The 7 Innocents

John 7:24
'Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.'



Isaiah 64:6
'But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;'


It was when their problems seemed to wane that they escalated. The Australians all disappeared, and the seminary shut down. They were told to run for their lives. Told if they didn’t, their families would die. Told if they did, their families would still die.
They endeavoured to solve the mystery – one that threatened to destroy them and their families – but soon realised that to end it all, they must first find the Australians. But the closer they came to finding them, the more they began to see they should run and never come back.
The question, of course, is why they didn’t call the police.
The answer is simple.
You can’t avoid being condemned unless you’re innocent.
And these men are not.

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19. Chapter Eighteen: The 7 Comforters

 

Three Years Earlier:

 

Suneep leant against the wall, staring at the plughole. There were no shower screens at the BSI, so the floor was wet. Was he wet? He couldn't tell. He didn't care. All he could hear was the tap dripping monotonously, mocking his heartbeat. The steady drip, drip, drip never missed a beat. Neither did his heart.

How could that be? How could he be so torn and miserable, overflowing with grief and sorrow, and his heart could still just beat? He was meant to say his heart was breaking, but his heart was pretty much all that was left in him that was fine.

He felt ill. Every now and then he was sure he was going to throw up, but he never did. He wished he could. His head hurt too. He couldn't shift his thoughts. All he could think was 'why? Why? Why?' Occasionally a whisper would say, 'God has a plan. Trust him,' but the whys overwhelmed the whisper. They were screaming. His eyes felt strained and old. He had cried so much – it was almost a relief not to cry anymore. The whys became louder, and Suneep broke down again, after minutes of not crying.

'Why!' He sobbed, running his fingers through his hair. He dug his nails into his head as he went, but nothing seemed to help. 'God, why?'

He sobbed uncontrollably for a while, and then stopped suddenly. That was the way things worked. He could only cry so many tears at once.

            After half-an-hour more, Bikram finally managed to unlock the door, and stepped in. What he saw was, indeed, a sight. Suneep was curled up beside the toilet, leaning against it in fact, underneath the sink, as if it would protect him from further pain. He hadn't turned the shower off properly, and the tap dripped heavily. The floor was saturated, and Suneep was too, only he didn't seem to realise.

Suneep had simply cried on his bed for a whole week now. Occasionally he read and studied, but it soon gave way to tears. Then, after hours of sobbing, he would fall into a fitful sleep, only to be interrupted with fresh new tears. He'd hardly had anything to eat or drink the entire time, and looked less than healthy.

Bikram had decided it was time to bring him round, and had felt proud when his friend took a shower. But now things just seemed to be worse!

Suneep had obviously been in the process of getting dressed, and worse jeans and a singlet. Looking at the grieving man and the state he was in, Bikram simply didn't know what to do.

Alyssa asked about Suneep often, and had wanted to see him. Bikram had said no, fearing the visit would be inappropriate. But now, staring at the mess, Bikram felt like that was the best thing to do.

The lunch bell rung, and Bikram shifted nervously. 'Will you come, dai?' He asked. Suneep nodded, stood up, and pulled on a saturated T-shirt. 'Dai, you are very wet.' Bikram pointed out quietly.

Suneep nodded, walked out, and changed quickly. Bikram must have stared hard at the man's hair, because Suneep soon pulled on his beanie.

'Let's go.' He muttered – the first words he'd said all week that weren't related to Shaktiah's death.

            Bikram nodded, and hastily lead the way.

            Every-one at the BSI was depressed, but things were beginning to get better now. In fact, people were starting to forget how sad they had first been. They couldn't remember how every-one had simply cried and cried for days. No, now Suneep stood out like a sore thumb, and Bikram felt angry, as all any-one could do was stare at him. The two stopped at the water filter, and Bikram filled Suneep's bottle for him.

            'Drink.' He said, raising the water to his friend's lips. Suneep did so vainly. It was as if he wasn't there, Bikram thought. As if he lived in another world.

            'Morning, Suneep!' Ardi cried, inappropriately cheerful. 'How's it going?'

