Why is she late? She’s never late. Ever since I’ve known her she’s always been on time. I check my watch again. Over ten minutes. Maybe I should call or text. I clutch my purse closer. It doesn’t feel any different, despite the explosive nature of the contents. How did I get mixed up in this? I’m in so far over my head. I should have told Sally days ago.
I’m sure the security guard sensed something was wrong when I left the building. Sure, he smiled at me when I passed his desk but maybe he knows. Maybe someone checked Neil’s emails.
If only I hadn’t— Oh, it’s no use rehashing the whole thing and playing the blame game.
Where is she?
A text! I remove my glove and feel the bite of the Ottawa winter as I rummage in my purse. Because of my hat, sunglasses and scarf, the phone doesn’t recognize my face, which is kind of the point. My hands tremble as I enter my passcode. Her text reads, I’m just parking. It’s her second text. I must have missed the first one. It says, Got delayed by a call from my boss. Had to take it.
Thank God. I need to get the papers into her hands. She’ll know what to do. She always knows what to do. A problem shared and all that. It was a crazy idea sending them to Denis. How could he possibly be of any use? What was I thinking? I should have come to her in the first place.
There are a few people walking along the canal—all bundled up against the cold and on their way to an early lunch, no doubt—but I’m the only one sitting on a bench. I turn to look towards the ramp leading into the Rideau Centre parking; no sign of her yet. Then I see the young man. His face seems vaguely familiar. He sits on the next bench over from me and shuffles off his heavy backpack. There is a length of string protruding from the middle compartment. His jacket is definitely not made for a Canadian December and he seems to be trembling. I can’t help feeling sorry for him. He looks like he’s a new immigrant and it’s likely his first encounter with our snowy winters. He looks middle-eastern. Maybe he was a refugee. Who knows what he may have gone through to get to the safety of Canada.
He cuts a look at me and gives me a shy smile. No, not shy. Embarrassed maybe. I give him a smile back. I want to reach out to him. Say something welcoming; tell him the winters aren’t so bad once you get used to them. Maybe I should tell him where he can get a good winter jacket, without paying an arm and a leg for it.
But before I can say anything, I see her; she’s crossing the street towards me. Relief floods in and, with a quick smile to the young man, I stand and walk to her. She wraps me in a big hug and for the first time in five days, I feel safe. Thank God she’s here. We just stand hugging in the middle of the sidewalk, people passing on either side of us.
Suddenly she tenses.
I pull back and look at her face.
I turn and follow her gaze.
Five meters away the young man is on his feet clutching his backpack to his chest and holding the string sticking out of it.
Sally pushes me aside and shouts “NOOOO!” as she runs at him.
He yells, “ALLĀHU AKBAR.”
He looks at me, his lips say one word, ‘Sorry.’
As she is about to barrel into him he pulls the string.