Chapter Sixty One - Manish and Mansi

After disconnecting the call, Manish changed into fresh pair of jeans and t-shirt. He took extra effort to look good for Mansi.
He had been playing hard to get for some time now, but it was time, today was perhaps going to be the first of the many days they would be spending together. Today was the day when his grand plan would be put in action.

He had inserted himself in Mansi’s life for a specific purpose and while fulfilling that purpose he was going to have some fun as well. He was supposed to get this done as soon as possible but he had been side-tracked by Pallavi. That woman was something, he thought as he looked at himself in the mirror. He was ready to go meet with the girl who had piqued his interest the first time he had seen her photograph. He knew, he had to have this girl.
Manish turned around to walk out of the apartment and remembered Pallavi’s mobile. He picked it up to give it to her but after second thoughts he put it on silent mode and kept it in his jeans pocket. He stepped out of his apartment and took the alternate route through which he had once gotten Pallavi into his apartment without being spotted together by Mansi who was then living in Pallavi’s apartment. For some reason, he did not want Pallavi to see him leave. He knew that she would not come back to his apartment so soon to get back her phone, she would prefer to preserve some dignity that she had left. He had not really planned on going so far with Pallavi but she had become like an addiction he couldn’t free himself of.

Since Mansi believed that he was busy attending to guests, his visit to her chawl would make her believe that he was going out of his way to be with her. It was then that the realization struck. Even though he knew where Mansi lived, she had absolutely no idea that he knew. She had not spotted him even once as he had observed her from far several times. And, she had not seen him when he had been in the chawl, so close to her room, so close to her. It seemed like ages ago but it had been a couple of weeks he had been shadowing Mansi. It had been a few days he had spent time with her at the bus-stop, travelled with her in the bus. He knew, Mansi must have wondered why he boarded the bus from where she did, she must have assumed that he lived some place close-by but thankfully it had not come up during the past few times they had come face to face. Right now, what Mansi knew was that he was living temporarily in the apartment next to Pallavi’s because he was tidying it for some guests of his boss. She had never questioned him about what his permanent address was. However, considering that they would be spending more time together and also considering that he could not do that in the same apartment, he now had to figure out what to do about his accommodation, which had to be somewhere close to where Mansi lived. It would serve two purposes – one, it would bring him close to Mansi and two, help him keep his distance from Pallavi. The short exciting affair with Pallavi had distracted him from what he was paid to do and it had sort of given rise to complications. Thankfully, Pallavi had been mature enough to understand and let go at the right time. He knew he would have had tough time pushing her away since he had really started to like this woman. Maybe, he would think about her later but right now he had to concentrate. He needed to rent a house or buy one and pretend to have rented it, somewhere along the bus route, somewhere close to the chawl. His chain of thoughts was broken by loud continuous honking of a car. He never realized that he had been walking in the middle of the road, luckily there was not much traffic. He waved his hand at the car and shouted ‘sorry’ after stepping out of the way.

Manish went to the restaurant he always frequented and ordered some soup. Then, he climbed into a cab and drove towards the chawl. Once he reached there, he called Mansi on her mobile. It took a while for her to answer, as if she was making up her mind whether to attend the call or not.
“Hi” he said as soon as she answered.
“Hi” She replied.
“Well! I said I will be coming by with some soup and I am here, at the bus-stop where we had met, suppose you live close-by? I do not know where to go from here.” Manish said and waited to see whether she bought it.
“Oh” Mansi replied. She had supposedly bought the lie that he did not know where she lived. After a moment’s silence, she told him where to come. Manish knew that the silence was to figure out whether she should tell him. And, the fact that she had told him meant she trusted him enough. He smiled.
He disconnected the call and started walking towards the chawl. He whistled on his way, happy that finally he was going to have the taste of what he had been fantasizing about for quite some time. He wondered how Mansi tasted. He wondered whether it would be appropriate if he kissed her today. He wanted to.

Manish entered the gates of the chawl and looked around. The place was familiar, he had been here before but he had never walked openly towards Mansi’s room before.

Manish spotted Mansi standing outside her room. She waved at him the moment she saw him. Manish waved back. He hurried towards the stairs and from the corner of his eyes he saw a familiar face looking at him. He turned around to look at the person and smiled. The man looked at him and then up towards Mansi’s room. And then, the man walked away. Some woman called out to him and followed him as the man got into a cab and drove away. The woman kept calling, but the cab did not stop. Manish did not wait to whether the woman was looking at him, he did not bother to think about what she was thinking about him. He climbed two steps at a time to reach Mansi and then they both walked in together. Manish closed the door behind him. While closing the door he looked down towards the woman who was looking at him, as he had expected. He smiled at her and then closed the door.

