Chapter One - Mansi

She woke up startled because of the sounds of love-making from the adjacent room. She held her head in her hands and sighed. She hated the paper thin walls of the room she stayed in. The sounds continued, from the pitch and the frequency of the sounds she deduced that the sounds had been going on for a while, what it was that exactly awakened her. She got the reply as her body responded to the sounds. She pushed the covers aside and walked towards the kitchen, which was just a few steps away from her bed. She hated this place, but she had no option. This was the kind of accommodation she could afford with whatever money she had. She opened the second-hand refrigerator she had recently bought and took out a bottle of cold water, walked to the sink and splashed the cold water on her face. 

 She walked back to the bed, the sounds were louder now. She sighed. She wanted to bang on the wall and ask them to do their act silently, but she refrained as she did not want to embarrass them or be embarrassed herself. She slipped into bed and pulled over the pillow to cover her ears but just then she heard it, the final sound of release. She silently Thanked God and placed the pillow under her head. She closed her eyes and tried to sleep. She never knew when she fell asleep; however, she woke up once again for the same reason. She yelled, “What the fuck!” and there was silence on the other side of the wall. Then a woman’s voice, “I thought you said there was no one in that room.”
“Yes, that is what I thought too.” The man replied.

Mansi remembered, she was not supposed to be here. She had a night shift but her close friend offered to do it so that Mansi could do her shift the next day as she had to go out. Someone was following her schedule closely. She made a mental note of shifting her bed away from that wall; shift it in kitchen if required. There was silence on the other side of the wall and finally she could drift into sleep. Her alarm buzzed in a couple of hours, but that was not woke her up. There was a loud banging from the other side on the wall. The wall literally shook because of the blows. And then, there was laughter. She cursed her luck and got out of bed. This is temporary; she tried to convince herself as she brushed her teeth.
Mansi had run away from her house the same day of her mother’s death. She knew she was not safe anymore in the company of her step-father. Her mother was the only reason that man had kept his hands off her. She did not even wait for the fire of her mother’s pyre to die before running back home to pack her clothes while her father was busy shedding tears for those who were present at the funeral. By the time the man was back home, she was gone. She took whatever cash she could lay her hands on, a small box her mother had given her and her step-fathers gold watch. She took a bus out of town and as she looked back through the back window of the bus, she made herself a promise that she would never return. There was no reason for her to return.
The first thing she did was to sell her father’s gold watch in a pawn shop. She got a few hundreds for it though she knew it was definitely worth more than that. She was not in a position to argue, secondly the shopkeeper's eyes over her felt as if thousands of insects were crawling on her body.
Mansi shuddered as she recollected her early days in Mumbai. She made herself a sandwich and after finishing it she walked out of the room. There was a long queue outside the common toilet. She turned her gaze towards the bathroom, lesser crowd. She rushed back in and collected her clothes and soap and rushed down before the line standing outside the toilet could shift to the bathroom. As she stood in the queue her thoughts went back to her first day in Mumbai.
She needed a place to sleep. Of course, she could not sleep on the road, she had told herself. She checked her pockets; she thought she had enough to rent a room in some cheap hotel. That’s what she had done and regretted it when she heard chaos in the middle of the night. There was a loud bang on the door and someone shouted, “Police. Open the door.” She opened the door innocently, more out of fear than out of innocence. “Where your partner?” he asked.“I am alone” she replied.“Where is your customer?” the police questioned her and the reality dawned on her.The police officer did not wait for her reply and dragged her out and into the police van along with many others in various stages of undress. There were men and women stuffed into the same van. A few men looked in her direction and she cringed. From the corner of her eyes she saw the police officer looking at her before closing the door of the van.The officer had been kind enough to understand her plight and offered her some cash which she refused to accept. He said she could sleep on the bench in the corner if she wanted but leave early in the morning. She accepted.
The door of the bathroom opened, it was her turn. She walked out after a quick bath and seeing the line outside the common toilet decided to skip using it. She hated it anyways. Her digestive system had gotten used to weird timings. She almost always used the restroom in her office. She climbed up the step of the chawl she lived in to reach her room. When she looked straight ahead she saw a man standing in the corridor right outside her room, his arms resting on the wooden railing. There was a brush in his mouth. She stared at the bare chest of the man and immediately regretted doing it as the man turned to look at her.

He smiled at her and continued brushing. She averted her gaze and turned to unlock the door of her room. She was surprised when the man entered the neighbouring room. She could not believe he was the one who was staying in the adjacent room. Without realising what she was doing her mind started racing, trying to associate the body she had just seen to the noises of the previous night. She shook her head and walked inside. She got dressed and packed another sandwich for lunch. When she walked out the man was standing outside, in front of his room now. The adjacent room had been lent out recently and she had never seen the owner until today. The man smiled at her again, the smile reaching his eyes.

Mansi gave him a disgusted look as she recollected the noises of the previous night and the banging in the morning. The man looked at her, surprised. Then the surprised look begun changing to the look of understanding. He shook his head and seemed like he was about to start a conversation but before he could do so, Mansi walked past him and almost ran down the wooden stairs, her sandals making loud sound that irritated people who were gossiping, standing near the stairs. She continued walking fast and stopped only when she reached her bus stop.

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