Long rolling swells pushed south through the Mozambique Channel, turning from deep black to beautiful blue turquoise and building into white caps before crashing in a thunderous roll along the white sand Rhodesian coastline. Small fishing boats, a riot of colours and sizes, rolled with the swells, their stubby masts creating a leafless forest upon the sea.
One boat, notable for its bright blue hull and yellow interior, was listing heavily to port as Joaquim Chissano hauled easily at the weight of the net and its catch. He was a big man, broad shoulders and corded arms bare to the sun, well known for his broad smile that made him popular with the ladies. A series of white puckered scars stood out in stark contrast to his black skin, a reminder of his days serving in the Rhodesian army. He was one of a few in his village who enjoyed full Rhodesian citizenship.
The water below him was shattered into a frothing mass as his catch reached the surface, silvery fins flashing to send glittering arcs of water through the air. White teeth, slightly discoloured by the odd cigar, flashed in his face and he dragged the entire wriggling mass into his boat where the net burst open to scatter fish across the deck. His two sons, identical twins, leapt forward and quickly began to exam the fish. Anything less than a foot long was quickly tossed overboard so that it might be given a chance to grow.
"Hey pa, you hear that?" Nyimpine, the eldest, paused for a moment, fish in hand. Ramiro and his father also stopped to listen. A heavy rumble could be heard across the blue waters and Joaquim looked to the south, quickly spotting two black dots racing toward them just above the coastline.
"Spitfires." He said dismissively, though he did not return to his work but instead watched as the planes drew closer. He had always wanted to fly but never gotten the courage to try it. He had been in planes of course, army planes, and even a helicopter, during the brush war. The feel as they rose from the ground and climbed into the sky had always been exhilarating.
"Didn't you want to be a pilot, dad?" Ramiro asked, tossing a fish over the side. The roar was growing quickly into a ear shattering crescendo as the planes swept in low over the fishing fleet. The blunted wing tips and cigar shaped fuselages were impossible to miss and he felt his soul leap skyward as the planes flashed overhead, their huge Griffon 85 engines driving them through the air behind a five bladed roto propellor. Their likeness and equal existed nowhere else.
It was an impressive sight as they pilots flew wingtip to wingtip, not more than a foot or two between them, maintaining their position was they banked to follow the coastline and dwindle swiftly into the distance. Only when they had passed beyond clear sight did Joaquim reply to his son.
"I did. But I was always afraid I would fail." He had always been honest with his sons. For him to admit that he was afraid was no small feat. They both knew that he had killed men before and bore that burden quietly, never speaking of it to them. It had marked them as well nonetheless, Not every black person in Rhodesia was happy with the state of affairs and more than a few fights had broken out at school between the children of those who "served the white man" and those who thought the whites should get out.
"Couldn't you still try?" Nymipine asked, bending back to his task. "We can run the boat, Ram and I. We're old enough now."
Joaquim chuckled. The boys were only fourteen, big for their age and getting stronger every day as they helped bring in the catch. He opened his mouth to dismiss the idea outright but found himself unable to utter the words.
"Yea dad, why wouldn't you try?" Ramiro piped in as he tossed another pair of fish, and a couple of rays, overboard.
"Well, you know, I don't know. I never thought to even ask if I could."
"Didn't you always tell us that the answer is always no if we don't ask?"
"This is different. There aren't any black pilots in the Airforce." Joaquim said the words despite the strange feeling of excitement that had suddenly seized him.
"Well, there has to be a first." Replied Ramiro, his young face earnest as he stopped what he was doing to look at his father. "You could do it."
Hours later, as the sun began to dip below the Western horizon, the clouds lit up like a sheet of fire across the fading blue, Joaquim sat alone on the beach. His bare feet were in the sand and he held a bottle of local beer in loosely in one hand. He had been unable to shake the feeling he had had when the twins asked him about being a pilot. Why couldn't he do it? Because he was black?
