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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5. Chapter Four: The 7 Reactions

 

 

Gopi had never had to give so many accounts of his actions ever before. But he supposed the budget was to blame for that. One could not simply fund a brilliantly pricey mission and expect everyone to follow along blindly.

          Of course, it would not take long to convince them that he had done what was good for their organisation, and thus what was good for India. INDependent had to stop citizens from relying on hand outs, and he had worked out how such a thing could be done.

          ‘Gopi, you can come in now.’

          He smiled a little to himself, confident that everyone would soon be back on his side again. He had done what was best – he told them so. But, laughing a little, he tagged on a small, insignificant truth.

          ‘It is a pity that so many people had to suffer in the process.’

 

Dinner was odd. Every-one was happy, and spoke very well, but it was still odd. It became even odder when Balraj stood up and said, 'I'm sorry, I must go.'

                'No!' Arjun's father cried. 'Stay! Have dessert!'

                Balraj shook his head. 'I am sorry, I must go.'

                The man clearly would not be persuaded, and walked over to the door. Arjun ran after him.

                'Is everything alright?' He whispered.

                Balraj looked away, much to Arjun's surprise.  'I... have work to do.' He stammered eventually. Then he left before Arjun could ask what he meant.

                Arjun returned slowly to the table, and sat down as if in a daze. But the merriment continued without him, as it had for the past 2 years. He watched, as his siblings laughed; as his parents smiled happily. They had no idea. But his friends - how could they forget?

 

            Arjun looked, and saw several men standing still with binoculars and rifles. They scanned all that was in their view, which included the tree.

            'What about the staircase on the left side?' Mehmet asked.

            'We tried that.' Ardi admitted. 'It's guarded at the bottom. We had to run pretty quick smart.'

            'So unless we can get down...' Arjun reasoned, looking down the back edge of the building, which was an amazing height. '…which we can't, we're stuck.'

 

                Arjun fled, and was not surprised when nobody noticed.

 

 

It was on the fifth day that everything sky-rocketed. Arjun was frustrated, and none of his friends cared.

                'How are we protecting them!?' He cried, when they were relatively alone. 'We have done nothing!'

                Mehmet shrugged. 'I would not say nothing.'

                Arjun turned to him angrily. 'You are being completely inappropriate.'

                Mehmet smiled. 'So I am told.'

                'You should know better!' Arjun hissed.

                This was ridiculous. He had to calm down. He tried to think of something that would work. He tried to think of the way he liked airports – anything! But nothing worked. He was mad, and Mehmet was going to get it.

                'Why?!' Mehmet cried, suddenly defensive. 'Because of Ardi?!'

The rest of the group fell silent, as Arjun cried, 'yes! Because she did to you what...'

                'You think I would do that to your sister?'

                'Yes!'

                Mehmet's face hardened. Suddenly, he was just as mad as Arjun. 'First of all, Ardi is nice girl. She did not hurt any-one deliberately. Second of all, I would never to anything like that to anyone! Especially not your sister!'

                Arjun scoffed. 'Ardi was not nice! At least not as nice as you say. She used you, Mehmet!'

                'She did not!' Mehmet shot back. 'Don't you dare say that!'

                'It's true!'

                'True?! Here's what's true: if it weren't for you, Ardi would be here today!'

                Arjun fell silent. 'I admit.' He muttered, looking away.

                Mehmet nodded and stormed out of the room. Most of the others sneaked after him.

                Eventually, only Dandin was left.

                'Arjun,' he said, approaching carefully, 'Mehmet has stopped. I think he realised he was wrong. Your sister is too sweet to hurt. Do not worry!'

                'I told him to leave her alone.' Arjun muttered.

                'Why?' Dandin asked. 'Why, if he actually cares?'

                Arjun suddenly looked back up. 'What?' He snapped.

                Dandin panicked now. His eyes went wide, and he took a step back, holding up his hands as if in a surrender. 'Nothing! I only meant...'

                'No!' Arjun cut him off. 'He cannot!'

                Dandin was pressed against the sliding door now – the one that led outside. That left him somewhere in between the rubbish bin and the door to the room where he had just come from. And, of course, Arjun was right in front of him, but he was angry, so he really didn’t have anywhere to go.

