The Porcupine Farmer

images.jpgkaroo2

Episode 1

I had my story now, and knew exactly which angle I would write it from. If only those pompous, judgmental people in town knew, I chuckled to myself as Bob and I waved goodbye. If only they knew…  But I was glad that he’d kept his secret so well. Good for you, Oom Piet – good for you!

Our hosts at the Bed and Breakfast, “Onse Plek” (Our Place) had described him to us over a lavish breakfast of bacon, beef sausage, eggs and lamb cutlets.They spoke sadly, but with a hint of derision too. He was one of the last “old school” Karoo farmers left in the area, still breaking his back to raise sheep the way his family had for generations. He would be the perfect subject for my article on the changes that were taking place in this area.

He should have moved on to game ranching years ago like his neighbours had. THAT was the way to make money these days, from foreigners (like us, they forgot to say) who paid top dollar to come and hunt for trophies. His story was the headline for my piece in National Geographic, they said – how NOT to farm successfully in the Karoo.

“Look for this sign” the husband said, reaching across to show us a picture on his mobile phone. “You can’t miss it,” he joked as his napkin landed in the fatty bacon. We saw a bright green billboard that proclaimed “Portrits Painted”. It had been painted with a tradesman’s paintbrush, amateurish yellow strokes broadly splashed on the green board. In the background stood a farmhouse, set only a few yards back from the dust road.  Outwardly similar to dozens we had already passed that week – white walls and green roof, surrounded by a cool wide veranda. A few pieces of broken-down looking farming equipment lay scattered the foreground.  Behind the house we could see the propeller blades of the omnipresent windmill pump.

Episode 2 …

The full version of this story is now available for purchase at:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/620065

 

 

 

 

The Story you never thought I’d write

Me? Write a “romance” Nah … Surely?

couplesunset

The One that Didn’t get away

Sitting by the fire, Kim sipped her wine and drank in the atmosphere. The songs of the night birds and crickets blended with the crackle of the fire, and the waves added a soothing background. This was the perfect end to a perfect day in Africa, she thought to herself. She would never in her wildest dreams have imagined the day ending like this…

She and Geraldhad been introduced at last year’s work Christmas party;she was the Sales Director’s P.A. and he was thenew whizz-kid in the IT department, a boy from the platteland. He was also her boss’ nephew, so she had little choice when she was “asked” to take him under her wing and show him the city.

He was pleasantenough company, aside from his irritating habit of being constantly busy with his iPhone and Tablet. During the months that followed, they’d been interrupted by his phone in the best restaurants and clubs;shehad shown him around the malls and they had picnicked atthelakes – only when he was satisfied with the signal, of course.

From day one, he had kept sayingthat he’d love to return the favour by showing her his part of the country some time. “I miss the sea so much –I used to go fishing and unwind every weekend” he’d said.It had still come as asurprise to her when he offered her this all-expenses-paidlong weekend trip to his family cottage in Cape St. Francis though. She’d never visited that part of the country and it would be a break from the city; so she’d agreed, and he had planned it all.

They had stopped inat the family farm on the way from the airport yesterday, so that he could say hi to his folks and collect his fishing gear.Of course his mom had insisted they stay for supper; they were wonderful hosts and she had enjoyed the evening. By the time they’dreached the cottage it was well past midnight, so they had just unpacked and turned in.

In the chilly dawn this morning, they had watched from the broad white beach as the sun rose over the sea. It had been absolutely breath-taking. Back at the cottage,she had bungled breakfast badly on the gas stove;but they had laughed their way through the bits of broken egg shell and smiled big grins to show off teeth blackened by the burnt toast. It had been a great start to their holiday – until THAT phone call…

It had been work, of course. The main server had crashed and his assistants couldn’t get it up and running. The retail shops were off-line and queues of customers were waiting. It had to be fixed NOW, the boss had said. Drop everything and get it on-line.

“I’ll have to drive to the closest branch,” Gerald said. “I’m so sorry. I’ll be back in time to catch fish at the next tide, around eleven”. She had watched him drive off with a sinking feeling…

He hadn’t appeared by eleven, so she’ddecided to pack her beach bag and explore. She’d found a café close to the beachand ordered a waffle. Whileshe waitedat a table, she had soaked in the colourful holiday vibe.Peoplewandered in and out, chatting and laughing; almost every one of them had greeted her with a smile or a wave.

