This week Michelle has asked quite a bit… look at a photo and tell the tale… 1000 words seems so much… until you sit down and allow the juices to flow. The beginnings of the tale arose in my mind on the way to the station after work. By the time I switched the light off on Monday evening I’d made it past the 1000 word mark. Not that ever was the idea. I just wanted to see if I was up for the challenge… so, have a look at Michelle’s photo, I’ve loaned from her WP post and tell me if you think I’ve managed to capture something…
My name is Mary. Little old Mary you’ve been looking at in the picture. That pretty pink dress I’m wearing is still in my possession today. Stored somewhere at the bottom of a chest of drawers in a spare room of the house I share with a few friends.
The pink bonnet I’m wearing was long ago tossed away. I hated it and would try at every occasion to be rid of the silly thing. I was forced to wear it for the photo, hence the less than happy expression. I was forced to go along to that building. It was in the small town some way from our home. The building was then part of the provincial government’s child protection agency. We were there, my brother Tom and I, with our father.
I always thought he looked a bit like Ernest Hemingway. I have kept that image of the man in my head ever since we read ’The Old Man and the Sea’ at school. That was a long time ago. The photo was taken in the early sixties… I’m not sure of the exact year but what I am sure of is that it was the very last time I saw that man in the photo. When we left the building it was without the man. He disappeared through another door while we were shepherded out of the building by a strange couple who insisted we call them mommy and daddy.
Many years went by before I was allowed to see the photo. Only when my birth mother eventually bothered to catch up with my life. At that time we spoke endlessly about the man and the boy. How could two people have been so similar yet basically never have known each other? The genes must run strong in the males of my lineage. They sure must.
I knew bits about Tom’s life after he finished up at university. When I filled my mother in on the antics he got up to as an adult her amazement grew with each revelation. She would sit and listen to my tales. Often the tears would well up but she always fought them back. The pain etched on the lined face told another story. One of her own anguish and torture at the mercy of the demons tormenting her fragile mind.
Tom had chased glory. All he ever wanted was to fly. No ordinary flying for him… he wanted to be the hero. He wanted to drive fast jets, as he called it. Fast jets that blew buildings and bridges apart with the deadly loads they carried. Blew tanks and military installations into the next week. That’s what Tom was made to be. He needed the thrill… the glory, the cause. The just cause. To fight the dreaded Red Plague spreading it’s evil tentacles all over Southern Africa.
The World War Two movies captivated his mind, creating images of heroism too strong to ever forget. Images that needed pursuing, challenges to overcome, battles to be won. Scores to be settled. Victory over the enemy at all costs. Tom wanted the trill of war. The buzz of flying drove him on… through school, through university into the Air Force. He excelled, making our adoptive parents proud. They had sacrificed to provide a hero for the state. A servant against the foe… a warrior for the cause.
My mother would sit and listen to my story. Her son the hero. She would nod. The head bobbing to a strange rhythm… as if an internal drum struck the command for every jerky head movement. What lurked there? I often wondered. What pain? What tales could she tell? I pressed but nothing was forthcoming, at that point in time. All she wanted to talk about was her two children. The little things captured those many years ago in that photo. Mostly though, she wanted to know about her missing Tom, but on one condition. I was not to reveal the end of the tale. She told me she would tell me what she thought happened when the time was right.
Slowly but surely the woman who called herself my mother let me into her life. That photo was taken on the day of our official adoption. The day my parents gave us away. That fateful day. Why? My father couldn’t face the challenge of raising his two children on his own. He needed to express his inner desires, to chase his dream, to fulfil his life’s ambition.
Slowly, very slowly the truth unfolded. My father’s background was privileged. From an affluent mining family… money, fast cars, fast boats and planes… fast anything, including women. Somewhere along the way my father and mother’s hemispheres crossed. My mother confessed to being fast. Fast enough to entrap my father… well, at least for a while… until her mind started playing tricks with reality, or was it the reality of life that played tricks on her mind?
At that point in time it was decided by all concerned to ensure the future of the two children. We, my brother and I, were sent off in an arranged adoption. The very loyal, caring folk who took on the task were distant family of my father’s. They were handsomely rewarded. On one condition. The real identities and history of their parents should stay well covered up until the children were at least 25 years old, for the sake of all involved.
My mother was convinced my father didn’t want the whole world to know of his shame. In those days mental issues were about as taboo as divorce or illegitimate offspring, especially among the elite.
My father went off to Israel… to fly fast jets. That little gem was dropped one day when my mother seemed emotionally strong enough to confront her past. Yes… my own father was a Korean war veteran… always on the look out for the next scrap. He’d been awarded gallantry honours by the Americans while defending some lonely outpost. Single-handedly flying strafing runs one after the other while the other pilots turned back with nothing left to give.
The man had flown his stricken plane back to within a few miles of the base before crash-landing on a road in an effort to get his aircraft back in one piece.
Now it was my turn to listen in amazement at the tales told by my mother. Yes… my father needed glory… needed the cause, the chase… the speed. How on earth could his son have been so alike without ever knowing about his father’s real life? How? How too, could my mother have known that her little Mary also needed the buzz of the high life. Fast… as in very fast. Aerobatics stunt pilot fast… racing flier fast.
But enough about little old Mary. There came a day that we had nothing more to say about the two men in the photo. We instinctively knew we would each have the same answer as the other. Yes, only the details would be slightly different. I was about to ask for the answer. We were sitting in front of a roaring log fire. High in the mountains. The snow thick on the ground. The chalet would be our home for the winter. Why not? The flying season was over… time for mother and daughter to continue the healing process.
‘He was shot out of the sky…’ that was all the broken old lady could muster. After a while the strained voice continued… ‘the Six Day Way. One of the very few casualties. Shot down doing something he loved. They told me years later it must have been a fluke, stray bullet. Direct head shot… instant death, no regrets, no pain… only glory. Or… was it?’
The pause was heavy… filled with solemn finality. ’Now… please tell me if I’m right, if Tom’s plane was hit as well?’
‘Yes mom… a stray RPG 7… straight through the cockpit while they were doing a low-level run on an enemy column… in one side and out the other… the irony‘ I concluded ’… on the second last day of hostilities in the Namibian conflict.’
There we sat, staring at the fire while the flames licked silently at the inner recessed of our souls… yes, me, little old Mary and her long estranged mother… dreaming of bright skies and men-folk heroes…