Vessna hummed softly to herself, her knife keeping time in a gentle staccato as she chopped the ingredients for tonight’s dinner. Only two plates to prepare tonight, instead of three. She smiled whimsically at the places already set at the table and thought of her baby, Chelsea, and how grown up she had looked at the airport last week. The time had gone by so fast already. Amazing how she could think that, now, without that cold sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.
Warm arms slipped around her waist, and the knife stilled in her hand. “You’re distracting me,” she murmured to her husband, a smile tugging at her lips.
“No distraction intended.” Brian nibbled at her ear, playful and teasing.
With a giggle, Vessna ducked out of his embrace and pointed the knife at him with mock severity. “Off with you. I have important culinary labours to attend to.”
He pouted and slunk off to the lounge room as she straightened her apron. Really, it had been nice being just the two of them again, she conceded to herself, if only for a little while.
The sound of the TV swelled in the room next door as Brian found the remote. The newscaster’s voice filled the small space, smooth and cultured. Vessna began chopping again, the tomato leaving stains like blood on her wooden board.
“…and breaking news from Mindanao in the Philippines,” the voice said. Vessna paused mid-slice, unsure if she had heard the name correctly.
“Brian? Was that - ”
“…ten Christians have been brutally murdered by Islamic extremists in the small provincial town of Naga, in the latest uprising by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. There are believed to have been foreign aid workers among those targeted. So far, no motivation has been established for the chilling attack.…”
The room slid sideways, and she gripped the bench.
Time shuddered to a stop like a piece of old machinery that has at last rusted beyond all repair.
The knife twisted slowly through the air in a free-fall of exquisite pain, and clattered…eventually… to the floor.
Her eyes are so bright, was her mother’s only thought as she looked at her daughter that day.
“I don’t want you to go,” she said fiercely, hugging the thin body. Chelsea laughed, squirming away.
“Don’t be silly,” she said, all vividness and life. “It’s only for eight days. And think of all the good we’ll do.”
Their pastor, a graying man with kind eyes, stepped over and put his hand on her shoulder in support.
“She’s in good hands,” he assured Vessna. “She’ll be back before you know it.”
The youth group kids had converged then like a flock of seagulls, shrieking and laughing and swinging their bags. They’re pulling her away, Vessna thought desperately. She clung on for a second longer, her face buried in her daughter’s long dark hair.
“I have to go,” Chelsea murmured. “This is where God wants me to be. I love you, Mum.”
“Bye, baby,” Vessna whispered, wondering why the words stuck in her throat as though they were fashioned from barbed wire.
The sky was blue overhead, so blue that the heat seemed to bounce off the walls of the white chapel that she had helped to build.
The glare hurt Chelsea’s eyes.
She knelt in the dirt, painfully, surrounded by broken bricks and rubble. The work will never be finished now, was her one disjointed thought.
The crack of gunfire echoed through the clearing, and suddenly the white wall bloomed with red before her like a tropical flower. Chelsea jerked spasmodically, strangling a cry as the body of the Filipino Christian slumped to the ground beside her.
“Are there any others?” the man screamed. “Why not renounce your Jesus? He is not going to save you!”
He already has, thought Chelsea, as the crazed man swung in her direction. A single tear rolled down her cheek, leaving a clear track through the dust of despair.
Oh, if only you knew, that he already has.
The gun was colder than ice against her sweating temple. Fear clawed up within her, but faith rose even stronger.
She looked away from the bloodied wall, the fallen bodies, and up toward the aching blue of that perfect sky. Into your hands…
“Goodbye, Mama,” she whispered. “I’ll see you back home.”
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