There had been one absolute hunk among them, with curly dark hair and blue eyes.When he’d flashed her a smile, her mouth had gone dry and she’d dropped her eyes. Thank goodness her sunglasses had helped cover her blushing face. Even wearing a pair of loose baggies, his build was athletic and his walk easy on the eye.She had been watching him walk away whenthe waitress interrupted her thoughts.

“Here’s your waffle ma’am; cream or ice-cream?” “Ice-cream” she had answered, without a thought – she ALWAYS had cream!

The home-made waffle was hot and sticky, just right! She was savouring it when she’d heard her phone beep; it was Gerald: “I’m going was going to be busy with the office for a while yet. Feel free to stroll around, it’s very safe” he’d said “I should be back before five”. “How could he”she’d thought. She had almost phoned him back and given him a piece of her mind, but thought better of it.She may as well make the most of a bad situation.

The best way to unwind was to lie in the sunand read a book anyway; maybe she could even snooze a while?So she’d paid for her waffle and headed straight to the beach.

Some families had set up umbrellas and mothers were putting sun-screen on pink little bodies. Dads were holding kids hands as they stepped into the cold water, picking them up and swinging them high. She’d found a flat spot apart from the crowd and spread her things out; she tuned the world out and started reading the “whodunit” that Gerald had recommended.

After a while she was getting hot, so she’dwalked down to the surf and tested the water. It was icy cold, butshe’dsplashed and dippedjust enough to refresh herself. As she’dheaded back to her spot, a lone fisherman crossed her path. It was Mr Hunky!

Hoping to get another one of those smiles, she’d blurted out “How was the fishing today?”. “Pretty good actually” he’d said, holding up three huge specimens. “I’m only allowed these for the day, so I’ll leave the rest for those other guys. Pity” he’d continued, “None of them are using the right bait.” Again with the pearly whites and her stomach had churned.

It’s now or never, she’d thought to herself and blurted out “Sorry, I’m Kim. My companion has dumped me for the day and he was going to teach me to fish. If you show me, you could keep what I catch anyway”. She’dcringed on the inside, hoping he wouldn’t be put off. Instead he’d smiled that smile again, and added agentle laugh. “That’s an invitation no fisherman could resist. I’m Mike. Grab your stuff, let’s go back.” She did so with butterflies, and soon they were on the rocks.

He’d unpacked his kit, explaining as he went; showed her how to tie on the hook and other silver things. Then he’dreached into a belt-box and pulled out a chunk of something pink and gross. “I can’t tell you what my special bait is, but put this onto the hook and tie it on with loops of this cotton”; she’d obeyedhesitantly.Once he was satisfied with her handiwork, he’d said “OK, I’ll go out a bit to cast in for you, but stay here.”

He was soon back, and put the base of the rod in the “bucket belt” he had strapped onto her. “Hold your finger on the line like this”; he’d moved behind her and she’dstarted slightly when he took her hand to show her how. “When you feel a tug on the line, you must pull back as hard as you can”. With his words hardly spoken, she’d felt the line twitch and pulled hard, just like he’d said. “What…” he’d started, but she was too excited to let him finish.

“Help me” she’d screamedwith excitement and he sprang back to her side. “Reel in a bit” he’d coached, “let in run a bit, and now reel in again.” Within ten minutes she had pulled a monster fish onto the rocks in front of them. “Awesome” he’d shouted“What a beauty!” She was shaking all over from the excitement of it all. “Talk about beginner’s luck” she’dsaid, but he smiled knowingly over his shoulder and said “Good teacher, you mean.”

Before she knew it, they had caught another two fish and they were heading back. He went and put his gear in his van. She’d picked her bag up and joined him. He was interesting and made great conversation. They’d laughed a lot, he bought them each an ice cream, and before she knew it, the sun was getting low.

Suddenly, she’d thought of Gerald – she’d left her phone in her bag when she went fishing! She made a grab for it, and was horrified to see three missed calls and a message from him. “Sorry to do this to you Kim” it read “I have to head back; the company plane is picking me up in an hour. I can’t get hold you so I’ve askedmy folks to make sure you’re OK” She’d smiled to myself and dialled his Mom’s number.

Mike’s voice brought her back to the moment “More wine, Kim?” he asked She stretched her arm out and accepted a kiss with it. “Here’s to Gerald” she said, “Without him, we would never even have met.”

