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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36. Chapter Thirty-Five: The 7 Safe-Men

 

                Once splitting up with Bikram, Mehmet and Chandan went straight to the press with their special piece of paper. Mehmet had practically memorised it now, and knew that it contained specific evidence proving that IndAid had used aid money for their own purposes, including stalking the 7, and poising several flocks of sheep to cause disaster in some smaller Indian villages. Then, of course, there was mention of how the organisation had used the 7 ‘Innocents’ so cruelly.

                It was funny, really, when Mehmet thought about it. If he hadn’t been chosen along with the other 6 for various reasons, he might have never know them like he did now. Not really.

                It would not be hard to sell the paper, and they wouldn’t even bother arguing over the price. After all, they were not in it for the money.

                That was when things took a surprising turn of events.

                ‘Hello.’

                The two men froze at once, and a fierce tension arose.

                ‘You can’t kill us.’ Chandan began. ‘We’ve taken photos of the list and sent them to the others. All our families have it. We can post it on the internet at any time.’

                Balraj was tired, but he seemed to be thinking clearly. And he didn’t look like he was about to attack either.  ‘Mehmet,’ he began, ‘do you really think Gopi wanted you to print the article?’

                Mehmet frowned. ‘What kind of a question is that? Of course he did! If we printed it, you would not attack us, it would…’ He paused.

                Balraj rubbed his eyes and continued speaking. ‘Because the more I think about it, the more I begin to see just how stupid you would have to be to print it. Our organisation would be outraged, and you would fall with us. We would not let you live unharmed, your secrets would be revealed too. You would all be put behind bars.’

                Mehmet froze, and Chandan rolled his eyes. ‘Didn’t think of that one, did we?’

                ‘What are we meant to do with it?’ Mehmet stammered, turning to Chandan, who shrugged.

                ‘Well,’ Balraj explained, stepping forward, ‘we’re not over just yet. Gopi helpfully only had one copy of that list made up. We know because we hacked INDependent’s system. At this present moment only you 7 and your families have any copies of that evidence. So, you see, IndAid has hope.’

                ‘Not while we live.’ Mehmet put in. ‘So are you going to kill us?’

                ‘No.’ Balraj replied, looking somewhat exasperated and impatient. ‘Because then someone would post it on the internet, right? After all, we cannot kill you all at once. Besides, most of the Australians are gone.’

                Chandan nodded.

                ‘So Gopi wanted you to make a deal with us.’

                There was a long pause, as Chandan and Mehmet realised this was true.

                ‘All right then.’ Chandan began, not sure how such a thing would work. ‘What do we do?’

                Balraj smiled and handed over a piece of paper. ‘We only have eye witness accounts of that one night that could see you put behind bars. What you have in your hands is far more than eye witness accounts, and it could shut down our entire organisation. Look, we’re going to struggle as it is thanks to the shady light your news article cast upon us, but we might just recover if we pull ourselves together. We just need you to stay quiet.’ He looked Mehmet in the eyes and smiled.

                That was when Mehmet understood.

                ‘How do we know we can trust you?’

                Balraj pointed to the paper, and Mehmet read it carefully.  ‘Post it on the internet if you must.’ The man prompted him. ‘We will not break it. It would be foolish.’

                Chandan read the agreement too. Then he pulled out a pen.

                ‘We’ll sign.’ Mehmet spoke for the both of them. ‘We’ll get everyone to sign, and then we’ll send you a copy.’

                Balraj nodded. ‘Good decision.’ He turned to walk off, but left four words ringing in the men’s ears. ‘You have a month.’

 

Mehmet and Chandan walked around in a sort of daze for a while after that, until – finally – they heard their names called across the street.

                ‘Mehmet! Chandan!’

                Mehmet instinctively hid the agreement and turned to face the voice. His face lit up instantly.

                ‘Josha!’

                ‘Where are you going, brother?’ Chandan asked, eyeing the man’s luggage curiously.

