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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21. Chapter Twenty: The 7 Seekers

 

 

The picnic was good, but strange. Bikram continually hugged Sanjay far too tightly until Vijay became worried that he would inure his brother. As for Suneep, he was playing around a lot, making strange jokes. To some completely strange people on the street, he joked that all the Australians were rich. The men reacted disturbingly to this news, and eyed the 20 peculiarly for the rest of the day.

            'Suneep!' Arjun hissed, surprising the elder with his boldness. 'Are you trying to get our friends kidnapped or mugged?'

            Suneep laughed. 'I'm just joking, saathi. Joking. Relax!' Arjun did not. Moments later, Suneep began speaking to the strangers again.

            'Is he rich?' One of them asked, pointing at another of Vijay's cousins. 'He wears good clothes.'

            'Yeah,' Suneep confirmed, 'probably richer than all the Australians put together.'

            Things took a turn for the worst just before lunch, when Sanjay collapsed.

            'Brother!' Vijay cried, panicking. Sanjay made no reply. 'Some-one call an ambulance!'

            Calvin promptly did so, and an ambulance arrived an hour later.

            'Is he all right?' Vijay cried persistently, while Braj looked on, equally concerned but not hysterical. Calvin stood by Vijay for support.

            One of the paramedics shook their head. 'I do not think so. It looks like he has severe internal bleeding.'

            'What?! But he was just let out from hospital for that!'

            'He should not have been.' Another said. 'He was too fragile. Whatever happened today, it has set him way back.'

            'Will he be all right?' Braj asked, beginning to worry.

            The paramedics shrugged. 'We will have to do tests.'

            They began moving Sanjay into the ambulance. 'We only have room for one passenger.' The youngest explained.

            'You go.' Vijay said to his younger brother. 'You are calmer.'

            Braj nodded. 'Thank you, brother.' Then he jumped in the ambulance.

            Vijay disappeared for about half-an-hour after that incident, and the picnic certainly became that little less enjoyable. In fact, Arjun was not enjoying himself at all. Keeping an eye on Ardi was boring – she never spoke to him, only everyone else. He basically had to listen to her discuss the same things with different people over and over and over and over again. Yes, Arjun was well and truly in a bad mood.

The Australians were playing football, and teaching Aussie rules to some more enthusiastic students. Others were playing football – soccer, the Australians called it – or cricket. Arjun wasn't much of a sportsman, but even the small game of basketball looked better than chaperoning Ardi. Alyssa kindly sat down next to him and he cheered up a little.

            'Chaperoning?' She asked discreetly. Arjun nodded. 'Yeah, it's a rough job. You're doing a good job though.'

            'Thank you. You are playing cricket?'

            'Not anymore. I'm out.'

            Arjun smiled. 'By Danny?'

            'By Chandan.'

            'Chandan? He is the worst cricket player ever!'

            'No, that would be me. If you like, I can watch Ardi for a while.'

            'No. That would not be wise.'

            'Yes, you're right. Good decision.'

            'If you really want to chaperone though, you can keep an eye on Suneep for me. He's being ridiculous.'

            'As always.'

            Arjun smiled shyly, and timidly asked, 'you like him very much, don't you?'

            'Yes. He is my brother.' She paused here before sadly saying, 'I know he is still very sad about Shaktiah.'

            'I do not understand that. They hardly spoke while she was alive.'

            Alyssa smiled sadly. 'I suppose not. So, Arjun, tell me about your family. Who is this Astha you mentioned?'

            Arjun looked as embarrassed as he could, and Alyssa smiled. The two were seated next to a tree, and, unbeknownst to them, Suneep was sneaking up behind them.

            'Astha is a friend of mine.' Arjun explained. 'That is all. She is also a very good friend of Sara's.'

            'Your sister?'

            'Yes.'

            Suddenly, Suneep jumped out. Alyssa screamed happily, and Arjun jumped.

            'Having a heart to heart are we?' He asked. 'Tell me more about this Astha, Arjun. Is she pretty?'

            'Yes.' Arjun admitted. 'But she is a friend.'

            'Ooh!' Suneep cried. 'Arjun and Astha sitting in a tree!'