            Suneep finished the water and shrugged. 'Okay.'

            Ardi frowned a little. 'Sorry, Suneep.' Suneep looked at his feet, and Bikram panicked. 'Catch ya later.' Ardi finished, walking off.

            Mehmet passed next, and distractedly acknowledged Suneep. Then he followed Ardi.

            Bikram made sure Suneep queued for lunch, and was not too surprised when the man sat down at a table. Every-one else was eating outside, as the sun was warm, and the dining room was cold and dark. Bikram figured that was how Suneep felt.

            It was long before Chandan and Josha passed. They sat down, and tried to be sensitive. But after five minutes they realised they weren't going to make it, and fled.

            Bikram ate his meal in silence, simply glad that Suneep was eating. Finally, Danny came and sat down. He seemed depressed too, so did not mind the deafening silence that had fallen. Bikram was surprised when Arjun came and sat down next to Suneep.

            'Good work protecting Alyssa.' He said quietly. 'Without you she may have gotten herself killed. I believe you saved her life.'

            Suneep nodded. 'I hope so.'

            Silence continued, and Liberty walked in. She sat down on the other side of her friend, and joined the silence. Then, just before Suneep finished his meal, she put her arm around him.

            'I'm praying for you, friend.' She whispered, kissing his head.

            Bikram was horrified for two reasons. The first reason – that she was being quite forward – vanished when he remembered no-one else was around. The second reason was confirmed when Suneep suddenly stopped eating and his face became fixed on his plate. He was trying very hard not to cry.

            'Suneep!' A voice suddenly called. Bikram turned desperately towards the voice, and found it was Alyssa. 'Come help me!' She persisted. 'I have to carry too many sheets!'

            Suneep instantly stood up, halved Alyssa's load, and followed her.

            Bikram wasn't sure what that meant. Standing up, he followed the two from a distance. They dropped sheets off at very required dormitory, and began talking a little. Then, to Bikram's surprise, they turned to his room. Bikram jumped into action, and reached his door just as the two entered.

            Suneep threw himself on his bed instantly and began sobbing. Bikram quickly shut the door behind him and turned desperately to Alyssa. But the girl simply said, 'thank you, Suneep. Thank you for everything,' and then left. Suneep continued crying, and Bikram tried to work things out.

            Why ask him for help when he was obviously so low? And while he was eating too, for the first time in a week! Then it hit him. Alyssa had given Suneep a free ticket out of the situation Liberty had landed him in. He was about to burst into tears – Alyssa brought him to his room to cry.

            Sighing, Bikram realised he was exhausted. He couldn't put up with this any longer. How much longer would this last?

            Suneep began attending classes and showing up at meals after that day. He never spoke or ate much, but he showed up, and that was enough for Bikram. The latter hoped and waited for Alyssa to tell Suneep to snap out of it, and was always surprised when Alyssa simply left Suneep alone in his dark little world. Then again, that seemed to be what he wanted.

            Finally, a month later, people became completely fed-up with Suneep's 'drama', and began giving him advice.

            'Look, Suneep, we are all grieving.' Danny hissed at lunch one day. 'But we still get on with things. Suneep, you have to get back into life whether you like it or not. Please just do it – you're upsetting everyone around you.' Then he had left, leaving Suneep looking worse.

            Bikram often wondered if Suneep was well, and if he was, how that was possible. He himself felt completely drained from trying to help Suneep every day. Mehmet only made things worse when Ardi suddenly began shunning him, and would lash out and insult Shaktiah, saying things about her that no-one really believed, but couldn't exactly deny either. Suneep would get defensive and upset, and usually ended right back at square one. Finally, after he barely passed an exam, even Liberty lost patience.

            'You need to pull your socks up, Suneep!' She cried. 'It's been nearly two months!'

            That day had been a terrible one, and found Suneep lying in the bathroom after lunch, watching the tap drip. Bikram had walked in, with absolutely no idea as to what to do.