                Josha beamed. ‘I have an engagement. What are you doing?’

                ‘Going to get this signed.’ Mehmet replied, waving the paper in front of Josha’s face. The young man frustratedly took it, held it at an arm’s length, and read it carefully.

                ‘This is very good.’ He said at last, his brow creased in thought. ‘Do I have to sign too?’

                Mehmet and Chandan nodded. ‘Here is a pen.’ The latter offered.

                Josha took the pen and awkwardly signed the agreement on his knee, chatting happily as he did so. ‘It is a good thing you caught me before I could leave.’ He mused. ‘I am going to Australia to marry Amy.’

                                Then, while the others stared at him in shock, he laughingly handed the paper back to Mehmet and walked off.

 

After a while, Chandan stopped staring after Josha and turned to Mehmet.

                ‘Well,’ he said, smiling cheekily. ‘I must say that was a rather good Segway in my next comment.’

                Mehmet turned to his friend, still a little surprised by Josha’s news, and waited to hear what Chandan had to say. When Chandan told him his ‘comment’, Mehmet laughed at first, but then realised his friend was serious. So he wished him well, walked him back to the train station, helped him purchase a ticket to India, and watched him leave.

                Then he made his way to Arjun’s house, laughing at the absurdity of everything.

 

Chandan had surprised Kharan and Ashima by turning up unexpectedly. He had further surprised Ashima by asking her to marry him.

                'Are you joking?!' She cried, as Kharan snored loudly.

                It was a cold night, and the three huddled together for warmth as they always had, sharing one heavy blanket. As usual, Chandan was in the middle.

                'I have never been joking.' He replied.

                Ashima was astounded. 'But I'm almost two years older than you! Don't you mind?'

                Chandan shook his head. 'I'm taller, and stronger. Mover fashionable... and smarter.' He added, smiling cheekily.

                Chandan had an infectious smile. Even in a photo, if you saw Chandan's smile, smiling simply could not be helped. Ashima smiled now, and looked away shyly.

                'Do not tease me, Chandan.'

                'I am not! Look!' He fumbled around in his pocket and pulled out a ring, making the girl gasp. 'Open it.' Chandan pushed excitedly.

                Nervously, Ashima opened the box. Inside was a ring as such she'd only ever talked about. But, of course, Chandan had always been there. He had heard her girlish dreams.

                The gold band looked like three woven strands which connected in the middle. On this circle where they connected was a sapphire, small, delicate, and perfect.

                'Chandan, it is exactly like I remembered it.' Ashima breathed. 'I cannot believe you are serious.'

                Chandan smiled and spoke softly. 'Of course I am, Pyarraa.'

                The girl shook a little, as she replied, 'Yes, Chandan, I will marry you. Just like you say, I was never joking.'

                Chandan's smile widened. 'Thank you, Pyarraa.'

                Ashima laughed a little. 'If you say thank you, I should say thank you.'

                Chandan chuckled, and shifted towards Kharan. 'I should get to sleep. I am very tired. First put on your ring.'

                Ashima smiled, her eyes clearly shining, even in the dark, and she passed the ring to Chandan. Carefully, gently, he slid the ring onto her finger.

                'Beautiful.' He said, stroking her hand. 'Almost as beautiful as you.' He teased.

                The girl stuck out her tongue and curled up. 'I have to go to sleep too, Chota.'

                'You are smaller than me.'

                'I know. Go to sleep.'

                Chandan laughed and curled up a bit. The three always slept leaning against the wall, so initially falling asleep was usually difficult. That night it was next to impossible. But still, for the first time ever since he was kidnapped, Chandan felt at home.

 

Another evening at Arjun's house, with only two differences: Suneep was staying at his own house, and Bikram was staying with his family.

                It went without saying that, while the men were happy they were no longer in danger, they were sad to have to part. Mehmet found, to his surprise, that we were simply enjoying being in the presence of Arjun and his family, perhaps for the last time.