            'Suneep, that is very immature.' Arjun stammered, his colour changing as much as it could.

            'Suneep, stop it.' Alyssa moaned.

            Suneep raised his eyebrows and sat down next to her. 'Look out for him.' He whispered. Then, in her ear, he added, 'that is what I said about Shaktiah right up until the day she spoke to Arjun.'

            'What?' Arjun cried, concerned. 'What are you saying?'

            'Nothing.' Alyssa assured him. 'Don't worry. Suneep's just being an idiot.'

            'Ooh!' Suneep cried. 'Look who's getting on their high horse! With a ladder, as they are short.'

            Arjun laughed, grateful for the change of topic. 'You should marry Nepali man.' He put in. 'Nepali people are short.'

            'You're not.' Alyssa returned.

            'Suneep is.'

            Alyssa seemed embarrassed by this comment, and Suneep laughed uncomfortably. 'Bikram is shortest. Marry Bikram, bhainee.'

            Bikram, having heard his name, turned around. 'Who marries me?'

            'Alyssa!' Suneep cried, making Alyssa hide her face in shame. Arjun simply smiled at her in amusement.

            'Okay.' Bikram shrugged. 'I accept. But wait for the holidays.' Then, distractedly, he changed the subject. 'I hope Sanjay is all right.'

            Arjun nodded. 'I feel sad for Braj, Vijay, and him. They lost most of their family in BSI attacks. All they have left are their parents, each other, their young Uncle, and their rich cousin, who is like their brother because he lived with them for so long. I hope they experience no more pain.'

            'They lost that many?' Suneep asked in shock.

            Arjun nodded again. 'They were a relatively small family. But still.'

            'Suneep! Bikram!' A group called. 'Start fielding!'

            The two laughed, and jumped back into the game. Arjun continued talking to Alyssa until lunch time, when she went to find Liberty, who had her lunch. So Arjun ate his lunch alone, watching Ardi like a hawk.

            Suddenly, just as everyone was finishing, she stood up and walked off. Arjun watched her for a while, until he became concerned. Then he stood up and followed.

            He began to lose sight of the girl and sped up. He realised she was heading for a busy street, and ran to catch up.

            'Ardi!' He cried. The girl turned around. 'What are you doing?' The girl shrugged, and bolted. Arjun panicked. 'Ardi!' He shouted. He saw four men pick her up and felt his panic turn to terror. 'Ardi!' He screamed, pushing his way through the crowd.

            The men realised they were being chased and ran. 'Ardi!' Arjun cried at the top of his lungs. 'Scream! Scream so I can follow you!'

            Hundreds of people walked past, all ignoring the situation. Arjun ran desperately, pushing his way past everyone and everything. He even had the audacity to push a cow out of the way.

            'Ardi!' He screamed, desperate tears filling his eyes. 'Scream!'

            He couldn't see her anymore. 'Scream!' He shouted, hot tears rolling down his face. 'Ardi, scream! Why do you not scream?!' A few people stared at him now, but for the most part he was still ignored. 'Ardi!' He called again, as a truck nearly ran him over. As the truck disappeared, he realised he was at a huge intersection. 'Where did they go?!'

            He looked left, then right. He ran forward, then checked behind. He found himself on the middle of the roundabout, his hands on his head, and tears streaming down his face. 'Why didn't you scream?!' He screamed, receiving a few looks.

            He ran around desperately for two hours before returning to the others.

            'Where's Ardi?' Alyssa instantly asked him. Her face fell when she saw Arjun's.

            'She wouldn't scream!' He pleaded. 'I couldn't see her!'

            Alyssa – not a drama queen – began to panic. 'I can't believe it!' She cried. 'What a fool!'

            'Alyssa, I'm sorry!'

            'Not you, Arjun! Ardi! Come on, let's organise search parties. Calvin, sir! Please, call the police, Ardi is missing.'

            Calvin promptly began phoning the police. The Australians instantly split up and began searching a city they hardly knew.

            'No!' Arjun cried. 'Do not let them go!'

            'It's too late.' Dr. Ashwin snapped, stressed. 'Just go yourself. Vijay, take Liberty and Alyssa.' Vijay nodded, and walked off with the girls.

