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Excerpt from The East Wind

'The East Wind'.Chapter 12

Namibia - Mariental

Rafa snapped the light on and threw his flight bag on one of the two single beds, "Hot enough for you?" He turned to Colin who had entered behind him. Colin's thin cotton shirt was unbuttoned, hanging outside of his shorts and he held a small suitcase in one hand.

"Turn the air conditioning up Rafa, this is terrible."

"No, you must acclimatize, air conditioning will hold you back, here ... " He opened the windows and the sound of splashing rose from below, "Change into your trunks and we'll have a quick swim before supper."

Twenty minutes later they were back in the room, refreshed. Colin watched fascinated as Rafa towelled himself vigorously, a cluster of white and purple ridged scars on his back and chest, a vivid pattern against his swarthy skin.

"What happened to you?" Colin pointed to the scars.

The Chilean grunted. "An accident -- long ago. Now go and have a shower or we'll be late in the dining room."

"Aw, come on Rafa, what sort of an accident? How did it happen? Did you crash?"

"Crash! Well I suppose you could call it that, but at least it was not through lack of flying skill." He looked at Colin keenly. "Once upon a time there was a war, or perhaps more than one, I no longer wish to remember, but like you I was young then and thought I was immortal." He shivered despite the oppressive heat. "Por Dias, enough of this. Some day perhaps I will tell you a story, but right now we need to eat, so go and shower." Later when they had both dressed in clean lightweight clothing, they descended the stairs to the dining room.

Three men in short-sleeved open-necked shirts and shorts, with nothing but rubber thongs on their feet, yelled a greeting at them and Rafa pulled Colin over.

"Hey, you guys, where is number four, I must leave early tomorrow?"

"Jack Richardson left yesterday. The old man sent a message that he had to go down to O'Kiep and sit in on some conference, and we have at least another day's field work. It looks like you'll have a free day tomorrow. Butchert wants you to wait until we're finished so I advised Tsamma of the delay and asked them to call our wives. So, you lucky bastard, you can buy the drinks. Come and join us." The speaker, a giant of a man with a mahogany suntan and a massive black beard, looked at Colin questioningly.

"Norman, this is my new co-pilot, Colin Mornay - Colin these refugees from the forbidden zone are what passes these days for geologists - watch your fingers when you shake hands." A howl of protest from the others greeted his comment and Norman quickly retorted.

"Watch it, Colin lad, I hate to say this, seeing as we are to put our lives in his less than perfect flying skills, but you must have nerves of steel to fly with old Sancho Ricketyback here." He turned to the others. "I bet Castro sent him to subvert our Western values." More laughter swept the table and Colin looked from face to face. He had never come across men like this before and he suddenly felt uncharacteristically shy.

"Here, sit down Colin." A chair was dragged squealing across the slate floor, "Mornay, not related to Dave are you?"

"Yes he's my uncle."

The speaker looked at Colin with renewed interest and respect, "Good bloke Dave, one of the few managers who has any bloody sense on the plant."

Later that evening, the others having left to see a movie at the local cinema which they called the "Bioscope," Colin and Rafa sat on the verandah outside their room, the only light in the inky evening coming from scattered street lights and the glow of Rafa's cigarillo. Colin felt lightheaded, Rafa had allowed him two beers and he had joined in the wisecracks that bounced around the table, feeling flattered that these men treated him as an adult. From talk around the table, he gathered that little love was lost between the field staff, like these geologists, and the "Paper Tigers" who ran the mine. One of the exceptions, they all agreed, was David Mornay, who they all seemed to think well of.

Colin raised the point now with Rafa. "Norman and the others think my uncle is a pretty good guy."

"Don't you?" the glowing tip of the cigarillo made a slight arc.

"Yes, I guess so, but I hardly see him, 'cause he's at the mine most of the time. Sometimes I think he doesn't like me very much."

"Colin, you must understand, your uncle is a very hard man, believe me, I've met quite a few. He doesn't know how to treat you. He expects ... "

Colin interjected - "He expects me to like everything he likes and nothing I do seems to please him, but I don't care. I'll be going home in four weeks so it really doesn't matter."

"Perhaps, if I tell you that a young fellow, just a little older than you, was killed the week before you got here ... "

"I don't see what ..."

"Wait a minute! You've got a bad habit of not letting me finish a sentence. The young man -- his name was Ivan -- was very popular with the construction crews, but especially with your uncle. Dave helped him get the job and sort of took Ivan under his wing. Dave and Wessel van der Walt spent a lot of time keeping an eye on him and training him." Rafa drew deeply on the cigarillo and in the ruddy glow Colin saw the deep lines of pain. "Ivan was crushed when a compressor broke free and pinned him against a drill rig. Dave and I have both lost friends over the years, but this was different -- unexpected -- and then of course you arrived." Colin said nothing, staring mesmerised at the lean face lit by the cigarillo.

