Chapter Twenty Eight - Mansi

Mansi would have loved sitting in the park until the sun swam into the sea at the horizon but there was still a lot of time for that. The bench they were sitting on was no longer under the shadow of the tree that protected them from the sun’s rays. 

The heat was beginning to be intolerable. As if reading her mind, Pallavi said, “We need to go; I am dying to step into the air-conditioned environment of the office.”

Mansi smiled. Had it not been for the air conditioning, office would have been the last place Pallavi would have wanted to be. Yes, she needed the job and she was best in what she did but she did not really love working there. The salary was low but she, like others, could not complain. The office was like a family – a weird one; where everyone loved each other but was nevertheless finding a way to leave.

They got up from the bench and were about to walk towards the gate when Mansi’s stomach gave a loud hunger-call. Mansi rolled her eyes, a bit embarrassed and said, “Would an air-conditioned restaurant work for you?” Both smiled and walked out of the park. 

On their way to the restaurant, Mansi thought about what Pallavi had said. She had been right about everything. Mansi had spent most of her life feeling bad for herself; cursing her luck. She needed to change that. She had to take control of her life. She knew it felt good, she had the taste of it once; even if it meant for a short time. She wondered how Pallavi would feel about it if she told her about that moment when she had felt in control of her life. Pallavi was not the kind of person to judge her and even if she did Mansi cared a damn. That’s what she told herself even though in her heart she knew that when someone said I care a damn, that’s when and that’s what they really care about. Pallavi’s opinion did matter to her.

Once inside the restaurant and out of hearing range of others Mansi decided to include Pallavi into the secret.
“I killed him.” Mansi said straight to the point, without any prelude. 
Mansi saw Pallavi’s face registering momentary surprise but it was immediately masked by understanding. 
They ordered food and even though Mansi had been hungry earlier she could not eat properly. She kept telling herself to be mentally strong; she forced the thoughts of that day out of her head. It took a lot of effort, Mansi could tell that it showed on her face when Pallavi put down the spoon in her plate and stared at Mansi.

“When I said you need to be strong I did not mean that you should not have your weak moments. We all have our weak moments. The trick is to have them but to not allow them to rule. You need to know how to face them and walk away from them. Don’t let your emotions govern your life” Pallavi explained.

Mansi picked up her spoon and tried to eat. Everything Pallavi said made sense. Yes, it was true she could have said it in a better manner. Or maybe not, Mansi thought. Maybe she would have not cared to listen to Pallavi had she not been so outspoken.

“I know I sound like some preachy bitch.” Pallavi said rolling her eyes. Mansi did not comment on it.
“I have had my share of weak moments, Mansi.” Pallavi said. That surprised Mansi.
“No one’s life if perfect, we all have our stories. I have mine; I simply do not wear it on my face. You do. Anyone who can read a face would know that you are not happy with your life. I am sure that douchebag, what’s his name? Even he knows that.”

Mansi tried not to show it but that statement hurt. She was unwilling to accept what had hurt more. Pallavi saying that - her being unhappy showed on her face or Pallavi calling Rohan a douchebag?”
Pallavi rolled her eyes. “See what I mean?” She commented pointing a finger at Mansi and then she continued, “I had a very abusive mother. She abused me verbally and physically both. My father cared a damn because he spent most of his time with his mistress. But, when he was around he cared a lot for me, he loved me. We had fun moments together and that’s what my mother hated. When dad started having an affair, she took it all out on me.” For a moment Pallavi phased out. Mansi remained silent giving her the space.

“Anyways, what I am trying to tell you here is…” Pallavi snapped out of her weak moment but could not continue after seeing Mansi’s face. 
“That’s why I never told you.” Pallavi said and Mansi tried her best to hold back her tears.
“Eat.” Pallavi commanded and Mansi picked up the spoon.
Mansi could not finish everything on her plate but she did eat enough. They packed the remaining food and walked out of the restaurant. Pallavi looked at her watch and said she needed to go to the office. They took the bus to the office and after getting down at their bus-stop, Mansi stopped to buy a newspaper. Since she was not going to work at the office, she decided to go house-hunting. Pallavi stared at Mansi before starting to walk towards the office.

When they reached the office Mansi said goodbye to Pallavi and turned around to go.
“You are not coming in?” Pallavi asked.
“No.” Mansi replied waving the newspaper in front of Pallavi. “I have got other things to do. Besides, it’s not my shift. I will be working the night shift from today; I assume you know that.” 
“Yes, I do. I just asked you to come in with me for a moment. I want to give you something.” Pallavi replied.
“I will wait outside.” Mansi insisted.
“Are you serious?” Pallavi asked, surprised. She then shook her head and walked inside. She came out a moment later and handed over keys to Mansi.

“These are the keys of my apartment. I want you to come and stay with me until you find a place. I am not asking, I am telling you. And – please don’t thank me. I need money and I was anyway looking for someone to share the room and the rent with. Since I recently came to know that you are the daughter of my rich boss, I thought you would be the right candidate.” Pallavi said and winked.
Mansi looked at her, speechless. A part of her wanted to return the keys but a major part of her was unwilling.
“Okay, only because you said you are willing to split the rent.” Mansi finally said.

Pallavi smiled and walked inside the office. Mansi watched her walk inside and turned to go. She reached the bus-stop that would take her to the chawl, hopefully for the last time. Mansi was aware that Pallavi had done a huge favour for her. She did not need anyone to split the rent. She was willing to split the rent with Mansi only because she knew Mansi would never agree to stay with her for free. 
Mansi was deep in thoughts when her bus arrived; she came out of her reverie when one of the passengers accidentally pushed her while trying to get to the bus. Mansi climbed in after everyone else did and walked to the front of the bus. She took the window seat.

When Mansi reached the chawl she involuntarily looked for the cab. It was parked where it usually was. Mansi sighed and walked towards the stairs. Since it was late afternoon there was hardly anyone outside. A few guys played cricket in the ground. They always played cricket – let it be morning, afternoon or evening. One of the guys recognised Mansi and waved at her, Mansi waved back. He was one of the good kids around. She climbed up the stairs and walked towards her room. She heard some sound coming out of her neighbouring room. As she walked closer she heard it clearly. It was Rohan and he was coughing, very badly. Mansi could not make herself look away from the room as she walked closer. The right thing would have been to look straight ahead and walk to her room, close the door behind her and care a damn about what was happening in the next room. She needed to pack few clothes and walk out of the chawl.

Mansi could not do the right thing. She turned her gaze towards the open door and peeked inside. Rohan was sitting on the bed and coughing. He looked up towards Mansi and she was taken by surprise. The same surprise registered on his face as well perhaps because he was not expecting her; maybe he was expecting someone else. Mansi felt embarrassed and wanted to walk to her room but she could not move. She could not take her eyes off of him; he was a mess. He coughed again into the kerchief he was holding in his hand and Mansi wanted to walk inside and be with him. She wanted to take care of him. Judging by his face, it was likely he was running a fever as well. Mansi stood where she was, willing Rohan to look back at her but he did not. He continued coughing into the kerchief and moment later he shifted and lay down in bed pulling up the sheets. It hurt, a lot. Mansi walked towards her room convincing herself that the piercing pain she was feeling was because he had ignored her; it was her ego that was hurt. And what she felt towards him was lust – yes, that’s what it was – Lust.


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