             Everyone was in a panic. No-one seriously thought that would be the last day they saw the Australians.

 

It was dark. The police had found nothing. Neither had any-one else. Vijay strolled up, looking sick.

            'Where are the girls?' Calvin asked instantly. He himself had quite a strong attachment to Alyssa.

            'I...' Vijay began to stammer, in a sort of daze. 'I... I lost them!'

            Arjun's heart beat double – tripled – in an instant. 'What?!' He shouted.

            'They just disappeared!' Vijay screamed back at him. 'I could not hear them... see them... even smell them! They were gone!'

            Suneep's face instantly paled, and he began to shake. 'No... no, they cannot be gone.'

            'I've looked everywhere!'

            'No!' Suneep suddenly cried. 'They cannot be gone! God would not do that – he would not take Shaktiah and Alyssa... and why would he take Liberty?! He wouldn't They are out there some-where!' Tears of fear and frustration ran down his face, and he raced into the night.

            'Suneep!' Arjun cried, chasing after the man.

            Bikram was equally horrified, and went a little silly. The panic that had fallen only became worse, as they realised all the Australians were missing.

            'They do not answer their phone.' Chandan worried, making numerous phone calls and sending numerous texts.

            Arjun stopped running and looked behind him. Blue and red lights were flashing, people were running everywhere, and those that weren't were either speaking to police or madly trying to contact the Australians.

            'This is my fault!' Suneep suddenly cried.

            Arjun turned instantly to his friend. 'What?'

            'The kidnappers – what were they wearing?'

            'One had a singlet and a shaved head...'

            'I spoke to them!' Suneep concluded. 'I told them the Australians were rich.'

            Arjun's face fell as he realised they were the same men. 'No.' He muttered. 'That cannot be true. Do not say that, Suneep. You are innocent. See? They did not kidnap Vijay's cousin Bikash.'

            Suneep didn't believe Arjun's kind words, and broke down. 'Why?' He screamed. 'Why, why, why? Why can't I just die?!'

            'Stop it!' Arjun shouted, unusually aggressive. 'This is not all about you! How do you think I feel? How does Mehmet feel? Or Dr. Ashwin? How do you think he will tell the Australian churches their youth went missing under his care?! How do you think this will effect relations between BCA and BSI?! Think, Suneep! Think of everyone else! Just stop, okay?!' With this, Arjun ran off.

            They searched all night, until the only ones left searching besides the police were the seven friends. Arjun was not coping well with the stress and exhaustion, and continued running purely on adrenalin. Bikram threw up just as the sun began to rise, and Chandan didn't look too much better. Mehmet suddenly collapsed, though he did not fall unconscious.

            'We should give up.' Danny moaned. 'We have done our best.'

            Josha agreed. 'There's nothing more we can do.'

            Bikram, Mehmet, and Chandan nodded regretfully, and began searching for a rickshaw.

            'No!' Suneep cried, looking sick himself. 'They have to be around!'

            Arjun knew in his heart that searching was useless, but couldn’t resign himself to quitting. 'I have to keep going.' He muttered, sounding half asleep.

            In the end, Danny and Josha had carried the two to a rickshaw, and forced them back to the BSI. The seven arrived to find a police car, and Vijay and Braj in tears.

            'You!' Vijay cried, as Bikram walked past. 'Are you aware you killed my brother! You hugged him too hard, you fool!'

            Braj sadly shook his head. 'No, dai, you did not. Do not worry. The hospital should not have let him out.'

            'But he would be fine!' Vijay screamed. 'Fine if it weren't for you, squeezing him to death!'

            Bikram's eyes filled with exhausted tears, and he non-sensibly blubbered, 'I'm sorry! I am so sad! Sanjay was such a good friend! Do not be mad at me!' No-one really understood what he was saying, but Braj hugged him anyway.

            'It was you!' Vijay continued to sob, deeply unhappy. Calvin eventually came and put his arms around his friend, which improved things a little.

            'How much more?' Josha muttered. 'How much more do we all have to take?'

            Suneep's tired face remained set. 'A lot more. We have lost friends – we will have to endure a lot more without them.'

            Arjun did not bother contradicting his friend. He simply walked to his room, fell on his bed, and slept.

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