Next: Gerald’s Story ….?

 

The Wing Walker

Chapter 1

War hero, Award-winning journalist, and soon to turn 100.

Grandpa had always vigorously embraced life, no matter what cards it dealt him. Life was something to be taken in his stride, to be enjoyed for every moment – a veritable festival. But after a watching him lie in this drab grey hospital ward for nearly a week, we feared that his end was near.

A spasm of breathless coughing from his bed reminded me of his battle with pneumonia. My mother pulled a cloth from bedside cabinet and wiped his mouth and face with a cool, damp cloth in an effort to bring him some comfort. She was careful not to disturb the antique frame which held a faded black & white picture of her mother (and my Gran), Heide.

As she fussed over Grandpa, her anxious glance toward me showed that she was deeply concerned about him, her brow furrowed over her black-ringed eyes. How much longer could even his strong disposition last through this latest bout?

As his shoulders eased backwards, he appeared to be comfortable again, although his breathing still rasped unevenly. Mom settled herself down in the upright chair beside his bed and tried to continue looking unaffected while she read her Bible. This had always been her way to get her mind off her concerns or when she just needed to withdraw from the busyness of raising 3 children alone. She did the same whenever grandpa started with his stories – she sought her peaceful place whilst he held our attention captive. Often, he took us to one side on purpose to give her that room.

He had so that on the night after our father’s funeral 20 years ago.  He knew that mother would need her quiet time after that long day.  The Reverend, the neighbourly visitors and the few friends from her Church Fellowship Group had now left.  The dishes were washed and we children were bathed and ready for bed.  He instinctively knew that she needed time to seek comfort and direction, so he took us outside onto the porch.  Dadda’s passing had been shockingly sudden and no-one had yet had a moment to contemplate the reality of life without him

Memories of hot days spent running bare-chested through grassy fields, of swimming in the ice-cold mountain river with his collie dog, Patch and family dinners around the huge oak dinner table flooded to my mind.   But it was after dinner that grandpa came into his own.  Instead of being the guide and protector that he was during the day, he became the centre of attention, the Story Teller. Whenever we were with him and he called us together, we were always eager for the entertainment we knew would follow.  Whether it was around the fireplace on a cool evening, or snuggled around him on his bed when he started feeling poorly – grandpa would soon weave a tale of epic proportions and we, young innocents, would hang on every word.

collie

Chapter 2

“Let me tell you about the Barnstormers”, he said once we had settled around his rocking chair. “It happened when I was about your Mom’s age, Greg” he said to me. Grandpa was always curiously, sometimes frustratingly vague about the exact timing of his stories. “I was a part time Reporter with the Globe at the time.You could never tell what would happen in New York in those days after the war. Everywhere I went, I always had my note book and pencil with me, even when your late gran and I went visiting”.

“Every street block seemed to have it’s own returning hero, with his personal action-packed stories to tell. These were stories of valor and villains, war wounds and suffering.There were hardly any families we knew who hadn’t lost a father, or sons, cousins and neighbours. It was a time of collective grief and empathy, especially among the older generation. To them,” he told us, “it was simply a relief that it was over and they wanted to get their lives back to normal, if there could be such a thing.”

“But it was also an age of new hope. New tales gripped the nation every day and the newspaper business was in a boom”, he continued, after lighting his over-sized pipe. “These men had also been to faraway places, and told of amazing sights we could scarcely imagine. Many of them dreamed of new and exciting things, seeing opportunities in the midst of the changes the war had brought.”

“One particular breed had learned to fly during the war and now had no taste for any other form of pastime. Nothing, they said, could match the sensation it gave them – and if stories of their efforts to achieve anything like that high by consuming alcohol were to be believed, it must have been quite something” he said with a twinkle in his eye.

On one particular Saturday in June, a group of them that called themselves “Barnstormers” was going to put on a display at a small airfield outside the city.The flyers they distributed to raise awareness of the event mentioned that the display would include several things that most of us had only seen on the movies. Loop the loop, high risk stalls, “close-miss” fly-bys and most exciting of all – a Wing Walker!

The thought of watching a daredevil get out of an aeroplane and walk along the wings while it was in flight was enough to get most people to want to attend that day. Of course, a small fee would be charged for entrance.  But added to all of the other attractions was the fact that five lucky ticket numbers would be drawn. The prize grabbed the imagination of the entire city – the winners would be taken up for a short flight in one of the planes. That was the cherry on the top of an already mouth-watering cake.

