Ride The Restless Wind by Michael MacLeod

We think, sometimes, there’s not a dragon left. Not one brave knight, not a single princess gliding through secret forests, enchanting deer and butterflies with her smile.
Ride The Restless Wind
Ride The Restless Wind by Michael MacLeod
Richard Bach.


With a violent flick the starboard wing stalled, rolling the black and gold biplane upside down, flinging me earthwards but the safety harness ripped into my shoulders with a gut wrenching tug. I hung upside down, dangling like a puppet on a string. With blood rushing to my head and my eyes about to pop out, I yanked the stick hard to the right trying to get the plane to roll right side up, but it pitched nose down into an agonizing dive. With the wind shrieking in the rigging, I pulled back on the stick with all my might but it came away in my hands with a sickening crunch, sending the machine into an uncontrolled spin. The pasture below grew bigger and bigger in a blur of brown and green while the scream froze upon my lips as fear paralyzed me.

Beep...beep...beep.

I woke up with a start, thinking that the racket going off next to my ear was the cockpit stall warning, but it was only my cell phone alarm. I was drenched in sweat and my heart was beating like a run-away train. I tried to reach over and silence the alarm, but I was all tangled up in the bed sheet like some nutcase at ‘Groen Dakkies’. For a moment there I thought that I’d gone blind as well, but then I realized that I had set the blimmin’ thing for 04:00 and that it must be pitch dark outside. When the phone hit the floor I was suddenly wide awake and cursed myself for knocking it off the bedside table.



Bloody hell.

My eyelids felt like 40 grit sandpaper as I forced them open to pick up the glowing phone from the floor. Fumbling for the bedside lamp switch, I managed to turn it on, but my eyes had other ideas and closed faster than a Venus fly trap. After what seemed like ages, I managed to force one open then the other, to find Hannah Montana staring down at me in a provocative pose from a poster hanging on the wall. Just below her, Noddy sat slumped over on the top shelf of a bookcase overflowing with books and comics looking like he’d also had one too many.

I lay there in the unfamiliar surroundings letting my eyes adjust to the light and for my heart beat to return to normal. What the fuck, that was some crazy nightmare and then a sense of foreboding came over me as a shiver ran down my spine.



Interpret that one Dr. G.

Grabbing the pillow, I rolled onto my stomach and wrapped it over my head like a child trying to hide away from the boogey man, but then I remembered why I was there, so I turned over and propped myself up against the headboard with my arms locked behind my head and let out a deep sigh.



Shit, I’m getting too old for this business.

Suddenly the clink of cups and the sound of a tap running in the kitchen reached my ears, so I dragged my lazy arse out of bed and went for a pee. The haggard face staring back at me from the mirror above the basin looked exactly how I felt, broken, and the bloodshot eyes looked like Caltex roadmaps.



‘You ugly bastard’, I thought as I splashed icy cold water over my face, ‘who’d ever want to marry you’.

The scar running down the side of my face didn’t help much either.

I was staying over with friends of mine, Mike and Sonia and I usually slept in one of the kids bedrooms. We’d had a farewell braai the previous evening because I was off on a business trip up to the Democratic Republic of Congo for a week or so.



Ja, any excuse for a piss-up.

Entering the kitchen, I saw that it was 04:10 on the kettle shaped clock above the fridge.



“Morning Mike, you’re up with the sparrow farts this morning,” I said.

“Hey wanker, did you get the number of that bus, how did you kip?” he replied over his shoulder, as he headed for the kitchen sink with the kettle in his hand.

I laughed, “It feels more like I’ve been run over by a steamroller than a bus and I could do with another five hours of sleep, and you guys?” I said, pulling out a chair and sitting down at the kitchen table.

“No, I’m okay. Sonia and the kids are still fast asleep, they’ll only be up at seven. I usually like to get up at this time every morning and have a cuppa outside with my dogs and watch the sun rise. Besides I didn’t want you leaving here without seeing you off.”

“Why, you scared I’ll walk off with all the cutlery?” I joked.

We both laughed.

We’d said our goodbyes the night before and I had planned on leaving at 05:00 without waking them up. It was still dark outside, and raining, so we had our coffee at the kitchen table.



“So, what are you up to today Mike?” I asked.

“I think I’ll go over to Pieter De Necker and see if the propeller for the Sunbird is finished and then do some work on the brake system. By the way, how far are you with the design criteria for the Tempest?”

Mike built microlight aircraft in his workshop at the back of his house.

“Hey ja, thanks for reminding me, it’s almost done. Just a few more calculations and I’ll email it to you as soon as I get back okay?”

I was helping a couple of the experimental aircraft guys get their paper work ready for the Civil Aviation Authority approval.

“Sounds great. I should be ready for CAA in about four week’s time,” he said. “What time did you say you were leaving Rand this morning?”

“About 09:30,” I replied, sipping my coffee, ”if the weather clears, that is.”

“How about some breakfast before you go then?” he offered.

“No thanks, I can’t eat so soon after waking up, I’ll catch something later on. I’m going to have a quick shower then I’ll be off.”

We stood up and shook hands.

“Okay boet, I’ll open the gates when you’re ready. And have a safe trip.”

“Ja will do. Give my love to Sonia and the kids and thanks a span for the braai last night, hey”, I replied, then headed for the shower.





Chapter 2





It was still overcast and grey as I drove down the Great North Road towards the N12 highway in Benoni. The streetlamps were still burning even though it was light enough to see by and the clouds overhead scudded across the sky like angry warriors, bristling with thunder and lightning. The car tyres made a whooshing sound as I hit the rain puddles left over from the recent downpour, shooting it out to the sides in sheets of spray.



Everything looked clean and fresh after the rain and even the street vendors were still in bed. A few of the houses had a light or two burning in them, probably the early morning shift guys getting ready for work. Geez that brings back memories of when I was an aircraft maintenance engineer kicking tyres and lighting fires on the early morning fliers.

Yeah, I’m a poet, don’t you know it.

As the robot changed to green, I floored the accelerator of my dark blue Jaguar XFR, punching me to a hundred kilometres an hour in less than five seconds, leaving two black stripes ten metres long behind me. Deep Purple’s ‘Highway Star’ was blasting away on my 100 watt quad surround sound system and the idiot sitting on my arse trying to dice me faded like a wet dream. As I hit one hundred and sixty kay’s an hour, I backed off and carried on at the normal speed limit. Nothing like a bit of adrenalin to clear the cobwebs from the mind and get you going.



Men and their toys, I can hear you saying, yeah whatever!

The overhanging branches of the massive oak trees lining the one lane of the dual roadway formed a perfect square tunnel with the trees along the centre aisle. The tall heavy-duty trucks that headed northwards into Africa had carved them out, reminding me of the neatly trimmed trees in an English country garden.



Quite unique.

I was on my way to Rand Airport in Germiston, a small general aviation feeder airport that took the load off Oliver Tambo International that lay just a stone’s throw away to the north, to meet up with my buddy Jock. He and I were charter pilots and we owned this old cargo plane, a Douglas Dakota DC3 that we used for flying mining spares or supplies up to the various mines in the heart of Africa.



Two robots later the idiot in his VW Golf VR6 pulled up next to me, gunning his engine for another scrap, so I showed him a zap sign and mouthed to him to ‘fuck off’. I was getting sick and tired of every little boy racer trying his luck for a dice. As the robot was about to change, I gunned the motor and saw a smile of delight on 'VW's' face, and when it flashed green, he screamed off into the distance. I hooked first gear and pulled off normally, guessing that he must have felt an idiot for racing off on his own.

I soon reached the sharp 90 degree bend in Airfield and saw my friend, the racer, sitting on the grass verge with his head in his hands and thick black stripes pointing to his demise. The left front wheel of his car was standing at an odd angle after hitting the pavement and as I went past I gave him the finger, while shaking my head.

Arsehole.

•••



I had been born here in Benoni and yes, this is the same town where Oscar winning actress Charlize Theron had been born. And no I have never met her; she’s a bit younger than me.

Okay, a lot younger.

As I headed towards town, a newspaper flier on a lamp post proclaimed the news that Charlene Wittstock was about to marry Prince Albert of Monaco.

Oh well, there go all the best birds from Benoni.

•••



Seeing the name ‘The Great North Road’ on the signpost at the robot got me thinking about the ‘olden days’. I often wondered about the travellers and adventurers who had travelled this road heading North up into Africa, say even before the Anglo Boer War. It had eventually become a part of the so-called ‘Cape to Cairo’ road that Cecil John Rhodes had dreamt of building as part of his planned railway line up through Africa, but never did. They must have been exciting times and I’m sure that there were many a wild story told in bars or around campfires up and down the way. The remains of this road can still be found as far away as Zambia and I often wonder if it had been named after the Great North mail route between London and Edinburgh.

•••



I remember as a laaitie, seeing holiday makers passing through Benoni in their cars or towing caravans, coming from the north and beyond on their way to Durban and elsewhere and wondering where they came from and wishing that I could go with them. Now it’s just another suburban road in a built up area, having been replaced by highways that bypassed the towns and cities. Benoni was no exception and now it was just a figment of its former glory.

Sometimes I wished that I had lived in those days, if only for the excitement and the challenge of going somewhere new. A trip down to Durban was an event on its own. I remember my dad telling stories of how hard it had been driving over van Reenens pass in the mud and rain with his father and how their car had broken down at least five times along the way and I can only imagine what it must have been like with ox wagons.

I suppose you can call me a dreamer, well that’s what my teachers at school always used to say.





These days life was just about getting up and going to work every day, there are no challenges left or discoveries to be made. What do the youth of today have to look forward to? The next big game for their Sony Playstation!

I hope not.

•••



As I stopped at the 5th Avenue robots, I could see that the onramp to the N12 highway seemed to be choked with cars. Probably an accident or something further up ahead, so I was forced to turn left into 5th Avenue and head towards Snake Road, which became the R23 leading to the N17 highway.

On my right was the Kleinfontein Mine dump and I’m proud to say, one of my conquests in my misspent youth. My buddy Ray and I had decided to bunk school one day and we’d climbed to the top, where we carved our names on the bluegum trees that grew up there. According to Ripley’s Believe it or Not, it was the world’s tallest man made mine dump, or rather what had been the tallest but in the next couple of years would be no more. A lot of the dumps were being torn down and recycled and Kleinfontein was already starting to go. They were blasting the things with water cannon and reclaiming what little gold there was, while the rocks were crushed and sold as stone for ready-mix concrete and now it looked as though a giant had bitten a huge chunk out of its side. I suppose one day someone will build luxury townhouses or another bloody golf course overlooking the lake that lay on its west side and they would certainly have a fantastic view, but probably not in my lifetime though.

This area had been the heart of the gold mining industry on the East Rand back in the 1920’s and 30’s, with the seven richest mines in the world nearby, but nowadays only the mine dumps were left over. And the dams of course. There were five in this area alone, giving one the feel of being in the Lake District in England and is why several of the streets in Farrarmere were named after the lakes there.

Snake Road had originally been a narrow little road winding its way around the back of Kleinfontein mine, almost hidden by the long grass of the surrounding veld and had gotten its name because it looked like a snake slithering through the long grass towards the mine dump. But nowadays it was a busy dual roadway heading through the back of Benoni to Heidelberg.



I remember enjoying listening to stories about my grandfather, who had arrived in South Africa from Scotland in 1898. After the Boer War he had worked on the mine as a train driver, hauling coal for the boilers or dumping sand on the mine dump. Everything on the mine had been steam driven in those days and now the locomotive stands in front of Benoni’s museum.

•••



I used to chuckle when my dad and his brothers told how grandpa’s house had been literally right on the original Snake Road, in fact the corner of the veranda ended right on the road’s edge. Many a Friday night, a miner pissed as a coot, would crash into the corner of the veranda when coming home from the Chimes Tavern and my grandfather would come charging out with shotgun in hand, threatening to do some serious damage. After one or two incidents, everyone drove by on their best behaviour.

Mmm, I think the next time I’m in Benoni I’ll have a beer at the Chimes Tavern and savour the moment.

Yip, it’s still going.

•••



Soon I was heading out of town towards the N17, which was a much quieter highway and had less traffic on it at this time of morning. The CD had finished playing, so I turned the radio on and caught the latest early morning traffic report.