            'That silly tap!' He cried, turning the taps tighter. He cried out in pain when he received a nasty electric shock. 'Why does Reverend Roshkah not do something?!' He wailed, hitting the wall frustratedly. He was beginning to crack.

            Just then, there was a knock on the door, and Bikram rushed to answer it. 'Alyssa!' He sighed, relieved. 'Please, come in!'

            Alyssa smiled, as Bikram finally let her in. She had been unable to speak to Suneep or even come near him for the past two months, with the exception of the sheet incident. Every-one was always around him, trying to comfort him at first, but then insulting him. However, Bikram was still a little worried about what Alyssa would do, and sat down on his bed. His eyes followed her as she walked into the saturated bathroom.

            Bikram wasn't entirely sure why Suneep had done so, but he'd taken to having a shower after every meal besides breakfast, which he had a shower before. At any rate, he sat – saturated – in his jeans and singlet, just as he had two months ago.

            Alyssa approached quietly, and Bikram braced himself for the worse. Then, to his surprise, she sat down on the drenched floor and leant on Suneep's shoulder. Suneep sobbed, and Alyssa put her arms around her friend. Bikram – in his mind – continually reminded himself that the two were like brother and watched as Suneep moaned, 'why?'

            Alyssa did not reply to the man's question. She only began crying.

            Bikram was surprised by this. He felt guilty that he had not done the same thing. Moving out of their view, though he himself could still see them, he watched as Suneep rested his head on Alyssa's. The man did not sob uncontrollable this time. Perhaps it was because Alyssa was crying too. Bikram imagined that would certainly ease his frustration.

            As time dragged by, Bikram realised he'd skipped a class for the sake of watching the two. They had stayed put for two hours, during which neither of them had said anything.

            Finally, Suneep said, 'why, bhainee? Why?'

            Alyssa shook her head. 'I don't know, dai. But God does. Besides, dai, she is happy now, in Heaven. Safe in the arms of Jesus.'

            'But how can she be happy without me?' Suneep said, his voice beginning to break.

            Alyssa smiled very gently. 'You know why, Suneep. It is because you are not God. But you will see her again one day, Suneep.'

            Suneep only cried silent tears in reply. Ten more minutes passed before he spoke again. 'Do you think I am bad for nearly failing my exam? Should I have done better?'

            Alyssa only shook her head. You did your best, dai. You did your best.'

            A light came into Suneep's eyes that Bikram had not seen for a long time. His friend was finally peaceful. Peaceful!

            'Dai,' Alyssa said after a few more minutes, 'Bikram has been very good to you.'

            Suneep nodded. 'I know. I have not been very nice to him.'

            Alyssa smiled a little. 'I am sure he will understand.'

            Suneep nodded again, and actually smiled. 'Thank you, Alyssa.' Alyssa said nothing in reply, but hugged Suneep a little tighter. Suneep hugged the girl back, and kissed her gently on the head. 'You are God's blessing, bhainee.' He said lovingly. 'God has blessed me with many people. I am glad I have you now – when He took Shaktiah away.'

            Alyssa cried a little, though it was unclear as to whether it was because of Suneep's kind words or the mention of Shaktiah. 'Thank you, dai. And I think you have the right mind-set now.'

            'Yes. Shaktiah was God's blessing – one I did not deserve. But now that time of particular blessing is over, and I must remember I live for God, not for His blessings.'

            Alyssa nodded. 'You are wise now, dai.'

            Suneep smiled and stood up slowly. 'I... I should go to class. Besides, if I stay longer, Bikram will skip another class.' Alyssa smiled too, and Suneep helped her up. 'Thank you for sitting on the wet floor with me.' He thanked her. 'And caring for me.'

            Alyssa said nothing in reply, and left, moving quickly so that she could change out of her wet clothes.             Bikram was amazed. 'You feel better, dai?' He asked carefully.

            Suneep shrugged. 'I suppose so... not really. But I am focused on the right thing now, and I have hope. Before, I felt like I had no hope.'

            Bikram smiled, as he realised the worst was over. 'That is wonderful, dai!'

