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She hesitated to enter the house on hearing the loud voice reaching out to her from the drawing room.

“Not again!” She whispered under her breath.

“Why does he come so often to visit us? Why can’t Papa tell him to not come so often.” She thought, completely aware of the unreasonable demand she wanted her father to make.

“All that formal nonsense followed by same regular Namaste, pretentious exchange of smiles and some fake academic inquiry while his eyes would do the routine checking me out, embarrassing me yet another time. I hate to see those pervert eyes. Why don’t my parents relate his frequent visits to something fishy? Will it take an unfortunate incident to stop this man from coming here?“ Myra’s mind was lost in all such thoughts as she reluctantly stepped into the room.

“Ah, Myra is here?” A cracked voice resonated.”How have you been beta?” A gentleman sitting on the door- facing sofa asked. Though a man in his early 40s but his fair complexion, age-defying good looks and stout stature made him look like a decade younger. Myra hated every bit of this man who she called Mehra uncle. Her regular encounters with Mehra uncle became more and more inevitable since she was childhood friends with his daughter Naina . They had always studied in the same school and got separated only after choosing different streams after 10th.

Myra was a very pretty teenager, in fact, a head-turner in her sweet sixteen. She had always been pretty but was very grounded. She was often complimented by her neighborhood aunties and friends for her good-looks. In spite of the fact that she knew how pretty she was, that never became a reason for even an iota of attitude for Myra. She was a perfect girl with everything perfect about her at least as it appeared to be. Naina, on the contrary, was an average-looking girl but exceptionally intelligent. She topped her class without fail in all grades and was the school topper in tenth. She was a hands-down favorite of all the teachers and most of her classmates for her intellect and sharpness, the same reason which also made many of her batch-mates jealous of her too. Myra’s and Naina’s friendship was known to all and many fondly called them ‘beauty and brains’.

Myra’s parents were too in awe of Naina’s extraordinary intelligence and therefore always encouraged Myra to have combined studies with her. Though the girls got separated after boards, they still visited each other frequently. Mehra uncle adored cute Myra as a kid and caressed her taking her in his arms whenever she visited them which later was transformed into lust. He was dazzled by her beauty and found nothing wrong in it. The fact that Myra had grown in front of his eyes and that she was his daughter’s friend was not enough to budge him from his dirty intentions.

Initially, Mehra would go to the bus stop on the pretext of dropping Naina and make Myra sit on his lap till the bus arrived. Little Myra never found anything wrong in it and neither did Naina. Naina, however, at times felt ignored by her father in her best friend’s presence.

Myra took notice of Mehra uncle’s fishy behavior only when she had gone to their house to attend the house-warming function. Mehra uncle had insisted Mr. and Mrs. Ahuja let Myra stay overnight for the party and that he would drop her back the next morning. She was only 10 yrs old then and was well- trained by her mother on how a girl of her age should behave in public. Though her mother was a little wary of letting her daughter stay out overnight but Mr. Ahuja did not find anything wrong in it knowing it was Mehra’s place.

Myra was thrilled about staying at Naina’s place and had thanked Mehra uncle a thousand times for getting the permission from her parents. Amidst the chaos and customary poojas of the function at his place, Mehra uncle had found out time to go to his daughter’s room to check Myra out. It was that night when Myra had felt embarrassed for the first time when Mehra uncle had entered the room without knocking while she was changing. She tried hiding behind the curtain as there was nowhere else to go except for the bathroom which was already occupied by Naina. Mehra uncle stood still and didn’t feel the need to leave the room. Myra felt angry and frustrated at that shameless act of him. She knew not what to say and was left red-faced. She cursed herself for not being doubly sure of the locked door and not waiting for her friend to come out of the bathroom for her to change. It was only at the jostling of the bathroom door which forced him to leave the room. That was indeed the first time when Myra had felt humiliated and angry for being exposed to a pair of luring eyes. She felt disgusted and kept revising the incident in her mind over and over again. That small incident had left her quiet for several days which went unnoticed by everyone.

