HAUNTED II

‘So what did you find out?’ Shehla had returned to her office a while ago when she heard Aiman, her mother and the editor of the paper she worked in, walked in. She sighed inwardly.

‘She is Malik Jabbar’s only daughter who’s been in captivity for over a year now. She isn’t really retarded but was declared so she could be admitted in the asylum. Malik Jabbar is now campaigning for the next elections and has been trying really hard to hide the identity of his daughter. No one from his family visits Laila and she has been kept in complete isolation.’

‘What about the NGO? Where do they come in?’

‘They supported Laila and feared for her safety as she had brought shame to her family by trying to elope. They provided security to her in the asylum but it’s really an attempt to stop her from escaping again. The funds they receive are largely from Laila’s father.’

‘Interesting,’ Aiman nodded. ‘How much more time do you need to complete this? Will it be done by the end of this week? Malik Jabbar’s next rally is on Monday and if we publish this couple of days earlier, it’ll have a huge impact.’

‘I think so,’ Shehla said glumly.

‘Then get on to it and stop sulking,’ Aiman snapped and walked away to her office. Shehla’s eyes followed her till she slammed her office door and then reverted to her screen. All of a sudden, despite the painstaking research she’d put in, she wanted to drop the story. The initial enthusiasm was now replaced by apprehension. But she had to do as she was told.

A few more visits to the asylum, a trip to Laila’s home village, several phone calls kept Shehla occupied over the next few days before the story was finally published. It garnered a huge reaction from the masses and was hugely discussed on the media. Women rights activists jumped on grab the opportunity to condemn the cruelty and both Laila and her feudal father were put under heavy public scrutiny. Malik Jabbar was not happy and neither was Laila. The attention was getting on her already strained nerves and the sight of a camera or a mic made her violent. And then there were the questions. She was constantly probed about her feelings, her past and how she felt about the current treatment she was receiving. The poor girl had no answer. All she could do now was cry or throw things at her visitors. The guards at the asylum were doing their best to keep the media away but reporters would still find their way in.

It was just one of these days when Shehla received the matron’s call. She was on her way to interview a women rights activist; the aftermath of her feature.

‘What have you done?’ the matron sounded hysterical.

‘What do you mean? I told you I had to do a story on her,’ Shehla said, surprised.

‘It is driving her crazy. What captivity didn’t do to her, you did it with your story!’ she said fiercely and slammed the phone. Shehla stared at her phone in surprise and then shook it off with a shrug. She had work to do. She couldn’t really understand the matron’s words. How could her story drive the girl crazy? How was it any worse than the treatment she had been receiving all these years? And what consequences could it possibly have? Deep down she knew the answers to all these questions but found it convenient to ignore them.

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The speaker of the NGO could hardly hold her tears. They freely flowed over her face, wiping away her heavy make-up as she wrapped the press conference. The media was having a field day. Shehla switched off her T.V and got off the couch, cradling a cup of tea in her hands. As she over-looked the lawn through the balcony, she felt an overwhelming regret. She wished she had never visited Laila. She wished  she had never written about her visit. She wished she had never hoped for justice for the girl. But no matter what her intentions, she had proved that she was just another media person. She turned around and glanced at the headline on the front page of the newspaper:

‘FEUDAL PRISONER COMMITS SUICIDE IN HER ROOM’

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