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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11. Chapter Ten: The 7 Secret-Keepers

 

‘I suppose we must deal with Vijay’s cousin now.’ The boss led Gopi back onto the right path. ‘What exactly happened there?’

          ‘Well, the man found out about Vijay’s job and was less than thrilled. So he decided to help us. There was no manipulation involved, we were completely disinterested.’

          ‘So how come he’s dead?’

          Gopi frowned. ‘That is one thing that is not our fault, kind sir. His death was the fault of IndAid.’

          ‘You say they shot him.’ Another worker spoke, glancing at the paper uncertainly. ‘How can we be sure you’re not lying?’

          ‘The evidence is all too obvious. In fact, IndAid will actually admit to it. There is no quarrel here.’

          ‘But why did they do it?’ The boss took over again. ‘He wasn’t doing any harm.’

          ‘Oh, it was Vijay’s fault really.’ Gopi replied, feeling a sense of relief at not having any guilt for once. ‘He switched sides without warning; he didn’t even tell his cousin. He was one of IndAid’s best men of course, so they wanted to win him back.’

          The boss actually laughed. ‘I can see how shooting his beloved cousin would be a very effective means of doing so.’

 

Despite being told never to return, Mehmet and Danny did so two days later. They skipped in right after lunch time, when the area was relatively deserted.

                'Are we gonna get killed?' Danny asked, concerned.

                Mehmet chuckled nervously. 'Of course not, brother!'

                Danny seemed dubious. 'Great. I feel so much better now. Mehmet only laughed nervously again.

                The two soon reached Mehmet's home, where they found his mother sitting out the front, patching an article of clothing. Mehmet said nothing for a while, and stood staring at his mother. Danny obligingly copied him. Eventually though, the woman looked up and gasped.

                'Fool!' She cried. 'You will be in no end of trouble when you are found!'

                Mehmet shook his head. 'If, mama, if. Is Aunty home?'

                'No.' His mother replied, smiling a little.

                Mehmet beamed, and confidently approached his mother. 'Wonderful!' He cried. 'How is every-one?' He continued, sitting at his mother's feet. His mother looked at him with a strange mix of hope and disappointment, which made Mehmet's heart sink. 'I am so sorry, mama.' He apologised, hanging his head. 'There are so many better ways I could have converted. I must have chosen the worst. I am very ashamed. Please, I understand if you will not forgive me, but at least let me apologise.'

                His mother did not take her eyes off her son. 'All that schooling – wasted. You did not even finish class 12!'

                Mehmet nodded. 'I was foolish. But mama, all those other years were not a waste. I learned how to study, and many other things. Now I have bachelor and... half a masters.'

                'Yes, but a bachelor of what?' His mother asked, though she knew the answer. 'Theology!' She cried. 'Christian theology!'

                Mehmet nodded. 'I have job back in Australia. It pays very well. I can take care of you now!'

His mother smiled. 'You are truly sorry?'

                Mehmet nodded desperately. 'Yes, mama.' He cried.

                'Then I forgive you.' The woman declared. 'Do not worry any-more.' Looking up at Danny, she asked, 'who is your friend?'

                Mehmet was quite distracted, however, and cried, 'oh, thank you, mother!' proceeding to hug his mother's legs. His mother affectionately hugged him back, after which Mehmet answered her question. 'This is Danny.' He said, as the man stepped forward. 'Dandin.'

                His mother smiled amiably and turned to Danny. 'I'm Jameela. Pleased to meet you.'

                Danny smiled and shook the woman's hand. 'I am also pleased to meet you.'

                'You are from the BSI?' She asked.

                Danny nodded. 'I was, yes.'

                The woman looked away, embarrassed. 'It did not close down all because of attack, did it?'

                Danny shook his head. 'No. There were other things too.'

                Jameela turned to her son. 'You know it was partially your own fault, you silly boy.'

                Danny was horrified, but Mehmet only nodded. 'I know.'

                'Mehmet...' Danny muttered, unable to say anything much.

                Mehmet shook his head an explained himself. 'I asked. I said if I ever converted they would have to attack, to force me to come back to Islam.' He shuddered. 'It was very foolish of me.'

                Danny was less than impressed, but said nothing further on the matter.

                Mehmet and his mother continued to speak for over an hour, and Danny watched boredly. After a while, he lost patience entirely, and – when he heard people coming – interrupted.

                'Mehmet, we should be going.'

                Mehmet stopped laughing and looked up. 'What time is it?'

                'Three o'clock.' Danny replied, exaggerating by ten minutes.

                Mehmet jumped up in an instant. 'Three o'clock!?' He cried. 'You waited for me for two hours!?'

                Danny nodded. 'I am good friend. Now come, let's go.'

                Mehmet nodded, and turned to his mother. 'Goodbye, mama. Oh! And one more thing: do not ever go to Australia. India is much better country.'