Her visits to her friend’s house had drastically come down. Mrs. Mehra did ask her about it once which she easily doused with a pretty smile. Mrs. Mehra was an extremely polite lady who mostly kept to herself. She did not really believe in socializing. She was a homely polite lady. Although the Ahujas stayed just two blocks away from the Mehras, Mrs. Ahuja ‘s visit to the former’s house was only restricted to formal invitations. Mrs. Mehra , on the contrary, would visit their house intermittently. The mothers’ friendship though was nothing like their daughters’. It was limited to formal pleasantries.

After the unpleasant experience, Myra had become extremely conscious of conducting herself in front of Naina’s father. She started avoiding meeting her father as much as possible. Myra would make sure that she visited Naina’s house only when her father was away. Mr.Mehra too had taken notice of the drop in Myra’s visit to their house but that didn’t arise any sense of guilt in him. Whenever they fell face to face, Myra behaved indifferently and would leave the place immediately. Now that Myra had understood the situation, Mehra’s pervert attitude had further deteriorated. He became all the more unapologetic. There were incidents of Mehra offering lifts to Myra and nearly forcing her to sit on his scooter, while he purposely pulled the brakes taking pleasure of Myra’s young touch. At several occasions, he had groped her back on the pretext of patting it as if trying to find some clue.

By now Myra knew that all this came as a part and parcel of being a girl. She accepted the fact that things cannot change overnight and also knew that her predicament was not new. She saw herself in every other girl. Many times she felt like talking to her parents about it but remained quiet to save her own grace. She made all possible efforts to avoid such incidents by being alert herself.

As she went inside the room without acknowledging much of Mehra’s presence, she was all ears about what he was talking. And what she discovered alarmed her more. Her father and Mr. Mehra were planning a trip together on Mehra’s advice. They were planning to visit most of the northern India which would approximately take 10-15 days. And therefore, Mehra was there to discuss the details. She shivered at the intentions of Mehra. She went out and stood there. “Papa, what are you planning? Are we going somewhere?” She blurted out. “Yes Myra, we were planning a trip with your best friend this summer vacation. Isn’t it a brilliant idea by Mehra uncle? It's long we have not gone on such a trip and now that your twelfth exams are over, you are also free to go.” Mr. Ahuja said smiling.

“But Papa my tuitions have begun and I don’t want to miss on the classes. It’s very crucial at this point. We are about to begin ‘accounts’, the topic I need the most help. And ………” Myra was still continuing when was interrupted by Mehra, “Ah accounts, I can help you in that, I was very good in it. Don’t worry you can come any time to take help from me. Naina is very excited about this trip. She says she would love to spend some more time with you. She was also asking that you hardly come to our place these days.It's then that I took notice too. It’s long that you came. Did you have a fight with each-other ah? ”

Myra didn’t feel the need to answer any of his questions and kept talking to her father, “But Papa, I don’t want to go now. I have assignments to complete.”

“You can take them along.” Mehra interrupted again.

“Uncle please, You can plan this with Ghosh uncle, he lives in your building and works with you as well,” Myra spoke trying her best to sound polite.

“Okay, Myra we will talk about it later.” Mr. Ahuja said trying to dismiss the situation for that moment.

Myra went inside but was very disturbed at the thought of sharing a trip with Mehra. She kept toying with umpteen excuses in her mind. She did not want any sort of problem for her .She was frustrated and cursed her parents for not understanding her clue. She could not sleep the whole night.

Myra tried convincing her mother but her mother directed her to her father saying that she did not have any say in all that. Myra felt helpless and disturbed. She wanted to scream aloud and make her point. The obvious choice of Mehra was not making any sense to her.

She finally had to resign to her parents’ will. It was a late summer evening when they started for New Delhi . They had planned to cover most of the northern India in the trip. While some of the journeys were by air, most of it was to be done in a hired vehicle. Their accommodation and food were taken care of by Mehra since he had good contacts in that area. Myra’s parents were especially happy about the low budget in which all the trip was getting covered and kept praising Mehra and his strong ties for it. Little did they know about the real price they might have to pay for the favors. The fact that Mehra’s family was chosen as a company later dawned on Myra as she came to know of the tremendous monetary benefits her family was deriving due to him, which made her even more skeptical.

