I walked back and forth in my room, looking out at skies that were no longer blue.
The television droned on.
“Oxygen levels are steadily decreasing, and oxygen costs are higher than ever. On to today’s weather, in New Delhi, 679 micrograms of PM 2.5 and high temperatures of . . .”
I laughed, the sound becoming louder and louder, and I knew I had to stop. I couldn’t. I rolled around on the cold blankets. I could become rich. All I had to do was tell the people that oxygen was running out. Raise the prices. The world would believe that I was diligently handing out oxygen to the poor people of India. Everyone was overreacting, talking about how people needed more oxygen, blah blah blah, but I didn’t believe them How bad could conditions be? I laughed and laughed, until my throat was hoarse, and then laughed some more. I jumped on my bed, onto my couch, trying to touch the ceiling.
Someone pounded on the door and yelled, “Stop screaming!”
I looked up and sighed. No one could stop me. I skipped outside and yelled at the buildings, “Take THAT!”
I stretched luxuriously, and walked up to my car. I drove to my factories in my family mountain, where we produced oxygen. I got out of my car to remove the heavy metal fences that were filled with stickers like "Private Property" or "No Trespassing." I stopped by the factory to get a bottle of water. One of the only clean places in India, Mt. Kodachadri was perfect for hiking. I payed no attention to the road as I walked, watching concerts of my favorite artist.
A few minutes later, I was hopelessly lost. It was dark and foggy, and I thought I could hear a tiger in the distance. I shivered. It was getting colder by the minute. My battery was running out, and I kept tripping over roots. I kept walking for who knows how long, faulting my neighbor. Stupid neighbor. If she hadn’t yelled at me, I wouldn’t have had to walk around my mountain. I wouldn’t be here, lost and hungry and cold. Worse, it started to rain. Soaked to the bones, I walked and walked until I stumbled upon a small tent. A small fire remained near the foot of the tent. There was light inside. The whole mountain was surrounded by signs; it was impossible not to run into one, especially this deep inside, not that I knew where I was, but I just had this feeling I was near the heart of the mountain. Anyhow, it was their fault for trespassing. I unzipped the entrance and crawled in.
A man, maybe in his mid-forties, looked up, surprised to see someone crawl into his tent. In his lap was a 4-ish looking little girl, with her dark hair in a braid. The girl was tiny, and had sallow, sunken skin. Her lips were tinged blue, and her big eyes stared at me. An intruder. She lifted her head, and as soon as she did, she started coughing. It was a while before she stopped, and even then, she was wheezing,
She hugged her little teddy bear tight and coughed, as if it was her lifeline. I stared at her, a small lump forming in the pit of my stomach.
“Natasha has asthma. It’s a result of the pollution.”
I looked up. I had forgotten he was there. I cleared my throat.
“This is private property.”
He nodded, and said, “I only stay here for a day. Once a month.” As if that made up for trespassing.
He pointed his chin to his daughter.
“She. . . has trouble breathing in the city. But both my wife and my work are there, so. . .”
Thunder tumbled, and I flinched.
“Would you like Bee-Bee?”
She caught me cringing, and offered her tattered old teddy bear, its once-polished eyes dulled from all the times she had rubbed it. I slowly took it from her. Our hands touched, and she smiled at me, eyes sparkling. And then she started coughing. She hacked. She coughed. Her lips took a shallow blue hue, and I thought I could see blood on the edges. Her father put a cloth to her mouth, and patted her on the back. I could only look on, horrified, as red blossomed onto the white cloth. The stone became heavier. It dropped lower into my stomach, and I realized what the dirty feeling was: guilt. Why was I feeling guilty? I held the teddy bear, thinking. Strangely enough, I didn’t feel the need to chase these strangers away. I sat thinking for some more. Soon, I stood and left without a word.
Now, three years later. I am walking around, looking at the kids covered in dirt. I help a child struggling to depot a sapling. Brushing dirt off my shorts, I walk into the building. Avoiding various tents, I check the oxygen income, and straighten the sign that reads: “Free to Those in Need.” Glancing at the capsules full of oxygen, and within them, children, I smile. I breathe deeply, a feeling of accomplishment creeping through me. I open my eyes, only to see a blur of pink running towards me. Natasha flies up into my arms. Her eyes sparkle even more than the first time I met her, and she looks healthier than ever. Her cheeks are rosy, and her face is no longer blue.
New York Times: Choking in New Delhi