Chapter Thirty Five - Mansi

It was dark inside the room, she felt something/someone tickle her skin and smelled the rancid breath. She screamed for help. It was nothing but a mute cry for help as no sound escaped from her lips. She was terrified. She tried to move but she could not. She was sweating profusely. She tried to move again but something or someone was pinning her down. She could not open her eyelids; she was heavily sedated, she concluded. Finally she managed to open her eyes, through her blurred vision she saw a face and neck and connecting arms that were holding her down, shaking her. She could not recognise the face earlier but after her vision became clearer, she panicked. This was not possible, he could not be here. She had dealt with that chapter of her life, or so she thought. She squirmed under the man as he brought his face closer to hers and whispered –
“Hey baby girl, daddy missed you.” And she screamed.

“Hey, it’s okay. It’s just a dream – wake up.” Manish yelled as he shook Mansi.

“It’s just a nightmare. Open your eyes. How many painkillers did you take?” He continued in panicked voice. He did not know what else to do. He slapped her hard across her face and then he slapped her again.
Mansi opened her eyes and sat up straight in bed. Her shirt and the bedsheet were soaked with sweat. She brought her knees close to her chest and wrapped her arms around her knees.

“It’s okay. You are okay. It was just a dream.” Manish repeated placing his hand on her shoulder. She looked at him and he noticed the lingering fear in her gaze. He put his arm around her and Mansi leaned in placing her head on his shoulder. The support felt good. Manish put his other arm around her and embraced her.

“Hey! What’s happening here? Who the hell are you and what are doing sitting in my bed.” Pallavi yelled and the embrace broke.
“Mansi!” Pallavi said surprised. “What the hell?”
“Relax” Manish said standing up. “I heard her screaming; she was having a nightmare. I woke her up and was comforting her before you walked in” Manish explained.

“So it is you who broke the lock on my main door? And what – you just seemed to be around when she screamed?” Pallavi questioned in an irritated voice.
“He must have come to the door to check on me. I hurt my ankle earlier in the day and Manish was kind enough to bring me ice packs and painkiller; and the walking stick.” Mansi came to the rescue.

Pallavi was left speechless for two reasons.
1. The explanation made sense and
2. Most importantly, she was surprised to hear Mansi coming to his rescue. 

This was something she had not expected from Mansi.
“Okay” Pallavi said. “I am here to take care of my friend now.” Manish took the hint and started to walk. As he reached the bedroom door he turned around and said, “I will fix the lock.”
“I assumed it was obvious.” Pallavi replied, still irritated. Manish nodded and walked out without saying a word.
“You were rude.” Mansi said as Pallavi inspected her ankle.

“I know, that is how I intended to be. Don’t you defend him! Who the hell is he anyway?” Pallavi asked.
Mansi thought for a while before replying. She had not realized this earlier because of what happened when Pallavi stepped into the house but it became clear now. It was strange for two people staying opposite to each other’s apartment not knowing each other.
“His name is Manish. Manish Kumar. And he stays opposite to your apartment.” Mansi replied.
“Really?” Pallavi asked, confused.

“You have never seen him around before?” Mansi asked and immediately regretted asking. She waited for the sarcastic comment but it did not come.
“No. I have not seen him before. It’s strange. I knew that the flat opposite to mine was reserved for the owner of this building. However, it has been locked all this time. Maybe his son moved in!” Pallavi said contemplating the possibility.
“He is no son to any owner of any building. He is in desperate need of a job. He is one of the candidates who had applied for job in Uncle’s office.” Mansi explained.

“Really?” Pallavi asked. “And, by Uncle you mean your daddy’s office.” Pallavi teased. Though she tried to take the whole confusion in casual stride, deep down inside the folds of her brain, the seed of doubt had been sowed.
Daddy missed you… the words from the nightmare echoed in her ears. Mansi could see her stepfather clearly, pinning her down, a cruel smile on his face – molesting her with his gaze.

“What’s wrong?” Pallavi asked noticing the look on Mansi’s face.
“Nothing.” Mansi replied.
“Was it that bastard, again? Haunting you after dying, not ready to leave you alone and in peace?” Pallavi questioned but she already knew the answer.
She walked closer to the bed and hugged Mansi and realized that Mansi smelled of Men’s perfume. The same one Manish was wearing. She could not believe that out of all the people she would find Mansi in the scenario she had walked in on earlier. Maybe Mansi was too scared and Manish was there to comfort her.

“Can I say something, without sounding judgmental?” Pallavi asked, creating favourable atmosphere for what she was about to say next.
“Hmmm” Mansi said still holding on to Pallavi.
“Please stay away from him.” Pallavi said.

Chapter Thirty Six - Manish 

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