There were black army officers, a black naval captain commanded his own ship now, and more than a few black police officers patrolled the streets. The face of Rhodesia was changing in many ways and he had earned his right to be a pilot in blood, literally. Doctors had dug nine bullets and a mess of shrapnel out of him when he lay in that MASH unit after the ambush.
He relived that day every time he closed his eyes to sleep. The shouts, the screams, the roar of gunfire. Medics had gotten him onto a stretcher and returned him to an aid station to wait for evacuation. Lying there, staring into the sky, he had watched as two Mosquitos, flanked by their Spitfire escorts, roared in to deliver a barrage of rockets on rebel positions. How they had wheeled and soared, like they were immune from the petty squabbles of the men in the dirt. A desire to be like them had been awakened inside him.
After when he recovered from his wounds the army had given him an honourable discharge with full pension, service was over. They had asked him to reenlist but he was done with the army. It had never occurred to him that he might have tried something else. Maybe his dreams weren't finished yet. There was nothing wrong with earning an honest living at sea but the thought of dragging fishing nets out of the sea every day for the rest of his life had never been really appealed to him.
He tilted back his head and drained what remained of his beer before standing and walking back toward his small home. The lights inside glowed against the encroaching darkness and he saw the twins duck away from the window when they saw him coming. He smiled to himself and pushed open the door to his home and his family.
* * * * *
The day was starting to get hot when the first train of the day chugged into the new stucco brick station on the edge of town. Built within the last year, the plastered walls still smelled of paint and the concrete walkways weren't yet stained with the passage of humanity.
It had nearly a year since Joaquim had been on a train, let alone in Beira. He had never enjoyed the big city and this, Rhodesias second largest port city, was busier than he liked. His quick eye noted the youngsters who stole for change, the men selling bootlegged items from small stands along the sidewalk, and the scowls of police officers as they chased both the former away.
He was startled to see a white man operating a small food cart. That was a first. He had a strangely round face and spoke Bantu and English with an atrocious accent. Joaquim could only assume it was one of the whites that had begun immigrating to Rhodesia recently, one who didn't have a specialized trade. Not one the government wanted at any rate, but whatever he was selling smelled delicious. Joaquims' stomach growled and he walked over to see that the man was selling. Sausage, fryed onions, and small little dumpling looking things that were being cooked in hot oil.
"I'll have two." Joaquim said, gesturing to the dumplings.
"Perogies!" The word meant nothing to Joaquim but when he bit into one a short time later he found them to have a potato filling that was strangely bland and yet delicious. He deeply regretted not getting the sausage and onion along with it, the three together would have made a better meal.
He finished the perogies as he walked down the newly paved highway leading into the city. The last time he had been in Beira the dirt road had been the only means of accessing the city other than rail. Now four concrete lanes ran from through the countryside straight into the heart of the city. A treed boulevard separated the cars from pedestrians and he considered hailing a taxi but then thought better of it. His destination wasn't far and money was still tight despite the good fishing season.
The walk took him some fifteen minutes in which he marvelled at the new buildings that had gone up all around. The city had sprawled even further than before and improvements were evident even in the new housing projects that had been built to replace the shanty town slums where so many had died of cholera and a dozen other horrible diseases not five years ago.
His destination, a very official looking building with a Rhodesian flag dropping in a breathless air, stood on the edge of the large park. A fountain, unheard of five years ago, tossed water that shimmered with rainbows into the air as giggling children ran across green grass, young trees casting a pitiful shade on chattering parents. RECRUITMENT
The word was big and bold on the front of the building and he climbed the three steps one at a time, his heart hammering, and pulled open the polished wooden door. He found himself the only customer, a single black female civilian, her knees crossed and a skirt almost to short to be decent, barely hiding her groin, smiled at him and a uniformed military officer who stood up when Joaquim walked in.
"Good day sir! Welcome! Looking to enlist?"
"Reenlist, actually," Joaquim replied and was rewarded with a broad grin. "I want to be a pilot."