THE SORE THUMB

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It was one minute to 4 AM when Babli’s eyes opened and her hand automatically went for the button of the alarm clock kept on the bedside table on the right side of her bed if you could call it so. This had become Babli’s routine over the last 6 months when she first moved to a small town in the westernmost corner of India for a “promising job”. Every morning, she’d wake up exactly a minute before her alarm went off; not because she couldn’t sleep but because that was the way she had been “trained”.

Immediately after waking up, she’d put on her tracksuit and running shoes and go out for a run around the neighbourhood to get to “know it and the people living there” better. After an hour or so, she’d return, make herself a cup of coffee, and browse through her phone for “news updates”. While checking the updates she’d cook and have breakfast and go for a bath once done. Precisely at 7:45 AM, she’d leave her rented 1 BHK apartment for her “job”. This had been her daily routine for 6 months; but not today.

Instead of going for her usual run, Babli went straight for a bath. In about 20 minutes, she was ready to head for her “work”. Today was the day she’d been eagerly waiting for; it was the day she’d spent the last two years “rigorously preparing for”.

Babli stuck out like a sore thumb in her batch—the only girl in the group of 20 and the youngest among all; however, her journey hadn’t been a cakewalk. She had to literally fight her way through—first her family, then the selection process, and then her preparation. “It’s a man’s world, here, little girl”, they said. “You won’t last here a week”, they’d laughed on their first day of training. But, no matter how many times she fell, she stood up again; no matter how many times she was heckled, she powered through. And when their stay of two years of hell finally got over, Babli emerged as the sharpest, swiftest, and the most successful “employee”. She became the youngest “employee” and the first woman to be sent straight for an “assignment” right after “onboarding”.

As Babli went through the doors of her “office building”, instead of heading for the lift right in front of her as she did every morning, she turned and headed for the long, dark, and narrow corridor on her left. At its end was a heavy wooden door that led to a room that few people in the “office” frequented. As Babli reached the door, she paused for a moment, knowing that it was finally time to use the “skills” she’d gained over the last two years. She placed her right hand on a small rectangle that looked at her from the place where one would expect a handle to be. After a few seconds, the rectangle beeped and the door hissed as it opened. Bable drew in a long breath, exhaled a longer one, and entered the room. 

Upon entering the room, she saw a middle-aged man, probably in his 40s, waiting for her by a long wooden desk that covered almost one-third of the floor. She stopped on the other side of the desk and uttered the following words with a mixture of confidence and excitement, “Special agent Babli reporting for duty, sir. When do we leave for the mission?”

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