                ‘Arjun, you must sign this paper.’ Mehmet interrupted the dinner conversation. ‘As must everybody. I’ll catch those who aren’t here later.’

                Arjun read the agreement carefully, his eyes widening as it continued. ‘This is marvelous!’ He cried, his face lighting up as he went on. ‘Of course I will sign it!’

                As Mehmet handed the paper round, he thought again of how this could be the last time he would see his friends.

                But he didn't want it to be the last time. Mehmet was a little unsure as to what to do about his problem. He knew he loved Sara very much, but what had Arjun told him when he had first brought everyone to his house? Leave my sister alone. Sister, as there was no worry about Brayna. She was only just sixteen. No, he had meant Sara – the very one Mehmet wanted to marry.

                Suddenly, Mehmet stood up and walked out of the dining room. He found Arjun's father in the kitchen, speaking with his wife. When he saw Mehmet approaching he stopped.

                'Can I help you?' He asked.

                Mehmet nodded. 'May I please speak with you?'

                Mehtar frowned curiously, but nodded anyway. 'Of course.' There was an awkward pause.

                'Alone.' Mehmet added.

                Now Mehtar was quite concerned. Leading Mehmet onto the balcony, he became all too certain he knew what it was the man was going to speak to him about.

                Mehmet hesitated and stumbled over his words for a long time. Finally, Mehtar got sick of it and said,      'is this about Sara?' Mehmet froze instantly. 'Because I have not believed Arjun at all about you being serious. Are you telling me I was wrong?'

                Mehmet only nodded oddly. 'Yes, sir.' He continually repeated. Mehtar soon became bothered by this repetition and cut the man off.

                'So what do you want? What are you asking for?'

                Mehmet gulped. 'I would like to marry Sara.'

                Mehtar frowned, and there was a long pause. 'Wait a minute.' He eventually said, walking off.

                Mehmet was left on the balcony, shivering because of the cold, and shaking in terror. He was getting Arjun. He knew it.

                Suddenly, the door opened, and Mehmet jumped. Out stepped Mehtar, followed by Arjun.

                'Mehmet.' Mehtar said, closing the door. 'Tell Arjun what you told me.'

                Mehmet gulped again. 'Arjun, I would like to marry Sara. Please do not kill me!'

                Arjun's face initially hardened, but then it expressed complete and utter shock. 'Are you serious!?' He cried. Mehmet nodded quickly. Arjun suddenly laughed incredulously, and Mehmet wondered why.     'Cammie!' Arjun said, all smiles. 'The only reason wanted you to leave Sara alone was because I did not want you to hurt her. If you are serious, that is fine! I am more than happy.'

                As Arjun's words reached Mehmet's ears, he realised how foolish he'd been. Hadn't Arjun told him that time and time again? He sighed, as he flooded with relief.

                'Thank you, Arjun.'

                Mehtar nodded, and turned back towards Mehmet. 'Well, if all's well, you have my permission. Now you just need hers.'

                Mehmet's eyes immediately lit up with excitement, and he thanked the men profusely. To be truthful, both men were glad when he left.

 

Mehmet worked hard to set up his proposal, and, by lunch-time, it was ready.

                'Sara!' He called, walking into the lounge room. The girl turned to him curiously.

                'Is someone here?'

                'No, no visitors. Please, come.'

                The girl shrugged, and followed Mehmet into the kitchen. Mehmet's face fell instantly.

He had hung a banner up reading 'will you marry me?' and who should be standing directly underneath it but Suneep?

                'Suneep!' He cried, the colour draining from his face. 'What are you here for!'

                Suneep frowned. 'I just got here. What's wrong?' He followed Mehmet's gaze, and his face fell too. 'Oh...' he stammered, turning first of all to Sara and then to Mehmet. 'That is...'

                Sara burst out laughing. '… the funniest thing I have ever seen!' She finished for him. 'Do not worry, Suneep, I know it is from Mehmet.'