                Great, Danny thought. I am arguing with Arjun. Only Mehmet was stupid enough to do that.

                'Why not?' He asked at last, wishing he had simply stayed out of everything. 'Mehmet is good man...'

                'Yes! But...' Arjun stopped. 'You don't understand.' With this, he hurried out.

                Danny instantly sighed with relief.

                'Guess what!?' Brayna cried, rushing up to Arjun as he tried to escape to his room.

                Arjun smiled as best he could. 'What?' He asked.

                His youngest sister jumped a little and said, 'we are invited to party!'

                Arjun was interested. 'What kind?'

                'Birthday party! For Astha! She is 20!'

                Arjun laughed and asked, 'when?'

                'Tomorrow, dai, tomorrow night!'

                'I assume we are going.'

                'Yes!' Brayna affirmed, holding her brother's hands.

                Arjun bent down and kissed the girl on the head. 'That is very exciting.' Then he pulled his hands away and walked off, leaving Brayna behind jumping.

                Dandin walked out, feeling a little braver now that he knew for certain Arjun was gone, and Brayna turned to him. 'We get to go to a party!' She cried.

                Danny laughed. 'You must wear Arjun's present to you.'

                Brayna nodded and clapped excitedly. 'What will you wear?'

                Dandin's face fell. 'Good question.'

 

Arjun's mother went to the market that day, which pretty much filled in all their time. Because of this, dinner came quickly, and it was eaten in silence.

                'Every-one must be tired.' Arjun's mother reasoned.

                Mehmet glared at Arjun, who glared back, and Danny chuckled to distract the others. 'Oh, yes! Very tired!' He cried, drawing all attention to himself.

                This was not good, Danny thought. Arjun was the only one providing any sanity in this group, and he was slowly breaking. If he went, they all did. They could not afford to break!

                He wanted to say something. Something to relieve the tension. But he could think of nothing.

                After dinner, Arjun washed the dishes and Danny dried them. They worked in silence.

                'You have nice family.' Danny said eventually.

                Arjun smiled, but his eyes did not brighten. 'Thank you.'

                'They are Hindu?'

                Danny shivered a little as he said the word, but tried to cover it up. There was no point in reminding Arjun of that incident.

                'Yes, but not Akash and Sara.'

                'Oh. They are...' Danny said at the same time as Arjun said, 'yours?' Danny laughed, and answered the question. 'I do not know. I never knew them.'

                Arjun slowed down and looked at Danny curiously. 'But... every holidays. Where did you go?'

                Danny smiled. 'Back to my friends in the streets of Tamil Nadu, where I grew up.'

                Arjun stopped working, his sad face showing even more sadness, though Danny would not have thought such a thing possible. 'You never told me.'

                Danny nodded. 'I did not want to. But I figured I should now, so you won't go rushing to save my family.' He smiled 'There is no-one to save.'

                Arjun washed the last dish and dried his hands. 'I am sorry.' He said, pausing before awkwardly walking to his room. Then he stopped. 'Sara is talking to Mehmet again.' He noted. 'In the lounge room.'

                Danny chuckled, but didn't brighten up as Arjun walked slowly to the room.

                Arjun’s home was not a big one, and the lounge room was one of its smaller rooms. It had enough room for a rug, one three seater couch, a single seater couch, and a TV on a small table. There was a tiny bookcase at the back of the room, but the collection of books was so pitiful Arjun hardly remembered it when he thought of the room.

                Arjun stood subtly at the entrance to the room, hoping neither Mehmet nor his sister would notice his presence. Then, slowly, he stuck his head round and listened.

                'Can you keep a secret?' Mehmet asked.

                Sara shrugged. 'Yes. But it depends...'

                Arjun felt anger rise up within him. There was no way his sister was this clueless.

                Mehmet chuckled. 'Is not secret like.... I want to kill some-one. Is secret of my past. Only Arjun knows.'

                'How?'

                Mehmet smiled and looked at his feet. 'He heard me telling Ardi.'

                Yes, Arjun thought. And it looks like I’ll be hearing it all again.

                Sara frowned. 'Who is she?'