“It’s six am and this is Crystal Thomas for Eye Witness News. There has been an accident near the Bunyan Street onramp to the N12 in Benoni. An oil tanker has overturned, spilling its contents across the highway and motorists are urged to use the Atlas road on-ramp.”





Damn, serves me right, I should have tuned in earlier and might have been able to take the shorter route.

Oh well, shit happens.

The station went to an ad break, so I tuned across the channels looking for some light music. I found a country and western music station with John Denver singing ‘Country Roads’.

Yeah great.

It was just as well that I had decided to take this slightly longer detour through the countryside or else I could have been held up for hours. I was making good time and hoped that the weather cleared up for our scheduled take-off time of 09.30.



Looking around, I was amazed to see how fast the squatter camps were building up around here, gorging thick black smoke into the air. I wonder whatever happened to the ANC’s promise of houses for everyone, but I guess with corruption so rife in the ANC led government, nothing will ever change.



Eish.

The mielie fields on my left were green, with row upon row of mielies stretching as far as the eye could see and at last the big tent of the Carnival City gambling casino appeared ahead on my right, with the on-ramp to the N17 on the left. It always amazes me to see the number of cars parked there on a weekday; either they were rich people with too much money or unemployed people down on their luck, trying their last throw of the dice. Suckers.

How do you make a small fortune? Start with a big one, right!

When I got onto the highway, I was able to give the Jag its head and put my foot down, with the veld on either side speeding by in a blur. Soon I was passing Boksburg, then the back of Germiston and at last the Wits Rifles off ramp appeared ahead and ten minutes later I pulled into my carport next to our hangar at Rand Airport. It was 06:50 on the dashboard clock.



I found Jock in our office, which was located in the one corner at the back of the hangar, having a cup of coffee. We had created a comfy little bar cum office decorated with pictures of past aviators and the usual paraphernalia of flying gear, including First and Second World War mementos. A notice board hung on one wall, pegged with briefing notices and other bits of information. A couple of couches and a round coffee table littered with aviation magazines completed the scene.

If you’re wondering about the bar, just remember this: Pilots do one of two things; when the weather is good they fly, and when it’s bad they drink. When they drink they tell stories of adventures well into the night and the more they drink, the taller the stories become.

A TV in the corner had some early news broadcast on the go, but the sound had been turned down.

“Hi buddy, how’s it going?” I said on entering the office.

Jock sat on a bar stool with his back leaning against the wall, reading a magazine, with an empty cup at his elbow. He looked refreshed and raring to go.

“Howsit Mac, I’m well and you,” he replied, standing up and shaking my hand, “let’s go and have some breakfast at the Harvard Café while we wait for the weather to clear, hey?”

“Ja okay, I’m starving. I had to take the N17 highway to get here because of an accident on the N12 in Benoni.”

“I heard about it on the news earlier,” he replied as we left the hangar, “didn’t know if you were going to make it on time or not.”

We entered the Harvard Café and as usual Jock just couldn't resist chatting up Brandy, the waitress.



"Hey girl, when are we going on that date? You're looking great today," he said.

"Flattery will get you everywhere Jock. What you boys feel like?" she replied, flashing a bored smile.

I raised my eyes to the heavens.

We each ordered the Continental breakfast; bacon, eggs, tomato and toast with a steaming cup of coffee.

“You’re here early today, when did you get in from Cape Town?” I asked as we sat down at a table on the veranda outside.

“I flew up day before yesterday and stayed over with an old flame of mine, Maggi, who lives just down the road from here. I got bored just sitting around so I popped in late yesterday afternoon and had the ‘Old Girl’ fuelled up and the cargo loaded on board. In actual fact, I’ve just completed the last of the paper work, including our flight plan, as you arrived.”

“Geez but you’re keen to get going, who are you running away from this time?” I joked.

Jock hated to be tied down and if his one-night stands tended to go on a bit too long, he would get cold feet and do anything to get away. We ate our breakfast in silence and gazing around the place I was struck by how quiet it was. Several other pilots were also taking the opportunity to have ‘brekkies’, while waiting for the weather to break.





Chapter 3





When we returned to the hangar, I poured myself another cup of coffee from the filter machine on the counter and wandered outside to see if the weather had improved. I was feeling a bit more human now that I had some food in my stomach and the fresh air cleared the last of the cobwebs from my head. I spotted Flippie, a friend of ours over at his hangar, so I walked over to see what he was up to. Flippie flew a restored Dakota similar to ours, but done up in the original South African Airways colour scheme and of course it had the full passenger configuration. He was an SAA pilot and on his off days flew private charters or displays at air shows around the country.

“Morning Flippie, how is it going with business?” I asked, shaking his hand.

“Hey Mac, long time no see. It’s going great, we’ve got some air shows coming up and we’re busy practicing some fly-pasts with Scully and the Harvard team. What are you guys up to?”

“We’re off to the DRC with some mining spares, then we’ll see if we can pick up any cargo along the way and head on back home again. We’ll be off as soon as the cloud base lifts.”

We both looked up at the sky, which seemed to be clearing to the south.

“Ja, it’s an unusually wet November we’re having but it should lift in the next half hour or so,” he said confidently.

This was his stomping ground and he could read the conditions well.

“That sounds promising,” I replied, “I’d better head on back and get ready for our departure then.”

We shook hands again.

“Cheers Flippie, till we meet again.”

“Ja, cheers Mac, have a good one.”





I returned to our hangar, which looked all empty and forlorn now that our plane was parked outside on the ramp raring to go. The ‘Old Girl’, as we called her, looked clean and polished after her recent service, even the tyres looked nice and shiny. I returned to the office.

“Hey Jock, it’s time we gave the ‘Old Girl’ a name, what do you think?”

He looked up from the briefing notice that was in his hand and laughed.

“Yeah, we’ll have to think of something, but nothing corny like the Yanks and their stupid girlie names. How about Cloud Dancer?”

It was my turn to pull a face.

“What have you got against women, just because one dumped you, now you hate them all?” I teased.

He jumped up to pull my cap down over my face but I just managed to pull back in time. I’d sure hit a raw nerve there.

“I’m only kidding buddy, don’t get so serious.”

“Ja, Ja,” he replied. “Okay the weather looks much better, let’s see if the tower will give us clearance for takeoff.”

I nodded in agreement, as I could hear one or two small aircraft starting up. I went to my car to fetch my travel bag that held my clothes and ablution kit and then clambered aboard the aircraft.

“Hey Mac, heads or tails?”

I turned and looked down to see Jock ready to flip his good luck coin to decide who flies the first leg; I’d forgotten to sort it out with him earlier.

“Tails,” I shouted.

He flipped it up into the air, caught it in the palm of his right hand and then slapped it onto the back of his left hand.

“Heads it is, you take the first leg.”

Geez, I really must have a look at that coin because every time I seem to lose the bloody toss, just like Graham Smith, the Proteas cricket captain.

He climbed in after me, pulling the hatch closed and then settled into the co-pilots seat, grinning like a Cheshire cat.





Soon we were both strapped in and going through the pre-flight checklist. I glanced out of my side window and saw that Flippie had walked over to give us the ‘thumbs up’ that it was all clear to swing the props.

I reached up and hit the start switch. The starter motor engaged with a clang and a loud whine as it struggled to turn the big radial engine. The torque from the prop made the aircraft jerk and shimmy on its landing gear, with the blades making a whoosh, whoosh sound as the engine crank slowly rotated, and then suddenly it caught. Fourteen cylinders did their utmost to disturb the peace and quiet of the morning, vibrating the airframe like an overloaded washing machine. The number two engine seemed to try and outdo the first, with clouds of white smoke pouring out of its exhaust but it too caught and settled down to a nice rhythm.

As the cockpit gauges sprang to life and their needles started settling into their proper arcs, I nudged the throttles forward slightly to get the low oil pressure lights out.

God I loved the sound of those Pratt and Whitney radial engines.

After five minutes of warming up, the needles on the cylinder head temperature gauges had moved into the green band, so I keyed the microphone.





“Rand ground, this is ZULU ALFA MIKE ALPHA CHARLIE, Douglas Dakota DC3, 2 crew, requesting taxi clearance for departure to Lubumbashi, over.”





“MIKE ALPHA CHARLIE clear to taxi and hold short of runway 35 via taxiway runway 17. Contact tower on 118 decimal 7 when ready.”





I repeated the clearance and then waved to Flippie before releasing the park brake to taxi to the holding point.



I set the radio frequency to the tower frequency and waited my turn. A couple of PAPA CHARLIES, piss creeks, were lined up ahead of us and eventually we got clearance to take off.



It was 09:40.

“Okay Jock, all set, let’s rattle and roll.”

I pushed the throttles to the firewall, released the brakes and off we went. The airframe shuddered and rattled from the surge of power as we screamed down the runway, then suddenly everything stopped vibrating as we became airborne and we were floating along like a butterfly on the breeze, heading off on another boring trip.

Our flight plan had us flying up through Botswana at 9500 feet, then crossing over southern Zambia before heading into the DRC and our final destination of Lubumbashi. Jock had set our waypoints into the GPS, a handheld Garmin GPSMAP 295 and our first one, Matimba, was one hour and fifty minutes away but this would come down as our airspeed increased.

•••

The GPS or global positioning system consists of fourteen or so satellites orbiting the earth. These satellites transmitted a signal that receiving units in cars or aeroplanes use to triangulate their exact position on the ground or in the air. Software in the receiver then plotted your position or in our case the intended course, as well as a host of other information.

•••



The suburbs below flashed by, with every second house seeming to have a swimming pool in their yard and every now and again you’d see one looking a sickly green colour.

Lazy bastards.

Soon we started leaving the cities and towns behind and when we reached cruise altitude it was time to relax a bit, the GPS now showing our estimated flying time as one hour and ten minutes. I engaged the heading switch and let the plane take us northwards. A quick cockpit scan showed all temps and pressures to be normal. Airspeed 120 knots.



“So, what have you been up to Jock?” I said, breaking the silence at last.

“Ag nothing much, spent most of the time in Cape Town and then a week up to the West coast for a few days rest. I stayed at a little seaside lodge and really enjoyed some great fishing and met a real cool chick named Sandy. Got my bike sorted out too. Do you remember me saying that it needed a respray, well I had this guy I know give the tank a custom paint job and boy it came out great. And you?”

Jock could talk the hind leg off a donkey once he got started.

“I spent a few days with my old folks,” I replied, “then a week up at the Kruger National Park. After that I stayed in Benoni for a couple of days visiting some old buddies and having a couple of braai’s and doing some pub crawling.”

“How’re your old folks doing?”

“They’re okay I guess, but getting very old now.”

“What was the Park like, see any big game?” Jock asked.

“Ja, it’s looking great, what with all the rain we’re having. We stayed up at Letaba camp and I was lucky to see the ‘big five’ as well as some Kudu and the usual Impala and lots of birds. The feathered kind, doos.” I quickly added after seeing the look on his face. He could twist a conversation around in a flash.

“Oh by the way, I had to do my medical last week”, he said.

“Is it? How did it go?” I asked, remembering how I had just made my last one.

“It went okay, my heart’s still got a few good years left.”

“And your eyes, did you pass that okay?”

“Ja, I was a bit worried about that. Anyway the doc says to me: ‘Look out of the door.’ So I open it and look out, and he says: ‘Can you see the sun?’ So I say yes. When I turn around to look at him he bursts out laughing and says: ‘Well that’s good enough for me, it’s 93 million miles away, I mean how much further do want to see?’ Shit he really caught me there, hey?”

That had me laughing for a minute or two and eventually I had to wipe the tears from my eyes.

•••



We both lived in Cape Town these days and I usually travelled up to Gauteng a week or two early before going on a trip. Jock and I lived in the same block of flats, but on different floors. He had this old BMW motorcycle that he had purchased from some municipality traffic department auction. One of those old speed cop bikes and had stripped the thing down in his lounge, of all places!

•••



By now we were leaving the ‘high veld’ behind and the scenery below was starting to change as the Hartebeespoort Dam slid beneath our port wing. The rolling savannah veld and tall blue gum trees were giving way to the grass and squat Acacia thorn trees of the North West Province. Small hills frequented the landscape, with the mountains in the Limpopo Province looming in the distance. We had left the overcast conditions behind and the sky was clear for miles around. Looking out to port I could see the Pilansberg range of hills in the distance where Sol Kerzner had built his world famous casino, Sun City. Wow, just imagine all the money in that place.

