With tears welling up in her eyes and a lump forming in her throat, Meera stared at the retreating silhouette of her doll. She felt that she was separated from her world. But, a fighter she was!

“Yes, its a game . . . a short game for two months and three weeks. I’ll be with my doll in a matter of no time. Meanwhile, I’ll have to make ends meet and stay hale and hearty for Sia’s sake”, she said to herself as she lost sight of her daughter behind the pillars of the church premises. She turned around, steeled her heart and decided to go and get her belongings from her sister-in-law’s house.

She opened the creaky gate and stepped onto the dingy verandah that led to the kitchen which she and her daughter had called home for a week. She scanned around. There was no one.

“Perfect timing!”, she said to herself. “All are asleep after a day’s business. I can easily sneak out unnoticed, without having to offer any explanations to my sister-in-law or having to face that bloodsucker.”

She didn’t have much to pack. With frantic haste, she put in all her and her daughter’s possessions in the same rugged bag that she had come with.

“What’s the hurry to leave? Now that you have dumped that brat somewhere, you can stay on here with increasing prospects to earn for yourself and us.”

Meera turned back startled to hear the voice behind her. Her sister-in-law Sushma’s otherwise rough and booming voice seemed somewhat slyly pleasant.

“Never!” “Never!” “Never will I stay here even for a minute longer. Not after what that monster of a husband you have, was doing to my doll. And how dare you call my daughter a brat? I made a mistake by choosing to come here”, said Meera fuming with gritted teeth.

“Well, mistake you sure did by coming here. But, my darling husband has opened my eyes to the lucrative business prospects that my young slender-bodied sweet-toothed sister-in-law can give us”, said Sushma with a smirk. “You came here by your choice, but, you can leave only by mine”, she boomed advancing towards Meera.

“Wh . . . What do you mean?”, Meera uttered, her lips dry and feet shaking.

Now Sushma was her usual self. She menacingly marched towards Meera, caught hold of her arm with an iron-fist and said, “Do you think I gave a roof over your head and fed you and that little fatherless brat of your’s just in exchange of you helping serve drinks to the customers at the bar and clean it up? If you thought so, you were a fool! Enough nights of sound sleep you got. It’s time for business”, said Sushma with a commanding voice.

“Look, I still don’t get what you want to say”, said Meera trying to loosen Sushma’s grip. “You want me to pay for my stay here . . . I’ll give whatever you say. Give me two weeks time. As you know, I have no work now. But, I’ll find work in no time and pay you every dime that you ask for. Let me go . . . before that monster of a husband you have lands up here.”

At this, Sushma twisted Meera’s arm backwards and said, “How much will you pay me? Five hundred rupees . . . eight hundred . . . or a thousand? You can fetch us a few years of tension-free income. You ……AAAAAaaaaa……oooooo……”, she screamed at the top of her voice as she was talking.

Meera had bitten Sushma’s free hand fiercely.