                'Don't be distracted.' Mehmet replied. 'You want hear secret?'

                Sara nodded. 'Sure.'

                Arjun stopped where he was. 'No...' he muttered to himself. 'Surely not...' He hadn’t expected Mehmet to actually tell his sister his secret. It was too significant!

                'Okay.' Mehmet said, not sure where to begin. Finally, after an agonizing silence, he said, 'I haven't got a clue who my father is. I don't know if my mother does, for she will not tell me. I grew up in a rough area... I have no brothers or sisters. My mother is only 15 years older than me, so I grew up in her parents' house. Her father would take drugs, and beat her mother each night.' He paused, trying to control his emotions.   Meanwhile, Arjun stood at the doorway, trembling with rage and debating when to barge in and scream at the man for being so foolish.

                'She killed herself. I watched her die. My mother was so sad.' He hid his face, and Sara knew he was trying not to cry. 'My mother worked hard, and never re-married. She was too scared. When I was 13, she moved us into a safer area. Our house was not nice, but we were safe. She gave me everything... I feel like I have failed her.'

                'Why?' Sara dared to ask.

                'Because. She was a Muslim – a good Muslim. Everyone we knew was Muslim. I have shamed her, and every-one who helped raised me.'

                Sara tried her best to help. 'But...'

                Arjun could stand it no more. His eyes burning with anger, he took one solid step forward, ready to scream, but saying nothing.

                Mehmet looked up, obviously scared. He met Arjun's steady gaze. 'So.' He sniffed. 'You have heard my tale of woe once again.'

                Arjun nodded. 'Which is not a good thing. I know what happened last time you told it to some-one.'

                'Arjun, please!' Mehmet cried. 'I am fine! I could afford to go to the Seminary, couldn't I?'

                'Easily?'

                'With work.'

                'Seminary is dirt cheap. You had to work to pay your way because you are dirt poor. Dirt poor!'

                Mehmet looked away. 'That can change.' He muttered.

                'Yes, but you cannot.'

                Sara looked at her brother in horror. 'Arjun...' She stammered.

                'No.' Mehmet interrupted. 'He is right.' Standing up, he began to leave. 'I cannot change.'

 

                Arjun had a hard time falling asleep, and when he did he slept fitfully. Much to his own horror, he could not stop thinking of that day... that awful day.

 

            'Keep an eye on her, Arjun.' Dr. Ashwin had said. 'She stands out like a sore thumb, and she can't be discreet to save herself.'

            Arjun cringed, but nodded. 'Yes, sir, I will look out for her.'

            'You don’t like her?'

            Arjun shifted uncomfortably. 'I... she disturbs me.'

            Dr. Ashwin nodded. 'Well, sorry, but of all the people I know, you're the best to take care of her.'

            The group had gone out, the entire group of Australian exchange students as well as a couple of other students, and Arjun had tried to avoid Ardi while watching her.  At some point during lunch, Ardi had just walked off. Arjun followed her.

 

                Arjun moaned in his sleep. 'No! I don’t want to see this – not again!’

                Ardi had been kidnapped. Taken by four men at once.

 

                'Scream!' Arjun had cried. 'Scream so I can follow you!'

 

                'Why did she not scream?' Arjun yelled, sitting up. His eyes were moist, and his heart was racing.  Mehmet came rushing in moments later.

                'Arjun!' He cried. 'It's all right!'

                Arjun looked up at the ceiling and tried not to cry. 'She would not scream. I couldn't see her. I lost her!'

                Mehmet hushed his friend, and – sitting next to him – put his arm round his shoulders. 'It is not your fault, Arjun. I know it is not your fault. I am sorry for accusing you. You did everything you could.'

                Arjun looked at his feet and sniffed – his tears were nearly gone now. He refused to let them fall. 'I ran for hours. Then the others – how could they have been so stupid?'

                Mehmet leant his head on Arjun's shoulder and sighed. 'It will all be over soon.'

                Arjun moaned, and gradually fell back into a fitful sleep.

 

'Astha!' Arjun heard a voice cry. Blinking, he woke up.

                Sara flung the door open and burst in. 'Astha is here, Arjun!'

