A Feisty Cop Caught Between A Cunning Killer And The Demons Of Her Own Mind – An Excerpt From The Girl With Broken Dreams by Devashish Sardana

Aamani unlocks the Dream Box with trembling hands.


It’s a maroon jewellery box sheathed in soft, luxurious velvet with a golden clasp. The box is large enough to house the British monarchy’s imperial crown. The only oddity— instead of a coveted brand name like Tiffany or Tanishq, embossed on the lid, in metallic gold and an elegant, italicized font, are the words: Dream Box.


A lightning bolt illuminates the night sky outside. The white light of the thunderbolt seeps in through the mullioned window of the hostel room, casting a dark, diamond-patterned shadow on the stone floor.


Aamani coughs, and coughs again. She pauses and inhales deeply, hauling broken chunks of air into her lungs.


She has been smitten by the Dream Box—covered in Christmas wrapping and a red velvet ribbon—since it arrived earlier in the day at the warden’s office in North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU), Shillong, where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social sciences. The Dream Box is her going-away present from the Dreamcatcher. Months of planning, weeks of practice and ‘the big night’—the Dreamcatcher’s words, not hers—is finally here. For Aamani, it would be the night of good riddance. The last night.



“Later at home, he had held her in a bear hug and whispered, ‘We can beat this, Guddu!’”



Aamani lets go of the breath she was holding. She clenches and unclenches her fingers, unclasps the box and pulls it open.


Immediately, the woody, sensuous smell of musk tickles her nose. The muscles in her body relax; relief sweeps her away like she is a surfer riding a tidal wave. Such moments of pure, pain-free serenity are rare for her. She latches onto every puny bit of calm, knowing what comes next. She coughs and coughs again. Her lungs are on fire, as if a piece of them has been ripped apart, grabbed, jerked, and yanked out. Such moments of incessant, excruciating coughing are plenty. Moments she hopes to leave behind tonight. Aamani grabs the box and steadies herself. She pulls out a matchbox and a hot pink candle from the box, the source of the musky scent. She places the candle on the windowsill and lights it. Soon, her hostel room, which resembles a grubby, train-box prison cell, is engulfed in the overpowering aroma of musk, like a run-down spa trying to hide its rotting upholstery behind an overwhelming fragrance. Aamani doesn’t mind. It smells much better than her sweat, which reeks of the cancer that is eating her from within.


Lung cancer. Stage II. Curable.


The doctor had said that she could expect to live for ten years or longer through a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. That was six years ago. She doesn’t remember much else of what the doctor had said. Her father had gripped her hand and done most of the talking. Later at home, he had held her in a bear hug and whispered, ‘We can beat this, Guddu!’—his voice cracking after each word. And she had pushed him away and retorted, ‘Ha! Like you helped Mumma beat cancer?’


She isn’t proud of what she had said. That day, in that moment, she was livid. Not at him, but for him. He is her favourite person. Her roly-poly ‘Teddy Papa’— that’s what she calls him. A kind, cheery man who sings for no reason, breaks into a dance for every small reason, whose eyes light up every time he sees her, a man who has spent every waking moment taking care of her since she was four and Mumma left with the Grim Reaper. Lung cancer. Same as hers.


Life has come to a full circle over six years since that dreadful diagnosis from the doctor. Years of chemotherapy and agonizing pain were followed by a few precious years of living cancer-free. And then, last month, the disease reared its ugly head again. Stage II, again. The Grim Reaper was back. This time for Teddy Papa’s ‘Guddu’. All that painstaking effort, all that unbearable suffering. For what?


Aamani looks down at the Dream Box. A teardrop falls and moistens the plush velvet of the box. She sniffles and wipes her eyes with the back of her hands. She nods. She is certain. The time has come. Both she and Teddy Papa can do without more suffering.


Aamani plucks the remaining items from the box: a set of wireless earphones that look like Apple AirPods but are squarish, a coin-sized stick-on device branded Dreamo, and a syringe with a needle that is thick and long enough to penetrate the tough skin of an elephant.



