THE SEARING HEAT OF the afternoon had backed off only a few degrees and the short walk across the open concourse between the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel conference center to the air-conditioned comfort of the magnificent atrium lobby of the Oberoi-Trident had left Klara Karlsson-Tan feeling sticky and uncomfortable. It was the last time she’d attend a symposium in Mumbai in November and that was for sure.
She tossed her yellow pastel suit jacket on the linen sofa. She’d take a shower before bed, but first she needed to make a call. Vancouver was thirteen and a half hours behind Mumbai, which made it about 8:30 a.m., early enough that her son and husband would still be at home.
“Jiang, it’s me.”
“How did your meetings go?”
“We worked into the night. The global financial crisis is making asking for aid very difficult. When stock markets are crashing and banks are collapsing starving children in third world countries don’t have a high priority.”
Klara didn’t want to discuss the symposium, about new strategies to raise funds to feed hungry people, she wanted to talk to her son.
“Can I talk to Shyloh?”
“He’s here waiting.”
“Hi, Mom, when are you coming home?”
“Hi, honey. I catch the plane tomorrow morning. I’ll see you Tuesday.”
“How come so long?”
“I’m on the other side of the world, Shyloh. What are you and Daddy doing today?” It was Saturday, a day she and her son spent together adventuring.
“He’s working, and it’s raining so I’m going with Judith and her mother to Science World. Mommy, what’s that noise?”
“Firecrackers, I think.” Klara walked with her cell phone to the window and looked down. What were people doing laying on the pool deck at this hour?
“Oh, my God.”
An explosion in another part of the hotel shook the room. The fire alarm rang.
“What was that big boom, Mom?”
“Put Daddy on the phone, Shy.” Klara tried to keep her voice calm. The hotel had five hundred and fifty-five rooms, maybe she’d be safe. She heard screams and automatic rifle fire. It was coming closer. Should she try to get out of the hotel or hide in her room?
“What’s happening, Mommy?”
“Nothing, Shyloh. The people in the next room are just having a noisy party. Please, I need to talk to your father.”
“Daddy, Mommy wants to talk to you. Is it night there, Mom?”
They were in the hall, outside her door. Screams, gun shots.
“I love you, Shyloh.”
“What? I love you too, Mommy. When you get home–”
The door to the hotel room opened. A young South Asian man, barely more than a boy, stood in the doorway holding an AK-47 machine gun in one hand and a pass key card in the other. He stepped inside the room leaving behind smoke and mayhem in the hall.
“What do you want?” Klara could hear her son, twelve thousand kilometres away, still talking on the cellphone.
The terrorist put the pass key in his shirt pocket, looked left and right, then raised the weapon and pulled the trigger.
* * *
SHYLOH WAS WEARING his “little man” suit. That’s what his mother called him when she dressed him in it for special occasions. He hadn’t knotted the tie properly, but he didn’t want to bother his father. He looked outside the window of the limousine as it drove them home through the wet Vancouver streets. He hoped his mother would have been proud of him.
A lot of important people had attended his mother’s funeral. There were even television cameras. Shyloh wished he could have sat with Judith and her family and avoided all the attention, but his father said he had to sit up front with him.
Everyone said how sorry they were and what a terrible tragedy it was. They all said what a wonderful person his mother had been and how she’d died trying to make the world a better place.
Shyloh wanted to ask his father why Mommy was killed if she was trying to help people? Now they were alone he spoke up.
“What?” his father said.
“If Mommy was trying to make the world a better place why did they shoot her?”
“I don’t know, it’s too complicated for a six-year-old.”
“Maybe I can do something to make the world a better place so it doesn’t happen to someone else’s mom.”
“That would make your mother very proud.”
“What do you think I can do, Dad?”
“I’m sure there’ll be lots of opportunities when you’re older.”
Shyloh didn’t want to wait. Thinking about how to make the world better made him feel better, not a lot, but maybe if he could find things to do the awful, hopeless feeling would go away. He’d start today, and he wouldn’t stop until he was happy and the world was a better place, like before the telephone call.
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