THREE WEEKS LATER SHYLOH was in Cairo covering an international conference on migration. Aiya was seated across from him on the patio of a small restaurant four blocks from the hotel where the conference was taking place.
“The restaurant in the hotel is too expensive,” Aiya said. “The money would be better spent on food and shelter for migrants.”
Aiya, now the elected head of Interfaith, was a delegate at the conference and a keynote speaker. Her compassion for displaced populations and her skill dealing with politicians and government bureaucracies had gained her international recognition as a leader among faith-based organizations.
“How is the conference going?” Shyloh said.
“We all agree as faith communities we have a moral obligation to stand with the most vulnerable among us.”
“But does that moral obligation translate into lobbying their country’s leaders to accept higher quotas for migrants and refugees?”
“I can only hope,” Aiya said. “Xenophobia is on the rise and with it the dehumanization of immigrants.”
There was a flash, the ground shook.
“Down.” Shyloh grabbed Aiya’s arm and yanked her off her chair.
The shock wave blew out the windows in the restaurant and swept the table clear of plates and cutlery. A thunderclap punished his eardrums. Then silence.
“A bomb?” Aiya said. She was beneath him, sheltered by his body.
Shyloh stood and helped her up. People were running, sirens were wailing, a black column of smoke came from the vicinity of the hotel where the conference was being held.
“We must see if we can help,” Aiya said.
“No.” Shyloh took her arm and lead her in the opposite direction. “Down here.” They entered a narrow alley.
Aiya pulled away. “Shyloh, what are you doing? I have friends and colleagues there. I have to see if they’re okay.”
The second blast left them cringing in the shadows with a fine dust raining down on them.
“How did you know?”
“The first bomb is always the primary target, the second one is aimed at first responders,” Shyloh said. They ran down the twisting corridor and emerged onto a street where life seemed normal.
“Do you have your airline ticket and passport with you?” he said
Shyloh hailed a cab. “Go to the airport and take the first flight back home.”
“The conference is over, Aiya. This could be a coordinated attack with more locations. You need to get out of here before the city becomes paralyzed, and the airport shuts down.”
“What about you?”
“For a journalist it doesn’t get much better than to be living the story you’re writing.”
* * *
HIS FATHER’S STROKE brought Shyloh home for the first time after three years abroad.
It appeared Jiang Tam might have a complete recovery, but he needed careful monitoring.
He’d recently retired as a senior tax auditor with the federal government and lived alone in the five-bedroom house Shyloh had grown up in. His only socialization as far as his son knew was the occasional visit to the Mahjong Club at the University of British Columbia. His wife had provided him with a social network and after she was killed twenty-one years ago he either lacked the skills or the interest, or both to interact with other humans beyond what was absolutely necessary.
That included his son.
When Shyloh got the call about his father he was in Bhutan. He was working on an article about the country’s unique policy of Gross National Happiness, which measured the nation’s progress in terms of the wellbeing of its citizens in relationship to the systemic discrimination of the Lhotshampa, the state’s ethnic Nepalese minority who were mostly Hindu.
“I have to return to Vancouver to attend to a family matter,” Shyloh told his editor.
“Of course. Can you file the Bhutan story en route?”
“Yes.” It would be a twenty hour flight via Bangkok.
“As soon as you’re able, we want you to go to Bangui in the Central African Republic to report on what life is like for the five million people who live in a country defined by borders on the map but not by effective government control of the territory.”
“I’ll be in touch.” Shyloh had been in the region a year ago. He saw no purpose to revisit this unraveling of society, a microcosm of what the rest of the world could expect.
Two weeks after returning, Shyloh arrived home from meeting with executives of the New Cascadia Party and found his father on the floor in the bathroom. He’d suffered another stroke, this time a major one.
“How is he?” Shyloh spoke to the neurologist outside an operating theatre at Vancouver General.
“Critical. We need to reduce the pressure on his brain but we can’t until we control the bleeding.”
