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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18. Chapter Seventeen: The 7 Theorisers

 

 

Gopi thought at first that he would glare at the man who had asked such a pointless question, but soon found himself smiling anyway.

          ‘You did not read the paper.’ He teased, making the man blush. ‘You would otherwise see that nothing has happened since the enemy tried to gain the upper ground. They are aware of our plan, but they do not know how to stop us. That is because they cannot. We have had too long to perfect it.’

          ‘We’re really going ahead with this?’ The boss asked, wincing though he believed it to be the right call.

          ‘Yes.’ Gopi confirmed. ‘And we will end it all.’

          ‘Why haven’t they called the police?’ The same, clueless new comer asked. Oh, he really should have read the paper.

          ‘Because!’ The boss snapped, equally bothered. ‘It would be foolish of them!’

          ‘Just read the paper.’ Another of the workers wisely suggested.

          The new man did not seemed pleased by this, but promptly began doing so anyway.

          ‘All right then,’ Gopi began to wrap up the section. ‘I’m pretty sure I’m done. Any questions?’

          ‘Forget that.’ The boss interrupted. ‘They can read just as well as I can.’

 

Suneep woke up to the sound of Chandan screaming. Sitting up, he raced over to the man's room. There, as he expected, were all of his friends.

                'Ssh, dai, ssh.' Arjun tried to comfort his elder. 'It is all right.'

                'He's going to scare Ramuk...' Josha muttered, looking worried.

                Suneep ran over to the bed and sat beside Chandan. 'Dai, it is all right. Wake up, please.'

                Amazingly, his soothing tones woke Chandan up. The man sat very still; as it dawned on him he had done it again. Then, to every-one's surprise, he ran out of the room and locked himself in the bathroom.

                Ramuk walked in, his face aghast. 'Is everything all right? I heard screaming...'

                Arjun nodded. 'Just a spider.'

                Ramuk clearly wasn't buying it. 'A spider? And who is scared of spiders?'

                'I am.' Bikram helped. Well, unfortunately for Bikram, Ramuk believed the lie.

                After this incident, the days passed quickly. The seven avoided Dr. Ashwin and his wife, and the two avoided the seven. This made things a lot easier for Ramuk, who was obviously disappointed that his reunion had gone all wrong. On day three, however, Arjun accidentally rounded the corner and found Dr. Ashwin.

                'Arjun!' The man cried instantly. 'Arjun, I am so sorry! Please forgive me!'

                Arjun shrugged. 'You must ask Suneep – not me.'

                'It was not nice of me to say those things.' Dr. Ashwin continued. 'But you know, after all these years, I begin to see Alyssa was right.'

                Arjun nodded. 'That is the way things seem to be working.'

                There was a silence. Finally, Dr. Ashwin said, 'Arjun, I know Ardi was kidnapped. No-one knows why she didn't scream. Then the rest of the Australians were kidnapped looking for her. Arjun, what I don't understand is Alyssa and Liberty. How could they have been kidnapped? They were always so careful.'

                Arjun seemed to flinch. 'Maybe they went with some-one they knew.'

                Dr. Ashwin was appalled. 'You believe one of my students kidnapped them?'

                'I – I had never thought of that before. But now that you mention it, it explains a lot...'

                'Arjun, that's ridiculous!'

                'I don't think so.'

                Dr. Ashwin raised an eyebrow quizzically. 'Arjun, do you know something?'

                'About the Australians?'

                'Yes.'

                Arjun shrugged. 'I know they are in danger.'

                'Are? You believe they are still alive somewhere?'

                Arjun nodded, looking a little too sure of himself. Then, suddenly, he left the room, running upstairs to find his friends. 'Guys, we have to go!' He cried, interrupting their game of cheat.

                'Go where?' Bikram asked.

                'We need to find Vijay.'

                'Braj's brother?' Josha asked, trembling.

                Arjun nodded. 'Yes. I think he is important.'

                'Why?' Suneep asked.

                Arjun was frustrated. 'Can't any-one else work it out?!' He cried.

                Mehmet's eyes widened and he turned to Danny.

