I have already published three of my books through Amazon.com:
2. Short stories success for young readers - A new lexicon unfolded
In the meantime, I intend blogging the first few sample chapters of the novel for everyone to read. Every alternate day, a new chapter will be released through my blog. Avid readers may please read and send me their comments.
I would appreciate if readers can indicate their preference about using their comments as part of the book
Here you go the chapter
When Mani Shankar returned back, he brought with him a bagful of fruits, bread and some tea. The girl was sitting on the ground, reclining on the bonnet of the car.
“Your bags are here. I knew you would come back.” She remarked. Mani Shankar smiled.
“My name is Mani Shankar.” He extended the carry bag and tea to her. She hesitated before finally accepting them.
“They call me Sharmilee,” she replied while sipping her tea.
“Tell me, what happened last night,” he asked her.
She narrated, but was not coherent. She was distracted every now and then. She thrust her two fingers into her mouth whenever she struggled to recollect. She couldn’t be termed a normal girl. Something was amiss with her. She mentioned about going to some people nearby to seek help, but as usual, they brushed her aside, using foul words.
Mani Shankar looked at her intently. She didn’t appear repugnant anymore. He continued to stare at her for some more time and there was silence between them. Strangely, even she too, was staring at him intently, her fingers already in her mouth. Saliva dripped out of it. She didn’t seem to care or even know.
“Do you want to be taken care of?”
“Who will take care of me?”
“I can. Do you want to go with me?”
Her eyes widened and she rolled her eyes in all directions. At least, she didn’t seem to resist the idea.
“Now, give me some time. I am going to find a place for us to stay. Then I am going to come back and take you with me. Okay?”
She didn’t respond.
“Don’t go away anywhere. Take care of my bags in the car. I shall be back as soon as I can. If you feel hungry, there is enough food for you in the bag.”
Mani Shankar left without waiting for her to respond. He had already developed a plan for her. ‘How far is she going to cooperate?’ he wondered.
He returned in a taxi, after a couple of hours.
“Come on, let’s go. We now have a place to stay.’ He extended his hand to her. ‘Do you have anything with you?’
She puckered her lips and bit them. She must have been anxious. She didn’t care to take anything with her.
‘Come.’ He held her hands and pulled her gently. They got into the taxi and the driver looked amazed and smiled cannily.
Mani Shankar had already briefed the taxi driver where they should be heading. They travelled some distance, before the taxi stopped in front of a small building, outside the town. An old lady received them, though she, too, was curious about the girl. She wrinkled her face. Maybe, she didn’t approve the company.
Without saying a word to her, Mani Shankar took Sharmilee inside. There were two small rooms adjoining a narrow reception area. He went back to the vehicle and brought a few more bags.
He showed one of the rooms to Sharmilee.
‘There is a bathroom inside. Go, have a bath, and then put on this dress – I hope it should fit it. You can discard your old dress.’ He handed over a nightgown that he bought from the market. That was the only fit-for-all dress he could get. Sharmilee was hesitant, but obeyed.
In the meantime, he went into the other room, had a quick shave and bath and was ready before Sharmilee came out of her room. Now she looked more presentable.
‘Do you like it?’
She nodded timidly.
‘Come, let’s go.’
She obeyed without uttering a word. The taxi was still waiting outside for them and they got in. The old lady watched quietly from a corner. The driver too was amused now, though he didn’t comment anything. The taxi took them to the market. There was more life now, in the town. The taxi stopped in front of a saloon.
Sharmilee looked bewildered and panicked. Mani Shankar held her hand warmly. It was basically a gent’s saloon and the middle aged barber looked on, puzzled. But the money made all the tricks. Sharmilee was given a neat haircut, even while a few bystanders peeped into the saloon inquisitively. Sharmilee looked even better now, after a boy cut, she looked rather lovely. He then took her to a nearby clothing shop, bought her a couple of dresses for her, a few blankets and woolen jackets. All the time, she had put her two fingers into her mouth, saliva rolling down her jaws. They went back to the lodging house.
“Go and have a bath again. And then, put on the new dress.”
Sharmilee obeyed without any protest. She must have been quite impressed with her own look in the mirror in the saloon.
When she came out of her room, Mani Shankar commented, “You look gorgeous, Sharmilee!”
She smiled and shied away from looking at him. She seemed to trust Mani Shankar and was very cooperative, without raising a question. In the meantime, the old lady had prepared some food and served it in the reception area. They ate quietly.
Once finished, Mani Shankar asked Sharmilee, “You can stay with me here, in this place, if you wish. This is going to be our home, for some time. You are under no compulsion. You can go back to your car, if you want to.”
“I shall stay with you.” The answer came from Sharmilee without any tinge of hesitation.
She went to her room and slept for the rest of the day.
‘What am I doing here? Am I doing the right thing with this girl? What is my connection? Would I have done this, if Gowri was with me today?’
Mani Shankar had no immediate answer to his chattering mind. He decided to call Gowri in USA, later in the evening and tell her about this development. She must know everything. He decided to take a walk to clear his mind from the cobwebs.
The old lady waited anxiously near the entrance to the lodging house.
“You look worried!” Mani Shankar checked with her.
“It doesn’t look proper,” she gazed her eyes over him, probably, gauging his age.
Mani Shankar wanted to be honest. “The girl, Sharmilee is like my daughter. I found her on the streets. I have no connection to her. She helped me yesterday when I was in trouble. I wanted to pay back to her. Do you mind?”
“How long do you intend to stay here?”
“It might be a little long, I hope. But why, do you have any objection? I had already indicated to you.”
“But, if the stay is going to be longer, the terms might be different.” The lady adroitly exploited Mani Shankar’s predicament. It was off-season and she had no guests. Mani Shankar agreed to her stiff terms and didn’t mind. The place was decent, away from the main market, secluded, quiet and comfortable. Plus, he got home-made food.
“But, mind you, no trouble,” she cautioned.
“Absolutely!” Assured Mani Shankar and walked out.
......... to be continued......................