“So now you will go back home to your husband and try for a son?”
“Shut up Nidhi.” Snapped Avantika, “How can you be so insensitive?”
“Never mind, Avi, it’s okay.” Pakhi shook her head. “No. I can’t live with him after this.”
“So?” Rajani gaped. “You’ll stay with your parents?”
“I couldn’t live with them either.” Pakhi said bleakly.
“Then with whom will you stay?”
“Why does she have to stay with anybody?” Aditi spoke for the first time. “She’s young, earning, independent and unencumbered.”
“But still she needs a safe place to stay.”
“Delhi has no dearth of places to stay for single women. Working women’s hostels, paying guests…”
“You could stay with me at my hostel!” Avantika looked at her excitedly.
Pakhi smiled wanly. “That’s what I was hoping to do actually.”
“That’s great. I will call up the landlady and ask right away.” She whipped out her phone.
“But Pakhi,” Rajani asked hesitantly as they wrapped up their extended lunch break, “you can’t live all your life in a hostel.”
“Why not?” countered Pakhi, “what’s the difference? Here I have to pay cash and there I have to pay with my life.”
“But…but what about finances. What if you fall ill…?”
“I just have to make sure I don’t fall ill!” Pakhi said determinedly. “I have decided I am going to study and try for the civil services. I always wanted to study further but my parents…I wasn’t motivated enough. But now I am. So it’s not like I’ll always be a typist. I have bigger plans, grander dreams.” She paused. “And when I am self-sufficient, when I am capable, I will adopt a girl-child and give her the life I couldn’t give my daughter.”
“Bravo.” Aditi said.
Pakhi started and looked at her. Was she taunting her?
“Go and email yourself these dreams and resolutions. And read them everyday. Focus on getting through today but keep your sights firmly on your dream. Ignore the naysayers and what ifs.” Rajani flushed. “And if you do need any help, ever, you can call me.” She nodded at Pakhi’s stunned expression before striding away.
“Wow!” Nidhi spoke for them. “Ma’am really likes you.”
“It’s not about ‘like’ Nidhi,” Tanya said, “She would do that for anyone in need of help. Aditi Ma’am is a real softie and I can’t help but think something really terrible must have happened to make her like this. And that is probably why she empathizes with Pakhi and offered her unconditional support.”
“But still it was sweet of her to offer.” Rajani said as they made their way back to the office. “More often than not people disappear at the first sign of trouble.”
“Given a chance, Aditi Ma’am would jump to save anybody but she’s learned the hard way to hold her horses.”
“When I had joined this office about five years ago, there was a girl Raina who working here. She was having marital troubles and one day she came to office with a cut lip. Aditi accosted her and Raina broke down and pleaded for sanctuary. Without a thought, Aditi Ma’am took her home. Raina stayed with her for a couple of days, until her husband decided that he wanted her back. He came to office in search of her and he had a major bust up with Aditi who stood her ground and gave him an earful. But then Raina changed sides. She yelled at Aditi Ma’am, that she had no right to speak to her husband like that and he threatened her with legal action for misguiding and misleading his wife…”
“Oh no!” The girls were shocked.
“Yeah,” Tanya slid into her seat and put away her lunch box, “it was a very messy scene and since then Aditi Ma’am has backed off from getting into the personal lives of the employees at Paperworks.” She nodded towards Pakhi. “Today she came out of her self-imposed restriction but…oh look at the time!” she gasped. “Shoo. Go away.” She flapped her arms to disperse them. “Gossipers.” She muttered, kicking herself for indulging herself.
“Oh! Where’s my mobile?” Rajani scrabbled about. “I think I left it in the lunch room,” She made a dash for the door. The lunchroom was locked. Well at least her phone was safe, she thought relieved. Unless someone had picked it up and then locked the room. She rattled the door in frustration – weren’t the guys supposed to be lunching now? Or didn’t they come here? Who…? There was a click and the door opened. Vijay stood blocking entry. “Yes?” He asked with unctuous politeness. “My phone,” Rajani said, “I left it…”
“Let me check.” Vijay closed the door with a click. Rajani frowned. How odd. Why did he shut the door? It would have been more natural to open the door and let her search for it. Weird.
“Found it.” Vijay opened the door and handed the phone to her.
Clutching it in relief Rajani gave him a wide smile. “Thanks!”
She ran back to office. Thank you Bhagwanji.
“Found it?” Avantika asked.
“Yes.” Rajani nodded. “Vijay was there. He had locked the lunchroom.” She still found it odd.
“He had the keys?” Avantika was surprised. “But usually Parkash locks and unlocks it?”
“No,” Rajani clarified. “He had locked it from inside.”
“Inside?” Avantika looked at Rajani who nodded.
“Hmm. That’s what I thought too. And he didn’t open the door completely. As if he was hiding something or…someone.”
“Where’s Nidhi?” Avantika looked around. “Nope not here. She didn’t come back with us from the lunchroom did she?”
Rajani frowned. “Didn’t she? No I don’t think so. But…”
“Look, there she is,” Avantika hissed. “Where were you Nidhi?” She called out.
Nidhi slipped into her seat and placed the lunch box by the side of her system. “I went to the bank.”
“Yes.” She began typing furiously and didn’t look up when Vijay strolled by whistling.
“No!” Rajani whispered in scandalized tones from the other side.
Avantika couldn’t help laughing at Rajani’s horrified expression. “Yes!” She whispered back. “Learn something from her!” She grinned and went back to her work leaving Rajani flustered and struggling to get back her focus.
Rajani turned around to look at Riteish whom she had been avoiding ever since he had offered to loan her money. As if feeling her eyes on his back, he too turned around. Heart thudding, Rajani hurriedly straightened and bent her head over her manuscript.
With all the myriad distractions of the day, Rajani found it difficult to concentrate on her work and it showed. She was way behind her reading and there were a couple of major slipups. “Rajani!” Tanya was irritated. “I don’t expect this kind of slipshod work from you. You missed this and this,” she waved the manuscript with red marking overshadowing her pencil markings.
“I’m sorry Ma’am,” she mumbled, “I’ll do it again.”
“You’ll have to.” Tanya said in uncompromising tones. “And finish proofreading for the New Mom mag. Boss Lady wants the final draft today.” She paused. “You know you…we can’t afford to mess up that one, right?”
“Yes Ma’am. I’ll be careful I promise.”
“Bye Rajani.” Avantika smiled apologetically as she packed up for the day.
“Bye.” Rajani smiled and nodded towards Pakhi who was talking to Tanya. “Is there room in your hostel?”
Avantika nodded. “Yes. She’s coming along with me right now.”
“Now?” Rajani was surprised. “But her clothes and stuff?”
“Apparently she had got her things in the morning. Her parents thought she was going back to her in-laws.”
“Oh. So she is sure?” Rajani worried. “What if there’s any problem?”
“Problem? Like what?” Pakhi joined them. “After the last few weeks, no problem seems big enough to scare me or worry me. Shall we go Avi? Bye Rajani.”
One by one, they all left, even Aditi.
Now there was just her, Tanya, Parkash and Riteish.