The Strength

In continuation of The Lies

They finished their breakfast in silence. Having already missed a few days of school, Shreya decided not to skip any more days, though Ajay insisted that she starts school from the next day. When she had finally made up her mind to go, Ajay started preparing her lunch box while Sneha stood and watched.
All her confidence of facing Shreya as Smriti was diminished by two experiences of lack of knowledge. How was she supposed to handle this? Ajay had helped her with the details he had but that was clearly not enough. After Shreya went to school and Ajay got busy in his study, Sneha went to take a shower. Standing under the shower as she allowed warm water to run down her body she thought about the mess she had purposefully stepped into. Was it really worth lying to Shreya?

Would she really be able to carry it further without the girl knowing that she was not her mother? Sneha moved her fingers through her wet hair. There was no way she was going to find the answer to this question without really going through it.
When she stepped out of the shower, she had taken a decision. After finishing her bath, she wrapped a towel around her hair and wearing a bathrobe stepped out of the bathroom only to come face to face with Ajay who was just walking out of the room. He looked at her once, whispered sorry and walked out.

She got dressed and went to his study where she found Ajay staring at the computer screen.
“I am going to the hospital” she announced and Ajay looked at her.
“Oh” he sounded surprised.
“I have not officially quit as yet and I think I need to go today and make that clear and also see if I can land up and alternate job.” Sneha explained.
“I would still prefer you consider the monetary compensation.” Ajay suggested.
“And … bury my conscience and allow myself to feel like a whore?” this time Sneha spoke out loud instead of the ugly voice nagging her.
“Is that what you think this would be like?” Ajay asked.
“I am sorry; I did not mean it the way it came out. See, it has been a bad beginning and I need to walk out of the house. This frustration is suffocating me. I had already requested you that you change that part in your draft. I need my own space, even if it means it is just a few hours. I will be gone when Shreya goes to school and will be back before she comes. I promise. I will find something worth doing, just let me do it. Please respect that.” Sneha finished saying in one breath.

“I understand, I was just suggesting, I did not mean to rule your mind. Your decisions would be yours to take.” Ajay said.
“And, don’t worry about the lunch, I will be going out too, I will eat outside.” Ajay added.
Sneha felt embarrassed. She had not bothered about the lunch, though she had told Ajay that she would cook meals for them. She nodded and left the room without saying anything else.
When Sneha reached the cafeteria, she was almost immediately surrounded by her friends. They had lots of questions for her. Her friend at the counter did not ask any questions but his eyes had lots of questions and expectations in them. Oh God, not one more. Sneha thought.
Answering the questions as much as she could she finally walked towards the guy at the counter who smiled when she approached him.

“Hi!” she said.
“Hi.” He replied. Then requesting one of the cooks to take over the counter he signaled Sneha to walk with him. Oh boy! She whispered. They walked out of the cafeteria and towards the park, once they were seated on a bench he asked, with genuine concern in his voice, how she was.
“I have been better.” Sneha was surprised she said that. She was so burdened with everything that the words left her tongue even before she could stop them.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, again, with genuine concern.
“Just forget I said anything. Do you have any further news about the guy who’s arrested? Did the police come here again and bother any of you with questions?” she asked to change the subject.
Realizing what she was trying to do, her friend decided to let it be and answered her question “They came here a couple of times. They were more interested in what happened with you and that guy, Ajay.”
Sneha nodded.
“I wanted to tell you that I have made up my mind to quit.” Sneha said.
“Are you sure? I mean, I can understand that with your new set of responsibilities it won’t be possible for you to work the regular hours but we can figure something out.” Her friend explained.
“That’s what I want to talk about. Could you find me some other job, where I would have to work less hours?” Sneha knew that she was taking undue advantage of him but she had no choice. Her close friend in the group had told her once that this guy was genuinely interested in her but she had not believed it, just as she had not believed about the other guy. But today, the look in his eyes after seeing her in the cafeteria, Sneha knew instantly that her friend was right. This guy was really interested in her.
“Hey!” the guy snapped his fingers in front of her face and brought her out of the reverie.
“Daniel, if you could do this for me, I would really appreciate it.” Sneha requested.
“I said I will do my best. I will call you in a couple of days. And, are you sure I tell the management that you are quitting as our cook?”
“Yes.” She confirmed. Daniel nodded. Awkward silence followed.
“I think I should go now.” Sneha said and got up.
“Won’t you be working with us at least for today?” he asked hoping that Sneha would stay and he would get some more time to spend with her.
“No. I need to go back.”
“Okay.” Saying so, Daniel got up too.

They walked together towards the hospital and Daniel turned to go towards the cafeteria. Sneha stood there for a moment, a weird thought just crossed her mind.
“Sneha!” Daniel called out and she looked at him.
“I just want you to know that you are strong enough to keep up to the decision you have taken. You are doing the right thing.” He assured her.
Sneha stared at him. He had just said what she had wanted to hear.
“And, if you ever need a friend to talk to, remember – I am always a call away. Bye for now, I will call you about the job opportunity” He smiled and started to walk in
“Hey Daniel!” Sneha called out and walked up to him. “Can you arrange a badge for me?” she asked.
“Sure.” Daniel said and asked her to follow him in. He gave her the staff badge and asked her why she wanted to do this.

“I just want to go up to the I.C.U. floor.” Sneha explained.
“I know that, what I meant to ask was, why do you want to go in there?” Daniel explained.
“I don’t know. It’s just instinct. I thought I need to be there, that is all.” Sneha explained and thanking him for everything, she walked out of the cafeteria without looking back, but she was sure Daniel was watching her until she stepped out of the cafeteria. The small chat with Daniel had given some of her confidence back and she knew in her heart that in future if she had to walk away from Ajay she had a friend to whom she could turn to.
Once again, some unseen force had given her exactly what she had needed. The strength to carry on and an outsider who told her that her decision was right and she had the capacity to make it work!

Sneha walked up to the I.C.U. floor and the guy at the desk looked up at her.
“Back at work?” he asked and Sneha nodded. In comparison to the lies she told to Shreya this one lie was nothing.
She walked towards Smriti’s room and saw that it was locked and was not taken. As if knowing what exactly she had on her mind, the guy walked towards her and opened the door for her with his keys
“Just be quick and don’t land me in trouble.” He said and walked away. Sneha walked it. It had been just a few days or was it a week or weeks? Sneha was not sure anymore. It just seemed like a long time. She walked towards the empty bed and tears started to flow from her eyes and then she collapsed on the floor.