                Suneep sighed with relief, and awkwardly ran out of the room. Seeing Brayna out the window, he ran outside.

                'Well,' Mehmet muttered, 'that ruined that.'

                'No!' Sara objected. 'It is wonderful! Thank you, Cammie. I answer yes.'

                Mehmet cheered up again at once. 'Really?'

                'No, I am teasing.' Sara teased. 'Of course really!'

                For the first time in a long time, Mehmet didn't know what to say.

                Suneep, meanwhile, ran up to Brayna.

                'Morning, dai.' She greeted him. 'Did you just ruin Mehmet's proposal?'

                Suneep nodded. 'Yup. I sure did. What are you doing?'

                Brayna stood aside to reveal a mess of wood. 'Trying to carve. I cannot though.'

                Suneep raised his eyebrows and sat on the grass, crossing his legs like a small child. He picked up a piece of wood and a knife and frowned thoughtfully.

                'I had to do this at school once. I was very bad at it.' Then he began working.

                After a while, Brayna's curiosity gave way, and she asked, 'why did you come here?'

                Suneep shrugged. 'It's boring at home. Father is at work, and my mother and sister gossip or argue all day.'

                'You could get a job.'

                'I have. They only employ me for night shift though.'

                Brayna seemed impressed. 'That explains why you look so tired.'

                Suneep smiled. 'I am always tired.'

                The girl looked him up and down and made a mental note of what he was wearing. Black Converse shoes, black jeans that fit him, a good, black jacket, and his favoured black beanie.

                'I remember when you dressed like a punk.' She said, making Suneep shudder.

                'I was very sad that day, and wanted to cause trouble. I am very strange.'

                As it turned out, Suneep was no better at carving than Brayna, and the two soon gave up.

                'It is not one of my many gifts.' Suneep joked, throwing a hacked piece of wood away.

                Brayna laughed, as the piece did not go far. 'Neither is throwing.'

                Suneep glared at her playfully, and the two went inside for lunch.

 

Danny had not had the opportunity to speak to Parvati alone for the entire month. Finally, one day, they had somehow curiously found themselves in the house by themselves. Danny was aware, though, that Parvati did not want to discuss anything with him, so simply washed the dished in silence. He was surprised when Parvati suddenly came up and started drying them.

                'You are insane.' She muttered, her bracelets chiming sweetly each time she moved.

                Danny smiled. 'Arguably you are if you refuse me. But I don't mind. I mean, if you really hate me, don't marry me.' He paused. 'If, however, you do not hate me, please do.'

                Parvati looked away and pursed her lips. She was obviously struggling. She didn't hate him. She cared for him very much. But she couldn't let him sacrifice so much for her!

                'Parvati,' Danny continued, 'I don't want to go back to Australia. I want to move here, to my hometown. It is safe for me now, and my old friends have finally broken out of their dangerous circle. Parvati, even if we are not married I will visit you, and help care for you. I would rather be able to live with you and love you, though.'

                The girl looked away, and Danny's sadness deepened. After a long silence, Parvati suddenly sniffed. She snapped towards him, and Danny was amazed by how much she had been crying so quietly.

                'You are making this so hard!' She cried. 'I am being nice, Danny! Get married to a nice girl, who can love you back. All I will be able to do is take from you, Danny!'

                Danny smiled teasingly. 'Parvati, you are the most popular girl in this city. Having you for my wife would be an incredible honour.'

                Parvati shook her head. 'No! It would be a burden!'

                'One I want to carry. Please, right now you carry it all alone. Let me share it with you.'

                The girl broke down now, and Danny would have put his hand on her shoulder were his hands not wet.

                'You will regret it.' She finally said.

                Danny shook his head. 'Never. But if you do not hate me, you will always regret saying no.'

                Parvati's chin quivered at this, and a tear rolled down her cheek. 'Danny, you are crazy.'

                Danny smiled. 'And I promised to stay crazy.'

                Slowly, Parvati smiled. 'I should not...' She stammered. 'If I were kind I would refuse you. Oh, Danny, I will just be using you!' She cried frustratedly.