                'No!' Danny replied, as if reading his new best-friend's mind. 'But of course!' He added, turning to Arjun.

                'What?!' Chandan asked, frustrated too.

                'Think about it!' Mehmet cried. 'Liberty and Alyssa were so careful. How could they just suddenly get kidnapped? Especially after all those incidents to make them paranoid.'

                'They went with Vijay!' Danny explained. 'He was meant to protect them!'

                'He said they just disappeared, like Arjun said of Ardi.' Chandan returned. 'Are you accusing Arjun of kidnapping Ardi?'

                'Don't be ridiculous!' Mehmet shot back, though Danny eyed him thoughtfully.

                'You can't just find Vijay,' Josha cut in. 'He keeps a low profile – he doesn't stand out. The most he's ever stood out is at the BSI. We will never find him.'

                'Now, now, now.' Bikram teased. 'Do not be so pessimistic. Think: who was Vijay's best friend at BSI?'

                'Pramaad Veer – Calvin.' Josha answered easily.

                'Exactly!' Bikram returned. 'So we find Calvin, we find Vijay.'

                Arjun sighed. 'But Ramuk said Calvin was in Australia.'

                'Can't we ask Ramuk?' Chandan asked.

                'Why wouldn't Balraj know?' Added Danny.

                'Balraj never liked Vijay.' Bikram answered. 'Even I could tell that, and I can't tell the difference between...' he stumbled. 'Between...'

                'You're just no good at reading people.' Mehmet finished.

                'That's it!' Bikram said, his face lighting up. 'Anyway, Balraj would not know where Vijay is, and besides, he may be our enemy.'

                'They can't both be our enemy!' Josha cried, as Chandan groaned, 'you have not answered my question.'

                'Yes they can.' Bikram said firmly, momentarily ignoring Chandan. 'Of course they can be. And we can't ask Ramuk because...' he stopped. 'Let's ask Ramuk first.' He finished.

                'Then Dr. Ashwin.' Mehmet added.

                The seven made their way downstairs, where they easily found Dr. Ashwin and Ramuk.

                'Hey!' Bikram cried, being a little over the top. 'Do either of you know where Vijay is these days?'

                'Vijay Vikash?' Ramuk returned. 'No. No idea.'

                Dr. Ashwin shook his head and then sighed. 'Arjun, you did not get any ideas...?'

                'No.' Josha interrupted. 'I want to see him again. He is like my older brother.'

                Dr. Ashwin didn't really believe the man, but said nothing further on the matter.

                Arjun sighed, as the seven knew they all had to go back to Australia. 'You don't have Calvin's number, do you?' Suneep asked hopefully.

                Ramuk shook his head. 'Only Facebook – but his wife controls it, so it's useless.'

                Arjun nodded. 'She did not accept my request.'

                Bikram was surprised that Arjun was led off topic, and quickly redirected the conversation. 'We have to go.' He said to Ramuk. 'Thank you very much for your hospitality.'

                Ramuk was taken back, and said nothing in reply. The seven took advantage of the silence and scurried away.

 

Mehmet felt horrible. He had seen Arjun pay Ramuk for their stay, and wondered if he'd paid his father as well. He wondered how much he'd paid. It must have been decent, or Ramuk would never have been persuaded into taking the money. He gulped, as he realised he probably couldn't afford to pay Arjun back.

                Mehmet figured he owed a lot to Arjun. Or at least he would if he had ever of listened to him. Arjun had warned him from the very beginning that the Australians were just there for the thrill. But he had not listened. As it became clear that a few of them genuinely loved India, he became even more convinced that Arjun was a little boy who didn't know what he was talking about. He remembered that day – that awful day – that he'd realised Arjun was right.

 

            It was many weeks after the Muslim attack, and a few weeks after the Hindu one. Every-one was depressed at the BSI, and Mehmet felt particularly bad.

            'It's all my fault.' He had muttered.

            Ardi – walking past the room – had overheard this remark and stepped into the room. 'What is?'

            Mehmet had happily poured his heart out to the girl, and left out no detail great or small. It was when he finished his tale that everything went wrong.

            Arjun had stepped in.

            'I wonder that you did not tell me, dai.'