Chapter 3

barnst

Some folk had set out on foot days before, turning the twenty mile trip into an adventure – for surely, that’s what it would be.It seemed as if half the city was making the trip that morning. The roads, such as they were, were a foretaste of traffic jams in years to come. Train carriages to the nearest rural station were jammed-packed, with some young bucks even standing on the side rails and clinging to the sides. The sense of expectation was palpable, the buzz of excited conversation swamping the sound of chugging engines. And, as the transport got close enough, the sight of the bi-planes zooming around in their warm-ups notched it up another few gears.

People streamed toward the entrance. Parents clutched their toddler’s hands and older children skipped and raced ahead toward the queue which stretched a long, long way.But even from the back of it,we could see people turning away, shouting and shaking their heads.

Because I had come prepared, carrying my Pressman’s badge, I pushed my way through the line to find out what could be happening.As I nudged my way forward, I could hear voices being raised and it became obvious that the issue at hand was financial. The “small fee” to buy a ticket to get inside and, thereby become eligible for the lucky draw and the free flight, was $5.00! The average person in the waiting crowd could not afford that much, especially not if they had come as a family.No amount of pleading seemed to make any impact on the gatekeepers. These heavyset fellows were determined to do their duty not to allow any intruders in and the one or two that tried to slip through were quickly frog-marched out.

A nurse entered the hospital room to quietly remind us that visiting hours were over. Mother and I would have to leave and could only return that evening at six p.m. We made our way down the now-familiar stairwell and out onto the rain drenched streets. As we had all the other days, we headed across the road to Maxi’s Diner to have a meal and pass the time. They catered to hospital visitors with a simple, affordable menu, and they didn’t mind us stretching our stay until visiting hours.

By now the waitress knew us, and brought my coffee and mom’s herbal tea almost as soon as we were seated. As always, we fussed over choosing our meals and asked after her family, the two boys that we had met one day when her sitter had been sick. We both ended up choosing our favourites anyway, and she took the order of one Spaghetti and Meatballs and one Chicken and Bacon Stew, knowing that time was not an issue.

“Do you think of Gran as much as I do these days?” mom asked. I smiled, thinking of the story that had been going through my mind. How her parents had met was a story mom loved to recall and she told it herself whenever she got the chance. “All the time” I replied. “What a character she was hey, years ahead of her time when it came to being an independent woman.” Mom closed her eyes, smiling gently in her own thoughts.

Our food arrived and we ate in silence. I went to the phone booth and called home, letting my wife know that there was no change, but that the doctors assured us that he was stable and we could expect a gradual improvement. A tough old bull was how he described Grandpa – not ready to move to greener pastures just yet. When I got back to the booth, Mom had picked up a copy of the Globe and was catching up on the day’s events. Besides hearing her standard comment that it had never been the same since Grandpa retired, I left her to read in silence.

At the sight of a queue forming at the cinema down the block, my mind drifted back to Grandpa’s story again.

Chapter 4

“We could all see that the seating area inside the fence was filling up fast,despite the cost, and the majority seemed to resign themselves to being turned away. It seemed they would have to watch from the grass outside, even though their frustration and disappointment was clear.”

A sudden loud roar grabbed everyone’s attention, as an airplane swooped overhead, seeming to miss the crowd by only a few feet! There was an immediate settling, as those who knew they could not afford to get in clambered for a favourable view – a grassy knoll or a tree. Within minutes they had found their seats and we began to see more airplanes taxiing onto the runway. The show was about to begin!

In the minutes before, I had discovered that my Press Card was not going to help me gain entrance – some of my senior colleagues had arrived well before me. The press seating area was already full, so I was left to my own devices to get a better view.  Disappointment soaked through me and I started walking. I happened to walk left, toward the lower side of the plain. The crowd of those standing up close to the fence soon thinned out, most folk having moved to higher ground. It was not long before I was walking dejectedly alone, head bent and hands slouched into my greatcoat pockets. I looked briefly over my shoulder and vaguely took in the fact that I could only see the top of the hangars from where I had ended up. I had covered more than a mile in my reverie.

Nevertheless, it did appear that I had accidentally wandered into the take-off path of the planes. As I paused, the sound of engines gunned louder and louder as the first planes took off, only slightly to my right and dead ahead.

