Chapter 15

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                           "6 weeks ???", Mehek was exasperated. Shaurya nodded his head, "45 days to be precise. It is clearly written in your employment contract", he told her plainly. "But that's unfair", she wailed. He shrugged his shoulders, "Those are standard measures, Mehek. It gives ample time for the employer to find another person to fill in". Mehek read the document again and asked him, "But if I pay a month's salary as compensation then I can leave early, can't I?". Shaurya sighed as he knew she can opt for it. "Mehek, please sit", he pulled a chair beside her and requested. Although irritated, she acceded and stayed calm. "Think wisely, Mehek. Why do you want to waste your money?", he coaxed her. Although the 5 digit pay was not a mere amount, Mehek was still ready for the trade-off. But before she could reply, he interrupted her, "I totally understand that you want to leave. I am not stopping you. All I ask is to serve the notice period, so that I can find a replacement in time. I just don't want to ruin the gift planned for Nehal & Vicky. Meanwhile, you will also have enough time to get another job. It's a win-win for both sides". Although she didn't want to accept it, he had a point. "Fine. So for another month", she told decisively. "45 days from today", he corrected her.

Mehek knew it will be difficult to find a new job and accommodation. Infact she was happy that the clause in job contract gave her enough breathing space to search for both. Thanks to the wealth Kanta Chachi had passed on to her, she wasn't worried much about income but she desperately needed to find a new house. Being an unwed mother, it was difficult for her to find a decent abode. She was tempted to leave the town and relocate. Yet she wanted to fight and knew that if she chose to run, then there will be no end to it. Besides, she had Happy Chachi and her small catering business to look after. So she decided to face the society boldly. 

Few days later, she got an offer to set up a food stall at local fair on behalf of the orphanage and she happily took it up. Mehek along with kids and nuns got busy with preparations and were looking forward for the event. Finally the day of the community fair came and Mehek landed on the venue grounds along with kids and nuns in their orphanage van. As soon as they settled, Mehek got busy setting up the food stall. Many threw reproachful looks at her but she chose to ignore them. She focused on her work and kept her enthusiasm high.

"Isn't she the one?", a lady talked softly to one of the coordinators. When the latter nodded, she marched to their stall and talked to one of the nuns. "Sr. Stella, I know orphanage needs funds and volunteering but it is improper to allow immoral elements to mingle in our neighbourhood events", she looked at Mehek with disgust. "Mrs. Batra, I didn't get you", Sr Stella was confused. "Look Sister, we have a close community here. And having a woman with no morality among us is not good", she now directly poked Mehek with her words. "Mrs. Batra, please mind your words", Sr. Stella rebuked her. "I am straight forward. This girl, an unwed mother who is shamelessly parading herself, is a bad example for our younger generation", she lashed again. "For your kind information, Mehek is a kind heart person with values. We have many kids in our orphanage who were abandoned by their parents. Mehek on the other hand is bravely facing world by owning up her responsibility", Sr Stella supported Mehek. "Fine.Then as representive of  the events committee, I inform you that if you choose to keep her here, we will ask you to vacate the stall. Be aware that you will not be given refund of money spend on stall booking either", she threatened. Mehek looked at the faces of children who were eager to be part of the carnival. "It's okay Sister. I will leave", Mehek picked up her bag and moved away before nun or anyone else could persuade her. Mrs Batra smirked, "Good that you decided wisely. Now keep yourself and fruit of your sin away from us".

Mehek eyes shone with wrath. She turned to face scornful woman and sneered at her, "My baby is pure and innocent. It is you who need to cleanse your mind from sinful thoughts". "Oh really? Then where is the man who put his seed in you? ", she asked her bitterly. When Mehek didn't respond, she mocked her, "I understand your dilemma. It is probably difficult for you to pin the responsibility among the many you have spread your legs". "Enough!", Mehek yelled, "My baby has a father and I clearly know who he is. But I don't have to declare it to wicked people like you", Mehek defended vehemently. "Absolutely", a sharp male voice interrupted them. Mehek was panting for breath when Shaurya walked towards them, "Mehek is right that she doesn't have to defend herself. But since it is the question about dignity of my child, I chose to speak", he held Mehek by her arm, "I, Shaurya Khanna is the father of Mehek's baby".

Mehek was helping to close the stall. After dramatic events of mornings, things mellow down and went smoothly without further drama. For the whole day, Shaurya stayed with kids and helped them to run the stall. She noticed that Shaurya mingled well with kids and enjoyed spending time with them. She was aware of this side of him and missed it too yet she refrained to be inclined to him. Mehek knew that it will just be matter of time for entire town to know about arrival of her child's father. She was relieved as well as disturbed. When kids and nuns left in their van, Shaurya led her to his car. He drove slowly and finally broke the silence, "Come back with me, Mehek". 

She was shocked by his statement but he continued. "It is not an easy battle. Every step you will find another Mrs Batra, probably more cruel & wicked. You are helpless and alone here. If you come back, I can protect you", he explained. "Thanks for everything you did today", she told without emotions, "But I could have handled it even if you haven't come". He smirked at her words. "You can mock me but it is the truth, Mr Khanna. I have gained confidence to face the world alone. I am not scared to face my demons, not anymore", she was determined. "Stop being adamant, Mehek. You need me. Our child needs security of its father's name", he raised his voice but calmed himself as he realised they have reached near the bungalow.. "Wrong. I don't need you. MY child is no longer your responsibility. We are good without you", she declared firmly then opened door and walked briskly into the house.

"You are being childish, Mehek", he followed and scolded her, "I never denied responsibility of our child. It was you who decided to leave me for reasons best known to you". Mehek balled her fists to control her anger, "Reason? Reason is You never wanted any of it. You never accepted my child or me or our relationship. I know you still don't care for us. I wonder why are you doing all these now?". "Ofcourse I care. Mehek, I just want to ensure your safety and future of our baby", he tried to make her understand. "You still don't want us, do you?", she asked him earnestly. He remained still unable to gather words to reason with Mehek. She sighed as if cementing her disappointment. "You feel guilty and simply want to appease yourself", she blinked back her tears, "Don't feel guilty, Mr Khanna. You don't owe us anything. Me and my child are no longer your concern. Go back to your life and live well", she was composed and left to her room. He decided it was best not to pursue her and let her rest for the night. The events of the day made him aware of the battles awaiting Mehek and he was not able to leave her alone. Although still unsure about their equation or feelings, he was not ready to give up his efforts to bring her back with him and decided to talk to her again next day.

"Manju, where is Mehek?", Shaurya inquired next morning. "Mehekji, had gone to visit her Happy Chachi", she replied and he knitted his eyebrows in confusion. "I mean Harpreetji. Dr Harpreet Kaur". Shaurya understood and decided to wait for Mehek but she didn't return till afternoon. He tried to reach her but was unsuccessful. He got anxious and decided to pay a visit to Dr. Kaur's clinic.

Miles away, in a medical camp. Mehek wrote down details of patients and gave them their tokens accordingly. She was happy that she had accepted Happy Chachi's offer to accompany her to medical camp conducted in nearby village. They have arrived in the clinic's ambulance and Mehek was given most easy duty of providing token to patients. She relaxed and tried to mingle with everyone in the camp. As she got busy with patients, she didn't realise when a male figure noticed her and slowly walked to her. 

"Mehek? ", he called softly but nervousness was evident in his voice. Mehek turned and was taken aback recognizing him. A gasp escaped her lips when she took his name, "Ajay!!".

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