            Suneep smiled, and turned towards his friend. 'Thank you, Bikram. You have been very patient with me – another of God's blessings to me.'

            Bikram's face lit up, as all his trouble became worthwhile. 'You are welcome, dai. Very welcome.'

            Suneep had affectionately messed up his room-mate's hair and then picked out dry clothes. 'I better come to class.' He had then muttered. 'Before Dr. Ashwin hates me again.'

 

Dr. Ashwin had been in a bad mood all month, but perked up a little when Suneep came into class. 'Suneep!' He cried. 'Good to see you again!' For the most part, though, he was still in a bad mood.

            As the weeks passed, Bikram realised Suneep was not improving at all – in fact, he had gone backwards. True, at every meal he ate with friends (or sometimes at the comfort of a lonely table) but he only ever spoke when spoken to. In class he would sit staring at the board, the same way he stared at the dripping tap. He began skipping breakfast again, and woke up five minutes before class started. Bikram obligingly left the bathroom free during these last few minutes, but often wondered if he was doing the right thing. Suneep went to bed early every night, as soon as dinner was over. He'd shower, and go to sleep. At least, Bikram thought, he'd cut back on the showers. Now he only had one after dinner, though it was long. Suneep brightened up a little when he saw Alyssa, but Bikram seriously wondered if he was just being kind to her. It only took another week of this behaviour to annoy Dr. Ashwin.

            'Suneep!' He cried in class. 'Are you listening?'

            Suneep nodded. Then his eyes met the man's. 'Yes, sir?'

            Dr. Ashwin frowned. 'Then could you look at me?'

            Suneep nodded again, and did so. Bikram kept a close eye on his friend, admiring the way in which he had so quickly taken the doctor's advice. But then, suddenly, he glazed over again.

            Bikram was worried now. If Suneep was trying to please Dr. Ashwin but still glazed over, he must be seriously low. Bikram didn't know what to do.

            Class ended, and Dr. Ashwin turned to Suneep. Bikram flinched, as he knew Suneep was about to get it. That was when Alyssa walked in.

            'Doctor!' She cried. 'May I please speak with you?'

            The Doctor frowned. 'Alyssa, I know what you want, and you cannot persuade me.'

            'Will you give me a chance, Sir?'

            Bikram smiled at her persistence. Yes, she knew when to speak up. As for Suneep, he left the room in a continuous daze, seemingly unaware that Dr. Ashwin wished to confront him. The Doctor sighed heavily, as he realised his chance was gone.

            'Fine.' He groaned, so loudly that Bikram actually jumped. 'You have 5 minutes.'

            Bikram sat on his table, and watched the argument unfold.

            'Dr. Ashwin, I know Suneep is bothering you very much. But I think I know what needs to be done!' Dr. Ashwin was listening now. 'Please let Suneep go into the slums and help the people there.'

            Dr. Ashwin laughed. 'And skip more classes? Alyssa, that is not a very good idea.'

            'Maybe not, but if he continues on in this fashion, he is doomed to fail.'

            Dr. Ashwin only shrugged. 'That is his fault. He is the worst student I have. Everyone else is grieving too, but they still turn up for classes. They still speak, and laugh, and pass exams. Suneep thinks he has the right to just drop everything!'

            Yes, he needs to be shown he does not have that right.' Alyssa agreed. 'That is why I make this suggestion.'

            The Doctor shook his head in fierce resolve. 'Suneep should not receive any more special treatment.'             Alyssa suddenly smiled, and Bikram wondered why. Dr. Ashwin's curiosity got the better of him, and he asked, 'why are you smiling?'

            Alyssa's smile widened. 'Suneep frustrates you very much, yes?' Dr. Ashwin nodded impatiently. 'He is frustrating because he has so much potential, right?' Alyssa continued.

            'Yes, but cut to the chase!' Dr. Ashwin snapped.

            Alyssa tried not to smile so much. 'Well, you give Suneep a lot of attention as you try to persuade him to work. My theory is that Suneep is really your favourite student.'