It occurred to me then that there may be something to be gained from being in the position I was, so I looked around for any sort of vantage point. And there, another 200 yards ahead and through a small valley, stood a big lone tree. The planes that took off passed by it, not missing it by much. There was my vantage point; there was my possible big story, my chance of a headline!

tree

I scampered toward it as fast as I could, holding onto my hat and the contents of my pockets – what kind of story could I get without the tools of my trade? It wasn’t long before I was standing at the foot of the tree, staring up and realising that it would be relatively simple to climb up and get a better view. So I started on up, thankful that the climbing skills which I had learned as a boy had not been completely forgotten. Before I knew it, I was perched 30 feet above the ground, astride a solid branch which pointed almost perfectly at the runway.

From my new vantage point, I could see everything – the runway, the hangars, even the windsock. And less than halfway to the hangars, at the end of the runway, stood three ambulances – an ominous reminder of the danger that today’s participants were in.I was sure my view was better than those who had chosen to stay close to the gate.

The displays were taking place according to the schedule that had been published on the advertising flyers and the crowd was being royally entertained. The unfortunate result of my position was that I could hardly make out the announcements which were being made – the stiff breeze carrying all but the loudest sounds away from me.It was only when the wind dropped that I could hear the wild cheers from the spectators.

From my distance, it was hard to make out everything that was happening. Not only were some of the more dramatically close by-passes less dramatic, but some of the stunts that took place at a greater height were invisible because of the foliage surrounding me. I none the less felt quite exhilarated by the whole experience, and I had a respect for some of the drunken fellows I had encountered in the city. They did indeed seem to belong in the sky; their world in the hazy blue must be every bit as fantastic as their loudest and brashest stories made it out to be.

The adrenaline I felt that day must have been a drop in the ocean compared to theirs. Taking to the sky in often unreliable machinery every day must have been amazing. Add to that the danger of flying in combat, and you had a recipe for excitement which was inexplicable to anyone who had not personally experienced it.

Chapter 5

wingwalk

Just then, as if taking a cue from my thoughts, I saw the impossible happen before my eyes. A figure emerged from the seat behind the pilot and started making it’s way forward. The next time the plane passed in front of me, they were standing behind the wing. And the next time, to everyone’s standing cheers,they were on top of the wing with nothing but a fragile hand rail for support. Three times the plane passed overhead, with the death-defying Walker waving at the crowd.As they came in to land, the plane’s engines coughed twice while they were close behind me. I craned my head anxiously around the trunk to see what was wrong, but thankfully the plane flew on and landed safely.  As I turned my head back though, out ofthe corner of my eye, I noticed a small object fall to the ground not 30 feet from my perch.  Could it be a vital piece of the engine, bodywork or other item which could produce a disaster? I would have to investigate it later.Perhaps it may be something to add into the notes I was taking, for I was still hopeful that somehow my account of the day would be published.

I now noticed that the machines had all taxied onto the edge of the runway. Mechanics hastily ran from machine to machine, filling up with gasoline and fluids. They made small adjustments to various parts of the rigging and generally seemed to be preparing them once again for flight. It dawned on me that this was the moment that many in the crowd had come for;to have the chance to actually FLY! Besides the few who were able to pay to be taken for a ride in the sky, there had been the promise of a lucky draw.  From the tickets sold at the gate, 5 numbers would be chosen at random by a local baseball star, which would enable 5 members of the public to enjoy this once in a lifetime experience.

The organisers had chosen late afternoon for this part of the program, the time most likely to have wind-free conditions. As if the weather could be arranged as per the program, the wind died down and I could almost hear the hush.The windsock hung limply and the announcer became audible, explaining that, with each group of five paying passengers, one number would be drawn to accompany them on the flight of 10 planes. How I wished, along with the thousands standing and seated on the grass outside the perimeter of the fence, that I had had sufficient cash available to be inside and to have stood a chance to have a chance.

There was a huge cheer as the first number was announced. A dapper looking fellow in a fine looking suit hastened forward and alighted into his designated seat to the roar of the crowd. The aeroplanes began their taxi to the end of the runway and from there, the dash to the end of it which saw these chunky ugly ducklings become airborne. Each one seemed to get a louder cheer than the one before, as they egged their local friends and celebrities on, wishing them well as they rode into the unknown. My wrist was beginning to ache from writing, but I had to capture as much detail as possible. From the exact time, to the number and colour of the aircraft, I described everything including odd-shaped cloud formations in as much detail as possible. If I didn’t get my story published, it would not be from a lack of effort or attention!

