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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12. Chapter Eleven: The 7 Runners.

 

 

Gopi laughed a little when his boss did – what else could he do?

          ‘Yes,’ he began eventually. ‘I suppose it was a rather foolish way of trying to convince their man to come back. He was very attached to his cousin. But – then again – it was a very smart move, because he was completely convinced that we had killed his cousin.’

          ‘Idiot.’ One of the workers muttered. ‘We very obviously hadn’t.’

          ‘Not true.’ Gopi returned. ‘Vijay was not aware that his cousin had joined us. He thought his cousin was still working for IndAid, and therefore it could have been in our interests to dispose of him.’

          ‘Don’t use euphemisms.’ The boss cut in. ‘They don’t change anything.’

          ‘Of course, sir.’ Gopi replied, bowing respectfully.

          ‘So they set us up.’ The previous worker spoke again. ‘Put enmity between us and their former best man.’

          ‘Yes.’ Vijay said, angry that the newest workers had not bothered to read up on the current crisis. Just because they hadn’t been around when it had all started didn’t mean they shouldn’t know what was going on.

          ‘So why do we still have him?’ The worker persisted. ‘And why did you kill his brother?’

 

Arjun lay awake all night thinking about what his father had said. His words had been harsh and cut to the very core of his being – but were they true? Was Arjun really a stressed and stressful free-loader?  While he made a thousand excuses to declare himself innocent, he realised early on that he wasn't. But he could change that, he was sure.

                Arjun's father awoke early, as was his routine, at 6 am, and Arjun walked out to meet him. Both were dressed and ready for the day, though neither had had breakfast.

                'Papa, can we talk?' Arjun asked, his voice in hushed tones. Arjun's father seemed to get the message, and the two stepped outside. 'Father,' Arjun began, having rehearsed the entire scene in his mind. 'I cannot stop thinking about what you said last night.' His father began to say something, but Arjun cut him off. 'No, father, you were right. You have been right all along. I am very sorry, and I would like to apologise.'

                His father said nothing at first, but slowly began nodding. 'I forgive you, Arjun. And I would like to apologise too. I should not have spoken to you like that in front of everyone.'

                Arjun nodded seriously, and pulled an envelope out of his pocket. 'For you.' He said. 'To say sorry.'

                Arjun's father accepted the envelope, and was surprised when his son hurried away. He was about to open the letter when Sara stepped out onto the balcony.

                'Mama asks what you would like to do today.' She explained herself.

                Arjun's father sighed, completely unsure as to what answer to give. ‘I hate holidays.’ He muttered before going back inside.

 

Josha felt privileged to leave while Chandan, Arjun, Sara, and Astha slaved away in the garden. He did not feel so privileged once he remembered who it was he was visiting.

                Josha cringed when he remembered his youth. Everything he did was always so dramatic – so forward. He wished he could be more like Arjun, more like Suneep, even. He seemed to know where the boundaries lay – most of the time.

                He tried to blame his father, or lack thereof, but knew deep down that that was just irresponsible. He tried to blame his mother, but reached the same conclusion. He had no-one to blame but himself.

                Josha shuddered and continued walking. The closer he came to his home town, the worse he felt. Suddenly, a wave of guilt washed over him, and he felt powerless. He couldn't do this.

                'I have to.' He tried to urge himself on. 'I have to. I must be responsible.' 'Like never before', he added in his mind. He had never been responsible.

                Josha's father had been a lazy drunkard, who often abused his mother. Josha had never felt too sorry for her, as she'd been an alcoholic herself, and had in turn abused her children. Josha was the youngest of six boys, all of whom were angry and aggressive. Most of them were in prison now, for various acts of aggression and violence. Only the eldest – Kannan – was not in jail, but that was mainly because he was a fantastic escape artist.

                Josha had beaten and been beaten his entire life, and knew he would never have changed if it weren't for that one night. He'd been a vital gang member, and fought with all his might to protect his group's honour. That night had been just another one of those fights. Josha had always known he was aggressive, but that night he was forced to come to terms with a truth so terrible even he hadn't believed it.

                Josha didn't know how to back down. Every fight was a fight to the death. How he'd never realised before he didn't know, but he supposed it was because most of the time the police caught him, or the opponent ran off. That night had been different though. 

