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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8. Chapter Seven: The 7 Separate

 

 

‘They were already angry at him for converting.’ Gopi explained, pacing the room nervously, keenly aware of the boss’ eyes burning into him. ‘They were not hard to stir up. But we sent them in promising not to kill anyone from the lower castes – we could not afford to give IndAid any way of possibly claiming financial aid.’ He sighed. ‘Unfortunately they got wind of our plan and reacted all too quickly, in a most bitterly disappointing way.’

          ‘Yes.’ The boss admitted. ‘It is strange that they chose to hurt some-one who was supposedly their friend.’

          ‘There are no friends in games as these.’ Gopi reflected. ‘Which is why we must end them. That is what I wanted to do – it is all I was trying to do. At any rate, they stirred up some of the man’s former friends, had him dispose of his lower caste friend, and managed to claim aid on that situation.’

          ‘They are obsessed.’ One of Gopi’s colleagues remarked.

          ‘Yes.’ His boss confirmed. ‘But their obsession will lead to success if we are not careful. They are ruthless and will stop at nothing to beat us.’

          Gopi nodded, and sighed deeply before explaining his next poorly thought through action.

 

When Arjun awoke the next morning, he was surprised to see Suneep’s luggage stacked neatly near his front door.

                ‘Suneep?’ He muttered. ‘What are you…?’

                Suneep stepped out, dressed extremely differently from the past two days. He’d cut his hair, and it was neatly parted; though spiked a little at the front. He wore jeans that fit, instead of his usual baggy ones, and a checkered blue shirt over a white t-shirt. Arjun was astounded, as he even had his buttons done up. Looking at his feet, however, he felt relieved to find that Suneep was still wearing his beloved Chucks.

                ‘I am leaving.’ Suneep said, throwing the final bag on his pile.

                Arjun looked at Suneep in shock, remembering the last time had had dressed so well – which was very long ago. ‘Why?’ He asked.

                Suneep shrugged and raised his eyebrows. ‘I cannot stand it here any-more. Life is nothing but drama, I am tired of it.’

                Arjun laughed. ‘You are tired of it? Suneep, we are all tired of it! But to be fair, you cause most of the drama.’

                Suneep looked away. ‘That is why I am going.’

                There was a long pause.

                ‘You have not dressed like that for a long time.’ Arjun finally muttered.

                Suneep nodded and turned away slowly. ‘I know who you were talking about, Arjun. And you are right. She is right. So I am listening to advice for once, and leaving.’

                ‘What do you mean?’ Arjun cried. ‘Who told you to leave?’

                Suneep smiled sadly and walked away. ‘Too many people.’

                Arjun stood frozen in shock as Suneep disappeared into his room. He jumped when Bikram suddenly came out and dumped his things next to Suneep’s.

                ‘You are not going too?!’ He cried.

                Bikram looked quite ill and nodded strangely, as he always did. ‘I cannot stand it, bhai. I confessed to my parents, I warned them. Please let me go, bhai!’

                Arjun was surprised. ‘Why are you asking me? Ask the others.’

                ‘I do not care what they think. Not anymore.’

                Arjun froze in shock yet again, and Suneep strolled casually out. Handing Arjun a piece of paper he said, ‘visit my family if you have to. I do not want to see them. It’s not like they do.’ Arjun’s mother came out, and Suneep politely extended his hand. ‘Thank you very much for you hospitality, Auntie, but I must be off.’

                Bikram extended his hand as well, and said, ‘me too. Thank you very much.’

                Arjun’s mother confusedly shook Suneep’s hand, and then Bikram’s. ‘I hope all is fine.’ She said, concerned.

                Suneep nodded confidently, putting on a good act. ‘It is fine, thank you.’ Arjun’s father and siblings came out, and the two said goodbye to them as well. ‘We must go now.’ Suneep said at last, picking up his bags.

                ‘Aren’t you going to say goodbye to the others?’ Arjun asked as discreetly as possible.

                Suneep shook his head. ‘Let it be a pleasant surprise for them.’ With this, both he and Bikram left.

                Mehmet came running out just moments later. ‘Where are they going?!’ He cried.

                Arjun frowned, as he realised he did not actually know. ‘They just said they were going.’

                Danny came running out too, and seemed angry. ‘They did not even say goodbye!’ He fumed.

                Arjun seemed to be in a daze. Very quietly, he muttered, ‘always goodbye.’

 

 

            Outside, there was screaming and shouting, which gradually awoke him from his sleep. Sitting up, he saw Arjun looking out the window, in a state of complete shock.