The first flight returned their cargo of paying guests safely to the ground. After a brief mechanic- filled interval, the process was repeated. The lucky draw fell this time to an elderly gentleman from near the front and he was shuffled forward toward his waiting craft. His hat and cane were taken from him after he had clambered up the makeshift steps they put together for him. One could only assume that the lady nearby, who fell into a faint, was related to him and that the youngsters who gathered around her were his grandchildren. But it all added to the atmosphere of an already drama-filled event. Once again, the rumbling, roaring machines lumbered down the runway and lurched into the air in defiance of natural laws, passing this time directly over my head.

Having seen the first two winners being drawn, I realised that I would have to leave soon. I had to search for the fallen object and still make it to the entrance in time to get a lift back to town.I began to clamber down the tree, the newsman in me knowing that if the object was of any interest it would guarantee my name in print, at least.

Chapter 6

Hitting the ground running, I headed toward the bare patch of ground where it had fallen – a whisp of dust helped me to keep my direction. In those few seconds, endless possibilities surged through my mind.  But I realised that the lack of any trail of smoke probably bode well for the airman and his passenger. None the less, this was excitement of the highest order. At this distance, it was highly unlikely that anyone else had seen something that small falling, so the find would remain mine. And with that realisation in my mind, I ran onto the open ground.

At first I was puzzled that there was nothing glaringly obvious – no oilsmeared chunk of metal or cloth-covered piece of wood. Nothing but dust and stones.Had I imagined it all? Perhaps the propeller “wash” had played a trick on me? Disappointed and confused, I started walking slowly around the area, my eyes glued to the ground. I had nearly reached the opposite end when I noticed a hole that looked fresh, and the loose earth around it showed that something had indeed landed there.

I quickly worked out from the loosened sand in which direction it had “bounced” and inched forward along that line. Not more than two feet into the low grass, lo and behold there was a very dusty lump on the ground, not much bigger than the size of my hand. I crept up to it, peering suspiciouslyat it between the grass in case I saw flames, even sniffing the air for any odour which may warn of imminent danger. With those fears averted, I reached out with my pencil and raised one corner of it gingerly. It was something leather, although quite heavy for its size. My curiosity got the better of me at that point, so I bent down and picked it up. Shaking the dust off it carefully, the truth of my “spectacular” find dawned on me. All of the drama evaporated as I realised that I had found a wallet.

“Will that be all for tonight?” the waitress interrupted. “You’ll want to head over there soon, they’ve started letting folk in.” Across from me, mom had huddled into the corner and fallen asleep. I reached out and gently touched her shoulder, at which she just mumbled. “Here’s our money and keep the change” I said, louder than necessary and that seemed to get mom to stir. We finished the last of our drinks, stood up and left. We could use the toilets at the hospital; they were newer and better kept than those at the diner anyway. We retraced our path, back up the familiar stairs and into the room we knew so well.

The bed was empty. It had been made up neatly. Where was Grandpa?

bed

Chapter 7

My heart raced and my mother’s small gasp echoed my fear. As we turned around to go and make enquiries, the door opened. The Sister in charge stood in the half-open doorway, a smile on her face. “Oh, I hoped you would come this evening. Your husband came around about an hour ago,” she said to mom. He’s just been taken to the Doctor’s room for a full physical. You do know how to find it?” she enquired needlessly as we almost ran the length of the corridor to room 17. We managed to find the presence of mind to knock, entering immediately on the word “Come” from within.

Grandpa was lying on the bed and a smile engulfed his broad face as he recognised us. Doctor Hemmings removed the tongue depressor long enough for him to say a faint “Hello” before returning to his examination, waving us to be seated so long. He finished quickly, instructed Grandpa to let him do the talking and gave us his report. “Well, it seems that he has responded well to the new treatment. The fever has dropped and from what I can see, he should be able to leave here tomorrow.” We could scarcely believe what we were hearing and while mom engulfed Grandpa in hugs and kisses, I pumped the doctor’s hand hard and wore out every phrase for “thank you” in the dictionary. With that, Doctor Hemmings instructed us to leave now to let the staff get him fed properly, bathed and tucked away for the night. We could return at 2.30 p.m. tomorrow to take him home. Our feet scarcely touched the ground on the way out, as we hailed a cab for the short drive to our rented room.