            Dr. Ashwin nearly choked. 'That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard!' He cried. 'I think everyone can see my favourite student is Arjun. Even when he fails he has done his best. If Arjun had Suneep's mind, there is not telling what he could do!'

            'Yes.' Alyssa nodded. 'And if Suneep had Arjun's will and determination, there is no telling what he could do.'

            Dr. Ashwin's face fell. After a silence, he realised Bikram was smirking. 'What are you looking at?!' He shouted. 'Your grades aren't that much better than Suneep's, and you supposedly study!'

            Bikram rolled his head. 'Yaar. My thoughts wonder when I study, and in exams I spit back what you told us, whereas Arjun tries to cover every world-view... and Suneep Bible-bashes the reader with his own. You know, I think I agree with Alyssa.'

            Dr. Ashwin was furious. 'Insolent girl!' He cried. 'How dare you speak to me in this way! Just because your uncle is a doctor you think you are qualified to rebuke me?'

            Alyssa did not seem too surprised by this outburst, but still did not manage it well. 'I wasn't trying to insult you, sir. I'm sorry if I have. I understand you don't agree with me, and was about to close the conversation...'

            Dr. Ashwin turned to Bikram. 'Don't think you're innocent!' He said, a little calmer. 'You come from a family of nobodies – you don't even have an uncle to ride on!' Bikram was hurt by this remark, but said nothing in reply. 'Insolent girl!' The doctor cried again, turning back to Alyssa. 'You have no business with me! You can't tell me how to run my college, or how to treat my students. Where's your doctorate? Where's your bachelor, even? What have you got? A year 12 certificate?'

            Bikram felt unusually defensive, as Alyssa seemed even more vulnerable than usual. 'Sir,' he said, standing up straight, hoping that would make him look taller than he was. 'Alyssa was just being a good friend. She was asking your permission to care for Suneep, because she knows we are not allowed outside these walls without your permission.' He walked over to Alyssa and put a hand on her shoulder, making himself feel taller. 'Forgive me,' he continued, 'because I have been insolent. But please remember and take into consideration that I was angry, because you attacked my bhainee.'

            Bikram led Alyssa out of the room and could feel Dr. Ashwin's eyes burning into him as he left. He was going to be in so much trouble.

 

Bikram avoided Dr. Ashwin for the rest of the day, but didn't mind too much. Alyssa showed gratitude very well, and made his trouble worth-while. He was extremely surprised, however, when – after the second class was over – Suneep approached him.

            'Why are you avoiding Dr. Ashwin?' He asked. 'You did not stand up for me did you?'

            Bikram giggled. 'Maybe, maybe not. It is all okay.'

            Suneep smiled at his friend, but his eyes seemed sad. 'Thank you, brother.'

            Suneep's face fell. 'She did not stand up for me, did she?' He cried. 'Oh, that explains why she is so flat. Dr. Ashwin bit her head off, didn't he?'

            Bikram giggled again. 'Do not worry about her, Suneep. She is very determined. She will get over it.'

            Suneep was not put at ease by this remark, but said nothing further on the matter.

            Bikram was very quiet at dinner. He wanted to help his friend, and felt Alyssa's suggestions was actually the best thing for him. But to do it he'd need to deliberately go against Dr. Ashwin.

            Bikram had never broken any rules at the BSI. Dr. Ashwin treated him with an obvious air of indifference, and always allowed him to go out. So even when Suneep sneaked out against the rules, Bikram had permission. But after today's incident, Dr. Ashwin would never say yes to him. Sighing, Bikram made his decision.

            'Dai, why are you so quiet?' Arjun asked, sitting down at the crowded table.

            Bikram was surprised. 'Arjun! You are not at your table!'

            Arjun nodded. 'Suneep and Alyssa looked like they needed me to leave.'

            Bikram looked over at Arjun's table and saw the two chatting. 'He looks happy for once, which is good.' Bikram sighed again.

            Arjun nodded. 'He is very sad. But why are you?'