            ‘What is the matter, bhai?’ Mehmet asked, walking over. When he saw what was going on, he froze in horror.

            There were men – so many men – who should not have even been inside the BSI. There were ladders against one of the walls, and Mehmet realised with horror that they had climbed over. Even worse, they held torches of fire, as well as various weapons. Mehmet couldn’t believe his eyes any more than Arjun.

            ‘We are under attack!’ He breathed.

            ‘Allah-u akbar!’ The men cried at once. Then, cheering, they raised their torches.

            ‘They are Muslims!’ Arjun cried.

            ‘No!’ Mehmet panicked. ‘They cannot hurt us! It’s illegal!’

            Arjun was not convinced. ‘We’re going to die!’ He said quietly.

            Mehmet was madly pacing the floor, trying to come up with ways to escape. The BSI was fenced in by high, concrete walls. The main building was in the centre back, and the dormitories were on either side of the building, though disconnected. Then, at the front of the complex were the dining rooms and Dr. Ashwin’s house, which led to the driveway, or the exit to the BSI. Each of these critical points was guarded. There was no way out, unless…

            Mehmet stopped pacing the floor and turned to his friend. ‘No, bhai. Not if I can help it.’

            The men screamed again, and split up, prompting Mehmet to begin pushing Arjun out the back door.

            ‘Go!’ He cried. ‘Hide! Get out of here!’ Then he ran back inside for some peculiar reason.

            Arjun ran quickly to the next room, where he knocked on the door violently. Danny answered cautiously, his face filled with fear. ‘Escape!’ Was all Arjun cried.

            Danny got the message, and began rounding people up. After five minutes, they had a nice system going, though they knew they would have a problem when there was only one person left on the BSI side of the wall.

            ‘We need a ladder…’ Danny groaned, as he helped another person up.

            Suddenly, a number of Australian men ran up. ‘Are the girls here?’ They asked.

            ‘No.’ Danny replied. ‘They haven’t come.’

            The eldest man turned pale, and Danny frowned. ‘Where are they staying?’ He asked.

            The man shuddered. ‘Up there,’ he said, pointing at the fantastic main building, surrounded by Muslims screaming and shouting.

            Danny was horrified. ‘Climb over the wall.’ He eventually stammered. ‘And pray for them.’

            Mehmet came running over now, with a number of objects to step on.

            ‘Good idea!’ Danny cried, piling a chair on top of a dictionary.

            ‘Where is Arjun?’ Mehmet asked, looking around madly.

            Danny was confused. ‘He was right here…’ His eyes widened, and the Australians tensed.

            ‘He didn’t…’ the eldest stuttered.

            No way.’ Another tried to convince himself.

            ‘What?!’ Mehmet cried.

            Danny looked sick, as he replied, ‘the girls are staying in that building.’

            At first, Mehmet was a little confused. But as he saw several girls scamper over the wall, he realised what Danny meant.

            ‘The Australian girls?’ He asked.

            ‘Yes.’ Danny affirmed.

            In a flash, Mehmet ran off.

            There were gunshots, and Danny screamed, ‘no, brother! You will get yourself killed!’

 

                Mehmet blinked, and sat up. After a few moments, he realised Danny was staring at him. There fell a deafening silence. ‘You too?’ Mehmet finally whispered.

                Danny nodded. ‘I don’t know why now.’

                Mehmet lay back down. ‘Being here brings back everything.’

                Neither spoke for a very long time. Then, finally, Danny hoarsely said, ‘I miss him.’

                Mehmet rolled over and wiped his eyes. ‘Do not mention him, dai.’ He pleaded. ‘Not today.’ Then he reluctantly fell asleep again.

 

 Mehmet awoke in a strange mood, and straight away pulled Sara aside. ‘There is more to my secret.’ He blurted. ‘A lot more.’

                Sara nodded. ‘I figured. Have you had breakfast yet?’

                Mehmet seemed disturbed. ‘I do not want it! I want to tell you my secret!’ He grabbed her hand, and led her onto the balcony, though she did not seem happy with the idea. ‘I have to tell some-one!’ He cried.

                The sun was hardly even up yet, and the dew was still fresh on the greenery. Mehmet accidentally brushed Sara against a bush, and she shivered at the cold wetness.

                Arjun stepped out as his sister recoiled from the bush and frowned. ‘So you have to tell some-one. Why not me, dai?’

                ‘Because!’ Mehmet cried. ‘Because, because, because!’

                Sara glanced around confusedly, and Mehmet began to speak detachedly. ‘I told you I was a Muslim, Sara. What I did not tell you was that I completely rebelled against my family…’

                ‘She does not need to hear this!’ Arjun cried angrily.

                ‘Yes she does!’ Mehmet shot back. ‘Because it explains you too.’

                Arjun stood still very suddenly. ‘What?’ He asked, with no idea as to what Mehmet meant.

                ‘You, Arjun. Clean-shaven Arjun, baby Arjun. The sweet one – ruined in a moment. And why? Because of me!’

                Arjun’s face fell. ‘That is not true, dai…’

                ‘You had faith, Arjun! Strong faith! But that night, you were forced to face the truth and give up all faith.’

                ‘I have not given up faith, dai.  I am just…’

                ‘Mature.’ Mehmet finished for him. ‘And scarred for life. Yes, you may look the same. But you are unable to act the same. You are a good man, Arjun. Too good. You are like a forty year old in a twenty-one year old body.’

                ‘What happened!?’Sara suddenly demanded.

                ‘I rebelled!’ Mehmet cried again. ‘I did not just convert, I rejected my family; insulted everyone who ever cared for me! I dropped out of class 12 after years of my mother working hard to get me there, and ran away to BSI, promising not to talk to anyone ever again. I was a complete fool, especially when you consider they lived in the same town.’

                Sara’s face fell, as it dawned on her what happened. ‘They retaliated.’ She guessed.

                Mehmet nodded. ‘Half the BSI died.’

                ‘Dai, do not exaggerate!’ Arjun pleaded.

                ‘Figures!?’ Mehmet cried. ‘You want exact figures?! Of the 300 people at the BSI, only 200 people survived. 20 of them don’t even count, because they were visitors from Australia!’

                ‘120 people died!’ Sara cried, in complete shock. ‘Because of you?’ Mehmet nodded, and Sara’s face filled with rage. ‘And you are still here!’ She screamed. ‘Still hiding from your family!’

                ‘Sara, stop!’ Arjun pleaded. ‘The attack was not his fault at all. He only thinks it is.’

                Sara stopped and simply stared at Mehmet. Then she suddenly ran away. Mehmet glanced at Arjun, and then quickly looked away when Arjun looked at him.

                ‘It is not your fault, dai.’ Arjun muttered. ‘You should not have said so. Now Sara is upset.’

                ‘It is better that she knows.’ Mehmet replied.

                ‘No it isn’t!’ Arjun cried, louder than Mehmet expected. ‘Now she thinks you are a murderer, and I am scarred for life! I am not ruined because of that night, Mehmet! I am not ruined because of anything that happened at BSI! My life is not even ruined!’ Here Arjun paused. ‘At least not yet.’ He added. Then he ran after Sara.

                Mehmet stood leaning on the bannister, watching Arjun run down to his sister. He jumped when some-one appeared next to him.

                ‘What is going on?’ The man asked.

                Mehmet shifted uncomfortably. ‘You will never guess.’

                ‘I’m not idiot.’ The man replied scornfully. ‘I can guess. Just not why. That is what I can’t guess. Why has he been so upset, and tense, why did Suneep and what’s his name feel like they had to leave, why are you so depressed now, and why is Sara crying? Mehmet, I have seen Arjun tense before, and I have seen him stand up for himself. But now? It’s like he’s aged 20 years! And all in 3 years! It only seems to be getting worse. At this rate he will die of stroke in 2 years. But I think I see part of his problem: it is the rest of you. You are all idiots! It is like he has six children!’

                Mehmet nodded sadly. ‘He used to be our baby. Always mature, but so… innocent. Even Chandan used to seem a lot older than him. But that slowly changed. Now Arjun seems like the oldest and it feels like Chandan is the youngest.’

                ‘What happened?’ Arjun’s father asked again.

                Mehmet shrugged and stood up. ‘I cannot say.’ Sighing, he took another look at Arjun, pleading with his sister to ignore what he had said. ‘It is time for me to go.’ Mehmet stated. ‘I have caused too much trouble. I will leave.’

                Arjun’s father was frustrated. ‘You can’t just run away from your problems!’ He cried. ‘It only makes them worse!’

                Mehmet nodded. ‘I know. Which is why I must go. I have another problem I must fix.’

                Arjun’s father watched disgustedly as Mehmet simply walked inside.

 

Arjun walked back inside exhaustedly. ‘It is only ten o’clock.’ He muttered.

                His mother was busily cooking poori, so had a frying pan filled with oil over the heat. It had always frightened Arjun, the fact that oil could simply burst into flames at any moment. But his mother was well and truly used to the danger.