                His mother smiled, so Mehmet quickly added. 'I am serious. Don't go.' With this, Danny and he ran off, back to the hotel.

                As the building came into view, Mehmet stopped running and remarked, 'that went very well!'

                Danny smiled. 'Yes, it did.'

                'I am sorry for keeping you waiting.' Mehmet apologised.

                Danny laughed. 'It is all right, brother.'

                Suddenly, the two froze. Their eyes remained fixed on one person, who moved casually through the crows. He spoke on the phone, while texting on another.

                'Is that...' Mehmet stuttered.

                'Haan.' Danny confirmed.

                The two followed the man until he was lost in the crowd. Then they jumped into action.

                They ran up seven flights of stairs to their room, where they began throwing things out of their suitcase.

                'What are we doing?' Danny cried. He was silenced by one of Mehmet's T-shirts, which landed on his face. 'Brother!' He cried frustratedly, removing the shirt. 'Stop this!'

                'I can't find my phone!' Mehmet cried.

                'Me neither.' Danny acknowledged. 'But what are we going to do? Call Arjun and tell him? Tell him what?!'

                'That we saw Balraj Mukul!' Mehmet shouted, taking a few steps towards Danny.

                Danny shrugged. 'Why? Arjun is worried enough as it is. Why tell him? It cannot be anything serious.'

                There was silence, as Mehmet considered this in his mind. Finally, he spoke.

                'Okay. Okay, okay!' He cried.

                Danny smiled. 'You sound like Nitin.'

                Mehmet laughed. 'Yes, I do. He must have rubbed off on me when we shared a room.' He shuddered at the memory, and threw himself onto his bed. 'Okay.' He said again. 'I will say nothing. We will say nothing. But if asked, we will say.'

                Danny laughed. 'Haan. But what are the chances of Arjun (or any-one!) asking if we've seen Balraj?'

                Mehmet shrugged. Then he changed the topic completely. 'You are from Chennai,' he began. Why do you always say haan? It is Hindi... I should say it!'

                Danny smiled. 'It was a joke Kannan and I had. Because while it is yes in Hindi, it sounds like 'huh?' in English. We would say it all the time, even when we were totally confused. In class, if the lecturer explained something and Kannan said 'haan', I knew he was confused. It also sounds like 'ha!' in English, so we would use it to mock each other too. Every time he did something stupid, I would cry out: 'haan! Ha ha!', and he would do the same to me.'

                Silence filled the room, as Danny looked at his feet. Then, smiling bravely, he said, 'It is funny that after all these years I still say it.' There was a long pause, and Danny sat on his bed, with his back towards Mehmet.

                 Mehmet was surprised when Danny suddenly sobbed and cried, 'it is my fault he died. I killed him!'

                Mehmet instantly sat up, and placed himself near Danny. 'No!' He cried. 'It is not your fault, it is mine!

                'Mehmet!' Danny cried. 'You have mixed everything up! He did not die in Muslim attack, but Hindu!'

                Mehmet though for a moment, and then realised it was true. 'Oh.' Was all that he said at first. Then, reassuringly, he added, 'it is still not your fault, brother!'

                'Yes it is!' Danny objected again.

                'Danny!' Mehmet suddenly shouted. Danny jumped, and looked at his friend in surprise. 'You come from Chennai! Tamil Nadu! So what if you're a Hindu? You think they came from bottom of India to top? Nearly at Nepal, up here? Why would they bother!?'

                Danny looked away. 'It is complicated, bhai.'

                'Then explain yourself.' Mehmet pleaded.

                Danny shook his head. 'No, bhai. I cannot bear to.'

                'Well you'll have to eventually.' Mehmet pointed out. 'We have to visit everyone's home eventually.'

                Danny shook his head. 'Not mine.'

                Mehmet froze in shock. 'What?' He questioned. Then, rolling his eyes, he cried, 'why does Arjun always know everything?!'

                'Because he listens.' Danny shot back. 'And he's always there. And he never seems to have any problems of his own.' Danny smiled a little. 'Poor kid. He probably has a billion problems of his own.'

                Mehmet laughed. 'Arjun? Have a problem? Ha! Haan, ha ha!'

                Danny smiled, sniffed, and laughed. 'Haan, haan, ha ha.' Then, turning to Mehmet, he smiled cheekily. 'You are good friend, but I still do not trust you with secret.'

                Mehmet smiled too. 'Don't worry. I'll squeeze it out of Arjun yet.'

 

Arjun's mother jumped, as the door to her house suddenly opened.

                'Hello, mother!' Arjun greeted, relieving her fears. 'We are home!'

                His mother smiled welcomingly. 'Good! Just in time for dinner! I'm glad you came, because I cooked enough for all of you.'

                Arjun smiled tiredly. 'Dhanyabad, mama.'

                Chandan and Josha sneaked inside and slipped off to their rooms.

                Josha could not stop thinking about the day's events. Arjun wanted to know everything! Everything! He certainly did not want to tell Arjun anything. He had too much to hide.

