Tanvi returned home after paying her rent arrears of three months to Savitriji.  She wouldn’t be roofless, at least for now.

Tanvi had been shocked when the normally compassionate Savitriji had visited her a week ago, with an ultimatum to pay the rent or be left on the streets with her little Nayesha.  Was this the same lady who had sympathetically offered her this flat last year at a low rent? Tanvi couldn’t believe a woman could let her down.

Because Tanvi had forever been let down by men – except one.  

Born beautiful among plainfaced sisters, she was hounded by boys in high school.  When one of them followed her home, her father pulled her out of school, despite her protests.  She grew to hate him.

Years later, she eloped with Adil, her friend, confidante and next-door neighbour.  Both the families disowned them, forever.

Tanvi’s seven years with Adil were the best in her life.  Adil earned just enough for a decent living.  

Three years later, Nayesha was born.

When Nayesha was four, a deadly virus struck the land.  Before it could be contained, it took Adil.

Tanvi was an impulsive person, not given to be a fighter except by circumstances.  The next few weeks showed her more of the dark side of the world as she had to control her grief, find a job and vacate Adil’s office quarters.  After meeting innumerable estate agents who either had no house for a young, pretty widow or would ask for favours in return, she came across the 70-year-old Savitriji.  

And when Tanvi found a night shift job in a smalltime call centre, she was pleasantly surprised to see Nayesha mature overnight.  The girl learnt to sleep alone. Tanvi swallowed her guilt and pulled on – she had to.

The clock struck 12.  Tanvi came out of her thoughts and left to bring Nayesha from school.


8 pm.  Tanvi tucked Nayesha into bed and left for work.

Two hours of commuting later, she arrived on the outskirts of the city.  She entered one of the several glitzy, flashy establishments there.

In the basement, she changed into a low-waist skirt and tight top.  Blue contact lenses and generous makeup completed the unrecognizable transformation.

Back upstairs, she peeped through the curtains at the men sitting around tables, leering at the dancing girls.  No known faces anywhere – except Riddhi, her colleague from the call centre before it shut down three months ago.

Tanvi remembered Riddhi’s words everyday.

“I’m also a young, lonely, widowed mother like you, with no concrete educational qualifications.  These men – they make our lives miserable in the outside world. Why not earn from them, when we are left with no option?”

Tanvi had agreed.  This was the only place where these so-called gentlemen openly removed their masks of respectability.  

“And this is where people like me”, thought Tanvi, gyrating to the latest number as a patron showered notes on her, “put a mask over our respectability.”
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Archie Iyer
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