Lost in the horror of it all Shalini gasped in surprise as a voice behind her park seat spoke. She spun around to confront the intruder.
“So, you’re Shalini, welcome to the club.”
“Who are you and how do you know my name. What club are you talking about?”
The girl took a seat beside her and stared at her for a while. Shalini felt uncomfortable and got up to leave.
“I think you’d better sit down because I have something to tell you need to know and if you leave me now it will be very bad for you.”
Shalini sat down as far away from the girl as possible on the bench. “What’s your name and what club?”
There was a hardness in the girl’s voice as she spoke. “Let me see, what name shall I give you I have many of them Why don’t you call me Meena. Someday I may tell you my real name but for now you will call me Meena and while we may not be friends we will be seeing a lot of each other for a while. You want to know what club? Why don’t we call it the Rajkumar Club? I believe you may prefer to call it the Teacher Raj Club!
Shalini gasped! “I don’t know anything about a club like that Meena.”
Meena laughed. “Why Shalini you joined it this afternoon and Mr. Rajkumar sent me to look for you and tell you about membership so listen carefully as we are both members of that club and from now you have to live a double life. You see Mr. Rajkumar was not interested in the drugs he pulled out of your bag. He put them there cleverly, but you should have figured that out and ran as fast as you could home and told your parents. What Mr Rajkumar wanted was the photos of you and it had nothing to do with drugs. Are you beginning to understand?”
Shalini began to shake uncontrollably. “Why would he do that to me. I thought he was just trying to protect me from the school administration and embarrassment for my family. I don’t understand!”
For a moment the hard look was replaced with a look of sympathy. Meena reached out to comfort Shalini but she drew away from the touch.
“I understand how you feel!” She said softly. Then the hardness returned. This was all distasteful to Meena, but she was a survivor and one had to be hard to survive.
“Let me make it plain to you Shalini. Your teacher Rajkumar uses the photos he took of you to control you. If you do what he says then the pictures stay where he’s hidden them away. If you try and break out of the “club” then your pictures will end up on the internet. If you have a Social Media page it will happen there and if you don’t it will go online in some other way. The students at school will be given a link anonymously and you will have to face them every day you are at school. Or he may decide to release it to your parents anonymously. I know a girl who he did that to, and her parents threw her out of their home. She lived on the streets for a while, but it was so hard when she’d been bought up in an affluent family, so she drowned herself.”
Shalini was beside herself with terror now and shook uncontrollably. She looked at Meena pleadingly.
“I don’t want to be in this club, why are you and Raj Sir doing this to me? I’ve never met you before and have done nothing bad to you.”
Meena laughed bitterly. “You think I want to be in this so-called club? You must be out of your mind! None of us want to live this life. Your Raj Sir tricked me the same way two years ago and there are other kids, boys and girls caught out the same way. How old are you Shalini?”
“I’m twelve years old.” Shalini’s voice shook as she gave her answer.
Meena looked shocked. “You look more like fifteen to me so that’s his game.” She shook her head and reached out for Shalini again to comfort her but Shalini backed away.
Meena shrugged. “I don’t blame you! But you’re in a situation you can’t control and need to realize that. I’ll help you as best I can but have to be constantly alert myself because this gang Rajkumar works with are small time players in a very large organization that people in high places control. I personally know judge and police who use children and some high ups in the business and political world get in on the act too. Sometimes I wish it were me that had drowned instead of my friend but then I think someday I’ll get my revenge and am constantly looking for ways to do that. They will pay a high price for what they’ve done to me and my friends.”
Shalini began to take control of her emotions realizing Meena was a potential ally. She put out her hand tentatively and Meena took it in hers. She had tears in her eyes.
“Please help me, this is too terrible for me to bear alone and I can’t talk with my family as Raj Sir’s father is the Police Commissioner and a friend of the Chief Minister he says, and my father could lose his job.
Meena laughed. “Rajkumar’s father is an ordinary linesman who services telephones and he’s in on the deal tapping phones for this criminal organization so they know how to keep ahead of the law. My guess is Rajkumar is going to use you for the present to find out any information you can get from the Chief Minister’s office as the Chief Minister is using his office to try and clean out criminal elements. So, any information they could get through your father would be helpful. You better use that as a bargaining chip with Raj as unfortunately you’re very good looking and well developed for your age. That’s not a good thing in this game. Now you must get yourself under control and go home acting like you normally do. Obviously you’re upset and your parents should not know that. Don’t worry about your meeting after class tomorrow afternoon as Rajkumar will just reinforce the fact he has something he’s holding that you better cooperate with him to save yourself. Most likely he’ll then tell you to report anything you hear about what happens in the Chief Minister’s office from conversations at home and may instruct you to ask some questions to your father too.”
Meena got up to go and paused. “I’ll help you to stay as safe as possible under the circumstances while I can but you’ll have to toughen up and learn to control your emotions because its not going to be easy from now on and you’ll have to make your own decisions as you deal with difficult situations. The immediate problem is not to show your family things have changed for you. I don’t know how your family would react if they found out you’d allowed those pictures to be taken, my family would throw me out of the house. I’ll find you each day to discuss how you can be helped. If Rajkumar asks what we discussed this afternoon tell him I told you what was expected of you now.”
She left as quickly as she’d appeared and Shalini put on the mask she’d have to wear from now on and went home acting as she normally did.
To be continued
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