“She knows what comes next. The same three questions. Every. Single. Night.”



Aamani gulps. She is scared. Will it hurt? The Dreamcatcher had promised, ‘It’ll be over even before you feel the prick.’ She trusts the Dreamcatcher.



Aamani deposits the contents of the box on the bed. She has one last thing to take care of before she sleeps. She takes out her mobile phone and calls her favourite person.

‘Hello, Teddy Papa?’ she says when her dad answers on the second ring.

‘Haan Guddu, I was just thinking of calling you.’

Aamani closes her eyes and bobs her head twice. That’s why she is calling now, lest papa calls later and interrupts her when she needs all her strength to let go.

She knows what comes next. The same three questions. Every. Single. Night.

‘You had dinner, Guddu?’

‘Hanji, papa.’

‘Took medicines?’


‘Did meditation?’

‘Hmm . . .’ she mutters.

‘Good, good.’ Papa seems satisfied. ‘Achcha, remember we have a chemo session in the evening tomorrow? I’ll come to the college to pick you up.’


This is precisely why she lives in the hostel even though she belongs to the same city—Shillong—her city of birth, soon her final resting place. She loves her dad, but sometimes, just sometimes, all she needs is a wee bit of breathing space.



‘I will . . .’ Aamani coughs, and coughs again. ‘I will come on my own, Teddy Papa. I’ll meet you at the hospital.’

Silence. It seems papa is deciding whether to prod her.

‘Okay. Theek hai, Guddu. As you wish.’


‘Teddy Papa . . .’

‘Haan, Guddu?’

‘I love you . . .’ A lump grows in her throat. ‘. . . always remember that. Even when I’m not around.’

‘Guddu, are you okay?’ He pauses. ‘I think you should come home tonight. I am coming to pick—’

‘No, no, I’m okay. Just missing you.


That’s all.’


Finally, papa exhales loudly over the phone. ‘I’m missing you too, Guddu.’ He pauses. ‘Issi baat pe Lata Mangeshkar ji ka ek gaana yaad aa gaya [I am reminded of a Lata Mangeshkar song in this moment].’ His voice is bursting with happiness. Maybe, all a parent needs to hear is that their teenager still loves and misses them.


He starts to hum and sing. ‘Lag jaaa gale [Let’s embrace] . . .’

‘You and your songs!’ Aamani interrupts him. ‘I’m going to sleep, papa. Good night!’

Papa chuckles. ‘Okay, okay. Good night, Guddu . . .’

And he hums and sings the last verse of the song. ‘. . . shayad, phir iss janam mein, mulakaat ho na ho—’



“She opens her Secret Chats and taps the one right on top. The Dreamcatcher.”



Aamani disconnects the call and bursts into tears. It’s the truth in Teddy Papa’s parting words, the last verse of the song, ‘. . . in this life, maybe we shall never meet again.’


Thunder strikes. Rain drops, like tiny pebbles, start pelting at the window. Her entire body shudders as if urging her, begging her to stop. Stop now, before it’s too late.

She shakes her head. No!


Aamani taps the Telegram app, a secure and encrypted chat service, on her phone. She opens her Secret Chats and taps the one right on top. The Dreamcatcher. And she calls him before she changes her mind.


A man with a gruff, heavy baritone answers the call. ‘Aamani.’

She wheezes. Gulps a mouthful of air. Steadies her trembling hands. Massages her thumping chest.


She says, ‘I’m ready to sleep.’


Excerpted with permission from The Girl With Broken Dreams by Devashish Sardana

Publishing/ Penguin Random House India (2023)

You can buy your copy here.



Devashish Sardana is the author of No.1 Amazon Bestseller, The Apple, which won 2nd Prize (out of 5000+ books) in Amazon India Literary Award 2019. He is also the acclaimed writer of 10×10 Thrills, a Facebook and Instagram blog where he writes 100 Word Thrillers for his fast-growing community of 150,000+ followers. Devashish lives in Singapore with his wife and college sweetheart, Megha. He currently flits across the globe selling hope in a jar (beauty creams).”