Mmmm ...

An hour and fifteen minutes after leaving Rand Airport we flew over Monte Christo, crossing into the Tuli Block in Botswana. The Limpopo River snaked beneath us, glistening like a python that had just slithered from a rock pool. The drone of the engines had a hypnotic effect and we soon became quiet and wrapped up with our own thoughts. I was trying to think of different ways to make money and to start slowing down and retire.



Jock and I had been doing this gig for about three years now and it was getting quite boring, but knowing Jock though, I bet that he hadn’t even worried about any changes, his lifestyle was just perfect. My life was becoming monotonous and maybe it was time to find a woman and settle down and grow old gracefully. I was at that stage of life where I felt too old to rock and roll but too young to die! I just wished that I could find me a woman who would take me as I am, warts and all.

I glanced down at the port engine cylinder head temperature gauge and noticed that it was indicating a tad lower than the starboard one, so I made a mental note to have it checked out on our return to South Africa. Jock was busy rummaging around in his bag next to his seat.



“How about some coffee bud, I’m rather thirsty?” he asked.

I glanced over at him and nodded, “Might as well before it gets too cold. You got a babbelas or what?”

He shook his head as he reached down and grabbed the thermos flask that we always brought along with us, containing the last of the filter coffee from the office.

“Nah, just thirsty,” he replied.

Yeah, like I believed him.

He passed me a cup, which was warm and sweet and it just hit the right spot.

•••



Time dragged on and as we flew over our second way point, Orapa, the GPS had us heading to our next one, that of Mpacha nearby Katima Mulilo in Namibia, where we were going to stop and take on some fuel, one hour and thirty five minutes away. This brought back memories of those dark days of apartheid in South Africa where us youngsters were forced to go to the Namibian/Angolan border and fight for the motherland. Memories of our many campaigns together as infantry soldiers came flooding back; Rundu, Ondangwa, Ruacana and other military camps along the border and of course the war in Angola.



Living in tents or bunkers or foxholes in hot dusty conditions had been the norm. Then when the rainy season arrived, everything became wet and muddy and miserable. And the bloody food, who could ever forget the shitty food; instant egg and bully beef or the monotony of the ration packs?

But it was the endless patrols that were the worst though, marching along the cutline looking for enemy spoor or landmines and sometimes the occasional contact that ended up in tears for someone’s poor mother.

•••



Jock was reading some biker magazine, so I just locked into my own little world. A glance out of my side window showed that the scenery was changing again as we headed over the Chobe National Park and into the Caprivi Strip. At last Katima Mulilo appeared on the horizon, so we prepared for landing and I was looking forward to getting out and stretching my legs a bit.

It didn’t take long to top up the tanks, about thirty minutes or so, as it was more of a splash and dash for these last two legs of our journey. With the formalities over, we were soon back in the air and heading for our next way point with the quaint name of Blue Lagoon Ranch, in Zambia. The clock showed 14:33 on its well worn face.

Small fluffy white clouds began appearing in the distance as I banked the aircraft onto the new heading, with the GPS showing our ETE as one hour and ten minutes. To pass the time I grabbed my book of crossword puzzles and started on a new page, while glancing at the engine instruments every now and again.

After I had almost finished the thirty minute crossword puzzle, Blue Lagoon Ranch passed below us.

Yeah I know I’m a bit slow.

•••



I could picture the rich tourists sitting and drinking cold beers in the heat of the day, lounging by the pool or relaxing before the evening game drive. I set our heading for this final leg to Lubumbashi and was glad to see that it would take one hour and forty minutes before I too could relax with a nice cool drink. Jock was doodling away on a writing pad, so I leant over to see what he was up to but just saw squiggles and circles. His mind seemed to be miles away, so I let him be and returned to my ‘extended’ thirty minute crossword puzzle and daydreams.





Chapter 4





It started off as a niggling feeling in my gut, you know that nervous agitated feeling you sometimes get when your subconscious mind has noticed something wrong? I glanced over at Jock to see if he had noticed anything just as he was leaning forward to tap the port fuel gauge. I glanced down and saw that its quantity was showing lower than the starboard one. He looked up at me and we both knew that the day was going to end up being a very long one indeed. I put the crossword puzzle book down and wriggled my bum tighter into the seat to get comfortable. The ‘Old Girl’ purred along as though she didn’t have a care in the world, but before long I could feel an unfamiliar vibration through my seat, so I disengaged the heading switch and kept a gentle hand on the control column.

“Hey Mac, what do you think?” Jock asked in a slight tremulous voice.

I looked out of the cockpit window and tried to sound casual.

“I don’t know,” I replied instinctively, “maybe a plug lead is acting up or come loose.”

Or we’ve ‘dropped’ a bloody valve and the engine is about to rip itself apart, I thought to myself. I hoped that I hadn’t sounded as nervous as I felt.

“Do you think we picked up some bad avgas at Mpacha? he asked.

“I doubt it, but you never know. We’ve never had problems there before, hey?” I added.

By now the port engine was vibrating rather badly. That’s pilot speak for 'about to rip its guts out'.



The scenery below was a sea of green acacia trees interspersed with the straw colour of elephant grass gently waving in the breeze. I could see the odd gazelle and some giraffe in the distance, walking along tracks that had been there for thousands of years. The sky was typically African blue, clear but with little clumps of cotton wool clouds hovering as if they had nowhere to go. This was Zambia, wild and untamed.

Jock started rummaging around in the stowage box beside his seat where we kept the charts, so I waited, not wanting to pre-empt his decision to look for a landing strip or an open area where we could put down in if things went tits up.

•••



He and I were friends from way back when. Ever since our good old single days actually, and we kind of operated by mental telepathy most of the time. There weren’t any secrets or anything between us, we just got on so well and we could talk or moan as much as we liked or just sit in silence for hours on end.

He is tall and dark but not overly handsome, kind of reminding me of Tom Selleck in a way, though women really drifted to his magnetic personality. I, on the other hand, was the level headed one, never keen on taking chances and other than being able to fix most things, had nothing else really going for me. Not in the good looks department anyway. A friend once said that I had the boyish looks and charm of Kevin Costner but I think that was just wishful thinking on her part. Wish I had his bank balance though. I’m kind of shy with women but generally get along with most people, young or old. I can also judge character pretty well and know instinctively whether or not I would get on with a person, so if I don’t like the look of someone, I just ignore them.

•••



So how did it all begin for us to end up flying north into the heart of Africa in a beat up old Dakota hoping to make Lubumbashi in the DRC with a cargo of mining supplies, you might well ask?



My thoughts were interrupted by the rustling of paper as Jock refolded the map to get a new area to look at. Before I could reflect any further on our start together after all these years, he pointed excitedly at the map.

“Hey, it looks like this little town on the way to Roan Antelope Mine has a landing strip, might make a good emergency landing place, what do you think?”

I glanced over at the map, but couldn’t make out any details from that distance, “How far is it?” I asked, hoping that it wasn’t too far because by now things were slightly on the bad side of a major fuck-up.

The needles of the gauges were shaking so badly that it was hard to make out what they were indicating. The manifold pressure needle on the number one engine was quite erratic by now, swinging back and forth like a weather vane in a storm. Suddenly there was a loud bang from the exhaust as it started to misfire, with puffs of black soot blowing out into the airstream.

“It’s about a hundred kay’s away, hopefully she’ll get us there.” Jock sounded like he was pleading more than anything else.

I smiled to myself.

“What are you laughing at?” he shot back at me.

“Nothing bud, just remembering that time when you ran out of the Park Hotel in Durban in just your under jocks with that blond bimbo’s husband after you, well you’ve got the same look on your face now.”

That put a smile on his dial. But mine turned to alarm as the plane started veering more and more to port, so I bumped up the starboard engine throttle in an effort to try and coax a bit more speed out of the ‘Old Girl’, while adding some rudder trim to get us flying straight again, I didn’t want to start going around in circles.

The mixture control just made things worse and I noticed that the altimeter was unwinding.

“How much further Jock?” My voice sounded foreign to my ears.

He looked at the map and then at his watch, “About twenty more minutes and the bloody engine temp is climbing,” he said, pointing at the gauge.

By now I was all eyes, trying to look for any kind of clearing to put the ‘Old Girl’ down safely in. Still trees for miles around, so I trusted Jock to watch over the cockpit for me.

“What are the emergency procedures for a one engine landing?” I asked feebly.

“What emergency procedures, this ain’t no bloody SAA jumbo jet, mate,” he retorted.

•••



We had both worked for SAA on leaving the army, me as an aircraft maintenance engineer and him as an instrument ‘macky’ and after a couple of years we had both volunteered to become flight engineers. I hardly ever saw Jock after that, as the crew rostering system always had us flying different routes. Damn, those had been the good old days of flying, but sadly with the advent of the two-man cockpit, the flight engineer had become redundant and so we were forced into early retirement. I took up flying part time from Benoni Brakpan airfield. Unbeknown to me, Jock had started flying at the Heidelberg Flying club, about thirty odd kay’s south of Benoni.

•••



The aircraft was vibrating like there was no tomorrow and it took all my concentration to keep her pointed in the right direction. I kept glancing from the clock, to the engine gauges and then out of the cockpit window, willing the ‘Old Girl’ on.

I could imagine how the bomber pilots in the Second World War must have felt when they had to nurse their stricken aircraft back home after a raid. I was sweating like a dog and had to keep wiping my brow on my sleeve. My hands were also hot and sticky.

Geez, what I wouldn’t do for an airhostess back there with a nice cool cloth or two.

We had a fair size cargo on board and I was contemplating whether I should feather the prop or try and keep the engine going, as we needed every little bit of power that she had left.

Just when it felt like all hell was going to break loose, I reached up to hit the feather switch, when suddenly an opening appeared in the tree line down below as we flew over a hill. There were a couple of kraals to the one side of a relatively long grass runway and in the distance a mine headgear.

We were perilously close to the ground.

“So much for a town,” I muttered, “it just looks like an old private grass airstrip and a couple of kraals.”

I tried to stop my voice from quivering, but the adrenalin was kicking in big time.

My mouth was dry.

I did a quick scan around the sky to make sure that there was no other traffic in the pattern and grabbed the radio mic.

“Is there a name to this joint, Jock?”

He looked at the nearest name on the map, which was that of the mine itself.

“Just Roan Antelope Mine.”

I keyed the mic,





“Roan Antelope Mine traffic, this is ZULU ALFA MIKE ALFA CHARLIE, at 500 foot AGL, baro two niner niner two, flying east over runway to line up for a northerly landing. We have a misfire on our port engine and will be going straight in, over.”





Just hiss over the speaker.

I’d turned the squelch up just in case there was a weak reply.

“Looks like we’re the only ones here Mac.”

A quick glance around the cockpit.

“Right, keep a lookout anyway, you never know.”

My cautious side kicking in. By now I was gently banking to the south so that I could turn onto the base leg, then finals for landing, and no indication of which way the wind was blowing.

“Jock put the gear down now and select full flap at the last moment so that we don’t lose too much airspeed.”

He nodded, pulling the landing gear lever down.

The port engine temp was fluttering near the red overheat mark. Oil pressure still good though.

The gear came down with its characteristic ‘thunk’ and I breathed a sigh of relief when the gear down and locked green light finally lit up. We were lining up with the runway quite nicely, about a ‘kay’ out.

“Okay Jock, full flap now, please.”

He looked across at me and laughed,

“Please?”

I was concentrating too hard to see the funny side of things.

The ground came up fast as I slammed her onto the deck. One bounce, two and then she was down, with the rumbling of the tyres amplified by the fuselage and the rough ground shaking the ‘Old Girl’ like a baby’s rattle. Fighting the pedals to keep her nose straight, I peered ahead, hoping that there weren’t any potholes or cows and sheep grazing on the runway and hopped onto the brakes, cut the throttles to idle and watched the far wall of trees heading my way pretty quickly. I could see Jock out of the corner of my eye holding onto the dash top for support, with his knuckles white from the way he was gripping so hard.

Things had happened so quickly after spotting the little grass landing strip in the opening in the trees, that I had barely had the time to do a proper runway inspection before turning onto finals. So much for the theory in the classroom, in real life it’s a matter of heading to the scene of the accident pretty quickly.

