All the members of the orchestra playing their hearts out – violins soaring, cellos winding sonorously upwards, bass drum driving the symphony ever faster towards a glorious crescendo. Then, suddenly a blast of light ripping through the stage bringing it all to a shocking, eyeball-searing end.
The hall had been packed and aromatic. The Sidebottom family had come straight from the curry-house and the peas in their meal had been making their effects felt. Silent but deadly had been the watchword. The rest of the audience had tried to concentrate on the performance; what else could they do?
Considering they’d had just five days to rehearse, the orchestra had been excellent. The ‘Bhutan Benefit Concert’ had been inspired by the massive earthquake that had just devastated that region. They’d felt hopeless in the face of the tragic scenes on their televisions, and yet they’d had to do something.
Watching from the box next to the stage, Ali and Mahmoud had waited for the right moment. Dressed from head to toe in black, they’d sat, poised and attentive.
Casting their eyes over the crowd, they’d felt nostalgic. They’d once been held in the bosom of loving families. Laughter and kind words, hair mussed by fat-bottomed aunties, sweet treats baking in the kitchen. All the comforts of home.
Then they’d been made to travel. A long, hard journey had sapped their strength and yet honed their determination to succeed. Tonight was the sharp end of their resolve; their plans come to fruition.
Ali had taken out his smartphone just before Mahmoud had pushed the button. He’d held it up before their resolute faces and recorded a message – for posterity – so that they would understand. They had to understand!
“This is for my people.” A fierce whisper. “This is for them what we have lost. My brothers. My sisters. You will be remembered.”
Ali’s hooded eyes had burned into the screen. “This goes to my family so as they know what this is about.” He had turned his head to look at the stage. “It’s time.”
Ali had then turned to record the events on the stage. The orchestra had been coming to a crescendo – the sound from the instruments mounting as each joined and added to the din.
‘It’s our paradise and it’s our war zone.’ The earworm had coursed through Mahmoud’s mind, even as he’d counted down the final bars – finger tapping the air.
Mahmoud had then pushed the button decisively – his timing perfect.
Only Harry had seen it happen; distracted by the slight motion of Mahmoud’s finger he’d looked up and seen the triumphant smile that had lit his dark features. He’d seen the sudden flash of light from the stage reflected in those wide open eyes.
Whipping his head to the front he’d just managed to catch the after-effects of the theatrical flash cartridges as they’d fired simultaneously with the last clash of cymbals, the final exultant beat of the bass drum. As the music and light burst against the shore of the audience, they rose to their feet applauding rapturously.
Harry looked up again at the two lighting technicians. Catching Ali’s eye he broke off from his applause and stuck both thumbs up in the air, a smirk plastered across his face. Ali stuck his thumb up in reply and turned to Mahmoud, moving the camera back onto their faces.
“Mom, Dad, we studying hard and we’ll become doctors just like what you want – but this is what we love – this is where our hearts is.”
Mahmoud struggled to pull something from his bag while Ali was speaking. Finally, he pulled a plastic wrapped package free and held it up to the camera. “That – and peanut butter jelly sandwiches!” he added with a boyish grin, before ripping open the bag and stuffing one of the sandwiches hungrily into his mouth.