He was certain his papa was still looking down on him now, as certain as he was before that airplane took off and, despite never getting high enough off the ground, still landed in heaven.
Daddy was watching from above back then, too. He knew it. Why else would Mama have told her little boy to smile his biggest smile into the camera and wave?
Sitting on the other side of the world, Ruslan Salei would wave back at his laptop screen, his eyes and his heart having returned home again even as his body and his tomorrows remained in Russia.
Mama never really had cared if her little boy played hockey. That was her husband's life, Bethann Salei always figured, and a 4-year-old shouldn't have to worry about doing anything more than being a 4-year-old.
But everything changed in September when that plane fell from the Yaroslavl sky, taking 44 of the 45 souls onboard. Now, it mattered. The game mattered. Hockey mattered. A father's memory depended on it.
So, to get little Aleksandro back on the ice after the accident, after he had decided he didn't want to play the game anymore if his papa couldn't play the game anymore, Bethann had to bribe him.
With a balloon.
Every day before practice, for three weeks, they would stop at Pavilions, buy two balloons — one for Aleksandro and one for his sister, Alexis — go outside, allow the strings to slip through their hands, tickling their tiny fingers, and watch as the balloons floated away.
Higher and higher and higher still, until finally disappearing.
"It's gone, mama," Aleksandro would say then. "Papa caught it."