            Mehmet tried to smile a little. He was very embarrassed. 'Are you jealous, bhai, that I did not trust you?'

            Arjun shrugged, and regarded him with an unusual look. Mehmet had grown used to it now, but back then it was a first. For the first time, Mehmet felt like he was the child and Arjun was the adult.

            'I had to tell some-one!' He cried desperately.

            'Why Ardi?' Arjun replied, slurring his speech.

            'Because!' Mehmet replied, even more desperate now. 'She asked.'

            Ardi sighed. 'I didn't ask for your life story but hey! That works too!' Then, to Mehmet's surprise, she had left the room.

            Arjun's face had said it all. She doesn't care. Told you so, and Mehmet filled with anger.

            'Just leave me alone!' He screamed, as quietly as possible. 'Do not ruin my life!'

            Arjun rolled his eyes and began to walk away.

            'You should have let me be!' Mehmet continued to cry. 'She was fine listening until you interrupted.'

            'Actually,' a cold, callous voice cut in. Looking up, Mehmet realised Ardi was sitting on the stairs, watching the whole scene. 'I was bored out of my brain. You know, I've been trying to be nice and all, but you're so... droll. Please just leave me alone, and stop ruining my life. I can't put up with you anymore.'

            Mehmet's face fell; he paled, and swore his heart stopped.

            Arjun had panicked. 'You are just saying that to get rid of him.' He tried to soften the blow.

            Ardi nodded. 'Yes. And it's not to be nice. It's because I can't stand his company. Seriously, of all the Indians here at the BSI, I get stuck with him. I don't think so!'

            Arjun was appalled. 'How can you just suddenly be so mean? He saved your life!'

            'No, you saved my life. You had the plan. Kannan saved my life – he was the diversion. Mehmet just knocked on a door. Big deal. Kannan died! He totally saved my life!'

            'You cannot be so cruel!' Arjun cried again.

            'I'm not being cruel, I'm being honest.'

            'You're being cruel! You're insulting Mehmet completely.'

            Ardi shrugged. 'Yeah, soz, whatever. See ya, losers. Call me if Kannan rises from the dead so I can thank him.' With this the girl had happily skipped off.

            Arjun was astounded. He stood staring at the staircase with his mouth gaping open. Mehmet was crushed. Her words had been harsh, and were enough to crush any-one. The fact that they came from her only made it a thousand times worse.

            Finally, Mehmet spoke. 'You win.' Then he walked away, as quickly as he could.

            He knew what flowers felt like now. Roses, violently pulled off the stalk – their life-force. Their petals plucked off one by one and then trodden on by soiled human soles. Decaying slowly, until they became the dirt they had been treated like – a slow and painful death, as the sun slowly took away all water, and starved the living things of nutrients. But, of course, the people were always fine, as was the stalk, which simply replaced the plant. The rose was meaningless, and one of several thousand of its species.

            That was him.

            After watching Kannan die, and then seeing Suneep sink into a depression after Shaktiah's death, he felt like he could go no further. The world around him was falling apart. He wanted to leave before he was torn to pieces.

            But then he realised it was too late. He was already in pieces, and the blood that poured from his wounds was unstoppable. Try though he did, he could not hold back the tears. He began to run to his room, where he locked himself in the bathroom and cried. He wept bitterly, until he was convinced if he waited long enough, he would soon die, as the wounded soldier dies from lack of blood.

 

 

Present:

 

All Arjun wanted to do was sleep on the plane. He was so tired and worried, and tired of being worried. But, to his surprise, all his friends seemed intent on handing him their books, and were so anxious to spill the beans they even asked him to pass it on.

                Danny's story was sure to shock every-one. The fact that he had once been addicted to drugs only made other things clearer.

                No-one would be surprised by Mehmet's story. After all, it was fairly obvious he had been depressed when Ardi shunned him, and most people knew he was a converted Muslim.

                Suneep obviously realised Arjun, Josha, and Chandan pretty much knew all about him as it was, and had been very honest in his story – right down to the part where he was jealous of Arjun. This astounded the latter, but at the same time compelled him to keep reading.

