This one looks a used one, the spare one is supposed to be new and if it’s not at home, maybe she lost it somewhere.” She thought to herself.

She dashed out of the house and waited for a cab to head to Roma’s place. Her mobile rung again.

“Naika where are you? Your mum is not well. She says she really needs the inhaler. Come fast.”

“Am on my way. Waiting for a cab.”

Roma cut the call, “I don’t know why she is taking so much time. I told her Sarita madam is critical!”

“Bag!” Sarita gasped, pointing to the kitchen, “Inhaler!”

“ Quick get her bag!”

Shanaya emptied the contents of Sarita’s bag in the floor but found no inhaler.

“Mom!” exclaimed Naika finding her mother lying on the couch.

“Naika, it’s too late. your mum had a severe status asthmaticus, the lack of oxygen led to brain damage and cardiac arrest.” Dr Singh said.

“She kept waiting for you Naika. Why were you so late?”

“That Jay- , my cycle-”  she broke into uncontrollable sobs.

“Jay! For heaven’s sake Naika! That Jay came before your mom?”

“I didn’t know she was-”

“You killed your mum!” Roma interjected, “What were you busy with? Smooches in the library? With Jay?”
“ How could you be so insensible Naika, here all of us were in deep worry. Roma called the doctor, while you weren’t even around!”


After her mother’s funeral, Naika kept to herself. She stopped meeting Jay. Somehow she blamed him for being late that day. She never came to know that Dev had lied to her day about Jay being injured.  She just kept getting sucked in the vortex of grief and guilt. When she finally gathered strength to attend college again, she got no comforting shoulders, instead she had to deal with bitter tongues.
“Oh here comes the daughter who killed her mum.”

Roma had made sure to project Naika as the irresponsible daughter whose lateness had cost her mother’s life. And she had finally attained her goal of separating Naika from Jay. Her plan had worked. At the cost of a life, but who knew? And who cared?

Naika could not bear the daily taunts of  being ‘Murderous daughter’. She stopped going to college altogether. She started isolating herself in a cocoon woven of guilt, self-blame and grief. She lost interest in her daily activities and hardly eer slept. She would go days without eating, grooming and even bathing. Ultimately she lapsed into despondency, she could bear it no more.
The next day she was found dead in her house with a slit wrist.
“The Murderous daughter payed her karma’, the wagging tongues said.

She woke up among floating clouds, she felt very light and airy, as if all burdens had been lifted off her.

“Naika! How come you are here? So early.”
“Mom?!  You!…were you not?”
“We are in another realm dear…stuck in a loop because of an untimely death.”

She ran int her mother’s arms.
“Am so sorry! Am sorry Mom…you are here because of me!”

“No dear! Why do you say so? It’s not your fault. I was left to die! On purpose!”

“What?!”

Sarita went on to explain what Roma did on that fateful day! 

“Oh dear and you took it on you and landed here too!”

“That Roma, she took everything from us, we have to go back and set her straight.”

“No Naika,We can’t. You know how much I tried! I yearned to tell you how they left me dying.”

“We can. We have been wronged. I know how to get us back there.”


“I had a locket which was with Jay. Do you have any belonging which might still be with someone?”

“My inhaler! That devil she had hidden it.”

“I will focus our astra on those objects to create a channel for us. Close your eyes, picture your inhaler and concentrate on it.”

A whirling blue light appeared and zapped both of them.

“Let’s descend for take two!” 



Roma turned and tossed in her sleep while groping for her blanket.  Not feeling it around the bed, she woke up and saw it had fallen next to her bed.  She felt unusually cold, her flimsy curtains swished to the tunes of an unseen gust, she remembered having closed the windows, nonetheless she went to close them again.
She pulled the dancing to the sides to reach for the window knob…she froze.
On the other side stood Naika!
She started breathing heavily, her parched throat didn’t allow her shriek to cross her vocal cords. She stepped away from the window, rubbing her eyes.
“I must be still half-asleep, my brain is playing tricks on me. Let me get some water.”

Once in the kitchen, she poured herself a glass of water from the jug. Just as she reached for the jug…CRASH it went into smithereens, water splattered all over the countertop and the floor.

“Clean this up! Clean the glass shards.” a familiar voice hissed.

“Sarita?”

“Clean this up! Can’t you see the water is spilling everywhere?” the voice croaked. “Have you see my inhaler choti memsaab?”

“You will leave those broken glass pieces lying around, huh?”  The hissing became louder and louder every second.

Roma covered her ears and screamed, “ Stop it! Stop!”

Her parents came rushing to the kitchen and hugged her.

“What happened baby?” her dad asked
“It broke by itself.”
“You mean it slipped from your hands?”
“No.It just exploded! Just. Like. That. She did it! Why don’t you understand?!” She yelped hysterically.

“What is she talking about?”

“Oh you know how Roma is, she never admits her mistakes, it’s just a jug we’ll get a new one.” Mrs Grewall replied.

“Go get some sleep baby.”

Mona and Lisa greeted Roma at Metropolis the next day.
“Hey Roma, are you okay? You look like you didn’t sleep a wink yesterday.”

“OMG, are my dark circles showing. Let me go for a touch up in the washroom. Catch you later.”

She took out her concealer  and dabbed it under her eye. She caught a movement behind her.

She looked in the mirror and saw Naika right behind her!

“You! You don’t exist!” Roma exclaimed pounding on her reflection. A crack in the form of a spiderweb appeared on the mirror.



“As much esteem I have for your Mr and Mrs Grewall, I had to convene you to talk about Roma.”

“What is the problem Principal Sir? Is my daughter fine?”

“Am afraid not. She seems to be on a destruction spree. First she ruined the library, for which she was suspended. Breaking the washroom mirror is her second misdemeanor.”

Roma’s parents exchanged surprised looks.

“We weren’t aware about her being suspended!”

“I am not surprised.  But…the reason I called you today is because a disciplinary board assessed Roma’s actions and they are of opinion that she must be seen by a psychiatrist.”

Naika saw Jay in the library, sitting in their usual place. She felt so bad, she had misunderstood him too. She hid behind and book shelves, and pushed three books until they toppled off the shelf. Jay went to pick them and reading the titles before placing them back in the shelf- After forever ends by Melodie Ramone  and Until we meet again by Renee Collins.
He could smell a faint perfume of fresh lilies wafting in the air
“Naikaa…” he whispered.
She vanished.

“So do you keep seeing her?”
I killed her and she came back, Roma replied catatonically


“What is she talking about?”
I killed her and she came back.


“Who did you kill?”  

Naika’s-

 “Naika committed suicide! We all know that!” interposed Mrs Grewall.“Oh Roma and her random rambles…she wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

I killed her and she came back.

“She seems deluded.” Doctor Singh picked up her folder, and leafed through its pages.
“Well I think it all started with her ravaging the library in college. That was her first irrational behaviour which cascaded into a chain of behavioral changes.”

She came back.

“She is showing signs of aggression and delusion. Am afraid she won’t be able attend college from now on. She has to be under constant vigilance.”

Roma, the social butterfly was now bottled and slowly turning to a caterpillar.
While Naika and her Mother soared in the skies heading for their heavenly abode.
Sometimes you get second chances to settle scores, even across realms.

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