Soon we were slowing right down and I felt the tail wheel gently meet the ground. As our speed bled off sufficiently I turned off the runway, with about fifty metres to spare.

“There seems to be an old hangar over near those trees,” Jock said pointing to his right, so I taxied over as close as possible to what turned out to be some old farm sheds, engaged the park brake and cut the engines.

As the props swung to a halt, I could feel the tension in my back and neck begin to ease. I loosened my safety harness and bent forward to flick the battery master switch to 'Off', then closed my eyes and lent back in the seat. I listened as the gyros unwound and silence crept over the cockpit, the clock ominously loud as its second hand ticked on.



“All’s well that ends well,” I muttered, rubbing my tired eyes with the back of my knuckles.

Jock released his safety harness and slowly extricated himself from the cockpit, slapping my shoulder as he moved past.

“Mac that was some flying, glad you earned your salary for once.”

He ducked into the fuselage before I could whack him behind the ear.

I pushed my seat as far back as it would go and as I stood up, my back cricked agonizingly. Making my way down the fuselage, I checked to see that the cargo was still neatly tied down; we’d be fucked if that lot shifted on take-off. Glancing at my watch I saw that it was just after four fifteen in the afternoon, it felt as if it should have been much later. Time seems to slow down when things start heading for a cock-up.



It was bloody hot and humid as I stepped out of the plane, like walking into a warm wet blanket, reminding me of Durban in December. Glancing around I saw that Jock had walked over to the nearest kraal behind the sheds and was chatting to a Bob Marley look-alike, smoking some weird shit in an old home made pipe. As I drew nearer, I could smell the familiar dagga smell.



“Hey mon, what you’s doing here, haven’t seen a plane land here for months now.”

I smiled; it was like being back home in good old South Africa.

“Mac, this is Sydney Mutale, he lives here and keeps the place tidy. I told him about our engine problem and he says we can stay as long as we like.”

Jock always won people over with his charm, but I could see that Sydney was one laid back dude, so I shook his hand.

“Howsit Syd, any action around here?” I asked.

He gazed up at me with half open eyes.

“No boss, just da whiteys like you up at da mine compound, and da miners who live on da udder side of da hill in da hostels. Me, I dig it here and mind my own business. And why you land so short of dat runway, huh?”

With that he tipped his hat forward over his eyes and went back to wherever his mind was before we’d arrived. Turning around I could see what he’d meant, I had touched down in the pasture at the beginning of the runway, no wonder we had fifty metres to spare.

“Lucky for us the ground is pretty flat and they don’t have fences around here,” Jock chortled and walked off.

I looked around, noting that we were in a relatively flat basin and that the bush and long grass stretched into the distance. I just hoped that the elephants and lions kept away.



I walked back over to the plane wondering what the hell the fault could be, hoping that it was nothing major; otherwise we could be stuck here for a long time while waiting for spares to arrive from back home. Jock had opened our travelling locker that we’d installed at the rear of the cargo compartment and which held our supplies. The places that we go to don’t have five star hotels nearby, so we normally just kip where ever we can find a place to toss our sleeping bags down. He had taken two Castle Lagers from the small fridge that held our perishables and hooch and was busy stepping down the short entry stair as I approached.

“Grab a beer mate and let’s relax for ten minutes before tackling the problem, hey?”

“Ja, I guess you’re right, we won’t be going any further today, not with the time it’ll take to get the cowling open.”

I pulled two camping chairs down from the cabin and set them up in the shade of the port wing and plunked myself down.

“To Charles Glass,” I said, still shaking from the adrenalin rush of the emergency landing.

We both lifted our beers and saluted the famous brewer, this being a tradition back in South Africa.

“Cheers Mac, good flying.”

“Ja, cheers,” I nodded in appreciation.





The first pull of my beer tasted sweet after the sour taste I’d had in my mouth during the approach and landing.

“This is the life, hey Jock,” I said looking around and starting to relax, “miles from nowhere with bugger all to do and all day to do it in.”

He grinned back at me.

“Just like that television program ‘Going Nowhere Slowly’ hey, at least there aren’t any nagging wives yelling at us to hurry up and get things done?”





I sighed and thought about my ex wife. A typical city girl, too worried about her nails or getting her hands dirty and there weren’t any malls nearby for take-a-ways either! She thought that cooking and fucking were cities in China.





Chapter 5





The engines tick-ticked as they cooled down and I was starting to unwind, especially with an ice cold frosty down my neck. I contemplated whether I should start opening the cowls on the number one engine or have another beer while it cooled down some more. We weren’t on any schedule, we just flew when and wherever we had a cargo.

It seemed like ages since leaving Rand Airport back in South Africa and heading over Botswana into Zambia. We’d bypassed that cesspool called Zimbabwe because who knows what could happen if we were ever forced to land in Uncle Bob’s back yard. Take what happened to Simon Mann and company, accused as mercenaries and jailed for life and now here we were having done just that, but luckily for us we were in Zambia which was relatively stable.

Africa was still untamed, fuelled by wars and greed. Politics was governed by the man who had the most guns, but sitting here under blue skies, it still felt like paradise to me.

The temperature was in the mid to upper 30’s and the humidity was at least double that. A few birds circled in the distance, probably a lion kill and the vultures were rocking up to join the party.



Jock removed his shirt, showing muscles gleaming with sweat and the scar that ran across his right shoulder where an AK 47 round had almost decapitated him.

•••



My mind shot back to the border war. We had been on a two-day patrol. It was midday and as hot as hell. We had just thrown our kit to the ground for a rest and a drink of water, when all hell broke loose. We had just walked into an ambush, as an unseen machine gun stitched up the sand around us. As I dived for cover, I had pushed Jock sideways and in so doing had saved his life. I can still remember the smell of cordite stinging my nostrils and grit in my face as I hit the deck. With sweat running into my eyes, I had returned fire while crazily leopard crawling for cover, doppies flying everywhere and the zipping of AK47 rounds buzzing over our heads. But it was over almost as quickly as it had begun because the terrs knew that we would have chopper backup within five minutes. Jock was lying on his back in the shade of a tree with the front of his shirt ripped open, red with blood. While one of the guys stuffed a field dressing into the open wound trying to stem the flow of blood, I radioed base for a chopper. Our corporal was lying face down in the sand with half his head blown away, otherwise we were lucky, things could have been a lot worse.

The last I saw of Jock was when he was being airlifted back to base in the casevac chopper, lying on a stretcher holding his IV pack above his head and the thanks in his eyes. I wasn’t to see him for another ten years.

•••



“What are you thinking about Mac?” he asked, bringing me back to the present.

“Nothing really, just wondering what we’re gonna find when we open the engine cowling.”

He instinctively rubbed his shoulder and I knew that he knew what I had been thinking about.

That mental telepathy thing again.

I tossed the empty beer can down next to my chair as I stood up and headed for the cabin door. I grabbed the aluminium ladder that we kept strapped to the sidewall just inside the cargo compartment and set it up next to the engine nacelle. I hefted my toolbox down from the cabin and put it next to the ladder and grabbed a screwdriver. After a while I had the ‘Old Girl’s’ engine cowling open and like a surgeon, peered into her open guts, looking at magnetos and ignition leads but saw nothing out of place. Sighing, I decided to pull one or two of the spark plugs from the bottom cylinders and soon found a couple of fouled plugs.



“Looks like the bottom cylinders’ plugs got too cool and carboned up, I’ll clean them and swap them around with the upper cylinder plugs.”

Jock nodded absent-mindedly, he wasn’t into mechanical things, being an instrument macky.

"The mixture control most probably wasn’t set properly and it looks to be almost full rich, which explains the lower fuel level in the port fuel tank," I continued.

Jock just shrugged his shoulders with a blank look on his face. I continued with my lecture.

"This'll make the engine run leaner and should ensure that the plugs will get hotter and burn off any oil, thereby keeping them clean," I said, adjusting the control rod to make it run a little leaner.

“Anything I can help you with, otherwise I’ll set up the fire and grub for supper?” he asked in turn, probably trying to get away from my techno-speak.

“Won’t you do me a favour,” I said, wiping the sweat from my brow, “and pull some fuel samples from the tanks and check for water, just in case?”

“Ja okay, I can use the fuel to start the fire.”

“Good idea, though we’ll need some fresh meat, ask Sydney if there’s a spaza shop nearby,” I said, and went back to cleaning and swapping plugs around with those from the top cylinders.

Africa was littered with spaza shops, which are little shops in huts or shacks or one roomed buildings that sold anything from food to bicycle spares to paraffin. I pulled my tee shirt off and was soon wet from head to toe, with sweat dripping from my nose. I grabbed a rag from my back pocket and tied it like a bandanna round my forehead so that the sweat didn’t run into my eyes.



The sun was heading for the horizon and hopefully things would cool down soon. I was just fitting the last plug lead back when Jock returned, grinning from ear to ear, with a look I knew only too well.



“You look like a Mexican bandit with camouflage on your face. Guess what?” and when I didn’t respond he continued, “Sydney says that he has an old Chevy ‘bakkie’ that we can use if we can get it started, and there’s a store one ‘kay’ up the drag where we can get some supplies.”

I groaned, knowing more work was on its way. I closed the last of the cowling, making sure that all the fasteners were tightened and aligned with their ‘creep’ marks and hopped down from the ladder.



“Toss me another frosty will you,” I said rather thirstily, “then we can check the truck out, we’ve got about another hour and a half before dark.”

Jock handed me another beer so I threw my head back, draining it in three or four gulps, squashed the can flat, burped, wiped my face with an oil rag and grabbed a couple of tools. My stomach growled as I headed towards Sydney’s kraal where hopefully we could get mobile quickly, because I was quite hungry by now.

The truck, an old 1960’s Chevy pick-up, or rather rust bucket, stood under a shady tree behind Sydney’s kraal. It had tyres that most racing drivers would love to have; slicks, with not a tread left on them.

I opened the bonnet and looked into the engine compartment. Fuck me sideways, if it hadn’t been for all the oil leaks the engine would have rusted away long ago. Jock arrived and promptly climbed inside the cab.

“The fuel samples were okay Mac, no signs of water or dirt, hey watch your fingers boet, I want to switch the ignition on and check if there is any petrol in the tank.”

I half laughed.

“You think the gauges will work, this wiring looks like a couple of mice or rats have had a go at it.”

The battery looked okay, but looks could be deceiving.

The sound of keys turning in the ignition.

“Flat as a pancake, check if the lights come on?” he asked.

A click as Jock pulled the old fashion light switch on the dashboard.

“Barely a glimmer,” I answered, glancing down at the headlights, “we’ll have to push start her.”

When I looked up from the engine compartment, I noticed five grinning youngsters peering at us from behind some nearby bushes, teeth gleaming white on their little black faces. I shut the bonnet with a bang and it only needed one hand signal from me showing them to push and they were there in a flash, all eager with anticipation.

“Right Jock, clutch in, ignition switch on and pop her into second gear. Maybe a couple of pumps on the accelerator. Handbrake off?”

With that, amid shouts of laughter and chatter we heaved and pushed, feet slipping and sliding in the loose dirt as we got the old truck onto the dirt road. Luckily we were on a hill and as we gathered speed Jock released the clutch. It jerked along spluttering with loud bangs as it misfired, then suddenly the engine burst into life. Hopping onto the running board, I motioned for the kids to climb onto the back and then climbed into the passenger seat. Jock released the clutch and away we went, gears grinding, amid clouds of smoke and shouting kids, with dust billowing up behind us. I leant over and saw that the fuel gauge needle had just lifted off the empty mark.



Soon we were gaining momentum down the hill, but our smiles vanished as Jock shouted above the racket.



“No fucking brakes,” he said pointing at his feet.

As we crested the next hill, a brightly painted spaza shop came into view with an even steeper hill going down into the next valley. In desperation I yanked the handbrake up as hard as I could and with rear wheels locked up, we came sliding broadside into the parking area in front of the shop amid a cloud of dust. The kids on the back were holding on for dear life, shrieking like banshees.

“How’s that for an entrance?” I joked as we climbed out of the cab. Several locals were falling over themselves, laughing at our bemused faces.