                Danny shook his head. 'No you won't be. I will love you one way or another.'

                Parvati sobbed and nodded. 'All right!' She cried. 'All right, but do not blame me when you are sad and trapped in a draining relationship!'

                Danny nodded seriously. 'I would never even think about such a thing – I promise.'

                There was a silence, which Parvati quietly interrupted. 'Can we get married quickly?' She asked. 'Just so we don't waste time.'

                Danny nodded. 'That would be my pleasure.' He turned to the woman and smiled lovingly. She did not look back at him, but, slowly, she smiled.

                'Danny, stop it!'

                Danny laughed, and flicked some bubbles on her. Parvati laughed too – her laugh was melodious – and Danny felt pleased to hear it. Seeing her smile was all he really wanted.

 

They arranged things with an amazing speed, and in two weeks their marriage was organised. Danny was excited for many reasons, one of them being that he would again see all his friends, including Josha and his new wife, Amy.

                Finally, though, the big night arrived, and Danny slipped into his sequin-covered outfit. It was blue, a very vivid blue, and suited him immensely. Parvati wore a brilliant pink sari, and contrasted the brilliant colour with bright yellow. She looked stunning.

                The party was loud, and there was much dancing. There were so many people; Danny only got to see his friends for a couple of minutes.

                ‘Congratulations!’ Josha shouted over the music.

                ‘Same! Congrats!’ Amy shouted.

                Mehmet quickly whipped out his important piece of paper. ‘Danny!’ He cried. ‘I need you to sign this!’

                Danny read the agreement carefully, as everyone had done, and then smiled.  ‘Brilliant!’ He shouted, as everyone had done.

                As Danny signed the contract, Parvati came over, and where she was, happiness followed. ‘It is so good to meet you!’ She cried. ‘I am Parvati.’ Turning to Alyssa, she seemed intrigued. ‘I thought you were Indian. But you are not!’

                Alyssa smiled widely. ‘I’m Alyssa. Pleased to meet you.’

                ‘Alyssa!’ Parvati cried. ‘I have heard about you! Mainly from Kannan, while he was in hospital…’ her voice trailed off. ‘Anyway, I am very pleased to meet you.’

                ‘Parvati!’ Some-one called. ‘Come here!’

                ‘Coming.’ The woman promised. Turning back to the group she laughed. ‘Hopefully I will get to meet you again soon. Enjoy the party.’ With this, the girl left, followed by Danny.

                Arjun felt a little uncomfortable at the loud party, and stayed close to a wall away from the speakers. Chandan stood by him.

                ‘Hey,’ Chandan began speaking, or, rather, shouting, in Arjun’s ear. ‘While you are in India, why don’t you come to my wedding, in Delhi? Just stay here for a month.’

                Arjun seemed surprised. ‘Your wedding? To whom?’

                Chandan smiled. ‘To Ashima.’

                ‘I do not think I have met her before.’

                ‘No. But if you come to my wedding, you will.’

                Arjun smiled. ‘Okay.’

 

Arman was a great tease, just as his brother had been, and favoured Brayna. The only reason this did not bother Arjun was because Arman behaved the same way with everyone. It was simply his way of being friendly.

                ‘Goodnight, Brain, and may your dreams be spicy.’ He joked as the girl went to bed.

                Brayna laughed nervously – like her brother – and went to bed.

                Suneep frowned. ‘That is my nickname for her.’

                ‘I can borrow it can’t I?’

                Suneep raised his eyebrows. ‘I suppose so. People generally do steal nicknames I give people.’

                ‘Like what?’

                ‘Like Tiah. Ally. Jeli.’

                ‘Anjeli?’ Mehmet guessed boredly.

                Suneep nodded. ‘And Okka.’

                ‘That is Zaddok.’ Arjun explained.

                ‘And you are Almond.’ Suneep finished.

                ‘And you are Eepy.’ Arman teased.