                Despite himself, Arjun could not help rushing out of bed to get dressed. Sara giggled and left.

                Arjun was soon ready, and walked out into the lounge room timidly.

                'Arjun!' The girl cried, standing up. Her hair was much shorter than it had been the last time he had seen her, but it was still tied back neatly in a braid. She had never been one for wearing her hair down.

                Arjun smiled, 'hello! How are you?' He added, looking intensely serious.

                The girl replied enthusiastically. 'Good, thank you. How are you?'

                'Yeah, I am good, thank you.'

                'How was Australia?'

                'Yeah,' Arjun answered, his quiet voice becoming quieter. 'It's good. I miss you though.' Astha smiled, though unsure of how to reply.

                'Let's go!' Sara cried, becoming impatient. 'Before the market gets even more crowded.'

                Danny smiled, and turned to Arjun. 'They are going to buy us clothes for the party.'

                 Mehmet walked in, and turned his attention straight to Astha. 'Hello. I'm Mehmet.'

                'Pleased to meet you, I'm Astha.'

                'Pleased to meet you. You are Indian?'

                The girl chuckled. 'No.'

                'Ah. You look very pretty in pink.'

                'Doesn't she have a cute face?' Danny teased. 'Short and delicate.'

                Mehmet nodded. 'You are right. And big eyes.'

                'Beautiful eyes.' Danny agreed.

                'You are very beautiful.' Mehmet concluded.

                Astha looked away shyly for a brief moment. 'Thank you.' Eyeing Arjun, she blushed a little. Arjun smiled at her, trying to reassure her that everything was all right.

                'Are we going now?' Josha asked, standing near the door.

                The others nodded, and followed him out the door.

 

Sara and Mehmet had great fun trying to dress Danny. Mehmet would pick up the most ridiculous things and Sara the most expensive.

                'Look!' she cried, showing off a suit. 'Isn't it lovely?'

                'It's black.' Mehmet pointed out. 'If Danny wore it you would not be able to see him.'

                Danny laughed. 'He is right. Mehmet could wear it though. He is pale.'

                Sara laughed, and Arjun wished she wasn't so nice.

                After about half-an-hour, Arjun and Astha were both bored, so they began chatting.

                'How is every-one?' Arjun asked, looking very serious.

                'Good.' Astha replied. 'How are you?'

                'Yes, I am also good.'

                'That is good. But – try as I might – I cannot make anyone believe that.'

                Arjun was taken back. 'Why?'

                'Because. You practically just disappeared... ran away to Australia. And everyone heard the Seminary closed down. Why, they ask. Why?'

                Arjun shifted. 'It is hard to explain. Very complicated.'

                'The whole institution – gone! Arjun, you have to tell them what happened!'

                Arjun looked at Astha for a long time.

                Her eyes were big. Wide and trusting, bright and intelligent – they were beautiful. He had seen even more intelligence in a pair of eyes once, mixed with the most hopeful trust and wary suspicion. She had no air of distrust, only complete certainty that whatever he told her would be the truth.

                She had every reason to assume the truth was exactly what he would tell her.

                Arjun sighed. 'Fine. I will tell you what you can tell them. But you must not add anything else.' Astha nodded. Arjun hesitated, and began.

                Suddenly, a young man walked past Astha and knocked her deliberately. He began rattling off insults in Nepali.

                Arjun frowned. 'Do not call her that.' He said, also speaking Nepali.

                The boy snickered, and was joined by four others. 'Or what?' He replied. 'She is not yours.'

                Arjun turned to Astha. 'Do you know these boys?'

                Astha shook her head. 'No. But just ignore them, Arjun. They are idiots.'

                The boys laughed. 'Ooo,' the tallest mocked.

                Arjun turned away, and began following Astha, who had already joined the others. The boys continued to hurl insults at Astha, each worse than the one before.

                Astha turned to Arjun, who was gradually becoming more and more agitated, and whispered, 'ignore them, Arjun. They cannot hurt me.' Arjun nodded, but didn't relax much.