            Bikram shrugged. 'I have an idea – Alyssa's idea actually. She thinks Suneep should help the people in the slums.'

            Arjun's eyes lit up eagerly. 'Yes!' He cried. 'That is a perfect idea!'

            'Dr. Ashwin does not agree.'

            'What? You must have caught him at a bad moment...'

            Bikram rolled his head, as he mopped up the sauce with his naan bread. 'He did not react well to Alyssa.'

            Arjun smiled knowingly. 'And you stood in for her?' Bikram nodded. Arjun laughed nervously. 'Is that why you are sad?'

            'No!' Bikram replied quickly, looking up. 'She is very grateful – I am – like – her hero now! No, I am very happy I stood up for her. But I am sad because I think I will have to break BSI rules.'

            Arjun smiled again, but this time he looked unusually cheeky. 'Will you let me speak to Dr. Ashwin?' He asked. 'He is crazy not to allow this.'

            'Ssh!' Bikram warned, feeling Arjun was speaking too loudly. 'Some-one might hear you!' Arjun's eyes flashed with fear, and he curled up a little. 'Sure.' Bikram continued. 'I will let you ask.'

            Smiling hopefully, Arjun stood up. 'I will go now.'

            Bikram was surprised, and strained his neck to meet the younger's eyes. 'You have not finished eating.'

            Arjun shrugged. 'I never eat much.'

            With this, Arjun walked out of the dining room. Bikram stayed seated at his table for a while, and began twitching his head peculiarly, as if dancing to a beat.

            'What is wrong?' Josha asked, speaking to him for the first time that day. 'Are you all right, man?'

            Bikram shook his head, and ran out of the room, having the audacity to leave his plate in the care of his friends. He ran to Dr. Ashwin's small house, and saw Arjun enter. As discreetly as possible, he jumped into a bush near the window and tried to listen to what they were saying.

            'What brings you here, Arjun? Asking for permission to leave? If so, my answer is yes.'

            Arjun replied nervously, but did not stumble when he spoke. 'Thank you, sir. But I came to speak to you about Suneep.'

            Bikram could almost see Dr. Ashwin's face harden. Carefully, he peeked inside the house, and found that he was right.

            'You are not with Alyssa and Bikram are you?'

            Arjun was a little unsure as to his reply. 'I have the same opinion, but they did not send me.'

            So you thought you'd come and see if you could get your way? Being 'teacher's pet' and all.' Dr. Ashwin replied contemptuously.

            Arjun smiled a little. 'Actually sir, I was just hoping you'd give permission. I have not broken BSI rules before.'

            'Are you saying you will if I don't allow this?'

            Arjun hardly flinched. 'It was implied, yes.'

            'You don't trust my judgment?'

            'No. I'm just tired of Suneep moping about all day.'

            'Hmm. And why would I say yes to you but not to Alyssa or Bikram?'

            'Maybe because I don't often ask for favours.'

            Dr. Ashwin paused thoughtfully. 'Yes, that is true. But my answer is still no. Suneep needs to work through this himself, or he will never mature. Leave him be, Arjun. Let him grow up.'

            Arjun nodded sadly, as he realised the conversation was over. 'Thank you for your time, sir.'

            Dr. Ashwin let Arjun out of his house, and then menacingly added, 'Arjun.' Arjun turned around hopefully, but was bitterly disappointed. 'If you sneak out tonight, or any other night, you will not be forgiven.'

            Arjun nodded and walked off.

            Bikram quickly left his hiding spot and ran up to Arjun. 'Thanks for trying, bhai. It was a good effort.' Arjun turned to Bikram was a look in his eyes that Bikram has never seen before.

            'He thinks he is a prison warden!' He cried, his face full of bitter distaste. 'We are grown men, we should be able to 'grow up' and take responsibility for ourselves! I am sick of always being pushed around. Gather as many as you can, I am leaving whether Dr. Bossy likes it or not.'

            Bikram was completely shocked, but took advantage of Arjun's determination. He ran to get the others.

 

 

 

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