                As Josha felt the young boy – sixteen, like him – go limp, a horrible fear had grasped him. The boy's heart beat had seemed inaudible, but once gone it seemed like the loudest, most haunting sound Josha had ever heard. The heavy breathing of the boy which had egged him on filled him with terror with gone, and the dim eyes that had so disgusted Josha now accused him of murder.

                He was a murderer!

                Josha's arms had begun shaking, as he let the body fall to the floor. Then, in a moment of terror, he had run away.

                His thoughts were murderous that night – self-harming. He had wanted nothing more than to end his life that very moment, and only one thing had stopped him. He didn't know when he'd first heard of it, or who had told him, but he had instilled in him a very fierce dread of Hell. He didn't even believe the place was real, and yet – standing on the edge of Nepal's most impressive bridge – he knew it was his home, and couldn't bring himself to walk through its front door and into its burning heart.

                That had been when he had first met Braj Vikash. The young Indian – slightly older than him – had been more than a blessing, and willing sacrificed his holiday to care for Josha. He knew everything. What he'd done, why he'd done it. But he never acted like it was a big deal.

                'Yes, you're guilty.' He had said. 'You're a murderer. And when you die, God will judge you fairly, and send you to Hell. But I was once in the same position as you. In fact, all people are until they accept the solution.' For some reason, Josha had never thought to ask what the solution was. Never, that was, until he met Braj's brother, Vijay.

                Vijay was a stark contrast to his brother. He was a strong, aggressive, impulsive twenty-two year old, who easily could have found himself in the same boat as Josha. Braj worried about him, but assured Josha that he would still make it to Heaven, if he only accepted God's solution. Finally, it had occurred to Josha to ask what the solution was.

                'Jesus.' Braj had replied. Such a reply was one to which many Westerners would roll their eyes, but Josha had honestly never heard this name before. He was intrigued. 'None of us could be perfect and obey God,' Braj had continued, 'so God sent His Son, Jesus, to do it for us. He lived a perfect life for us, and He died on our behalf. But, because he was innocent, he rose on the 3rd day, so that those who believe in Him may have eternal life.' At first this message had confused Josha, but – slowly – it began to make sense to him. By the time he was 18, he realised he believed it.

                And so he found himself following Braj to the BSI – Bible Seminary of India. After two years of studying to be an engineer, he had felt obliged to become a minister, so that he could preach to people like himself. He had hoped he would change dramatically while he was there.

                At first, it had been easy. It wasn't hard to be a good Christian. But then he'd realised Suneep was very similar to himself – only his adventures were more mischievous than rebellious. Josha had found himself rapidly deteriorating, and enjoying it. Then there had been those disasters, including the one he tried to blame Suneep for. And the next most important, yet awful, day of his life.

                Josha shuddered as he realised he'd come full circle. 'No!' He cried to himself, trying to reassure his soul. 'I am not back to where I started! I never will be! God Himself has saved me, and I can never be lost!' After saying these things, he took a deep breath and powered on.

                He was in a very poor, rough area now. It was at this point most people became nervous and changed direction, but Josha felt fine. This was his home. He belonged here.

                Eventually, he heard screaming, and winced a little. Then, without an ounce of fear, he walked into the mad-house. The screaming stopped instantly.

                'Josha!' The silence was interrupted by his mother's shrill cry. 'What are you doing here?!'

                Great, Josha thought to himself. She was drunk. His eyes flitted to the figure she'd been yelling at, and fear finally coursed through his body.

                His father was home.

                'I came to visit.' He stammered, shaking. He could feel the adrenaline rushing through his veins and wished it would stop. 'I have to tell you never to go to Australia. It is not safe.'

                The woman laughed maniacally. 'And here is?'

                Josha nodded in the typical Indian fashion. 'Compared to there.'

                All this time, Josha had been unable to take his eyes off his father. Now, the man finally moved.

                Josha was short, as was fairly typical of Nepali people, but his father was not. Josha was stocky, and well-built, as was his father, but the extra height had always given his father an incredible advantage. As his father approached slowly, Josha shuddered. He wanted to run, but he had completely frozen.

                His father was only a few centimeters away now. Josha realised he wasn't even breathing. The man extended his arms, and Josha quivered. 'Papa...' he began, about to beg for mercy.

                Suddenly, his father pulled his forward, and Josha felt something he had never felt before. His father's arms were around him, and held him close to his father's threatening chest – only now it seemed protective. Josha felt a strange mix of emotions wash over him as he realised his father was hugging him. He started to cry, and panicked. In an instant he pushed his father away and ran off. To his surprise, his father did not come tearing after him.