                Suneep frowned. ‘That sounds creepy.’

                Arman laughed and stood up. ‘I’m going to bed. See you in the morning.’

                The others wished him a good night sleep and spicy dreams, to which he laughed. They passed the month in this friendly, teasing fashion.

 

The bride was beautiful. She wore a white dress with lacey sleeves and a V-neck. Her long, black hair was curled loosely and framed her beautiful face. Arjun smiled as she passed.

                ‘Perfect.’ He said, turning to Alyssa. ‘Isn’t she perfect for him?’

                Alyssa nodded as she shifted Anjeli on her hips. ‘Amazingly perfect.’

                The three walked into the church where they beheld Chandan. In perfect unison with everyone they all groaned. Chandan laughed as he approached his friends.

                ‘I knew you would love it!’ He teased.

                Danny and Josha – the two macho men of the group – were particularly discouraged.

                ‘White dress shoes, Chandan?’ Danny groaned.

                ‘Laz, Laz, Laz.’ Amy said, shaking her head. ‘Unfortunately that One Direction do suits you. A bit too Harry for my taste though.’

                Chandan smiled and ran his fingers through his hair, brushed ridiculously to the right. He wore a white suit, red shirt, and had a red rose in his pocket. Perhaps the worst thing about his outfit was the fact that his shirt buttons seemed to stop too soon.

                ‘Did you lose buttons?’ Suneep groaned, high-fiving Brayna.

                ‘Ha ha, very funny.’ Chandan replied.

                ‘What was that?’ Danny cut in. ‘Haan, ha ha?’

                Mehmet laughed and high-fived his friend.

                Chandan frowned, and Alyssa spoke up. ‘Do not worry, dai. Ashima looks gorgeous.’

                The man’s face lit up instantly. ‘I know.’

                The friends laughed, and sat down before the ceremony began.

                Suneep began whispering to Brayna, and the two laughed quietly. Then he turned to Alyssa and said the same thing.

                ‘Next is Bikram’s wedding. I will be so sick of weddings!’

                Alyssa laughed too, as did Arjun, who had overhead.

                Sure enough, one month later, the group was reunited for Bikram’s wedding. This ceremony was loud, but not nearly as loud or as crowded as Danny’s. The whole event seemed very ridiculous, what with Bikram giggling away in his green, sequin-covered outfit, and Joy quietly smiling in her mustard coloured sari. Together the two looked like a salad, adding to the comic mood. Soon, though, the event was over, and the group departed.

                ‘Arjun!’ Suneep called before they could disappear. ‘You must come to my house for dinner!’

                ‘Oh, of course. And you must bring your family to my house.’

                Suneep smiled.  When he said ‘our house’ he meant his and Alyssa’s. Their house was only twenty minutes away from his parent’s, and – while small – was very homey.

                ‘Come tomorrow night.’ Suneep pleaded. ‘Bring all your family.’

                Arjun laughed, understanding that Suneep meant to include his parents and siblings as well. ‘All right, then. We will see you tomorrow night.’

                Suneep nodded, and the friends separated.

 

It wasn’t long before the table had fallen silent.

                ‘So…’ Karuna began, trying to re-start a conversation. ‘You must be very happy to have Suneep back.’

                Suneep sighed deeply. He was not a good topic, and led inevitably to arguments. Then again, perhaps things had changed. Five minutes assured him they had not.

                ‘Irresponsible.’ His father muttered.

                ‘Heart-breaking.’ His sister said sadly.

                ‘Keeps to himself. Stand offish.’ Her husband put in.

                No-one knew how to respond to all this. Karuna in particular felt bad, as she had started it all. Alyssa eyed Suneep carefully, knowing all too well how he was feeling.

                The man had dressed up for the occasion, and had on a plain, pin-stripe shirt over a blue background. The short sleeved shirt was unbuttoned, and he wore a white T-shirt underneath. His down-cast eyes and tight mouth suggested together with his outfit that he was trying very hard to be good. Alyssa hated to see things pushed.

