Chapter Thirteen - Mansi

“I am sorry; I did not mean to startle you. I just need to talk.” Manish Kumar said without moving an inch from where he was standing, lest he scare her further.

Mansi stared at him for a while before replying. Then she said, “Why don’t you wait outside while I pack up things here and join you.” Manish Kumar nodded and walked away. For a moment Mansi considered talking to him in the office but finally decided otherwise. She picked up her purse and walked out of the office. She locked the door and was about to pull down the rolling shutter when Manish Kumar gave her a hand. He offered to lock the shutter for her. Mansi gave him the keys. He squatted and put the padlock on the shutter and returned the keys to Mansi.

He was being helpful and kind; maybe he was trying to prove a point. Mansi smiled. She turned around and started walking; Manish Kumar took the hint and joined her. He walked along with her maintaining safe distance between them.

“I understand that you are the only person in the staff who works night shift.” He came straight to the point before Mansi could initiate the conversation. This not only took her aback but slightly irritated her as well. She wondered who told him about it. She was sure it was not Uncle. As if reading her thoughts Manish Kumar continued, “I asked around among the staff. I really need this job and the boss was unwilling to let me do the night shift.”

“Why is it that you want to do the night shift and not work during the day when most of the work gets done; especially the kind of work you have applied for?” Mansi questioned.
“I have already explained to your boss, but I guess it makes sense if I tell you about it. The thing is, I am working during the day, I have a job which I intend to quit soon; actually after completing the project I am currently working on.” Manish Kumar explained.

“I read your resume carefully; Mr. Manish Kumar and I could not find any such details in the resume. You have stated working for a firm as a past job. And, what project are you talking about? You are an accountant, right? You do accounts.” Mansi questioned, her tone sounded rude even though she did not really intend for it to come out like that. Her guilt of doing injustice to this guy took a back seat all of a sudden when the feeling that he was attempting to trespass her comfort zone at the office, grew stronger.

“Please call me Manish. I did not put any of it in the resume, I agree. I spoke to your boss directly. And, yes, I am an accountant but I am forced to multi-task in the current job. I serve coffee, I take Xeroxes and printouts, and I am part time chauffer to the boss’s wife and things like that. I have been forced to work with my senior on his project; I am the one who does all the hard work. I am the master-mind who does not get due credit for his work and much more importantly, do not get paid enough. Being the kind of person that I am, I do not wish to leave the project half-way. Before I quit that job I wanted to be sure I have another stable job. That’s when I heard about this office. Heard how the work atmosphere here was pleasant and the staff co-operative. I really need this job.”

Mansi stared at him, unable to understand how someone could talk so much in one breathe. She realized, yet again that he desperately needed the job. They had stopped walking when Manish had started his verbal marathon. She looked into his eyes and saw a plea in them. She turned her gaze away as her heartbeat quickened.

“Please” Manish pleaded when Mansi turned to look away from him. He was desperately trying to get her attention and convince her to do the night shift with her.
“I will think about it.” Mansi said finally and added that she would get in touch with him as she had his contact number. She made a mental note that she would call him from the office the next day and inform him that he could do the night shift and then she would talk to Uncle.

A look of disappointment settled on Manish’s face as Mansi said she would consider. Usually it meant that the response would be negative. That look of disappointment stayed on his face but Manish did not say anything further and they walked in silence for some distance. Mansi realized that she had seen him getting into the bus from near her chawl, which meant he stayed somewhere close, which also meant that he would be traveling with her. Now as well as later when she allowed him to work night shift! Suddenly she was not sure, yet again, whether she was comfortable with that idea. The man did not wake up the serpent of fear lying dormant inside her but that did not mean she could trust this man completely.

“I think this is our bus-stop” Manish said bringing Mansi out of her reverie. She stopped walking and looked at Manish and then at the bus-stop. She walked closer to the stop and sat on the bench without saying a word. Manish stood, not too far but not too close to her. The silence between had started to grow awkward when suddenly Mansi felt nauseated thanks to the smell of alcohol emanating from the man who was walking towards them. The man was about to sit next to her on the bench when Manish said, “May I” and before Mansi could respond he sat next to her. The man growled and moved back. He stood, rather tried to stand where Manish stood a moment before. The smell of alcohol was getting intolerable.

“Why don’t we take a cab” Manish offered. Before Mansi could reply she saw their bus approaching the bus-stop and she stood up. The man standing a few steps away from them stumbled and was about to fall on Mansi when she moved away from him just in time and the man stumbled into Manish, who supported the man and held him at an arms distance and the next moment he turned him around and made him sit on the bench and then taking Mansi’s hand in his, he rushed towards the incoming bus. They climbed into the bus along with the many others and the drunken man tried to get into the bus as well but the conductor did not allow him into the bus and the man eyed Mansi and Manish as the bus moved away from the stop.

Standing in front of Manish in the crowded bus, Mansi could feel his proximity behind her. A couple of times as the bus came to an abrupt halt she could feel the awkward touch of Manish’s body as he tried desperately to maintain distance between them. They had travelled half of the distance back home when finally Mansi got a seat and she could not fail noticing the protective stance Manish took as he stood close to her seat facing her, looking out for her but trying not to look at her. 

They bought their tickets as the conductor approached them and almost immediately the conductor announced their bus-stop. Mansi got up and Manish gave her the space to walk ahead and followed her out of the bus. As they stepped out of the bus, Mansi turned around to face Manish and said, “You can join office and work the night shift, I will talk to Uncle and call you back with details as to when you can join.”
Manish smiled. “Thank you” his eyes said to her as she looked deep into them, out loud Manish said “bye” and started walking away.

Mansi smiled. She kind of liked it, how he did not offer to drop her at her place, or wait to see where she went after getting down from the bus, she liked how he gave her the space. She started walking towards the chawl when she saw him – her neighbor, driving away in his cab, looking at her – an expression on his face she could not decipher.

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