Chapter Eleven - Mansi

What was happening to her was new. She did not know this feeling. The last few days of her life had awakened a different person in her. It seemed as if the desires suppressed by the fear of the opposite sex were suddenly let loose. She walked back inside and tried to sleep again but in vain. She started her day early. It was hopefully the last day of her day shift. She hoped Uncle would inform her about his selection of the accountant. 

Since she got out of bed very early she had lot of time on her hands. She did something she usually did not do; she did not remember when she had attended to her bowels while in the chawl. There was absolutely no one outside. The chawl was slowly waking up. She usually brushed her teeth in her room but this time she decided to walk down to the ground and brush at leisure. The second time she came down, she spotted a few ladies sweeping the corridor outside their houses and a few were beginning to form a line in front of the water-line tap. The sky was still grey but she knew soon it would change colours. She looked at the sky as she brushed sitting on the ground, her back resting against the lamp-post exactly like she had done a few days ago, this time she was sure she was not going to miss the sunrise. A few moments later the sky changed colours and she could hear the birds chirping in their nests on the nearby trees. She loved the sky’s colour of blush as the sun kissed good morning to the sky. She was glad she had started her day early. She was happy; she was smiling, as if a switch was turned inside her. She climbed the stairs with a smile on her face and as she neared her room her eyes involuntarily scanned the door of the neighbouring room. It was locked. She walked inside her room and dressed. She made snacks and packed lunch. She hummed her favourite song as she worked around in kitchen. She did not want to know why she felt so happy from within, she was simply glad that she was happy. It was going to be a good day.

She made up her mind that once her night shift started she would take out time and step out of the office to welcome the day. She promised herself that she would watch the sunrise and smile. With that thought in her mind she stepped out of the room and locked the door. The door of the neighbouring room was still locked. She climbed down the stair with special bounce in her steps and joy in her heart. Her heart skipped a beat when she neared the gates of the chawl as she saw a cab being parked just outside the chawl. She did not want to but she could not stop herself from checking who the driver was, it was not her neighbour.

The thoughts of the previous evening crossed her mind and suddenly she became alert. She looked around, nothing seemed out of place. ‘What if her fear of being followed was merely her over-reaction?’ she thought. Yes, maybe, that is what it was. She walked to her bus-stop. There were a few people waiting for the bus. She joined them. One of the men waiting at the bus stop shifted close to her. The fear started creeping up the back of her neck and then she saw him. He was almost running towards the bus-stop. Manish Kumar was about to board the bus from her bus-stop, which meant only one thing – he lived somewhere close by. A look of recognition crossed his face and stayed there; it then transformed into a smile. She smiled back. ‘What was she thinking’ she scolded herself. The smiled quickly vanished but she continued looking at him as he came closer. But he was not looking at her; he was looking at the man who was now standing too close to her. Almost immediately Mansi felt the man’s hand brush against hers. She moved away, bead of sweat appearing on her forehead. She hated herself for being such a weak person. The man shifted close to her and almost at the same time Manish Kumar reached the bus stop and placed himself between the man and Mansi. 

Then he did something Mansi had not expected. He started a conversation with her and to her surprise, Mansi conversed with him too. For the first time in her life, talking to someone whom she did not really know did not feel weird to her. Both of them, along with the other few, climbed into the bus as their bus arrived and Manish Kumar made it a point to stand between the man from the bus stop who, unfortunately, climbed into their bus. The bus was crowded and they had to stand holding the overhead railing.
‘What if he is the man who had followed me the day before’ a tiny voice inside Mansi’s head said. ‘There was a possibility that no one was actually following her. She had seen a man sitting in the far corner of the park, it was dark and she had not seen his face; it was quite possible that he had not been staring at her at all and she was just being paranoid.’ The reasonable part of her mind explained to her.

She was busy conversing with herself when the bus suddenly halted and the man standing behind her bumped into her. Surprisingly the touch did not evoke fear in her. She turned around to find Manish Kumar standing behind her and regaining his composure. He apologised immediately and before Mansi could say anything the bus started again with a jerk and this time she bumped into Manish Kumar. He put his arm around her as support till Mansi regained composure. 
Both of them climbed out of the bus at the bus-stop nearest to the office. Something, Mansi never did. She liked getting down at the earlier bus-stop and then walked her way to the office. As they neared the office she saw a few familiar faces from the day before. The candidates Uncle had short-listed were waiting for a second round of interview. Obviously, Uncle had changed his mind. Her doubts were cleared when Manish Kumar told her that he was called in again for interview that would finalise where he stood. Mansi entered the office while Manish Kumar waited outside with other candidates. Mansi walked straight to Uncle’s cabin. He was all set for the interviews. 

“I thought you will take a day off” Uncle said in surprise as he saw her walking inside.
“I am fine, Uncle. I got the required rest.” She explained and then asked, “Are you re-interviewing the candidates?”
“Yes, I could not make up my mind on these.” Uncle said waving the resumes of the short-listed candidates in front of him. 
“Fine, let us interview them.” Mansi said sitting on the chair next to Uncle’s.
The second round of interviews began almost immediately. The way the interviews progressed, Mansi was sure that Uncle would not take the decision on his own and would ask for Mansi’s opinion. After the interviews, when Uncle asked her what she thought about Manish Kumar, for reasons she could not explain, her heart did a happy dance and she smiled.

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