"You see, Colin, for men like us -- Dave, Wessel, myself -- we have no family to speak of. We chose long ago, for whatever reason, to live alone without close ties. But then one day you come to realize -- when you see other men with their sons or daughters -- you realize just what you've given up, and of course by then it's too late. For us, Ivan was special, but for Dave he was like a son and then you, his nephew, arrives and he compares you, forgetting that you're from a different world and aren't part of our world like Ivan was. Do you understand?"

"I suppose I'm a poor substitute." Colin's voice was bitter. "My own father doesn't think much of me, so why should my uncle?"

"Stop feeling sorry for yourself, boy. You are neither a poor or a good substitute, simply different." Rafa's voice was surprisingly gentle. "No one can ever be all things to all people, but perhaps for us, Ivan was. But he's dead and you're alive, and that is what matters now. You are young yet, but as I said before, you have good hands and you have courage. Oh, yes! I watched you when we hit the storm over Windhoek, so don't be too hard on yourself. You still have lots of growing to do."

For a while they sat in silence, then Colin asked,"Does my uncle ever talk about why he left home when he was a little older than me?"

In the gloom Rafa chuckled, "No, he's never mentioned that to me. He's not a man for confidences but sometimes, when the Black Dog walks and he needs to talk, he tells me a little of his time in Vietnam."

"The Black Dog?"

"It's an old mercenary saying and it refers to things you would rather forget - things that should be forgotten if a man is to remain sane. Like a big black dog that must be taken for a walk, he comes when you least expect him and must be dealt with."

"Did you also fight in Vietnam? Is that where you got those scars?"

"No, my wars were in Africa." He sighed, "Why is it that war is so fascinating to the young?" He lit a fresh cigarillo, and Colin waited quietly. "During the Simba uprising in the Congo, I was attached to Colonel Mike Hoare's number 5 commando, and flew a small spotter aircraft for the mercenaries -- a little Piper Cub -- and my job among others was to try to keep the forward columns informed of ambushes ahead. Among the Commando I was attached to, was an Englishman who like many of the others had come to find adventure, be a hero and make lots of money. The problem was that when the shooting started, he realized he wasn't cut out to be a soldier so he tried to desert. This man, Wilson was his name, was short, fat and smelt of garlic. He was a great whiner and I don't know how he avoided being shot when the Colonel recaptured him.

We were fighting near a town called Bukavu and the Simbas were being directed by regular Cuban troops. The Colonel ordered me to try and spot the location of the artillery that was throwing heavy stuff at us and slowing down our advance. To cut a long story short, while I was airborne over the Simba lines, the Piper took a burst in the engine and started going down. I turned towards our own lines and managed to glide towards where our troops were dug in, but I could see that I was going to land at least 200 metres short. I didn't know that the burst that got my engine had also taken out the port tire, so when I touched down the Piper dug in and cartwheeled and left me trapped in a mess of twisted aluminium tubing and torn fabric. I was conscious but couldn't move, and for good measure the Simbas were raking the road with small arms fire." He drew deeply on the cigarillo, his face Satanic in the red glow. "Our captain, a Rhodesian, yelled at two of the troopers to get me out and they ran across the mealie field to get me."

"What's a mealie field?" Colin interjected.

Rafa laughed. "You call it corn. Anyway, I could see dust exploding around their route as the Simbas tried to get them, and of course our own side was putting down a lot of suppressive fire, but still it was a very brave thing they did. And yes 'Fatty' Wilson was one of the troopers. Between him and Dent, the other soldier, they cut me out and carried me piggyback to safety." Rafa flicked the butt of his cigarillo over the balustrade, to fall hissing in the pool below. "Now the moral of this story is that when I asked Wilson the next day why he had come to my aid he said, and this is interesting -- "Didn't stop to think, mate" -- What he meant though, was that he had stopped thinking of himself long enough to do something constructive."

Colin waited, wondering if there was more and if in some subtle way Rafa was giving him a message. The silence lengthened and finally he asked, "What happened to Wilson?"

"Oh he deserted a week later. He really was afraid of death and that's what made his behaviour on the Bukavu road so surprising. Hah! I talk too much. Come on Colin, it's been a long day."

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The East Wind | To Taunt a Wounded Tiger | A Lie to Comfort the Dying | The Gatekeeper of Lies | The Consequence of Memory | To Seek the Wind of Sorrow

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