                Josha ran all the way back to Arjun's house, where he hid in his room and sobbed.

                The episode hadn't even made sense. Josha's mother had never hugged him, yet alone his father! Up until today, Josha had been able to count his hugs on his fingers, and most were from Bikram. Today, everything had gone wrong, though technically speaking it had gone right. Josha curled up under his bed and wept bitterly.

 

 Arjun's father completely forgot about the envelope until after dinner, when he'd changed into his pajamas. The envelope had fallen out of his pocket and on to the floor, and the man had picked it up with an amount of confusion. Arjun's mother walked into the room and noticed the envelope straight away.

                'What's that?' She asked, speaking Nepali.

                'I don't know.' Her husband replied, also speaking in Nepali. Then he remembered. 'It's from Arjun.' He explained. 'He gave it to me after apologising. He said I was right about all the things I accused him of.'

                His wife said nothing for a long time. 'So what is it?' She finally asked.

                The man shrugged, and opened the envelope. The first thing he saw were the numbers 5,0, and 0. Then, in shock, he dropped the entire envelope.

                'What?!' His wife cried, eager to find out.

                Arjun's father shook a little, as he picked up the envelope and handed it to his wife. All she saw were the numbers 2, 5, and 0, so she did not initially panic. However, as she opened the envelope, she gasped and dropped it as her husband had done. 

                'Count them.' He said, looking sick. The woman did.

                '63.' She said at last. '63, and one 250.'

                The man thought for a moment, and then began shaking. Sitting on the bed, he muttered, 'what have I done?' Then, sighing, he added, 'no wonder he ran off and avoided me all day! Does he really think I'm going to accept that?'

                His wife was so shocked she said nothing.

                Arjun's father suddenly snatched up the enveloped and walked to the door.

                'Mehtar!' His wife finally spoke. 'Maybe you shouldn't. I mean, if he decided it was right...'

                'It is not right for me!' Mehtar returned, clearly shaken. With this, he walked out and burst into Arjun's room.

                Arjun jumped, dropping the flannelette shirt he was about to put on over his night time T-shirt. Seeing the envelope in his father's hand, he instantly guessed what was going on and shook his head. Picking up his shirt, he spoke in Nepali.

                'I will not take it back, Papa. I calculate it, and it is how much we would owe a cheap hotel. A very cheap hotel,' he added, putting on the shirt.

                His father shut the door and – shaking – replied, 'I am sorry, Arjun. I was angry. I shouldn't have said anything. Please, keep your money.'

                Arjun shook his head again. 'You were right – we were all free-loading. This is an appropriate amount.'

                'Did the others contribute?' Mehtar asked.

                Arjun dropped eye contact for a moment. 'They will.' He eventually replied.

                Mehtar was not pleased. 'No they won't!' He shot back. 'You'll end up paying for all of them!'

                Arjun sighed. 'Papa, it is not that much.' He pleaded.

                'Thirty-one thousand seven hundred and fifty Nepali rupees!' His father cried. 'Not much?!'

                'Papa...'

                'You are paying for ten nights for seven people!' Mehtar cut him off. 'It is a ridiculous price.'

                'Please, papa, just take it. It is not much in Australian dollars, which is what I earn.'

                'How much is it?' His father demanded.

                Arjun thought for a moment. 'About six hundred and thirty five dollars,' he said quietly, obviously knowing his father would not be pleased.

                'Arjun!' His father cried, deeply unhappy. 'I apologise! Do not pay! You never have to pay – you are my son.'

                Arjun nodded. 'It does not give me a ticket to be irresponsible. If I want to be responsible I must pay. So I pay.'

                Arjun's father became desperate. 'Arjun, please! I cannot take this! I feel guilty every time I look at it.'

                Arjun smiled a little. 'Do not feel guilty, papa. Feel proud. I have done the right thing, and I have learned from your excellent example. Be proud of me – I am learning to be a good man slowly. But be proud of yourself most of all – you are a good man, and have always been a good example to me.' Mehtar fell silent, and Arjun took advantage of his shock to close the conversation. 'Papa, I am tired.' He said pointedly. 'Please let me go to sleep.'

                His father nodded and walked out in a daze.

                When he returned to his wife with the envelope still in his hand, she was less than impressed.

                'Mehtar!' She cried. 'Give it back!'

                Mehtar shut the door, and shook his head. 'I can't.' He stammered.