The journey went off smoothly and the days passed by quickly. Myra and Naina enjoyed being given a separate room in all the destinations. Myra forgot about the mental baggage and started enjoying the trip like never before. She was stunned to see the change in Mehra Uncle’s behavior. Her own attitude mellowed down on seeing the change and she was rather polite with him all the time. Most part of the day was spent in sight-seeing and the remaining in planning for the next day. While the Mehras and The Ahujas stayed in different rooms, the girls were given a separate room as per the condition put up by Myra. She had categorically mentioned that she would only accompany them if she was allowed to stay with her friend, as that was the pretext being used by Mehra for planning the trip with them.

The trip was about to end and the hotel where they were put up had arranged for a dance party followed by complimentary dinner that night. While the girls were thrilled for the dance party, the parents decided to go for a little local shopping and to return by dinner. Naina and Myra got ready for the party. They looked pretty in their attires. Myra particularly looked stunning. As planned, the girls went to the party while their parents went shopping.

The girls had a time of their life. They sang, they danced and enjoyed every bit of the unsupervised opportunity. After a good two hour session of dance and music, the girls wanted a break. Looking at the huge commotion outside the party hall loo, Naina suggested Myra use their room’s washroom. They went together to the room and Naina left after using the restroom for the party hall asking Myra to join her there. Myra had just come out of the washroom when she stood shell-shocked on finding Mehra uncle locking the room’s door from inside. “Uh..Uncle, I go now...” she stammered. There was no reply. Mehra stared at her like an eagle eyeing its prey. Myra had never felt that kind of fear ever before in her life. She was clueless on how to react, her brain stopped working, her eyebrows got cold due to sweat. She felt dizzy. She held the side table to gain her composure and said again, “Uncle what do you want? Naina is in the party hall, she is waiting for me and shall soon return to check what is taking me long?” Myra tried threatening Mehra in her small ways. But he refused to budge from his place and kept staring at her.

Myra tried reaching out for her mobile but in turn dropped the glass thus breaking it and spilling water on the floor. Mehra bent down to pick up the pieces when there was a knock at the door. “Myra, what’s taking you long? I am waiting ..Myraaaa..” Naina Shouted. Mehra immediately locked himself in the washroom. Myra was scared, she started framing excuses in her mind on having being found with her best friend’s father by the best friend. She took slow heavy steps and muttered to herself,”I am coming”. She opened the door slowly when Naina shot a range of questions at her only to stop on noticing tears rolling down Myra’s pretty face. Myra hugged her and started crying incessantly. “Myraaa?” Naina said looking scandalized. She held Myra by her arms and moved her away from herself to see her face. She tried judging the situation from Myra’s face but to no use.

Myra kept crying and got breathless. Naina dashed towards the side table to fetch some water for Myra when her heels got stuck in the carpet causing her fall face- down. A piece of broken glass went straight into her left eye piercing her cornea. Naina wailed in pain and blood started oozing off her eye. Myra rushed to her side. The pain was too strong to leave Naina conscious. Mehra came out of the washroom on hearing the familiar scream. “ Gudia….” he shouted Naina’s pet name on seeing her in a pool of blood. “What happened to her eyes? What did you do? Why…..”

“I didn’t do anything,” Naina screamed back at Mehra interrupting him in the middle. “We should take her to the hospital” She sounded irked.

Mehra quickly picked Naina and rushed towards the hotel reception. The reception lady immediately called for an ambulance. Meanwhile, the hotel’s in-house doctor arrived and attended Naina. The doctor looked worried and tried cleaning the blood around Naina’s eyes but was unable to remove the piece of glass which appeared to have penetrated deep inside. By that time the ambulance had arrived and Naina was taken on a stretcher to the vehicle. She regained her consciousness only to pass out in pain again.