We entered the dimly lit shop, which smelled of herbs and curry spices, plus a mixture of paraffin, Sunlight soap and I guess Africa. An old ceiling fan wobbled around and around on its endless journey, with a couple of bored flies circling beneath it doing ‘figure of eights’. The wooden floor was as dusty as the road outside. Surprisingly enough we found quite a good spread of items on sale and soon had a couple of tins, a bag of wood and some local meat for a nice braai. I guess the mine helped with bringing the supplies in, as a lot of things were good old South African brands, so no need to worry about dodgy food. As usual the counter top had rows of big plastic bottles of multi-coloured sweets and liquorice on it, with five pairs of eyes and drooling mouths eagerly looking at each bottle, so I tossed a banknote onto the counter and told them to choose.



“Hey Mac, check this out.”

I turned around to find Jock looking at a poster pinned to a pole on the veranda of the shop.

“It says here that there is a ‘bash’ up at the mine rec hall tonight.”

The old Indian shop owner nodded, adding, “It’s the mines way of getting everyone together and they have food and drinks an’ all. Even a jazz band.”

Hmmm, I really didn’t feel like any socializing tonight, not with a bunch of snobby mine management types. We had come across them in our travels, usually stuffy know-it-all British ex-pats and their snobby wives, but with Jocks mischievous broad grin I knew I would have no choice but to go.

Amid farewells and with everyone lending a hand to push-start us, we banged and farted our way back to the airstrip, with the kids chewing their heads off and waving at passersby. This is what I loved about Africa, the simple freedom and love from the people, no matter how big or small, young or old.



Back at the airstrip I opened up the bonnet again and adjusted the ignition timing until the engine ran smoothly. These old trucks were simple and went on forever.





Chapter 6





While Jock set up the fire in an old half oil drum that was lying next to the hangar, I decided to do a quick engine run and mag check before the light faded completely. The ‘Old Girl’ fired up straight away and after a five minute warm-up, I carried out a ‘ground run’ with everything checking out just fine.

As I climbed down from the cargo hatch, the sun was just going down and as usual we had the most beautiful sunset, the kind you see on post cards with acacia thorn trees silhouetted by an orange setting sun halfway below the horizon. In the distance, cumulo-nimbus clouds with their anvil shaped tops tinged with pink and blue, rose up to twenty thousand feet. I grabbed two beers and headed over to where Jock had set up the braai and camping stools. I tossed him a beer and sat down in a chair.

“How’s the ‘Old Girl’, sounded okay from here?” he asked.

“Yeah, it’s amazing, she seems as good as new, no mag drop, temps and pressures normal, so we’ll see tomorrow when we take off.”

As I relaxed, I looked around at the scene before me. It was that time of day when the mossies take a sand bath. There were a whole bunch of them under a tree a stone throw from us and I laughed at the way that they were chattering to each other, sitting in their little cup-like holes in the soft sand, flittering about.

“What’s up Mac?” Jock said, turning to look at me.

“I’m just watching those mossies taking their sand baths. They look like a bunch of old men in those funny Swedish hot tubs of years gone by.”

“Ja, I was just listening to the laughing doves myself. They chat like a bunch of bloody women at a jumble sale.”

I laughed at Jocks analogy. There were about ten of them under a tree scratching in the dirt, coo-cooing like mad.

Aye, I loved Africa, especially at this time of day. A ‘silence’ soon covers the land, almost like a blanket being thrown over and deadening the sounds of the day. The sky was a lilac colour with golden fingers spread out across the heavens and soon the first stars would start pricking through. The heat of the day fades as well and suddenly it’s nice and cool. The wood coals glowed red in the fading light as we both sat staring into the fire, each wrapped up in our own little world, sipping our beers.

“Mac, don’t you miss married life. I mean when last did you go on a date?”

I sat there, my mind going back to the ‘good old days’ when we were all young and dating our future wives, going on picnics or going to music festivals or the movies.

Marriage changes all of that, it’s almost like another world out there where you grow old too quickly and you work yourself to death and for what, an old age pension when you’re too old to enjoy life?

We just don’t have enough time to relax properly anymore. And with kids on the way, guys find themselves put on the back burner. It’s as if the women swap us for the children, pampering them and giving them all the love and attention and leaving us to fend for ourselves.

No wonder so many men go off and have affairs, not that I did that mind you, she was the one who went off and had the affair and it took me years to get over the betrayal. I had given it my all and really had nothing left to give and have never dated again, except once with a chick named Jacky. But that episode in my life was too painful for me, so I tried to never ever think about it. Besides, I wasn’t really a one-night stand kind of guy, I still believed in love and romance.

“Sometimes,” I finally replied, “mostly for the companionship though or the warm feeling of someone lying next to you when you wake up in the morning. Otherwise I can’t be bothered with going through the whole dating impressing stage again and these days most woman are either too young with small kids or are just too old. Although having said that I would love to just find a plain warm-hearted girl who’ll just take me as I am. And you?”

“Nah, I’m a one-nighter. You know the triple F’s, find them, fuck them and forget them. Women are just shallow money grabbers, all they need to keep them happy is a bunch of flowers or a present and a good poke in the lower whiskers. I lost too much with my divorce to ever trust the bitches again.”

“Ja Jock,” I sighed, “did you know that marriage is the single largest cause of divorce?”

He laughed and that seemed to ease the conversation a little bit.

•••



But that’s life and there are many ups and downs, especially when things go wrong and don’t quite work out right. Some people get all bitter and twisted and vengeful.



It’s almost as if we have forgotten how to be happy.

Me, I just cut my losses and headed into the sunset. I can still remember the words of a song that played on the radio that fateful day:

...

And the night is yours alone

And you’re sure you’ve had enough

Of this life, hang on

Don’t let yourself go

Because everybody cries

Everybody hurts, sometimes.

...

It still haunts me to this day.

•••



Today we’re friends, my ex and I, and regularly catch up on each other’s lives, she’s more like a sister to me now, but it took a long, long time to get over it.

Except for one thing - my daughter.

“You know Jock, the thing that I never got over was the fact that my ex had turned my daughter against me. Why is it that women have to poison their children against their fathers? Is it some kind of insecurity thing? Them against us. Do they think that by getting everyone on their side that it’ll make like they’re innocent and that it was entirely the guy who was at fault? Or do they just have to try and make out that all men are bastards no matter whom or what caused the divorce. And the lies they invent to make the man look bad, geez I just don’t know?”

“Ja, I think that woman just don’t have the ability to admit that they’re wrong,” Jock said, “my children have never spoken or contacted me either, so fuck them all.”

He sounded really bitter. But I had to agree with him, what was that saying I’d read in a magazine the other day: the most important journey in life is the one you take to meet the other person halfway. Us men end up walking the whole bloody way.

“How is Georgia, by the way, is she still studying in London?”

“As far as I know, yes. I don’t even know how she’s coping. I usually get titbits of information from my mom. I just wish that she would send me an email or even an sms to say how she’s doing.”

Women think that they’re the only ones who bond and love their children, well let me tell you that men bond with their kids too.

Aye Georgie, I miss you my baby.



I picked up the meat and laid it out on the braai grid, an old wire fridge shelf that Jock had found lying next to one of the sheds and soon the aroma of cooking meat and smoke filled the air. Jock got up and using an old wooden crate as a table, opened the tins of baked beans and sweetcorn we’d purchased at the spaza, putting some heaped spoons onto two paper plates. When the meat was cooked, I dished it onto the plates, then tossed the last of the wood onto the fire.



We both sat and ate in silence, staring into the flames that rose up and disappeared into thin air, each wrapped up in past memories. The only sound was that of the crackling fire.

“Do you miss our army days, hey Mac?” Jock asked pensively.

Geez, he seemed to be all philosophical tonight, so I had to pause and think about it.

“You know that’s a tricky question,” I replied.

“In what way?” he asked.

“Well for starters, I hated apartheid and loathed going into the army, but looking back it was something we had to do, defending our country, know what I mean?”

“Ja, it was a job that had to be done, we couldn’t just let the Russians walk in and strip the country of its wealth and take over like they did in Angola and Mozambique, hey?” he said.

“Yeah, you’re right. I hated the killing and the drudgery of the border war,” I said carrying on, “but during ‘basics’ I found out a lot about myself, especially my strengths and weaknesses. Also if I think back now, I really enjoyed the cameradie and spirit we all shared, especially during all the afkak.”

“Geez Mac, remember Dune 7 and the pole PT and those bloody twenty ‘kay’ route marches through the bloody desert dunes down to the salt mines, that’s where I found out about my inner strength.”

“That’s what’s wrong with our country right now. There’s no discipline anymore, people just do whatever they feel like and bugger the consequences,” I replied, “we’re going to end up like America, a decadent, immoral society.”

“Yeah you’re right, just look at the way people drive on our roads.”

•••



We had both done our military training in the Namib desert at 2 SAI in Walvis Bay, with Dune 7, one of the world’s highest sand dunes, as the toughest obstacle course. We had to run over the bloody thing with staaldak, webbing and geweer, which haunted us for years and years afterwards. The SAS thought they had it tough running over Pen y Fan, try running over sand dunes, three bloody steps up and sliding two back down again, enough to break anybodies spirit. And being so far from home meant that we couldn’t go on weekend pass either. We had to stay in camp and do all our own washing and ironing, which left little time for ourselves.

Jock chucked his paper plate onto the fire and we both stared at it as it burst into flames, so I threw mine in too.

Yeah those were hard times.

A lot of people say that the discipline did us boys good, like fuck, as if it was a Boy Scout camp we were going on. They don’t realize that we were taught how to kill and maim at the age of eighteen and many of us did too, going into battle zones that were far more deadly than anything in the last World War. I mean we were facing the might of Russian technology and over forty eight thousand Cuban soldiers and their Russian and East German advisers. We were outnumbered sixteen to one, facing things like Stalin organs, mobile 23mm anti-aircraft guns that could fire armour piercing rounds like machine guns at ground targets, T54 and T55 tanks, and of course the terrifying sight of an RPG round coming at you was enough to scare the living shit out of you. Or the scream of Mig 23’s coming in un-opposed and bombing the hell out of us - those were the most hostile skies since the Second World War. Most people back home didn’t even know where the ‘Border’ was. They thought it was ‘somewhere’ in South Africa, like a holiday camp or something.



It’s just a pity that the girls didn’t have to go into the army as well because they could have done with some discipline too and then maybe the divorce rate wouldn’t be so high. Just look at the Israelis, their women fight alongside the men, yeah very disciplined.

•••



We generally had things down pat on our trips, minimal fuss, paper plates so that we didn’t have to do a lot of washing up and an old coffee percolator that I had once found in a second hand store. We usually placed it next to the fire with some hot coals around it and by the time we’d finished eating, it would be bubbling along nicely, adding the fresh aroma of ground coffee to the air.

I got up and grabbed two paper cups along with some long life milk and a couple of Wimpy sugar sachets from the plane and poured us each a cup of coffee. As I sat back down again and drank mine I thought; Yip, this was the life, who needs a woman?

“Hey bud,” I said standing up after finishing my cup of coffee, “I’m going to rig up the shower and get clean for the bash, okay?”

Jock nodded, tossing the dregs from his cup onto the hot coals. We had made this plastic bag affair with a showerhead and tap that we filled with water and hung from a tree branch. It didn’t matter that the water was cold, in these equatorial countries it was a blessing and cooled you down nicely, especially after a long hard day.

“Good idea, I think I’ll also have a triple 'S',” he replied, “a shit, shave and shampoo.”

Once I’d finished showering, I changed into a white short-sleeved shirt and a pair of khaki chinos, with a pair of brown slip-on shoes completing the scene.

Luckily we were out in the bundu, where we just showered out in the open, no need for walls or doors and as usual Jock was doing his Pavarotti impersonation, while heartily washing the day’s sweat away. I grinned as I caught a glimpse of our little posse of helpers, who were giggling and pointing at Jock from the bushes nearby.

•••



I often wondered about people who lived in, say, New York or Chicago or London or any big city for that matter. Do they ever get to see open fields or clear blue skies or breathe clean air? I really felt sorry for them, stuck away in some dingy high rise, maybe in some side alley, dwarfed by skyscrapers. Do they even get to see the sun or moon or stars? At night we get to see so many stars that it appears as if there is hardly any black sky left at all. Ah well, I guess each to his own, no Gucci or Pierre Cardin for us, just tee shirts, short pants and vellie’s, with wide-open spaces.

•••



I had just finished stowing all of the cooking utensils and tools that we had used back in the plane, when Jock came over, flicking a comb through his hair.

