Freedom was a beautiful thing! Mumbai in all its grimy, gray, pre-monsoon glory flew past Kimi as her auto-rickshaw sped between cars and pedestrians with the zeal of a bastard child born of a Diwali rocket and an immortal god. She almost asked the driver to slow down, but with the wind whipping her ponytail and the driver’s mop of curls in a joint symphony she felt as recklessly brave as the whirring vehicle racing along on its three wheels.
Emblazoned across the dashboard of the rickshaw was the goddess Durga dancing on the corpse of a demon like the evil-hunting badass she was. Bowing to her was Bollywood’s favorite superhero, Krish, with his muscles bulging like fat rubber balls and his hair coiffed high. In a perfect background score to Kimi’s life’s drama, the techno-beat-laden remix of an old Bollywood number drowned out the cacophony of horns the driver left in his wake.
The combination was delicious and exactly worthy of what she had just done. What she was about to do.
You know who else was badass? Kimaya Kirit Patil, that’s who.
There had been one hundred and twelve instances over twelve years when each breath had been a fight and her limbs had turned to mist. She had fought. Not like a warrior, because that would involve the use of said limbs, but like someone drowning, where all you could do is keep the water out of your nose, so it wouldn’t keep the air from your lungs. Breathe out. Breathe out. She had followed those breaths. Grabbed on to those thin wisps of air like lifelines and made herself live one grip at a time.
Then the cure she had waited twelve years for in a sterile room had come. A heart had become available. Surely that meant something. Someone had died, after all, so she might live. Someone with the exact kind of blood and plasma that would let a foreign heart beat within her chest with the confidence of an indegene. Surely that meant she could now have what she never thought she would—all that she had gazed upon from the windows of her room, sealed tight with every technology known to man, so no germ, no pathogen would dare venture into her world, let alone an entire human being. Except Rahul—he had ventured. And then gone on venturing until he was all the way inside.
He’d helped her understand calculus and the nuanced stories of Premchand. He had known how atoms split, why Europe went to war twice within half a century, and the why and when of each invention that transformed the history of civilization. He had touched her, despite promises he’d made. Because it was exactly what she had needed. His gloved hand in hers. He had given her anything she had asked for when everyone else had been too afraid. And she had known that if she lived, if her parents got what they had sealed her in a room twelve years for—a daughter who lived—she would spend the rest of that life taking care of him. The way he had taken care of her.
Except she hadn’t considered the most important part of her plan: him. She had returned from Hong Kong with her new heart and he had looked at her with those dark-tar eyes turned even darker by all that emotion when she ran to him. “You’re running,” he had said, as usual choosing the least words to say the most.
“Yes,” she had said, knowing exactly why every single hard-won breath had been worth it. But then she had told him her grand plan: the two of them living happily ever after.
As always she had asked him for what she wanted. What she hadn’t for one moment considered that he didn’t also want.
He had thanked her for the offer to love him forever, and passed on it.
The person who had kept her from being alone when she was locked up in a room had finally shown her what loneliness was when he walked away from her, leaving her alone in the crowded world she had craved for so long.
No one had the right to that kind of power.
She leaned back into the overstuffed vinyl seat of the speeding auto-rickshaw feeling awfully light.
It only made sense that losing a part of yourself would bring lightness.
No. She wasn’t doing that. She was not going all morose and doing the Tragic Princess shit anymore. That wasn’t her. No matter how people saw her, that was not her. Not anymore.
Actually, it had never been her. Why the hell was she letting herself go down that path now?
She was past the Rahul-induced sadness. Done with it. He’d made his intentions clear. They were no longer—well, they just weren’t anymore. Nothing, anything, they just weren’t.
Plato would ask if the fact that they weren’t anymore meant they had never been. Or was it Aristotle? You know who would know? The one person who she could not, would not, call for a fact check. This wasn’t a Tragic Princess thought, but here it was anyway: She had to stop thinking of life in terms of thoughts she saved up for Rahul like seashells collected on a walk along the beach. It was time.
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