“I brought you some soup” Manish said after turning around to face Mansi. She took the carry bag from Manish and kept it on the kitchen counter. She offered him a chair to sit but Manish preferred sitting on the bed. She handed him a glass of water and walked past him to open the door of the room.
“I need some fresh air” she said. She wondered why she was giving an explanation to him.
“It’s okay. I thought you needed some privacy since you look disturbed. I thought, maybe, you would want to talk about it.” Manish explained innocently. He had closed the door, hoping that the woman would see him doing so and report back to the man who seemed to be too interested in Mansi’s life, as per what he had observed past few days. He did not want any competition and he was doing his part of making it clear to the man that Mansi was his, this was his territory and he had to keep out.
Also, he had hoped that with the door closed, he would get a chance to get closer to Mansi under the pretext of consoling her.

“I am fine, really.” Mansi said. She pulled the chair towards her and sat on it.
“You really look sick. Let me serve you the soup.” Saying so Manish got up from the bed and walked to the kitchen counter.
Mansi realized that he was being too comfortable in her room. She did not know what to make of it. Mansi got up but Manish put his hand over her shoulder and asked her to sit back on the bed. She followed orders. Manish looked around and found a bowl. He poured the soup into the bowl from the plastic container and handed it over to Mansi. He sat next to Mansi on bed.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
Mansi was silent before answering and then, she could not hold it in any longer. She wanted to tell him everything – about Rohan, about how she felt about him, about the nightmares, about her step-father who raped her, about her father who could no longer be a part of her life, about her friendship with Pallavi and how it was ruined now. But, she told him only about Pallavi, about the time she spent at her apartment and how she had invaded Pallavi’s privacy. Manish listened without interrupting her.

When she was done talking, he reached out to tuck a loose strand of hair behind Mansi’s ear. She was startled.
“I am sorry this happened between you and Pallavi. I thought you were best of friends! I know I should have told you earlier but then, I thought it was none of my business. I had seen Pallavi around, right when you said she was visiting her parents. She was with some guy.” Manish said and watched Mansi closely for her reaction. Mansi nodded indicating that she had doubted that.
“Do you know the guy?” Manish asked innocently.

“I had seen him once, outside our office. Pallavi had finished her shift and she went with him on his bike. I kind of suspected that she must be with him. I do not know why she had to lie to me. I would have understood if she would have asked me to leave, if she wanted to spend time with her boyfriend at her place.” Mansi said but she was talking to herself rather than with Manish.

Manish observed her as she continued talking and then all of a sudden, he moved in closer to her and kissed her on the lips, once again startling Mansi.
“I am sorry. I should have not. Forgive me.” Manish said getting up from the bed.
“I should go” he said hoping that Mansi would stop him but she did not say a word. Had he ruined it? He had waited for a long time, meticulously planned everything and had inserted himself in her life. He did not want this kiss to ruin his plans. He turned around to face Mansi. It had taken a while for it to register in her brain, but Mansi was finally out of shock and was staring at him.
“I know I should have not kissed you now, not like this, not when you are upset but I do not regret kissing you.” Manish said.
“Let’s just pretend it never happened.” Mansi said and looked away.

It was a good sign that she had not asked him to leave. He knew and she knew it as well, neither of them would be able to pretend that the kiss never happened. Manish excused himself and left Mansi alone with her thoughts. 

Mansi could not believe that Manish had kissed her on the lips. It had startled her but she was not scared of him. It surprised her, being so comfortable with Manish being around her, being so comfortable with his touch. Mansi placed her fingers on her lips and re-lived the kiss. It was short-lasting but it felt good. He had been gentle. Mansi got up and closed the door to her room. She thought about Pallavi and what she had learned about her from Manish. So, her doubts were right; Pallavi was with her boyfriend and she had lied about being with her parents. She thought about the text she had sent to Pallavi and regretted sending it. She picked up her mobile and checked her messages, Pallavi had not replied to her text. She was about to keep the mobile back on bed when it rang. Manish was calling her. She hesitated for a moment and then answered the call.

“I forgot my wallet on the kitchen counter.” Manish said “Can I come back to get it?” He asked.
“Yeah.” Mansi replied looking towards the counter and found Manish’s wallet next to the plastic container in which he had brought the soup. She picked it up and walked towards the door. She opened it and found Manish standing outside. She handed him the wallet and waited for him to leave.
Not that being spotted with Manish made any difference, Rohan had already seen him. Not that it matters, she convinced herself. Rohan had seen Manish and then looked up towards her and then had driven away in his cab, his girlfriend calling out to him and running behind the cab. Rohan’s reaction had confused her but that woman’s reaction had infuriated her.

“Hello” Manish said and Mansi realized he was still here. “I forgot to ask you, how is your ankle?” Manish continued.
“Oh, it’s much better. The painkillers have helped.” Mansi replied. There was an awkward silence before Manish left.
Mansi realized that he did not want to leave her so soon. She stepped back in her room and picked up her mobile.
You can join office tomorrow, she texted to Manish. However, she was not sure how long would they be working together? How long would her father be able to keep the office running? Not long, she assumed. For a moment, the tension of losing her job had taken a back-seat while she was with Manish. Even if she had remembered, there was no way she could have told him about it. Manish was hoping to join office, she could not tell him that there would be no office soon. It was her father’s job to tell his employees that he was shutting down the office, not hers.

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