                ‘Well, I have known him to be very kind.’ She offered.

                ‘He came to my rescue during the Hindu attack. It was a miracle neither of us were killed.’

                The table fell silent, as Alyssa’s quiet words sunk in.

                ‘Ah… maybe he has changed.’ Suneep’s father finally stammered. ‘In fact, I do not doubt he has’

                ‘We were very relieved when he came home.’ His mother added. ‘And for the first time he said he loved us.’

                Another silence fell, but this time it was sad and depressing as well as awkward.

                ‘I always have, Amma.’ Suneep said quietly. ‘I just never said it.’

                Neither of his parents said anything in reply, but they brightened up a little.

                After dinner, the group progressed to the lounge room. That was, the room to the right of the entrance. The room on the left had the piano, and was meant to be the sitting room. Suneep had never understood the difference.

                He sat cross-legged on his seat, staring sadly at his foot. Alyssa was watching him, he knew that. He was grateful she did not try to help him. He was fine. He knew he would be. He didn’t want anyone to try and cheer him up.

                ‘Colossians 3:23.’ He muttered, remembering Shaktiah. He sighed bitterly, and looked at Alyssa, as if having a conversation. ‘’Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.’ I have tried and failed.’ Alyssa said nothing in reply. Brayna was watching – she was next to Alyssa, but Suneep ignored her. ‘Proverbs 18:9.’ He continued bitterly. ‘’A lazy person is as bad as someone who destroys things’ Yes, that is true, but I have destroyed many things while working hard. Think about it: if I had not been determined, Shaktiah would still be alive. The lazy, selfish me would not have risked losing her by letting her help that family. If I had of not been pre-occupied with ‘becoming better’ I would have sat next to you all day at the picnic, sulking. Then you would never have gone missing. None of the Australians would have… I am sure of that. I know what Gopi and Vijay said, but…’ He sighed. ‘I have realised my real problem, Ally. I have a much better verse for me now: Hebrews 13:8.’ Both Alyssa and Brayna seemed surprised at first, but – slowly – they worked out its significance. ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.’ Suneep muttered. ‘And I am so moody I am never the same. Thank God I do not have to save myself.’

                Alyssa nodded seriously, and – had Shaktiah of been present – she would have comforted him. Brayna laughed. Instantly she covered her mouth, afraid of what he would say or do. Suneep glared at her and felt rage bubble up within him.

                ‘Why do you laugh?’ He asked. ‘I am serious!’

                ‘I know.’ Brayna replied quickly. ‘It’s just that… you are so self-focused…’ her voice trailed off.  Alyssa smiled, seemingly in admiration of the girl.

                Suneep got the idea now. ‘Self-focused?’ He repeated. ‘What else can I do? People want me to change, and so I try. I focus on God, not me.’

                ‘But you focus on God and then you, right?’ Brayna asked. Something changed in Alyssa’s eyes. It was as if she was wondering why she hadn’t thought of Brayna’s point.

                ‘Yes.’ Suneep admitted, knowing full well what the girl would say next. He waited for her rebuke, both he and Alyssa waited. But it never came. ‘Well?’ He asked. ‘Aren’t you going to give me the line?’

                Brayna shook her head. ‘You know it.’

                ‘You’re not going to ask me to say it?’

                ‘No, Suneep.’ Brayna replied, a little boredly. ‘I am not. I don’t want to entertain your silly mind games like… others have. By God’s grace you will get over yourself and stop these psychotic practices.’

                Suneep flinched. ‘You would tell me I must put others after God, and before myself.’ He said, ignoring her comments. Brayna nodded, but her face was full of anger and shame. She seemed to regret her harsh words. ‘You are strangely outgoing today, bhainee.’ Suneep continued. ‘Why?’

                Brayna scoffed. ‘Because you need to hear it.’