We shook off our wet garments and took turns using the bathroom down the hall. Only once we were settling down in our twin beds did mom and I get to chatting about what an amazing turn of events this was, the miracle we had been praying for. We prayed together as we had every night since we had been here, but this time the words were of joy, not pleadings. “Thank you Heavenly Father for answering our requests for Grandpa’s healing” I said. “We rejoice in Your miracle” mom added “and we thank You for sparing his life for us.” We continued, singing praise songs in between our words. It wasn’t long before one of our neighbours banged on the wall and reminded us what the time was. We decided that we agreed with his stated need for some sleep, so we turned off the lights and snuggled down. Sleep was slow coming to my excited mind and it wasn’t long before I was remembering again.

Chapter 8

wallet

“A lost wallet? I turned it over in my hands again and again, cleaning it off as best I could to see if there was any form of outer identification. Finding nothing obvious, I decided there was nothing else to do but open it. It felt awkward, almost like snooping – but what else was I to do? Muttering a short prayer for forgiveness for invading the owner’s privacy, I loosened the clip.”

The first thing I saw was a photograph. Not very crumpled yet, it showed a young lady with a pretty smile and a fashionable haircut under her neat little hat. The smile was genuine, but bold and flirtatious.  Obviously this was a lady who loved life and had some fire in her. The next obvious thing was a metal badge of the sort that one would sometimes see carried by a police detective.  But the initials pressed around the centrally engraved eagle motif were not familiar to me at all. Disappointingly, there was no clear form of identification to be seen; no name and address in the space clearly provided on a card inside the front.

I had no choice but to open it up even further. With thoughts of being accused of prying into personal matters, or even worse, of attempted theft if and when I traced the owner, I opened the next set of clips. To my reliefthere were only a few dollars and some loose coins inside.  But once again, frustratingly, there was no further clue as to the identity of the owner. I held the wallet loosely in my hand now, wondering what my next course of action should be. I walked around the area a while longer to see if there wasn’t perhaps something else that could have fallen from the aeroplane and shed more light on the matter.

As I had expected, I found nothing. I would surely have noticed if something else had fallen. So, slowly and dejectedly, I made my way back to my tree. I retrieved my notepad, which I had dropped in my earlier haste, from the grass below it and started making my way back toward the aerodrome gate. The show was nowall but done.The droning of the planes having continued for the 45minutes or so it had taken me to uncover my mysterious find. Surely by now there would be a stream of people leaving to go back to the city, for it would take till almost sunset to reach it?The airfield itself was also surely the last hope I would have of tracing the owner of the mysterious wallet, for it seemed clearly to have fallen from one of the planes. It may belong to one of the passengers, pilots or a mechanic who had somehow dropped it in his haste to attend to the bright yellow plane?

Not holding out much hope, I arrived back at the gate to find that the excited, but exhausted, crowd was indeed beginning to make their way out. From the snatches of conversation I heard, the “Wing Walker” had clearly been the highlight of the day.  That, and the feverish excitement of the lucky draws. Groups were still gathered around one of the participants and he was animatedly sharing his story to the popping of camera flash bulbs. Dejectedly, I decided that I would rest for a whilebefore attempting to approach the gate. Besides walking against the stream, I did not have the energy to argue with the muscular gate keepers. I leaned back against the fence and relaxed, worn out by all the day’s activity.

“Is he drunk, do you think?” A curiously loud voice woke me from my sleep.

Chapter 9

I had dozed off and it was nearly dark. As I scrambled upright, I also noticed that the area was nearly deserted except for a few motor vehicles and vans. Besides of course, the aeroplanes – which were gathered inside and around the hangars.The loud voice came with a British accent, in which the thin, weedy fellow enquired further about my state of health. Was I drunk, indeed! “I am quite well, thank you!” I replied and shook the dust off the seat of my trousers. Although my mind was already thinking of how I was going to get back to town now.  I was suddenly reminded of the wallet by its unfamiliar weight in my coat pocket. As the Brit and his partner were clearly part of the show crew, I thought they may be a good place to start trying to locate the owner.

