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Unshakable Faith: Survivors of the Mumbai Terrorist Attacks
Michael dived to the floor beside their table only to be shot in the buttocks. The bullet traveled to his gut and lodged there. Linda, the illustrator, landed on top of Michael, covering him. The pilgrims under and around the table whispered to one another to be still and play dead. In a moment of silence, Linda lifted her head to peek around.
There, reflected in a mirrored column, was one of the terrorists standing about 10 feet away. "He looked like a kid with an oversize backpack," Linda later recalled. "He was wearing khakis and a white T-shirt. He looked like a student, yet he was hunting us: hands on the trigger, alert, eyes darting for any movement. I noticed the gun. I thought, 'Wow, that thing is huge. If you stood it up it, would be as tall as him.' That's when I laid my head down and thought: I have not been shot. I have not been shot."
Then boom: The hunter fired at Linda. A bullet struck her in the back and exited her thigh. Linda fainted. Helen knelt under the table and bent forward until her forehead touched the floor in a yoga position called child's pose. She quietly chanted "om shanti, om shanti" -- universal peace -- and gripped Alan's hand. More gunfire. Helen heard Rudrani, the Nashville meditation teacher, cry out that she, too, had been shot. An Indian couple who had been dining at a small table nearby dived under the pilgrims' larger table, and the woman landed on Helen's legs.
The couple's movement drew more fire. One of the shooters opened up directly into the top of the pilgrim's table, raking it over and over again with bullets. "My impression was of a kid playing a video game trying to get a perfect score, because he just kept shooting and shooting," Helen recalled. "Naomi let out a scream, but no words. I prayed that she would be quiet, because I thought that as long as she made sounds of life, he would keep shooting her."
Helen felt a bullet graze her thigh but knew it wasn't serious. It felt like a bee sting. The Indian man and woman who had dived under the pilgrim's table were shot, too. Helen heard the man murmuring in English to the woman, whose name sounded to Helen like Mystery, or the common Indian surname Mistry. "I heard him say, 'Oh, Mistry, I'm so afraid I'm doing to die here. Oh, Mistry, I'm so afraid to die here,' " Helen recalled. The man fell silent. Helen felt the woman's weight grow heavier on her legs. Suddenly, Helen realized that Alan wasn't holding her hand anymore, and she had no idea when he'd let go.
Then there was just silence. Helen was afraid to lift her head to see if the gunmen had left the restaurant. A voice came from a service area near the restaurant kitchen, just a few yards from their table. It was a hotel employee, who called softly:
"If anyone can move, come this way."
Linda, bleeding profusely, headed for the sound of the man's voice, a journey she later recalled in mystical terms: "I simply said yes to the universe, and the universe said, 'Here's the way.' "
Rudrani, the meditation instructor now so gravely injured she would later have to relearn how to walk, couldn't move. She lifted her one good arm and called out to anyone who would listen: "Drag me!"
A hotel employee darted into the open dining area. He grabbed Rudrani's offered arm and pulled her to safety past dozens of diners and waiters lying dead on the floor of the restaurant, their eyes open.
Helen struggled up from beneath the weight of the dead Indian woman. Once freed, she saw Alan. He had a gaping head wound that was clearly fatal. Naomi didn't appear to have a mark on her, but the teen was still -- too still. Helen lifted one of Naomi's arms. It dropped lifelessly. So Helen stood and raced toward the door of the staff service area, trying to crouch low as she made her escape.
Michael had lost consciousness lying face down in his own blood. When he came to, he heard a grenade explode, then what sounded like the gunmen breaking furniture and pouring gasoline nearby. Michael used his uninjured left arm to crawl, soldier-style, away from the sound of the gunmen. He crawled through the swinging door into the kitchen stairwell. Once there, he managed to stand and stagger to the street outside, despite injuries that would leave him facing multiple surgeries and a question: