Lalitha and Sindhu were great friends. It was only three years since Sindhu had moved into this posh complex.Lalitha was in the floor just above hers. Their friendship began in the lift when it broke down once for a few minutes when they were alone in it together. Lalitha had no child though she was in her mid thirties. She worked as a teacher in a prestigious school. Her husband, she had said, worked as a consultant and not infrequently worked from home. They looked decent. Lalitha spoke less but was a good listener. She was god fearing, soft spoken, compassionate and had strong value system being a teacher.Sindhu on the other hand was bubbly in nature, loquacious and loved to talk on all subjects and liked making new friends. They were so different yet they liked each other. They became very close sharing all personal, went together daily for walk in the complex in the evenings and spent the free time chatting.
They had a common day time servant, a middle aged woman, till recently. But she left the work in Lalitha’s house without giving any reasons but continued with Sindhu.All the attempts by Lalitha to ascertain the reason for her refusal did not succeed. Even Sindhu tried but the woman did not budge. It was then Lalitha got a thirteen year Manju to work full time from morning 6am to 6pm. Manju was a hardworking sprightly girl and soon earned the confidence and affection of Lalitha. She got her new dresses, a pair of slippers and some tinsels. The girl helped her do all jobs though Lalitha did the cooking herself. She left the house in her care even when her husband was not at home.
It was one afternoon around 2pm Sindhu relaxed in her bed after the daily chores with an unfinished novel in hand. It was then she heard loud knocks repeatedly at her door. She rushed and opened the doors and was shocked to see Manju crying hoarsely and attempting to push past her to enter the flat. She said “Amma, let me in immediately and close the door.”Even as she let her in and was closing the door, she heard the noise of someone climbing down the stairs from the floor above. Sindhu asked her,” My God,Why what happened? Why are your clothes torn and hair disheveled? Tell me why you are crying? Did you open the door for anyone and did anyone harass you?”
She said “No, I did not open the door” and went on sobbing inconsolably without talking.Sindhu inquired ”Who is there in the house presently? Have you left the door open?” She mumbled “Uncle is there” and cried more.Sindhu thought something untoward must have happened and asked her “Do not fear. I am like your elder sister or mom. Tell me what happened. Why are your clothes torn and crumpled and your hair disturbed? Tell me the truth. Did anyone try to harm you?”
When she continued to keep quiet, Sindhu said “Unless you tell what happened clearly, people will think you were also a party to the incident. It is safe to confide in me.’ This did the trick.
The girl said”I am afraid, amma.Uncle tried to molest me. One week earlier, when he tried to touch my cheeks and pull me towards him, I told Lalitha amma.After talking to her husband, she told me that he was just patting me for being a good girl and that I should not talk disrespectfully like that. Ever since I was afraid to stay at home alone when he was there. But he came stealthily behind me today, closed my mouth with his hand and took me to the air-conditioned bed room and tried to force himself on me. My shouts were not heard as the windows and doors were closed. He almost succeeded in his wretched act, when I found the table lamp by my side. I hit him hard on his head and when he released his hands from me for a moment I came running to you. Please help me. I do not want to go into that house again.”
When Sindhu asked her whether any damage had been done, she replied that she could luckily extricate at the very last moment.Sindhu was in a fix as she had to act quickly. She was for a moment torn between two minds-her friendship to Lalitha and justice to this hapless girl. May be she may lose the friendship for ever but that did not deter her from rushing the girl to the nearest nursing home. She had the girl examined for attempted rape. The doctor found enough evidence with scratches and other clues of an attempt at criminal assault. The doctor advised a day’s rest for the girl for the shock and trauma the girl had suffered and gave her a sedative to sleep. She called the police inspector and gave him the details and about their presence in the nursing home. Soon Lalitha’s husband was taken into custody for questioning along with doctor’s report.
Sindhu dared not meet Lalitha. In the evening when Sindhu was sitting dejected at the unfortunate happening and thinking of the impact it would have had on Lalitha, she heard a knock. When she opened the door, she found Lalitha standing with a grim face. She sat on the sofa and said “Sindhu, do not be worried. I would have done the same thing as you did.. He was a scoundrel and I had warned him to keep his dirty hands off the girl when he tried his mischief. I am at fault. I should not have left Manju alone with this wolf. It serves him right. I am glad that nothing untoward has happened to Manju and she could escape in the last moment. He had to have his head stitched. I feel the earlier servant left for this reason only. Sindhu, I am proud of your acting in the right way to render justice to the young girl uninfluenced by our friendship. Trust me, you will remain my friend forever.”