They had begun walking back to the entrance gate, laughing and talking about how successful the day had been. I called after them, then again louder when they at first continued walking as if they hadn’t heard me.“Excuse me” I shouted, “but would either of you happen to recognize this young lady?”, opening the wallet as I ran toward them. As I closed the last yard of distance between us, the thin one shouted, “Give that here, you thief” as his ominously larger companion grabbed me by my coat collar. “Hey, Heide”, he shouted, “I’ve found your wallet!” Whose wallet, I wondered? From inside the hangar, a small group of figures emerged and came quickly and urgently our way.

Amongst these were the pilots themselves, I imagined by their almost uniform leather flying jackets. They descended on us in a few seconds and suddenly questions and accusations were being thrown at me from all angles. If I had suspected that being helpful and honest would have been greeted by this type of reception, I would surely have kept the item to myself, a keepsake of the day when I famously failed to get my name under the headlines. Little did I know, as they shoved and jostled me toward the closest hangar, that I would soon feature IN them instead!

Inside, sitting at a dimly lit table toward the left hand side, was another group of three. I was forced down to the ground, face first, in front of them as one of them rose wearily and said in a more guttural, maybe Dutch accent, “Who is this guy? And what’s this about finding my wallet?” The voice was female and, as I glanced up, I saw that under her short cropped ginger hair, she was wearing a pair of rough coveralls similar to the rest. It was the girl in the picture… the one in the wallet. And her translucent blue eyes made my heart skip a few beats.

“The lady asked you a question, mister,” said the British accent, whose name-tag revealed him to be Mr Langford.  “Uuuuhm” I started, more confused than ever by these events.   “Is this your wallet ma’am? You dropped it earlier.” This was met by more laughter and even more accusations from the group gathered threateningly around me.  “Where did find it?” she demanded as she stared across at me with a suspicious scowl, “It only went missing late this afternoon.”

“It all started with me climbing up a tree” I began, stammering through my story. They must have started believing me, because when I got to how the object had fallen as the Wing Walker’s plane came in to land, I was offered a mug of coffee. “Once I found it, I had no idea how to find the owner” I continued. “I thought the picture would be of a father or husband, it never dawned on me that…”

“That the woman was the owner of the wallet?” she laughed with a twinkle in her eye. “One who was a qualified pilot AND a wing-walker!” she rubbed it in further. I always carry a picture of myself in my wallet, together with my Air Acrobatics badge – which I would have to return to Amsterdam to get again?” she interrupted. “You Americans don’t seem to think a woman should be allowed to fly an aeroplane, never mind walk on its wings! Thank you so much, Mister – you’re the best thing that has happened to me on this tour so far. A reporter willing to climb a tree to get a story, never mind a man honest enough to look for the owner instead of claiming it as a souvenir” she leaned over and gave me a peck on the cheek, and I blushed worse than any beetroot much to the delight and raucous cheers of the group gathered around the table.

“Hey fellers, what do you think would be a fitting reward for my new friend here?” she asked. “Do you think there’s enough fuel left for one more flip?” The crowded hangar erupted in excited agreement and started kitting me out with their own clothes, coveralls and jackets.

I woke to the rattling of the plumbing pipes as one of the other guests woke the water heater from it’s sleep. Mom was already up and fussing over her hair, so I threw my clothes on and hastened downstairs to get us some breakfast. We hurried it down, settled up for our room and headed to the hospital. We were early they said, but Doctor had finished his rounds and had signed Grandpa’s release forms. He was dressed, packed and anxious to leave for home – sick as he still was, we had a hard job keeping up with him.

We found a cab big enough for the three of us and our luggage, and explained our destination to the cabbie. Only after I parted with half the fare up front was he assured that we did indeed have enough cash for such a long trip. We loaded up and set off, and the chatter began. Grandpa asked most of the questions, wanting to know all that had happened everywhere since he’d been ill. He even questioned the cabby and soon he was also under the old man’s spell. Our drive continued, until after more than an hour, we turned onto the narrow gravel road leading to the converted hanger, passing under the sign that said simply, “Our Place”.

“Do you know this used to be an airfield, young man?” he enquired of the driver. Without giving him a chance to continue he said “I met my late wife here and she took me for my first ride in an airplane on this very stretch, it used to be the runway.” The cabby, more concerned with missing the potholes than with the conversation, grunted a vague reply. But in my mind I remembered the end of the story.

“As we took off, me huddled in the back seat and Heide in control of the powerful machine, I couldn’t imagine a better way for the day to have turned out. I made the headlines that day after all, and the “Just Married” column soon after.”

wedd

THE END (Maybe …)