His father was still in surgery when Shyloh left to keep his date with Aiya and Judith.
It was a brilliant day, and as he approached, he spotted his two friends sitting at a table on the restaurant’s patio. They leaned toward each other laughing and as they shared this intimacy Aiya reached out and touched Judith’s arm.
The women respected each other, but there’d always been tension and wariness, but at that moment they appeared to be friends, good friends. For the first time Shyloh wondered if he could be the cause of that friction?
But why should that be the case? He loved them both equally. By now they both must know his relationship with each of them was platonic. Physical intimacy was not part of the appeal or the payoff.
He watched as the eyes of other patrons strayed to the two beautiful women who emanated an aura of confidence and power. He’d missed them, their energy, their friendship and their counsel, which was what he needed now.
Shyloh approached the table. Judith saw him first and bestowed upon him one of her rare smiles. Aiya turned, put her hand to her mouth and blinked back tears. This was a homecoming.
Over lunch they got caught up though they had a good idea what each had been doing. Judith was on leave while preparing a report about the effectiveness of covert operations in various parts of the Middle East and Africa. Aiya was still advocating on the behalf of millions of migrants while getting her PHD in religious studies and a professorship at Simon Fraser University teaching Natural Theology.
The Triumvirate didn’t waste time on small talk and soon Judith and Aiya were impatient to find out the real purpose behind their meeting.
“I’ve been asked to seek the nomination in Vancouver-Kensington for the New Cascadia Party,” Shyloh said.
There was silence as the women processed this information.
Aiya spoke first. “Your stories have given you quite a profile.”
Shyloh looked to Judith.
“They want to take British Columbia out of confederation.”
“I’ve just spent the last three years fighting to keep countries together and you want to tear ours apart.”
“You’ve been fighting on the wrong side, Judith.”
“The super powers are paying the price for past mistakes,” Shyloh said. “After World War II the victors carved up regions to suit themselves not the people who inhabited them. These countries of convenience with their artificial borders didn’t take into consideration eons of history and culture, or natural boundaries and resources.”
“Shyloh’s right, Aiya said. "Syria has a semblance of peace now the various nationalities have agreed to co-exist together in more or less autonomous regions so they can’t oppress each other.”
"These countries have only lasted this long, Judith, because those who were granted power by proxy were also given the means to suppress the rights and aspirations of other ethnic and religious populations,” Shyloh said.
“Canada’s been suppressing your rights?” Judith said.
“The latest polls show growing support for secession. Grievances are long and legitimate.”
“There’s a critical problem with illegal migrants,” Aiya said. “We’re overwhelmed. We don’t have the resources to service them and the feds are in denial.”
“If we start now, Judith, this can be done with ballots rather than bullets.” Shyloh knew Judith was sympathetic to most of the NCP policies, but that was before she became an officer in the Canadian Arm Forces and took the oath to “bear true allegiance... so help me God.”
“And getting you elected is the first step?” she said.
“I need to know you support me in this,” Shyloh said. “If you don’t, if you think it’s a bad idea, I won’t move forward.”
Shyloh had always felt the seeds of change were within him and now the experiences of the past three years had made them germinate. The time was right, and this was the opportunity to shed the light on his budding ideology if it was to grow. He needed Aiya and Judith and the resources they could muster to win the nomination and then the election, but most importantly he trusted their intellect and instincts. If either of them said no he’d have to reassess his strategy, timing, philosophy–everything.
“I’ll support you, Shyloh, and I know I can convince many members of InterFaith as well.”
“Judith?” Shyloh had the heart now he needed the muscle.
“You know what you’re asking me?” Judith was his friend, but she was also a soldier, an officer and a principled person.
“Yes, but I don’t have to point out what your oath has made you do, train the armies of regimes who commit genocide and ethnic cleansing.” Shyloh waited.
“I’m in,” Judith said. “I’ll support you.”
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