                Chandan's story was very short and same old, same old. His parents moved to India for work – there was something about their love story – and so he had grown up in India. The end! Arjun felt that Chandan was keeping something from every-one, and dreaded to find out what it was.

                Bikram's story was very boring, mainly because it was so... good. No drugs. No rebellion. It was nice and simple – the way life should be.

                Josha's story completely shocked Arjun, and – as the story closed – he began to realise why the man seemed to be afraid of Vijay. It was because he was.

                'Arjun.' Suneep said, finishing the last of the stories. 'Yours is boring.'

                Arjun nodded. 'It is good that way.'

                'Beautifully written.' Suneep added. 'But boring.'

                Arjun shrugged. 'It is my life.'

                'Your life? Arjun, you hardly write about your recent life. What has happened?'

                'BSI stuff. I don't want to write about that night.'

                'That is fair enough. None of us do.' Suneep shuddered as he finished speaking.

                'You know what I am noticing?' Arjun subtly changed the subject. Suneep shook his head. 'Alyssa, Liberty, and Ardi are in all of these stories.'

                'That is because we are all friends.' Suneep reasoned. 'Ardi played cards with us.'

                'Yes, but it is bigger. There are many opinions of Ardi. Some like her some do not. There is a very clear opinion of Liberty. She is kind, determined, impulsive, and a little prone to getting in trouble. Alyssa is not so clear.'

                'What?' Suneep cried. 'How could it not be clear?'

                'Well, for example, you saw her as a little sister, a friend, and even a mother. Danny saw her as Liberty's chaperone and friend, as we all did. To him she was only a little sister. To Mehmet she was Ardi's cousin, who tried to help him – like a mother, a protector. To Chandan she was an obnoxious, weak little sister, who had to show-off her knowledge (or lack thereof) to make up for her lack of muscle and physical ability, and to Bikram she was an inquisitive, quick learner of Nepali language. She was also his little sister, though (as we all know) Bikram is terrible at reading people. He got the impression that she was frank, out-spoken, and truly brave and tough - i.e. she didn't just put on a brave face. That's why he liked her. He didn't have to guess how she felt, she told him.'

                Suneep looked shocked. 'That is not the Alyssa I knew.'

                Arjun shrugged. 'I don't know. Look, the contrast gets greater. To Josha she was the shy girl who didn't know how to socialize. She was (and I quote) 'Suneep's toy... probably coz she couldn't take control of her own life'. He goes on to say she was also Liberty's minion.'

                Suneep smiled a little. 'I do see where that is coming from.'

                Arjun chuckled. 'Me too. Anyway, I just think it is odd. The three girls are so important, yet the only ones any-one agrees on is Liberty.'

                'Wait, you did not tell me what you think of Alyssa.'

                Arjun laughed a little. 'I'm not sure how to put it. I can agree with each of these.'

                'But I can't. And I think I knew her better than you.'

                Arjun flinched, and his eyes flashed with anger. His mouth became tighter, and his jaw firmly set in place, his eyes staring at the notebook, as if he was trying very hard not to say something. An idea instantly leapt into Suneep's mind, and his heart quickened. Then Arjun destroyed his dream by muttering, 'please do not poke me, Bikram.' Suneep actually felt a little disappointed that that was all that was bothering him.

                The man to Arjun's right giggled, and poked him again for good measure. Arjun said nothing in reply.

                'I like your story, dai.' Bikram suddenly said to Suneep. 'It was very bland. 'I felt sad'. Very uncreative, Suneep.'

                Suneep shrugged. 'It is about conveying a message. Not writing poetry. If you want poetry, read Arjun's. You'll find his says absolutely nothing, but it sounds wonderful.'

                Bikram giggled. 'We have so much time on this plane, dai. Write it out beautifully.'

                Suneep shook his head. 'No. Because I can't do that – I'm not good at writing.'

                Bikram rolled his eyes, and turned back to his movie. Arjun continued writing things down – making comparisons, and adding suggestions. As for Suneep, he closed his eyes and pretended he was sleeping. But in reality, he was documenting his thoughts, as beautifully as he could in English – his third language.

 

 

 

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