“All participants are requested to wait backstage for the results, which will be announced in fifteen minutes.”
Honestly, I didn’t care about the results or anything for that matter. I was in the green room, where I had rushed to as soon as the speech was over. I didn’t wait for the applause, or chance a look at Shashank. I wanted to go home, where I wouldn’t need to hide the tears that had started welling up in my eyes. I did not have the strength or the inclination to talk to anyone at the moment, except perhaps—
“Raj!” I shrieked with relief as I saw him striding towards me urgently. “What took you so long? He is here, Raj! I am sure he’s here to talk to me about it. Please, just get me out of here. I….” My eyes flickered to the doorway just as Shashank appeared there, and a fresh wave of hysteria threatened to erupt. Raj followed my gaze and wasn’t surprised to see Shashank there. “He just wants to talk to you. I think you ought to listen to what he has to say. It might help.” I stared at him like he was a lunatic. “Right! So that’s another one of your brilliant ideas for today? You want me to volunteer for another round of humiliation?” From the corner of my eye, I saw Shashank pacing impatiently in the corridor outside the green room. It seemed like he was in a bigger rush than me to get this over with. Something struck me then—If Shashank was here, then his loyal followers wouldn’t be far behind, and that was a very scary prospect indeed. I felt queasy.
As always, Raj guessed what I had been thinking. “Don’t worry. It’s just him. He asked the others to back off. He is genuinely concerned about you. Just give him a chance to speak his mind.” My feet were glued to the floor once again. But part of me wanted answers to the million questions blasting through my mind. I decided to let curiosity get the better of me and turned to Raj, who was assessing my pained expression. “Will you come with me?” He shook his head. I sighed. He smiled and gave me thumbs up. Like that was going to help. Still, I smiled back nervously. Shashank was waiting in the corridor, his back to me, as I walked slowly towards him. My thumping heartbeats must have given me away because he turned to face me the moment I reached him.
(Contd. in the next post)