Gold And Fishes

By Donna Carrick

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On December 26, 2004 the earth erupted under the waters of the Indian Ocean.

For Canadian aid worker Ayla Harris, her first overseas mission to post-tsunami Indonesia presents the perfect opportunity for escape. A failed romance with a married man and a strained relationship with her twin sister have left her suffering a general sense of ‘detachment’.

But a late night call on the eve of her departure reminds Ayla the bonds of love can be tenacious. It turns out her wheeler-dealer brother-in-law, Robert Trasque, has gone missing in Thailand.

However, it is the injured orphan Mahdi who restores Ayla’s soul with a single word: mother. In his child’s eyes she discovers the extent of her connection to the world.

From the devastated tourist beaches of Southeast Asia to the graveyard that was Banda Aceh, Ayla sets out on a personal mission – to find her sister’s gold-hungry husband and return him to his family.

In the midst of universal tragedy, what is the value of a single life? Can Ayla expose a killer and avoid becoming the next victim as she and her team struggle to bring hope to a region that is drowning in despair?



January 28, 2005

It was time for me to go. I had already said selamat tinggal – goodbye – to anyone who would remember I was there. My bag flopped forward on the tarmac like a worker at the end of a long shift.

Captain William McNairn of the US Marines ran toward me. He waved and pointed to where his helicopter sat beside a skid of empty crates. I would pay for this last flight to Phuket International Airport as I had the others, in the currency of Banda Aceh those days, not the usual Rupiahs, nor even US dollars, but instead the currency of labour. Before the flight I would load empty crates onto the helicopter. In Phuket I would help to unload them, and then we would load whatever Billy could grab for Banda Aceh – food, medicine or more likely body bags.

I tossed my pack into the chopper and climbed up after it. Billy grunted his hello and threw the first crate into my waiting hands.

I didn’t have a photo of Billy. I studied his face, determined to remember every line and every trick of light that made him. He was not the man I remembered from that first day. I suspected I wasn’t the woman he remembered either.

At least I hoped I wasn’t. No one should witness such tragedy and remain unchanged.

“All set, Ayla?” Billy said. I nodded. His next sentence was lost under the roar of the propellers. I was sorry not to hear him. He had become a man of so few words.

We kept a companionable silence over Aceh Province. Once we hit the open water, though, the quiet became ominous. Billy stared at the dark waves.

Looking out over the Strait of Malacca for what was probably the last time, I was aware of a sense of loss.

Did I dare to hope my efforts in Banda Aceh would make a difference? Already there were reports of man-made deaths even as we struggled in those camps to foster the smallest spark of life.

And what would happen when Captain Billy McNairn and his fellow Marines left the region? Would Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono honour his promises to rebuild Sumatra Island? Or was the dark cloud hanging over Aceh Province bringing with it more unspeakable acts?