                His wife sat up, her face filled with confusion. 'Why not?' She asked.

                'Because,' Mehtar explained, 'he says it is the right thing to do. I say it is the right thing not to take his money. One of us must do the wrong thing.'

                'Let it be him.' His wife returned. 'He needs the money.'

                'He says it is not much in Australian dollars.' Mehtar persisted.

                His wife sighed and lent back down. 'So he cannot be convinced?' Mehtar shook his head, and his wife smiled. 'He has learned from the best.'

                Mehtar finally snapped out of his daze and smiled. 'That is what he said.'

                His wife smiled too, for many reasons.

 

Arjun, Chandan, and Josha did not get much sleep that night. Chandan lay on his bed with the bed-side lamp on, seeing violent images before his eyes and afraid of closing them lest the images caught him, and pulled him into a strange madness. He hated it when he did that. All he wanted to do was forget about what he had seen, and screaming it out at night didn't help any-one.

                Josha couldn't stop relaying the day's events over and over in his mind. His father had thrown him out – what had he hugged him for? It just made no sense.

                Arjun couldn't clear his mind. He just kept worrying all night, even though he knew it was wrong. At least he had something new to worry about now, he figured.

                His father was right. Despite all he had said, Arjun knew the others would never pay – they couldn't afford to. But neither could he!

                'I can't say that.' Arjun muttered to himself. 'I can't!'

                He earned around double of what his friends earned, and yet he was just as poor, if not more, as they were. But he knew he couldn't ever say so – he had to stop suggesting it – or they'd ask where his money went. And they must never find that out.

 

The three men went with Arjun's mother to the market the next day, and were so completely tired that they basically just stood around watching various people walk back and forth while dazedly following Arjun's mother and sisters around.

                'I need to go home.' Chandan eventually said, sounding as if he were crying.

                Suddenly, all three froze. Their eyes followed the figure until he was no longer in view. Instantly, they were awake. 

                They jumped straight into action.

                'What are we going to do!?' Chandan cried, as Josha shouted, 'what is he doing here?'

                Arjun approached his mother with a determination that surprised her and said, 'Mama, I am sorry, but we have to go. We may have to leave. If so, thank you very much for having us, and God bless.' He kissed his mother and sisters on the head and ran home.

                'Thank you!' Chandan and Josha cried, following Arjun.

                Arjun speed-dialed Mehmet, and waited impatiently for the phone to be answered.

                'Hello?' Mehmet's voice finally came.

                'Mehmet!' Arjun jumped straight into things. 'We saw Balraj!'

                Mehmet's face fell, Arjun could tell by the tone in his voice. 'That is impossible!' He objected. 'We saw him in India yesterday!'

                Arjun panicked even more. 'Then this is worse! It means he is following us. Mehmet, I think he may be our enemy after all. We have to lose him!'

                Mehmet nodded. 'Haan...'

                'What?' Arjun cried distractedly. 'Has Danny rubbed off on you?'

                Mehmet did not even laugh. 'Where are we going to go?' He asked.

                Josha was scrolling through his contacts and texting several. Suddenly, he received a reply. 'Burma!' He shouted. 'We're going to Myanmar!'

                'What?' Arjun asked, a little confused.

                'Ramuk says he will have us.' Josha explained. 'Go to Myanmar!'

                Arjun nodded and relayed the message to Mehmet and Danny. 'We'll meet you in Burma.' He promised. 'Go, quickly!'

                'Arjun!' Danny interrupted. 'Don't you think we're over-reacting?'

                Arjun shook his head. 'No. It all makes sense now. Balraj has always been there – always! He has to be the guilty one!'

                'Have you called Suneep and Bikram?' Danny asked.

                'No.' Arjun said quickly.

                'I will.' Mehmet offered. 'Three-way call.'

                The five friends waited impatiently for the phone to stop ringing and jumped when Bikram creepily answered, 'hellooooo?' He laughed, and was surprised when five voices cried, 'go to Burma!'

                'Why?' Suneep asked.

                'We saw Balraj!' All five cried in perfect unison.

                Silence fell on the other end. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Bikram said, 'do did we, two days ago.'

                'What?!' Arjun cried yet again. 'Where are you?'

                'Delhi.' Suneep answered. 'So nice and near the airport. We will meet you in Myanmar.' There were numerous nods and murmurs of agreements before every-one hung up.

                'Time for speed-packing.' Josha joked. Neither of his friends laughed.

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