                The boys could tell they were going no-where, and finally one took drastic action. He rushed up to Astha and held her tightly.  Astha self-consciously cried in shock, and Arjun reacted in an instant. Before he knew it, he'd knocked the man to the ground. Suddenly he was having a fight with five men. He fought well and held his ground.

                'Arjun!' Astha yelled, mainly to get the attention of the others.

                Chandan looked up, and Astha cried, 'get them to help!'

                'I can help.' Chandan said. Astha clearly doubted it, as did Arjun. The older man turned to him, and he was briefly subject to a feeling of déjà vu.

 

'I'll drive.' Chandan had decided, taking the keys.

            'No, dai.' Arjun objected, still rushing along. 'You are Nepali. If you are injured, you will be sent back to Nepal – even if you are very badly injured.'

            Chandan simply shrugged and strapped on Mehmet's helmet. 'I'll just have to risk it.'

 

Arjun screamed, as all five men jumped on him at once. Chandan dropped the top he was looking at and ran into the fight. He threw one man off Arjun, punched another, and jumped on a third.

                'Get him!' The victim cried. 'He's worse!'

                Arjun was suddenly free, and Chandan faced five men.

                'Get the others!' The shortest man cried. One of the men ran off, leaving Arjun and Chandan with 2 each.

                Arjun fought well, but was no-where near as good as Chandan. He even knew how to knock people out.  'It is hard.' Chandan said, puffing, 'because they are good fighters, and tall. But aim here,' he instructed Arjun, 'if you can.'

                Arjun took note of that and nodded. 'I did not think you'd be good at this.' He admitted.

                Chandan smiled. 'Yaar, well. Everyone has a wild side.' Arjun laughed and continued ducking.

                Eventually, all four were on the ground, though not all were knocked out. Those that were still conscious struggled to their feet and ran desperately away.

                Arjun turned to Chandan and high-fived. 'Good job.' He encouraged his friend.

                Chandan smiled. 'Thank you. You good job too.'

                'Where do you think the other one went?'

                Chandan's face fell. 'Oh no.'

                Arjun's smile disappeared. 'What?'

                Chandan explained himself quickly. 'They said to him to get the others.'

                Arjun froze. Then, slowly, he asked, 'how many?'

                There was a snicker, and the fifth-man smiled. 'Ten.'

                Chandan frowned at the thug. 'We will beat you easily.'

                The man shrugged, and readied to punch Chandan. Then he spun to his right and punched Arjun.  Arjun fell backwards and five men began kicking him while he was down. Chandan panicked.

                'Bhai!' He cried, trying to fight five men off him and rescue Arjun.

                Finally, Astha had the attention of the others. 'At last!' she cried. 'Look, they are fighting! I told Chandan to help, but he did not understand. He has made it worse!'

                Josha walked over to the fray but just stood there, watching with hatred in his eyes.

                Bikram walked a little closer and laughed. 'Stop it!' He cried. 'Just stop!'

                Suneep took an unusual course of action, and turned to Astha. 'Come. Let's go away.' Astha reluctantly followed Suneep over to where Sara was. To their surprise, only Dandin was with her.

                'Where is Mehmet?' Suneep asked.

                Danny shrugged. 'He just walked off.' Mehmet had joined the fight. 'Woah....' Danny breathed. 'He is scary.'

                'He's no good!' Suneep pointed out.

                Danny nodded. 'But he's aggressive. I wouldn't go anywhere need him.'

                Suneep was nervous now. 'If they continue like this the police will come.'

                Danny turned to his friend. 'Well... how are they going to stop?'

                Suneep shrugged, and watched as Chandan pushed Arjun out of the fray.

                'Just stop!' He screamed. 'I give you give seconds!' Much to his surprise, the men did stop, and they all ran away. Chandan stood perfectly still, staring after his opponents.  'That was easier than I thought.' He breathed.

                Arjun smiled, and put his arm round his friend. 'You are awesome!' He cried.

                Suneep smiled, and whispered to Danny, 'did you expect any of that?'

                Danny shook his head. 'Not from Chandan. Mehmet? Maybe. He's extreme at times. But Chandan? Never! He's so sweet, and quiet... like a little child.' He turned to Suneep, and the two shrugged.

                Then they walked over to the group.

 

 

 

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