Myra called her parents who informed Naina’s mother too about the situation. She hid the truth of Mehra’s presence in the room. They arrived soon at the hotel and found Myra crying in her room. They all soon rushed to the hospital. Naina’s was a case of deep corneal abrasion and the doctors were not denying the probability of eyesight loss. Naina’s parents were shattered and the accident had left them devastated. If Naina lost her eyesight in that accident, it would affect her entire life. She would be blind in one eye for life. She had applied for several medical entrance exams, how would she manage all that. Not only the physical deformity but the incident’s impression would last a lifetime on her young mind. How will she cope with the social pressure? The questions resonated in their heads continuously as they waited for the doctor to come. Their worst nightmares were to come true. And they waited with bated breath for the doctor to give them a ray of hope. Mrs. Mehra cursed every moment when she left her daughter alone in the hotel. Her tears were incessant. She demanded an explanation from Myra and her husband. While Myra did not utter a word, Mehra framed a story of the two best friends’ fight which resulted in the breaking of the glass that eventually led to the accident. Mrs. Mehra easily believed her husband as there was no strong reason for otherwise.

As everyone waited anxiously for the doctor to come, the doctor arrived after the operation. “Mr. and Mrs. Mehra , the operation was successful and we were able to remove all the glass pieces from Naina’s eye. It will take some time to recover completely, though.” The doctor said sounding serious.

“But will she have vision in her left eye?” Mrs. Mehra asked nervously.

“Look, Mrs. Mehra, It all depends on the recovery speed. There is no point building false hopes. After the operation,the patient will have to go through regular eye checkups and rigorous eye-exercises. The name of the ophthalmologist that I recommend is mentioned in her file. Please meet me in an hour in my chamber and I shall explain you the whole process.” The doctor said patiently.

Mrs. Mehra broke down immediately on hearing all this. She was quickly held by Myra’s mother. Myra stood dumbfounded there and knew not how to react to all that was happening. She looked at Mehra who looked pale, thin and completely helpless, perhaps the way Myra always wanted to see him but the reason at that moment was not justifiable in her eyes. Myra had always felt indebted to Naina for helping her in her studies throughout her school life. It was now that Myra opted for economics while Naina wanted to fulfill her medical career dream.

Myra hated herself for being the reason behind Naina’s accident. She wanted to cry aloud, tell everyone that she was not the reason behind the unfortunate incident and that it was her own father who was to be blamed. She didn’t have the remotest idea of the story Mehra had narrated to everyone. It was only when her mother chided her for fighting with Naina that night that she looked at her mother’s face perplexed trying to make some sense of what she spoke. She tried interrupting her mother but the lack of explanation stopped her from revealing the truth. She chose to be known as a moody, arrogant girl than corrupt, characterless one. She wasn’t too sure if her mother would trust her explanation. Tears rolled down her eyes and she chose to leave the room. She could not defend herself by any means.

Naina’s parents stayed in the hospital that night. Myra along with her parents went to see Naina the next day. Myra sat near Naina .There was a lull before Myra hesitantly kept her hands over Naina’s. Naina broke down which increased her pain and she wailed in pain. The nurse warned Naina not to cry and that it was not good for her eye. Naina made a futile effort to control her emotions and hugged Myra. Myra took a deep sigh of relief, a little surprised, that at least her dear friend does not hold her responsible for her condition.

Naina was discharged the same afternoon with a long list of medicines and therapies which she would have to follow religiously for a speedy recovery. She had a big bandage on her left eye and she was suggested medical glasses post her bandage.

As opposed to the beginning journey, the return was a quiet and pensive one. No one spoke on the way back except for some necessary conversation.

Naina’s medical entrance exam was scheduled to take place after three weeks of their return. The main apprehension of Naina and her parents was her complete recovery by then as the doctors had strictly suggested her to not strain her eyes for that would not only slow down the recovery but also weaken her eyesight. It was a dicey situation for her. Though she was well prepared from beforehand but her revisions were not happening at all as she rested most of the time. She would rather miss the exam this year than leave a life-long effect on her eye. She was even considering giving a miss to her exam. This decision had left her depressed, though. Naina was a brilliant student and the pain of not being able to give the exam was far greater than her physical agony. She was heart- broken as people asked her about her improvement and if she would be able to appear for the exam. She started keeping to herself mostly and remained in her room.

Naina’s parents were disturbed to see their daughter in pain, both mental and physical. Like Naina, Mehra too kept to his room, an act which was interpreted as that of a worried father by Mrs. Mehra. Little did she know of the truth. In fact, the secret was safe with Mehra and Myra. Even Naina did not know about it. Apart from her daughter’s ailment and him being the reason behind it, one more thing that worried Mehra was the fear that Myra might reveal the truth if blamed too much for Naina’s condition. He felt miserable at the predicament and saw no solution to it. All these apprehensions had made him look double his age overnight.