“Righty-ho old chap lets go,” he said in his best English accent.

Before heading for the Chevy I grabbed my jacket, a throw back from living down in the Cape. You would often leave home in the morning with bright clear weather, but by four in the afternoon the clouds would roll in and a cold south-wester would start to blow.





Darkness had slid in over us like a mantle being pulled along behind the sun. The nights in Africa sound totally different to that of the day. A whole new set of sounds start up. The sound of hyena’s laughing or maybe lions roaring, or the hooting of owls. The sky becomes a hive of activity as bats weave around like fighter aircraft, swooping down on untold quantities of insects.

Ah, a feast fit for kings.

Now that it was getting dark, the crickets started up with their nightlong vigil of chirping and somewhere nearby a lonely bullfrog croaked. “Rivet, rivet”. Poor bastard.





By now we had the Chevy start procedure down to a fine art. We had parked it facing down the slope and a quick push got the engine going, so we bailed into the truck and set off for the mine headgear in the distance. Luckily for us the spaza shop sold petrol dispensed from a forty-four gallon drum on a stand with a donkey pump in it and we had filled the tank as a gesture of thanks to Sydney for allowing us the use of his vehicle.

“Hey Mac, keep your eyes peeled, these headlights aren’t too bright,” Jock said, hunched over the steering wheel, peering into the darkness ahead.

“Ja okay,” I said, “we don’t want an antelope or something jumping out into the glare of our headlights, we’ll never stop in time with these kak brakes.”

Even at twenty kay’s an hour an antelope could ruin your day. We drove on through the dark forest, with the diff whining louder than the engine.





Chapter 7





As we crested a hill, the mine appeared in front of us, lit like a scene from the movie ‘Close Encounters of The Third Kind’. The sodium lamps around the fenced-in pit area cast chrome pools of light on the ground. It felt eerie, like we were on another planet. I almost half expected Bruce Willis and his gang of meteorite busters to come walking around the corner.

With the formalities at the main gate security over, we headed for the largest building that the security guard had pointed out as the venue for the bash. A few cars were parked there already and I thought that we were in for a typical boring evening.

Strains of jazz reached us as we walked into the foyer of what looked like a typical community cum sports hall.

“Typical mine bash hey Mac, men at the bar and women at the food tables,” Jock remarked.

“Yeah, and knowing you,” I laughed, ”you’ll have all the women lining up to dance in no time at all and by the way I would like to leave here alive and in one piece, hey china, you know how rough and tough these miners are.”

His answer was lost to me as he headed for the bar at the far side of the hall, so I moseyed on over to some well-dressed guys standing to one side in a little group.

“Hi there, I hope you don’t mind us barging in on your party but we were forced to land our aircraft at the airstrip for repairs earlier today and are staying over for the night.”

“Not at all,” said the oldest chap, putting out a hand, “we welcome any new faces and fresh gossip around here. By the way I’m Peter Falconer, mine manager, feel free to help yourselves to the food and drinks. This is Frank Chitalu, mine captain and this is Patrick Chola, maintenance manager.”

“I’m Mac,” I said shaking their hands, “pleased to meet you.”

Good, apart from Peter, who sounded South African, the other two were locals, so maybe things wouldn’t be so bad after all.

“That’s my business partner and co-pilot,” I said pointing towards Jock.

“Just mingle and introduce yourselves as others arrive, I’m sure they will be interested in any news from back home,” Peter Falconer added.

So I grabbed a beer and headed for one of the bench seats lining the side of the hall, draping my jacket over the backrest before sitting down. The band was a neat little jazz quartet, probably some of the black miners who did gigs on their days or weekends off. They were pretty good too.





The men were huddled back together again, resuming some earnest conversation that I must have interrupted and it was only then that I noticed that they looked rather apprehensive, darting looks in my direction every now and again. Strange, I wondered to myself, must be labour trouble or equipment problems or something minor.

I glanced over to see where Jock was, but he had walked over to the band and was speaking to one of the members, the leader I guess and soon there was some good old swing on the go and in no time at all he had the wives dancing. Other people had arrived by now and little groups or cliques had formed and soon the air was a mass of talk and smoke and sweaty bodies on the dance floor. Someone turned the lights down as a slow song started playing and a young woman with an amazing voice sounding almost like Whitney Houston, started singing.





There was a passageway near where I was sitting, with signboards showing the way to the toilets. On the opposite side of the hall there were some swing doors, with small windows in them, leading to the kitchens. This I deduced from the fact that waiters were heading in and out of them and as I was about to look away, a black face peered through one of the small windows imbedded in the door, then vanished. I could have sworn that he was wearing a beret, military style, but I thought that maybe my imagination was playing tricks on me and anyway a lot of old black guys wore berets these days.





I had fetched my second beer and felt relaxed as I sat there, soaking up the atmosphere and watching the different styles of dance. One of my favourite tunes started playing so I closed my eyes and lent back, quietly humming along with the band, feeling a little nostalgic and light headed.

Suddenly I caught a whiff of the most tantalizing perfume drifting on the air and before I could open my eyes, someone sat down next to me. I opened them and thought that I had died and gone to heaven because sitting right next to me was the most beautiful women that I had ever seen. My jaw must have dropped a mile because she smiled and playfully ruffled my hair.

“Hi, I’m Aimee and close your mouth before the top of your head falls off.”

My jaw snapped shut, nearly breaking a couple of teeth in the process.

“You’re lucky, I’m the mines nursing sister but I don’t do teeth,” she mocked.

By now I had managed to start breathing again, although my pulse must have been doing one ninety plus.

“I.. I.. I’m Mac,” I stuttered “and that guy over there is my buddy Jock, we flew in today with engine problems.”

I pointed to where Jock was dancing and thought that I must sound like a gibbering idiot.

“Yes we heard about it through the grapevine, I hope everything is alright?” she said.

“Ja, I think we managed to sort the problem out, just something minor.”

It’s amazing how word can spread around, especially in a small community. I couldn’t stop looking at her mouth and those oh so beautiful lips, so I dragged my head away to see what Jock was up to. He was at the bar table with this big grin on his face and wagging his finger at me with that knowing look on his face.

“Can I get you something to drink, a gin and tonic perhaps?” I asked, hoping that my voice sounded normal and not too high pitched.

“I’m a beer type of girl myself,” she said smiling, ”and yes please, there’s so much smoke in the air that my throat is quite dry.”





Jock was still looking quizzically at me, so I held up two fingers and made a drinking motion with my hand, pointing at Aimee and myself. He nodded and headed our way with a couple of beers in his hand.

“What’s the shyest guy in the joint doing with the nicest looking broad in the joint?” he said in his best Humphrey Bogart accent, handing us each a beer.

Jock was a serious movie buff and had accents down to a tee.

I just grinned sheepishly and held my hands up in defeat.

“Hi I’m Jock.” He stuck a hand out.

“This is Aimee, Jock, she’s the mines nursing sister,” I managed to say at last, introducing them, “this is Jock my buddy and business partner.”

“Pleased to meet you, do you dance?” Jock the charmer just couldn’t help himself.

“Not right now thanks, I’ve just come off duty and it’s been a long day,” Aimee replied.

A hand grabbed Jock and hauled him back onto the dance floor before he could say another word.

“Some guy, looks popular with the ladies?” Aimee laughed and I nearly died a second time in five minutes. Wow, I thought, what a sexy laugh.

“Ja, he’s the ladies man alright, but he has a good heart.”

“And you?” she replied, “Sitting here all by yourself.”

“Oh I don’t know, I’m kinda shy I guess and anyway I prefer to sit and soak up the atmosphere.”

I took a swig of beer to ease my dry mouth and to hide the totally gaga look on my face. Although her English was perfect, I could detect a hint of an Afrikaans accent, which gave a sexy huskiness to her voice.

“So you’re a ‘rock spider’ hey,” I teased, “what’s a ‘Dutchy’ doing all the way out here so far from home?”

There is a sort of animosity between the English and Afrikaans speaking whites in South Africa and are forever mocking each other.

“Hey Engelsman,” she shot back with a mischievous look in her eye, “look who’s talking.”

“I’m not an Englishman, my grandfather was Scots, and our clan fought against the English way back when.” I tried to sound indignant, “Besides I regard myself as a true South African.”

“Well we’re even then, my ancestors were French not Dutch and I guess we share Mary Queen of Scots, don’t we?”

“Touché,” was all that I could muster as a reply.

She was certainly quick minded and could defend herself well. I liked that in a woman.





Her dark hair shone in the glare of the small light above us, highlighting the most beautiful emerald green eyes and the longest eyelashes that I’ve ever seen on a woman, which gave her an Irish gypsy like beauty. She wore a tight fitting beige skirt that ended just below the knees, accentuating the graceful lines of her hips and thighs, with a semi see-through khaki blouse showing a hint of a bra - what a pity.

No makeup on either, as her skin was flawless.

I glanced at her hands, which looked strong and practical and no wedding ring either! I usually could tell a lot about a person by just looking at their hands, sort of a hobby of mine. Hers were strong and sensual.

My heart had almost stopped it’s furious pace by now and I began to relax, as sounds started reaching my brain again and I was trying to think of something to say when Aimee stood up, grabbing my hand.

“Come, we go and sit outside and get some fresh air before I die from claustrophobia,” she urged.

So I grabbed my jacket and followed her outside, still holding hands, to a garden bench beneath a flowering Magnolia tree. Her scent drifted back through the air and suddenly things that I hadn’t felt in a long time started to stir in my loins. Whoa I thought, take it easy pal, don’t fuck this up, so I held my jacket over my arm covering old ‘percy’ just in case.





We sat down with a gap between us and relaxed, taking in the stars and the smell of the flowers in the garden around us. Just peeping through the trees in front of us was the most magnificent full moon, magnified at least three times by the heat waves rising above the trees.

“Isn’t this so romantic,” she exclaimed, impulsively sliding over to my side of the bench. A gentle cool breeze was blowing across the lawn and I could see goose bumps on her arms, so I told her to lean forward and draped my jacket over her shoulders. Before I could take my right arm away, she grabbed my hand, which was still hovering over her right shoulder and sat back, forcing me to hold her to my side with my arm draped across her back.

“Please hold me Mac, it’s so lonely up here and the men are either so boring or married and I just feel vulnerable right now, I hope you don’t mind?”

“Not at all,” I managed to say, “it’s not every day that I get to sit and hold a beautiful woman like you.”

She snuggled closer, leaning her head on my shoulder. Her hair smelt fresh and clean and her scent made me feel all romantic, like I was sixteen all over again and falling into a deep spiralling well. I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I just sat there admiring the moon.

“Penny for your thoughts, Mac,” she murmured after a lengthy silence.

“Nothing really, maybe just what good or bad luck, whichever way you look at it, that brought us to this point in time. I once read a book called The Celestine Prophecy that says that basically life’s experiences are coincidences that we should not ignore.”

“I’ve read it as well, but have never really thought of life that way. Do you think we were meant to meet?”

“Yes I do,” I replied after a pause, “the book says that should you be say in a restaurant, or anywhere really and you look up to see someone simultaneously looking at you, that is a coincidence and you should go over, even to say hi. Maybe something comes of it, not necessarily romance but a business deal or finding out about a long lost friend or something like that.”





I paused to reflect some more and to just savour the moment, not daring to think of what might or might not happen later on. At that moment Jock appeared as if by magic, saving the moment, as my mind was in a whirl and my tongue seemed to have packed up and gone home.

“I wondered where you two love birds had gotten to, mmm the fresh air smells good.”

He plonked down next to Aimee and gave us each a beer.

“Geez, those women just won’t let me alone. My feet don’t know what’s hit them.”

“What, I don’t believe the great Jock is actually tiring,” I teased.

“Man, it’s hot and stuffy in there and besides why should you have all the luck?” he said winking his eye. I just laughed.





Usually he was the one with all the luck, although I usually just sat on the sidelines not really trying to hook up with someone, so I guess you make your own luck.

“We also found it too stuffy inside and came out for some air,” Aimee replied, “and it felt so romantic with the moon rising and the smell of the flowers, that it reminded me of home, so I borrowed Mac as my security blanket.”

“How long have you been stationed here?” Jock asked, finishing his beer.

“Almost two years now, though it feels like forever.”

I felt a little shudder from her and wondered why or maybe whom she was running away from.

