Chapter Six - Mansi

The decision was made. She decided to hate him on purpose. The un-shed tears stung her eyes. She did not know why it hurt so much. It was obvious that he was being rude to her because she had been adamant and rude, herself. Maybe just as she had formed the first impression about him he had formed one of hers. In addition to that, she reminded herself, he had also made fun of her from across the wall that separated their rooms.

Mansi rushed to her room, avoiding looking at the people she crossed. She entered her room and closed the door behind her. She changed her clothes and hurriedly dried her hair. She put the tiffin in her bag and got ready to go. She wanted to leave before he came back. Frustrated with her own self for being affected the way she was, she walked out of the room and locked the door and almost sprinted out of the chawl. She had to find a permanent solution for this.

As fate would have it she missed her bus. She was still at the bus stop when she saw him walking towards her. She did not recognize him for a moment. He was not in his cab driver uniform. He was wearing formals. Despite herself, Mansi could not stop herself from staring at him. His disheveled hair was neatly combed and he was wearing a tie. He had a folder in his hand. As he walked closer to the bus stop their eyes met. He did not look away this time but there was no expression on his face. He walked a few steps away from her and stood at the bus stop. A bus arrived and he climbed into it while Mansi still waited for her bus to come. A few minutes later her bus arrived and she got into it. When Mansi reached office she found that there were many other people apart from the regular staff. Obviously, the most desperate had come for the interview as soon as they had received her email. Since this office was nothing like the regular offices, they did not have a scheduled day for interview nor was it first come first serve. Nevertheless, they got an idea about the needs of the candidate depending on how quickly they responded. The interview would take a couple of days and it meant she would have to do the day shift for a few more days. 

Mansi walked past the waiting group of men and women and started her computer. She arranged stuff on her desk and looked around. Her colleagues were occupied with their own stuff and the candidates were too anxious to look in her direction. She walked to the restroom. 

When she returned to her desk she turned around to look at Uncle’s cabin, he was seated in his chair, his eyes fixed on the papers in front of him. The chaos had reduced and people had settled in the waiting area. It was getting unbelievably hot. Lot of people inhaling and exhaling in such a small office, so many people perspiring, it had started to become unbearable. She was not used to this kind of crowd. She collected the files and walked to Uncle’s cabin. Interview time.

Uncle looked up from the papers and smiled at her. 
“Did not sleep well at night?” he asked, concern evident in his voice. He then told her that she had dark circles under her eyes.
“That place is not meant for you.” Uncle continued. 
“I intend to find another place soon. I might need a loan.” Mansi said. She knew what the answer would be. 
“You can always come and stay with me. You know that, don’t you?” he asked.
“I know Uncle but you have already done a lot for me; I would rather try finding a house for myself on my own.” Mansi replied. Uncle shrugged his shoulders and said, “Fine. Let me know how much you need and when. Should we start the interviews?”
“Sure” Mansi said as she called out the name of the first candidate.

The interview took a lot of time, more than she had expected it to. As the day progressed many more people joined in. 
By the end of the day she was very exhausted and did not refuse Uncle’s offer to drop her home in his car. As the car reached the chawl the expression on Uncle’s face changed. Mansi could not really make anything out of it. Was it surprise, shock, hurt, disgust or guilt?
She wished him goodnight and stepped out of the car. She climbed the steps and reached her room. She looked at the neighbor's door involuntarily. It was locked. She walked inside her room and switched on the lights. As she turned around to close the door she saw Uncle’s car still waiting at the entrance of the chawl. He was looking towards her room. The car moved away after a while and she closed the door.

She was very hungry and prepared a quick meal. She was having her meals when she heard the door of the neighboring room being opened and then banged shut. Then she heard laughter. Rather, giggling and laughter. She rolled her eyes. The laughter continued. She made up her mind to shift her bed after dinner. She hated that she was the one closest to that room. Her room was second from the stairs and neighbouring room was the first. The third room was at a distance from her room, both being separated by comparatively thicker wall and the fourth room from the stairs once again shared a thin wall with the third room. She wondered whether it was the same scenario in the other rooms sharing thin walls. Did it mean that people living in those rooms in the chawl did not have their privacy?

The loud sounds from the adjacent room brought her out of her thoughts. The action had begun. She picked up her empty plate and placed in the sink. She cleaned the kitchen platform and the table and washed her plate. The sounds continued. Unbearable, non-favorite music in background, something like Hard rock. She laughed out loud at the thought and shook her head. She moved her bed away from the thin wall separating the rooms even though she was not sure how much difference would that make. She made a mental note of buying a cheap music player and headphones. No, she thought again. She would not find a temporary solution. She would walk out of this place, she decided. 

The sounds stopped after a while, but she could not sleep. The thoughts of the insult of the morning jumped out at her as she lay in bed. She was not too beautiful but had a decent face and a good figure. She was not too fair but she was not dark either. Her brown eyes were window to her soul, her friend told her. Her dark black hair would remind anyone of a dark night. She did not giggle like the girls he brought home, she did not wish to entertain him the way they did. Then, why was it that his ignorance of her beauty hurt her more than she expected? Even before she could realize it, a drop of tear rolled out from the corner of her eye and got absorbed into her pillow and then, many more followed. She did not know when she slept. 

She had a nightmare. She was running in the dark, the gravel under her feet felt so real. The crunching sound seemed real. The fear she felt as she ran felt so real. Someone was following her. She turned around and saw her step-father running towards her. She ran harder. She heard laughter. She turned towards where the sound came from and she saw him, laughing at her. Tears ran down her cheeks. She continued running. She turned back to see if she was at a safe distance from her father. She saw him instead. He was running faster than her and finally he caught up with her. He put his arms around her waist and jerked her towards the floor. She tried to run but he pinned her to the ground. He was on top of her, she struggled to get free. She tried to shout but he covered her mouth with his. And, then – she kissed him back. She heard thundering sound as they kissed. The thundering grew louder. She opened her eyes and realized that the neighbor was banging his fist on the thin wall. She realized she must have screamed.

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