Naina’s father had approached her school requesting them for a recommendation letter. Luckily the school had agreed to write a letter requesting the exam centre head to allow Naina for a writer citing her condition. As Naina was not too positive about the response, her parents waited anxiously for it. It was only two days before the exam that they received a letter saying Naina would be given a writer provided she produced her medical certificate.

It was in a while that something had given Naina a reason to smile. As she geared herself for the exam, her parents were relieved to see the old self of their daughter again.

On the exam day , Naina got ready three hours prior to the scheduled time although the center was not too far from her house. She arranged her id-card, medical certificate and stationery required. Her heart was beating fast. The anxiousness of exam combined with the apprehension of someone else deciding her future made her more nervous.

As she reached the center accompanied by her father, she was taken to a separate room on producing the medical certificate. She sat on the bench with three more students waiting to receive their writers. She was arranging her things when the writers arrived. She saw Myra approaching her…“Myra??????” she blurted out in astonishment. “ You …are you my….????but how???” Her words tumbled over each other in disbelief.

But Myra did not look surprised at all as if she knew about being Naina’s writer. As Naina sat beside her without answering anything, Naina spoke again, “Oh! it's your school but ….of all the students …how you?” she demanded an explanation.

As Naina kept staring at Myra perplexed and expecting an answer, the examiner hushed them for the exam was about to begin.

Naina went through the paper as she received it. Myra began writing the answers for her friend. Naina tried concentrating on a thousand questions dancing in her head. After three hours, the examiner collected her paper. Naina looked satisfied with her performance.

And now it was time for an explanation. Before Naina could utter a word, Myra started, “There were four writers required and my school wanted a 12th pass-out to be the writers since it was a medical entrance exam. Four of my friends received calls for posing as writers. While three were available in town, one suggested my name as she was away from the city. I did not know who I was going to write for until I saw you outside our school gate. I had prepared myself already to look for you in the room and be your writer.” She paused. “Naina , I know you don’t hold me responsible for what happened but trust me I have not slept one night ever since the incident”. Myra stopped as her voice choked. She began regaining her composure, “You can call it destiny but I am happy that God gave me a chance to help you in the littlest way possible.” The two friends hugged each other with teary eyes.

The result was declared on a Sunday morning. As Naina logged in with her heart pounding to check her result, tears rolled down her eyes to witness what she saw. She was among the top ten achievers in that exam. She could not believe her eyes. As her parents patiently waited behind her expecting news from her, they got apprehensive to see Naina crying. “Maa, I have qualified..” was all she said hugging her mother and taking her parents’ blessings.

It was now celebration time for the family. Naina called Myra first and then her relatives. Soon, the news flashed on all channels and next day it was all out in the newspapers too. The neighborhood gathered outside their house to congratulate Naina. Everybody knew she would make it big one day but the spotlight was on her more because of the accident which did not stop her from achieving her goal. Hers was a story of inspiration, a story of determination, a story of fighting against odds and coming out a winner. She was the hero of the moment. And Naina enjoyed every moment of her success revisiting the difficulties she had faced recently.

As Myra opened the door, she found Naina and her father standing outside with a packet of sweets. Myra hugged Naina as she thanked her for everything.

Myra looked at Mr. Mehra while his head hung in shame. Those eyes which always checked her out did not have the courage to face Myra. Handing over the sweets to Myra, he fell on his knees. Myra’s parents were out in the room by that time. Everybody was stunned to witness what they saw. Myra stepped outside the house without uttering a word and placing the sweet box on the center table.

As she waited outside not knowing what to do, she heard loud voices coming from inside. She identified her father’s anguish. She waited out patiently for the storm to calm down taking small steps in the lawn. Her heart pounded as she got herself ready to enter the house. She stepped inside gathering all the courage in her big heart. While Naina stood stunned , Mehra was still on his knees. She looked around to find her father pressing his head with his specs out in one hand, something he always did when he was disturbed. Myra’s mother dashed towards her and hugged her tightly, “Myra my brave Myra, forgive me beta!”, her voice resounded in the quiet room.

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