“And don’t ask, it was a bad relationship that should never have happened,” was all that she offered, as if reading my mind.

“Join the queue sister, we’re basically all in the same boat. Can I get you guys another beer?” Jock asked, standing up.

We both nodded and off he went.

I kind of sensed that she wanted to ask what he’d meant by that remark but was too shy.

“We both went through divorces,” I said, “but his was quite bad. His ex wife took him to the cleaners and he left with just his briefcase and the clothes that he was wearing. My ex and I parted ways amicably and we’ve ended up quite good friends, although I sometimes think that maybe it scarred me for life, know what I mean?”

She nodded rather hesitantly and I didn’t want to push her any further, so I just gave her a gentle squeeze. Our body heat was keeping us nice and warm and I felt so relaxed and couldn’t remember when I had last felt like this.

I looked up at the stars in the sky.

“See those stars there, that’s Orion with his sword in his belt,” I pointed them out to her, “And that one there is Sirius, the brightest star in our solar system.”

Just then a falling star shot across the heavens right where we were looking.

“Oooh Mac look, make a wish,” she squealed in delight.

I nodded my head, silently wishing that this might be the start of something new.





Suddenly Aimee turned to face me and placed a gentle kiss on my lips and I felt like I’d died a third time that night. Shit if this carries on I might end up a stretcher case by night’s end. Her lips were moist and cool and I responded hesitantly, then I gently put my hand on her face, moving a strand of hair off her forehead while looking into her eyes. It felt as if I was looking into her soul and suddenly found myself gently exploring her mouth with my tongue. She sighed and closed her eyes. I felt like I was drifting off into space and her breath had that musky smell, which made me just want to go on forever. Finally we parted, our lips unsticking, as we slowly moved away.

“Wow meisie,” was all that I could say, while shaking my head and trying to get my breath back.

She just laughed and ruffled my hair again.

“Sorry Mac, I just couldn’t resist it. You make me feel so safe and comfortable.”

“Yeah I hated it too,” I said grinning, remembering the line from a movie I had once seen. Come to think of it, Aimee looked like the actress in that movie, what was her name? Jennifer Garner, yeah that was one hot chick, but Aimee had a more endearing quality, a more homely cuddly quality. Sophie Marceau, that’s who she reminded me of, yes one of the James Bond girls. Her lost puppy dog eyes looked into mine and I felt like a million dollars. My head was light and it felt as if it would float away any moment now.

“I don’t know what got into me, but it felt good too,” she added.





Jock saved the moment again as he walked out with three glasses of champagne.

“Look what I found guys, let’s have a little celebration.” He gave us each a glass and raised his, tipping it to ours. “Here’s to new friends and new futures.”

“Hear, hear,” Aimee and I chorused together and drank the sweet bubbly, savouring the moment.

“I don’t want to be the party pooper Mac, but we should be heading back to the plane if we want to make an early start tomorrow.”

I looked at my watch and saw that it was 23:30.

“Yeah, I guess we should,” I reluctantly agreed.

Aimee nodded, “I start at five tomorrow, so I must go as well. Thanks for the lovely evening,” she said as we all stood up. She handed me my jacket, so I slung it over my shoulder.

“Can we give you a lift to your quarters?” I offered.

“No thanks I’m just around the corner,” she said, pointing to an alleyway between two buildings.

A dull ache started deep down in my gut as I realised that Aimee and I might not see each other again, so I took my wallet out of my back pocket and pulled out a business card and offered it to her.

“Here’s my business card, it’s got mine and Jock’s phone details, we must keep in touch, hey?”

She clasped it to her breast, then stood up on tip toes and gave both Jock and I a quick peck on the cheek, said goodbye and ran off into the dark. I just stood there, unable to move and all I could see were the tears welling up in her eyes before she’d run off.





For once Jock was speechless, so we just headed for Syd’s pick up and without even realising that it started first time, drove off in silence. After we’d gone about a ‘kay’ down the road, Jock broke the silence.

“Oh, oh, do I detect love in the air?”

I sighed, “I don’t know buddy, but something sure happened back there, something that I haven’t felt in a long, long time.”





Jock must have felt the vibe in the air, because we got back to the airstrip without another word being said. We grabbed our sleeping bags from the aircraft, laying them out beneath the port wing, stripped our clothes off, said goodnight and hit the sack. As I zipped my sleeping bag closed, I pulled it right over my head to keep the mozzies out and just lived that kiss over and over again. As I drifted off to sleep, all I could think of was: what the hell had happened tonight?

I slept like the dead.





Chapter 8





It's amazing, I don't know about you, but I have an internal alarm clock that wakes me up ten minutes before the alarm clock rings. So here I was, awake in a sleeping bag beneath the wing of our trusty old Dak, with the most amazing feelings inside of me. I looked up at the sky and wondered to myself; how the hell did it happen that we were thousands of miles from home, in the middle of nowhere and out of the blue I meet the most amazing girl.



I crawled out of my sleeping bag and sat there wondering if the night had been only a dream, but when I picked up the clothes that I had worn to the dance, I could smell Aimee's perfume on my shirt and the whole scene played itself all over again.



It was 05:00 and the dawn was just chasing the last of the night to the far corners of the universe, so I cancelled the alarm on my cell phone and put my flying overalls on. I tipped my shoes upside down to make sure that there were no creepy crawlies in them and put them on. After tying the laces, I went and fetched our camping gas stove from the locker in the plane and soon had a kettle on the go. If I didn't have at least two cups of coffee before the day started, I would be morose and ratty until at least ten o' clock. The air felt kind of fresh, so I grabbed my flight jacket and put it on too.



Jock was still cocooned in his sleeping bag, so I poured myself a cup of coffee and set about making some breakfast. A couple of eggs, bacon, onion and tomato cooked in a pan was our usual graze on these trips. I was thinking that we had better stock our fridge up at Lubumbashi, as it always pays to be prepared for any eventualities, when Jock stuck his head out of his sleeping bag.



“Rise and shine sleepy Joe,” I said, “grab a cup of coffee and some grub.”

“Mmm, that smells good,” he said getting up and stretching. He donned his flight clothes before coming over, wiping a hand though his hair.

“Top of the morning to you Mac,” he said in an Irish accent, “sleep well?”

“Like the dead and I kept dreaming of last night over and over again.”

“Well mate, that is the hottest chick that I’ve ever laid eyes on, you lucky bastard.”

I just grinned.

After eating our breakfast and a quick face wash and a brush of the teeth, we were nearly ready to depart. It took about ten minutes or so to pack the rest of our equipment back in the plane. Being a new day, it was Jock’s turn to fly the next leg, so while I finished tidying up, he carried on with his pre-flight inspection.





There were a few items of food left over, a couple of tins and what not, so I stuck them in a plastic bag and wandered over to Sydney’s kraal. He was also awake and getting ready for his day.

“Howsit Syd, here are some supplies that we had left over?” I said giving him the plastic bag.

He grinned broadly accepting it with relish. I also thrust a couple of bank notes into his hand, which solicited an even bigger smile.

“Thanks boss, you too kind, mebbe we see you soon?”

I shook his hand the African way; a grasp around the thumb then sliding my hand into his.

“Ja, maybe fate brings us back one day, cheers now.”

As I was walked off he mumbled, “Sooner than you think,” and disappeared into his hut.

I frowned and returned to the plane, wondering what he’d meant by that remark.





Jock was in the pilots’ seat getting ready for start-up, so I did a quick walk around the aircraft, checking for clearance and anything else that we might have forgotten to stow away. I gave him a 'thumbs' up that all was clear and climbed aboard, shutting the cargo door just as he fired up the number one engine.

My jacket was draped across the cargo netting, so I picked it up to hang in the coat closet, when a piece of folded paper fell out of one of the pockets. I picked it up, stowed my jacket, then made my way up front and strapped myself into the co-pilot’s seat. Both engines were warming up and purring along nicely, so I did a quick instrument scan out of habit. Everything appeared normal.

”Okay Tonto, let’s go,” Jock said, which was his usual remark when he was set and ready for takeoff. The sun was just poking its head above the horizon.

As we taxied to the end of the runway, he picked up the mic,





“Roan Antelope Mine traffic, this is ZULU ALFA MIKE ALFA CHARLIE, holding short of runway 04 for takeoff in a northerly direction for Lubumbashi, will report clear of area, over.”





Again we must have been the only aircraft in the vicinity as there was no reply.



“You ready Mac?” he asked, looking at me.

“As ready as I’ll ever be.”

“If we lose the engine will you cut the throttles and feather the prop for me?” he asked nervously.

“Yip, I’ll handle the gear as well. Okay let’s do it,” I said confidently, hoping to put him at ease.





So with a roar of Pratt and Whitney’s we took off and soon reached cruise altitude, with the ‘Old Girl’ carrying on as if nothing had ever happened. Jock looked over at me and saw the paper in my hand.

“What’s that in your hand, a love letter?”

I unfolded it and read the short line written in lipstick.

“Holy fuck, listen to this Jock.”

My hand shook as I read it out aloud.





‘Help, mine taken over by rebel army. Lives in danger. Aimee.’





I sat there stunned. We looked at each other and then we both looked out of the cockpit windows as if we might see something below but we were miles away from the mine by now. The main road snaked beneath us with no traffic or vehicles in sight.

“You know Jock, last night while you were dancing and I was sitting near the passage way to the toilets, I happened to be looking across at the kitchen swing doors when a face appeared briefly in the small window wearing a beret. I thought my mind was playing tricks on me, so I didn’t think about it any further. Also when I first introduced myself to the mine manager, I got the impression that they had been discussing some urgent issue.”

It now all made sense and they needed help desperately, but how?

“I’m diverting to Chingola, there is an airstrip where we can report to the authorities,” he said firmly and I felt relieved that he had made the decision, as my mind was in turmoil and all I could think about was Aimee being in danger.

“Our fuel looks good and the plane feels fine, so relax Mac.”

My face must have looked grief stricken.





I hauled the map out from the stowage bin beside me and located Chingola, which was about forty-five minutes flying time away. I looked out through the forward cockpit windscreen and saw Kitwe in the distance, so we were about halfway from Roan Antelope mine. I wished that the ‘Old Girl’ could go faster but we were cruising near the limit and it was no use wasting precious fuel.

“You know Jock, as I was leaving Sydney’s kraal just now, he said that he hoped to see us again. So I said maybe fate brings us back one day and as I walked off he muttered something like ‘sooner than you think’. I wonder what he meant by that?”

I looked out of my side window and even the beauty of the countryside below didn’t lift my spirits.

“I wouldn’t read anything into it Mac, you know how these Africans think, their wishes are sometimes their beliefs.”

Or maybe they can hear their ancestors, I thought.





Chapter 9





After what seemed like ages, Chingola appeared ahead, so Jock radioed for clearance to land. Soon we were taxing up to the parking area in front of the tower, where we could pay the landing fees and see who to report the happenings at the mine to.

“We should organize a fuel bowser and top up in case we have to go somewhere else,” said Jock.

At least he was thinking ahead, it was time I got a grip on myself.

As we approached the terminal building a familiar face appeared from around the corner.

“Fancy bumping into you guys,” said Connie Du Rand, an old army buddy of ours, “what are you two doing in this neck of the woods?”

Jock and I looked at each other, then around us to see if anyone was watching.

“Can we talk somewhere quiet Conrad?” I asked.

He pointed to the deserted cafeteria inside.

“Follow me,” he said, with a puzzled look on his face.

The staff hadn’t arrived for work yet, so we had the place to ourselves.

“You guys look like you’ve seen a ghost, surely I’m not that bad looking?”

We all laughed.

“No, but we have a problem though. What are you doing in this part of the woods?” Jock asked.

“I’m doing a mine security analyses, I work for Executive Outlook back in RSA.”

I nodded, knowing of the firm that he worked for, but thought of it mainly as a mercenary outfit, but obviously they did other work as well.

“We do all sorts of security work worldwide from body guards for VIP’s to mine security, even foreign governments who need deniable ops use us,” he said after seeing the look on my face.

So Jock and I related our experiences of the last twenty four hours.

“What do you think we should do Connie?” I queried after we had finished our tale.