                Turning away from her cooking (which made him feel even more discomforted) his mother pouted in concern, and gave her son a much needed hug. He hugged her gratefully, and seemed to relieve a lot of tension.

                ‘I am going to go for a ride.’ He said, as his mother stepped away. ‘I have not been for a long time.’

                His mother nodded. ‘Ride safely. Wear your helmet. You don’t want to ride a motorbike without one.’

                Arjun nodded. ‘I will. I am always careful.’ His mother smiled. ‘Where is Mehmet?’ Arjun asked, picking up a piece of poori. His mother replied as he began eating.

                ‘He left.’

                Arjun stopped chewing and swallowed. ‘What?’

                ‘He left.’ His mother repeated. ‘Danny went with him. They have gone to his family in India.’

                Arjun stood quite still, and slowly began eating again. ‘Everyone is bailing on me.’ He muttered. His mother stepped forward to comfort her son and was surprised when he rejected comfort. ‘I have to go.’ He said, a look of desperation coming into his eyes. ‘I have to go or I will suffocate.’ He took long strides, and left the house quickly.

                His mother soon heard a motorbike drive off and sighed. ‘What is wrong?’ She muttered to herself.

                Akash walked up and gave his mother a hug. ‘He will be fine.’ He promised. ‘Arjun is good man.’

                His mother smiled and hugged her son back. ‘And you will be too one day – both of you just like your father.’

 

Hours later, Mehmet and Danny arrived in India.

                The streets were typically crowded with both cars and people, the occasional car, and the fiercely brave bikers, weaving their way in and out of traffic.

                ‘Ah, traffic!’ Danny smiled. ‘I have missed you.’

                Mehmet smiled too, though he seemed uneasy. ‘Let’s find some-where to stay.’ He suggested. ‘I doubt I will be welcomed.’

                Danny nodded. ‘Good idea, bhai.’

                Danny blinked, trying to readjust to the permanent haze that accompanied India. He had gotten used to the smell quickly enough, but the smog took some getting used to after Australia, and even Nepal, which wasn’t quite as bad as Delhi.

                The two men joined hands and cringed. ‘I have not done this for a while.’ Mehmet pointed out the obvious.

                Danny nodded. ‘Just pray, brother.’ Mehmet nodded.

                Then the two dashed across the mad road.

 

Arjun’s mother jumped as the door opened and some-one walked in.

                ‘Arjun!’ Chandan cried, his face lighting up.

                Arjun’s face seemed the brightest it had been for years. ‘Hello, dai.’ He returned the greeting.

                His mother smiled. ‘You seem much happier.’

                ‘Yes,’ Arjun admitted, ‘I am.’

                Josha stepped out, and was obviously in a bad mood. ‘I can’t imagine why.’ He said.

                ‘Good. Then don’t bother.’ Arjun replied, still smiling.

                ‘We’re going to fail.’ Josha muttered. ‘All of us. We will all die. Not just our families, but us too.’

                The joy drained from Arjun’s face, though he tried to maintain it.  ‘Dai, do not be so depressing. Of course we will die. All must die one day.’ His mother’s face had filled with terror, and he tried his best to get rid of it. ‘Don’t worry, mama.’ He tried to reassure her. ‘Josha is just upset because every-one else has gone.’

                ‘Why did you come back?’ Arjun’s mother asked. ‘What is going on? Why would any-one die?’

                Arjun’s father walked in, as concerned as his wife. ‘I think you need to explain yourself, Arjun.’

                Arjun’s heart sunk, as the relief that had been his fled, giving way to all the previous fears and insecurities. Sara stepped out at this point and glared at her brother.

                ‘You wouldn’t lie to me, dai?’ She asked, though she already clearly believed her brother would.

                Arjun took a deep breath and stood firmly. ‘Mama, Papa, Sara. You don’t need to worry. There are just a few issues we left un-dealt with when we left to Australia. Because we left them, they only became worse. Now we just have to sort them out.’

                ‘What issues?’ His father demanded to know.

                ‘They are hardly important.’ Arjun lied. ‘That is why I was so happy before - I realised I was worrying over nothing. I am sorry for worrying you. Do not worry. It’ll all be sorted soon.’

                There was a long silence, and Arjun’s father did not take his eyes off him for the entire time. Suddenly, something in his father’s eyes changed, and Arjun felt strange.

                ‘All right, then.’ His father consented. ‘I trust you. You are a man now.’

                Arjun nodded gratefully. ‘Thank you, sir.’

                His father nodded back at him, but Arjun could tell something had changed.  It was primarily because he had.

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