Chapter Twenty Two - Mansi

Refusing her father’s offer to drop her at home; Mansi stepped out of the house and continued walking without turning back to look at the man who had just confirmed her suspicion that he was her father. She was tempted to turn around, say good-bye because that man had been nothing but too nice to her since the day she had stepped into his life.

Well! It was mainly because her mother had sent her with a note. She had wanted Mansi to meet her father. It would have been easier had she told Mansi the truth before sending her blind-folded to him.
Mansi wondered whether she would have approached him had she known that he was not a stranger, not ‘Uncle’ but her father.

Mansi had always been scared of taking decisions; let alone take a quick decision and that too of something of this magnitude. She convinced herself that sometimes it was necessary to take a quick decision, it could either go wrong or it might just happen to be the right decision – a life changing decision. She knew there was nothing to worry about taking a quick decision regarding accepting her father into her life; then why did she make up her mind to walk out of the house without giving in to her heart’s desire and forgiving the man for abandoning her mother and her when they needed him in their lives?

“How can you blame him?” A little voice at the back of her mind said. True, she could not really blame him. It had not been his fault entirely. He had tried to get back with her mother, but it was her mother’s decision to refuse him. All her life, neither her mother said a word about him nor did she suspect that her mother had a secret in her life. She had always believed her mother to be an open book, until she knew about the letter. That was the first time doubt had drilled itself into her head.

Mansi did not know she had almost covered three quarters of the distance to her chawl from Uncle’s house. It did not make sense taking transportation for the remaining quarter but the moment she was out of her reverie and had realized how much she had walked, her legs started aching. She looked around for a bench she could sit on for a while. She thought of walking to the nearest bus stop and resting for some time and get into the bus if her bus arrived by chance. She was about to start walking again when she saw a familiar face of a familiar man driving a familiar cab. It was a small world indeed, it was either destined that they cross paths or he had been following her. Mansi smiled at the thought of Rohan following her around in his cab. Rohan, the name sounded so good on her lips even though she did not really say it out loud.

As expected, he saw her and stopped the cab.
“Hey.” He said. Mansi smiled and opened the cab door. She was about to climb in when she realized that she had taken it for granted that he would give her a ride. She hesitated for a while and Rohan tilted his head to one side – a silent question – What are you doing?
“Get in” he said as the person in the car behind his cab honked.
Mansi got in the cab and the smell of snacks reached her nostrils. Her stomach reacted. She realised all of a sudden that she was hungry, especially after emptying out all the contents of her stomach in the commode. She had not really eaten anything after her vomiting episode. She saw a polythene bag kept on the dashboard, inside it was the snacks wrapped in a newspaper. 
Mansi was not sure whether Rohan had heard her stomach’s call; even if he had he did not let it show on his face.

At the next red signal, he pulled out two paper napkins from the drawer compartment and placed one next to his seat.
“Could you get that plastic bag for me, please?” Rohan requested nodding towards the dashboard. Mansi picked it up and was about to hand it to him when the signal turned green. “There are two sandwiches inside, please take one and keep the other one on this paper napkin”, Rohan said nodding towards the paper napkin but keeping his eyes on the road. Mansi was about to refuse the sandwich when her stomach growled again. It was embarrassing and the only way to stop this growling stomach was to feed it something.

Mansi thanked Rohan as she opened the plastic bag and took out the sandwiches. 
Rohan smiled. “You are welcome.” He said and continued driving. They finished their sandwiches in silence. Rohan took a left turn and entered the lane that led to their chawl. Mansi shook her head, only if her stomach had shut up for some time she could have skipped eating the sandwich and had bought her own snacks to the room.

Rohan stopped the cab near the stairs and a few people turned their heads to see Mansi and Rohan together in the cab and Mansi riding shotgun instead of in the back. This made Mansi nervous. Every time she was with Rohan she kept forgetting that he was a womaniser; each time she was mesmerised by his charm, the same charm which he perhaps used on other girls he wooed. A little voice inside her head said that she was wrong. She wanted to believe that voice, but she silenced it for time being. There were other things to think about, to care about.

She realized Rohan was waiting for her to climb out of the cab. As she opened the door he said, “You don’t look well, should I take you to the doctor?” Mansi turned around and told him that she was fine. She climbed out and the ladies sitting on the bench close to the stairs started whispering. Mansi closed the cab door, harder than she intended. She turned to apologise and saw that Rohan was staring at the women, rather glaring at them. They seemed to notice it at the same time and the whispering stopped.

Mansi hurried on the stairs and reached her room. She did not know why she did it, but she turned around to look at the cab, it was still there and Rohan was chit-chatting with the women sitting on the bench. No, he was joking and laughing. Mansi walked inside the room and closed the door behind her. She made up her mind that she needed to get over this feeling; she had to move out of the chawl. So many times she had told herself what she needed to do but she was not really doing anything about it. She thought maybe it was time she really considered taking a loan. She knew there was one person who would willingly give her the money she needed to buy a decent apartment. She did not want to ask for a favour from him. She had known it all along and now she was sure about it. Her father had set up the office for her. So that she would not feel burdened under the weight of favour! She was sure he knew that she would not accept any direct favours from him. It might have changed now. Either he thought she could ask for a direct favour from him; and of course he would not refuse or she would drift away from him after learning the truth. Mansi was not willing to do either of the two. Asking for a favour from the man who had already done so much for her was out of question and so was walking out of his life. Not because she did not have any place to go, she did not want to walk away because she liked him, she respected him. She always looked up to him as a fatherly figure and to know that he was her father would have been a wonderful news had it not been accompanied with other sad and undesirable events. Nevertheless, she wanted to be a part of that man’s life. She wanted him to be a part of hers.

Her decision to start working night shift immediately was because she wanted to avoid the office crowd. She knew it was wrong and an escape route but that is how she was. She had always been this kind of person, a person who avoided confrontation of any sorts as far as possible. She had known ‘Uncle’ to be the same kind of man but to see him change from Uncle to her father made her proud. She was proud of him. She wondered how it would have been had this man been a father to her many years ago. Had her mother taken the decision to accept this man in her life when he had wanted to, things would have been different! Had this man not succumbed to his ego and decided not to reach out to her mother the second time when perhaps she would have said yes to him – things would have been different.

Her life would have been different. She would have lived a happy life. She would have had a loving father and not a stepfather she feared. Perhaps her mother would have been alive and happy as well. If this man had become a part of her life earlier she would have not been a murderer.

Mansi’s legs began to tremble as memories of that day came back to her. She started feeling claustrophobic in her own room. She opened the door and she almost dashed into Rohan as she stepped out in a hurry. He was opening the door to his room.

“What’s wrong?” he asked. “Why are you so pale?” he continued not sure whether he should touch her or not. Mansi burst into tears and went into his arms. He hesitated for a moment and then wrapped his arms around her. She buried her head in his shoulder and sobbed.

“Let us go on a drive” he said and tried to create a distance between them. Mansi noticed the women who were sitting on the bench staring at them. Mansi did not understand what had gotten into her. Why she kept breaking her resolutions of staying away from Rohan. Mansi wanted to refuse going out with him but she could not speak a word. Rohan relocked the door of his room and waited for Mansi to lock hers. Mansi got the keys from inside and locked the door. Rohan walked ahead and she followed him in silence. He was a magnet and she was iron who was pulled towards the magnet, willing or unwilling. It had to happen. It was science. She could not deny the chemistry between them.

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