                He knew he would have to warn his family about going to Australia, but he really didn't want Arjun or Chandan to see where he lived; so he concluded he would have to go alone. But, of course, Arjun would never consent to that.

                Or would he?

                Josha smiled, as he came up with the perfect way of setting exactly what he wanted. Skipping out of his room, he went to find Sara.

 

No-one spoke much at dinner, and everyone seemed tired and stressed. Josha figured now of all time was when he was most likely to get his way, because Arjun would not feel like causing a fuss.

                'Arjun,' he broke the silence. 'Could I visit my family? They do not live far away.'

                Arjun was surprised, but nodded. 'Yes, of course.'

                Josha frowned. 'What about Chandan?'

                'I live in India.' He replied.

                'But you are Nepali?' Josha checked.

                Chandan nodded.

                'Why do you live in India?' Josha cried confusedly.

                'Because,' Chandan explained, as if he had often rehearsed these lines, 'my family moved there for work.'

                'Oh.' Josha backed down. 'That makes sense.' Then, turning back to Arjun, he continued. 'I want to visit them alone.'

                Arjun stopped eating. 'Why?' He questioned.

                'Because. Is it wrong?'

                Arjun shrugged. 'No. But if you are trying to hide something, you may as well just let it out now.'

                Josha looked at his plate and muttered. 'It is not safe for you to go.'

                Arjun caught this and nodded. 'I don't know why you're asking my permission.' He admitted.  'But I thank you. Of course you may visit your family alone – I am no dictator.'

                Josha was completely shocked. 'Really?' He asked.

                Arjun nodded. 'They are your family.'

                Josha self-consciously glanced at Sara, who smiled a little. Arjun saw this exchange, and curiously asked, 'Sara, what are you doing tomorrow?'

                Sara replied quietly. 'I am working in the garden with Astha. We may need your help.'

                Arjun caught on in a flash and stared at Josha. 'That was not necessary, dai.' Josha smiled awkwardly, and ate quickly.

                Arjun's father sighed, but said nothing. Brayna kicked her brother under the table, and – when he looked up – winked at him. 'What?' He mouthed, while no-one was looking.

                'You are very mysterious, dai.' The girl whispered back.

                Arjun was intrigued. 'What do you mean?'

                Brayna smiled. 'What are you hiding, dai?'

                Arjun sighed, and loudly said, 'okay, everybody, listen. I am sorry for stressing you all out, but, yes, I am very worried. And I am worried about an insignificant matter that will soon be fixed. I am hiding nothing serious, just complicated. It is mainly complicated because there are seven cases of it. So long as none of you ever go to Australia, everything will be fine.'

                'Why, dai?' Akash asked. 'Why can't we go to Australia?'

                Arjun seemed frustrated. 'Because,' he said, obviously being very patient, 'of issues. Just trust me, okay? Nothing serious, but it will be if you go to Australia.'

                'Are you criminals?' Sara asked, obviously thinking of Mehmet.

                'No!' Arjun cried, his patience beginning to wane. 'We are all innocents! I am innocent, he is innocent, all are innocents!'

                'Innocent of what?' Akash asked.

                'Whatever crime it is that you are imagining in your mind.' Arjun bluntly replied.

                Sara smiled slyly. 'But are we not all like sheep which have gone astray? None of us are innocent, dai.'

                Arjun glared at his sister. 'Do not be precocious.'

                'Ooh!' Arjun's father suddenly joined in. 'That is a big word!' Arjun was obviously intimidated by his father, and some of his anger subsided. 'Do not talk to your family like they are imbeciles.' His father continued. 'We do not need your condescending speeches. Just do your work and go back to Australia. I don't need you free-loading off me anymore.'

                Chandan's face froze in an expression of shock, and he glanced at Arjun. Josha too, was shocked, almost scared, and turned to face Arjun. 

                Arjun wore a peculiar expression, and did not move for a while. Then, slowly, he began to nod.

                'Yes. I am sorry.' He said quickly. Then, standing up and collecting his plate he added, 'thank you for dinner, mother.' With this, he placed his plate at the sink and walked to his room. But there was an air of surrealism to it all. Chandan copied Arjun, and entered the latter's room cautiously. He heard a sob, and quickly closed the door behind him.

                'Bhai, do not cry!' He shouted in hushed tones, rushing over to his friend.

                Arjun stopped crying and sighed heavily. 'You do not understand!' He exclaimed, yet some-how silently. 'I am not free loader! I hardly have enough money as it is!'

                Chandan was confused. 'I just don't see how this is possible.' He confessed. 'You earn the most.'

                Arjun shook his head. 'Do not worry, dai. Just leave me alone, please.'

                Chandan sighed, but obligingly did so. He met Josha outside the door.

                'Well?' The man asked.

                'I think Arjun has secret.' Chandan said simply. 'Question: where does his money go?'

                Josha shrugged, and the two walked off in silence.

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