                Alyssa was all smiles by now, and quite relieved. Perhaps this was because Brayna had not directly insulted her, which was a smart move, though she had implied an insult to Shaktiah, which was worse.

                ‘I would rather…’ Suneep began slowly. ‘That you did not suggest such things of Shaktiah.’

                Brayna frowned and crossed her limbs, though she said nothing.

                ‘Say it.’ Suneep demanded.

                ‘No.’

                ‘If we are alone will you say it?’

                ‘No.’

                ‘Okay then, come to the sitting room.’ Suneep stood up and led the girl to the piano, where he sat angrily.

                ‘I won’t say it.’ Brayna said determinedly. ‘Or you will hate me forever.’

                ‘Maybe I already hate you.’ As promised, the girl did not indulge him in replying. He began to soften, and warmly, desperately began pleading with her. ‘Please say it.’ He begged. ‘You know I need to hear it.’

                Brayna shook her head. ‘Not this, dai. Not this.’

                Suneep felt a little disheartened, but slowly began to smile despite himself. ‘Thank you.’ He said at last.     ‘Here, let me play you a song: Fur Elise.’

                Brayna smiled. ‘That sounds like ‘for Alyssa’.’

                Suneep chuckled. ‘She is my very dear bhainee. Why not? This song does not remind me of her though. This one does.’  He immediately began playing a loud, aggressive piece by Chopin, the same one he had played when Alyssa forced him to play the piano all those years ago.

                He stopped playing suddenly and closed his eyes. Then he began playing Fur Elise. The song was often dull and boring, as well as sorely over-used, but Suneep did away with all those problems. When he played the piece, it was so sweet everyone fell silent. The happy section was so bright everyone smiled warmly, and the dark section was so aggressive, yet controlled, that everyone felt as if they were frustrated and in bitter anguish. Then the last notes of the piece came. They were so haunting that nobody spoke for a long time. Then, after a brief applause, conversation resumed as normal.

                ‘You are very good.’ Brayna complemented the man. ‘You must have practice lots.’

                Suneep raised his eyebrows. ‘On a good day. Ally!’ Alyssa looked over, surprised. ‘Come and play me a piece!’

                ‘No!’ Alyssa cried, approaching quickly before anyone overheard him. ‘I am terrible!’

                ‘No! Just not as good as me!’

                ‘Suneep!’ Alyssa laughed. ‘How cruel you are.’

                Suneep turned to Brayna excitedly. ‘You can sing, right?’

                Brayna was alarmed, but nodded. ‘Very badly.’

                ‘Good! Alyssa, why not play the piano, I will play the guitar, and Brayna can sing.’

                Alyssa seemed unsure. ‘Do you have music?’

                Suneep nodded, and shut the glass doors to the room. ‘See that one? It is Only Exception by Paramore. Let’s do that one.’

                Brayna was terrified, and the two smiled at her. ‘We will sing with you.’ They promised.

                Suneep pulled up a chair next to Alyssa, and lent the guitar on his knee. ‘1, 2, 3, 4.’ The music started.

                Alyssa was good at piano, and made the instrument sing. Suneep was similarly good at the guitar, and did not make any mistakes.

                Then, of course, there were the vocals. Brayna was quiet and shy at first, but as the song progressed that wore off. She obviously loved singing, and was amazingly good. Her high, clear, sweet voice sung over the instruments and filled the room. She crescendoed when appropriate and decrescendoed when it was necessary. She was amazing. As for Alyssa, she took the higher harmony, though she could by no means sing higher than Brayna. The beautiful harmony created was fairly monotonous on her part, as she had a very weak, gentle voice. Suneep took the lower harmony, and Alyssa enjoyed hearing him sing properly for the first time. He had a beautiful voice. It was smooth and perfectly on tune. He controlled his voice like a piano, articulating notes and dynamically varying phrases. It was so wonderful, Alyssa wanted to cry.

The song ended eventually, and the three smiled at one another. No-one spoke, as they were all slightly paranoid that they would burst into tears.

 

 

 

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