“This is exactly why we were approached to come up here by the Zambian Government. They do not want a crisis to develop with rebels crossing over the border from neighbouring states. As you may well know, to buy arms and ammunition one needs cash, dollars to be exact and the mines around the region are open to takeover. Look at the ‘blood diamond’ trade further north. It looks like it has started here now, thank goodness you happened to stumble on the first case, and we’ll have to act quickly. The Zambian army is ill prepared at the moment and is why the government approached us. We have a lot of expertise in these matters but people are jumpy after the Simon Mann saga in Zim, so we’ll have to watch our step. Also there are rumours that there are government officials supplying intel to the rebels, have you told anyone else about this?” he enquired.

“No, we have just diverted here to report to the authorities, thank fuck we bumped into you Connie,” Jock replied.

“Where were you headed before this happened?”

“We were on our way to drop off mining supplies up at Lubumbashi in the DRC, then if there was nothing to take back, maybe a trip down to Windhoek where we deal with an agent who sometimes needs stuff flown to Joburg,” I said.

“Well carry on as if nothing has happened, we don’t want to alert them to the fact that we know what’s going on. I have a satnav radio for reporting directly back to HQ and I will see what they advise. As I say, the Zambian authorities are wary of a takeover and at the moment we don’t know who is loyal to the government, so we have to tread very cautiously.”





Connie had always been a good leader. I remembered him from our 2 SAI infantry days at Walvis Bay and various Angolan campaigns. We had once been involved in a recce party chasing rebels across the Angolan border and happened to stumble upon their base. He divided us up into a classic Zulu bull horn formation and within an hour we had secured the base, with a variety of Russian weapons as prize for our boldness. Even some new weapons not seen in the west before, were shipped straight back to Pretoria for analyses and possible manufacture.





“... by about ten o’ clock,” Jock was saying.

I came back to the present, not catching what was said.

“Sorry guys, what were you saying, I was miles away there for a moment?”

“Connie was asking how soon we could depart, he thinks it’s wise to leave before any people arrive for work. It’s seven thirty now and if we refuel here I thought we’d be ready by about eight thirtyish.”

I looked at my watch, “Let’s leave now, we have enough fuel to get to Lubumbashi where we can offload the cargo, refuel and grab a bite to eat.”

I didn’t want to waste time, we needed to get back home and see what could be organized, even though we were still days away from getting back to Joburg.

Connie nodded, “Good idea, too many eyes and ears around here.”

He was right, you would be amazed how word could get around, almost as if the walls had ears.

Connie pulled a business card from his wallet.

“Contact one of these numbers when you get back to the ‘states’ and they’ll tell you what to do.”

He quickly wrote down some phone numbers on the back of the card then handed it to me.

“I’ll sort out the landing fees and square things away with the tower. I’ll say that you dropped off some post for me.”

I pulled my wallet out and put the card in with the others that I had collected over time, and then gave him one of mine.

“Great stuff and thanks, if we don’t see you again soon, maybe we can have a beer when you get back to the ‘states’, hey Connie?” I said.

The ‘states’ was old army slang for ‘back home’ when we were on the ‘border’.

“Ja, cheers guys, see you soon and don’t worry.”

We stood up and shook hands all round then headed for our plane. We were airborne in ten minutes.

The sun was up high now and the weather was clear for miles around. Jock was at the controls as it was still his leg to fly.

“Fancy bumping into Conrad after all these years. I thought he would be a smart lawyer by now, hey Jock?”

“Yes, he was always very smart and had a good business brain. Just shows you how the army can fuck up your mind.”

He bent forward to tap the altimeter.

“Hope the weather holds till we get back home,” he said.





I leant back in my seat and tried not to think of all the possibilities that could happen to the mine folk, especially Aimee. I had read lots of reports of hijackings and hostages being held for ransom by rebels up in the Niger Delta and felt sick to the core of my stomach. I felt so helpless sitting here when I should have been enjoying the flight.





Chapter 10





Time seemed to stand still. It took forever to cross into the Democratic Republic of Congo, yet when I looked at the clock, it was only ten thirty. The port engine was humming along nicely, all temps and pressures were normal.

“Mac, remember you once told me about how a person attracts what they think. Do you still believe in the power of the universe and the laws of attraction?”



“Yes I do, and hey, thanks for reminding me, I must still remain positive and things will work out I guess. You know, it’s true what they say: ‘be careful of what you wish for!’ Lately I have been thinking of how good it would be to meet a nice beautiful woman and retire. No reflection on you old boy, but as busy as our lives are doing what we do, a bit of female company won’t hurt.”

I smiled for the first time since this whole business unfolded. Jock glanced at me and pulled a face.

“Oh, so I’m not good enough for you hey?” he said in mock disgust, “ Nah, I’m just kidding, you deserve to find someone Mac, you’re one of the good guys, just remain positive. Besides we are getting on you know, just look at the age of our suits.”

I chuckled and thought that you’re as old as you feel and right now I felt like I was seventy. I must definitely get a grip on myself but there was a feeling in my gut that said things were going to get a whole lot worse.





Soon Lubumbashi appeared on the horizon, so we started preparing ourselves for the descent to the airport, a quick cockpit scan, all gauges normal, fuel looking good. Jock landed perfectly which elicited a typical pilots remark from me.

“ What a greaser, nice one Jock.”

He beamed, as all pilots treasure a good landing. We taxied up to the cargo bay area and soon our rep, Joshua, arrived with a crew of handlers to remove the supplies that we had brought along.

“Hi guys, how was the flight?”

“No problems at all,” I said shaking his hand and pretending that all was well, “just late leaving Rand Airport. How are things with you?”

“You guys never arrive on time,” he laughed, “why should this time be any different, although I was expecting you yesterday. I’m great, how about grabbing a bite to eat?”





This was our usual routine and he always paid the tab. Jock had just finished writing up his flight details in his notebook and joined us.

“Good, I’m famished,” I replied, “you two head off so long. I’ll just organize a bowser to refuel us and then I’ll join you.”





The bowser arrived as if by command, I guess anything for the bowser guy to relieve the boredom of his day, even though it meant work.

“Hello boss, good to see you.”

A familiar face peered out of the truck window before climbing from the cab, his round shiny black face with his broad grin full of white teeth.

“Howsit Steve, how is the family?”

We had met him on previous visits to Lubumbashi and were good friends. I shook his hand and it was just good etiquette to ask after his family first.

“Fine boss Mac, the little one has started school and the wife is working at the bakery. We get lots of bread from Sanjeev the owner, so things are going well.”

“Sounds good Steve, will you top her up, I’m off to get some chow? I’ll sign the book at the office, okay?”

“No problems boss, I’ll fill her up and get someone to clean the windshields for you.”

“Hey cool man, that will be great, see you just now.”





It’s amazing how service delivery improves with one’s own attitude. I’ve heard lots of contract pilots moan about the service in Africa as being so shitty but you only get in return what you give out. If I were treated the way the locals were treated by some pilots, I would probably punch the guy out. Just shows you how much better they are than us.





I arrived at the cafeteria just as a sumptuous spread of fruit and cold meats and salads were placed on our table. There was a glass of ice cool fruit cocktail in front of me, with humidity streaming down its sides, so I took a long swig to wet my parched throat.

“Josh, have you got anything for us to take back?” Jock was asking.

“Actually I’ve just received an emergency call for some supplies to be sent down to Lusaka for one of the mines down there, can you guys oblige?” he asked.

Jock looked at me and I cringed inwardly as this would virtually take us past Roan Antelope mine again and I wanted to get back to Rand Airport as soon as possible, but business was business.

“No problem,” I said, “I was planning on going down to Windhoek via Katima Malilo, but a dog leg down to Lusaka won’t be that bad, what do you scheme Jock?”

“Ja, we have full tanks and an hour or two detour shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Okay guys, you finish eating while I go and organize the loading, customs has already cleared the shipment. Don’t worry about the tab, I’ll sort it out later. Give me about three quarters of an hour and feel free to order anything else that tickles your fancy, ... from the menu Jock,” he added hastily, glaring at Jock.

I burst out laughing as I could see the mischievous look on Jock’s face. He always loved to tease Joshua and had pulled a couple of dirty tricks on him in the past.

“Do you think he suspects anything, hey Jock?” I asked when Josh was out of sight.

“Josh, never, he’s too innocent and trusting and I think he’s more worried about this new shipment to have thought much about our late arrival.”





With that he grabbed the menu, looking to order an ice cream with chocolate sauce and peanut sprinkle.

“Want one Mac?”

I nodded absent mindedly, thinking of Aimee and the feelings that I couldn’t stop.

After we had finished eating and gone for a pit stop, we headed back to the plane. I nipped into the fuel company office to sign for the fuel receipt and returned just as Joshua was handing over the last of the paper work to the loadmaster.

”Okay guys, everything is loaded, have a safe trip back.”

“Ciao Josh, see you soon.”

I shook his hand and grabbed a copy of the waybill and it wasn’t long before we started up and took off for Lusaka, back in Zambia. It was my leg to fly, so Jock punched the destination for Lusaka into the GPS. It was just after midday.





“Our flight is about one hour forty Mac, eta 13:45, where are we going to stay overnight?”

“You know Jock, I’ve been so pre-occupied that I haven’t even given it a thought. I was hoping to make Katima and stay over with some old friends of mine, what do you think?”

“It’s about two hours from Lusaka to Katima, we’re looking at an eta of about 17:00, depending on how long we take to offload this cargo. Maybe we even get some to take to Windhoek, but we should have enough daylight left.”





I was watching the altimeter and airspeed indicator, which didn’t seem to be moving much.

“Jesus Christ, if it wasn’t for the curvature of the earth we wouldn’t be climbing at all. What the hell has Josh got back there?” I said slightly alarmed.

Jock shrugged his shoulders, "He’s probably getting me back for all the tricks I’ve played on him, it’s probably gold bullion he’s trying to stash away for his pension,” he said jokingly.





The needle of the airspeed indicator was nudging 100 knots and the vertical speed indicator was barely registering a positive climb. I glanced over to make sure that the landing gear was up and locked. After ten minutes the altimeter needle stayed at 4800 feet, barely 300 foot off the deck. I looked at the GPS and saw that we were just crossing the border back into Zambia.





A quick panel scan showed everything to be in order when suddenly Jock looked my way.

“Oh, oh,” he muttered.

My blood ran cold. I looked in his direction and saw that he wasn’t looking at me but rather out of my side window. I turned and glanced out.

“Oh fuck,” was all that came out of my mouth.

An armed military helicopter had appeared out of nowhere, with black soldiers sitting in the doorway, armed to the teeth, gesticulating at us to follow them.

“Seems like we have company, old boy,” Jock stated in a mock English accent.

“I guess we don’t have much choice do we, unless you want a 7.62 round up the arse?” I replied.





The AK 47’s were message enough for us, so I banked to port to follow the chopper, which seemed to be headed towards the border near Kitwe. That feeling that I’d had in my gut turned to an icy fist clutching at my heart.

“I don’t see any markings, can you?” I asked, trying to make out where it came from or to whom it belonged.

Jock shook his head.

“I didn’t really have time to look, besides the camouflage paint is quite dark.”

By now the chopper had descended to tree top height, so I followed suit as the ‘Old Girl’ was still struggling to climb and our speed was slow enough for the chopper to keep ahead.

“They can’t be government troops Mac, otherwise they would be heading for a recognized airfield. What do you scheme?”





My mind was racing ahead trying to think of all possible scenarios. We were winding our way along the border between Zambia and the DRC. Soon we could see Ndola in the distance over our starboard wing. Suddenly an opening appeared in the trees down below us with a dirt runway and some army tents hidden amongst the bush. The chopper waggled from side to side, indicating for us to land, so I checked the windsock for wind direction and did a go around to line up with the runway.

"Jock, will you set the flaps for landing and lower the gear for me. This is going to be a hairy landing, what with all the weight we're carrying." He nodded, grabbing the landing gear lever.





But as usual the ‘Old Girl’ handled it like a pro, these old Dak’s never ceased to amaze me, they were built like brick shit houses. The chopper had already landed and a welcoming committee awaited our arrival over near the tents, so I taxied over and stopped just in front of them, shutting down the Pratt’s at the same time.





In the silence that followed, I looked at Jock and said, “Just play it cool bud, and don’t try anything just yet.”

I applied the park brake and then released the brake pedals. He nodded, and then went to open the cargo door.





As we climbed down onto the dusty ground, a high-ranking officer walked forward, at least I thought he was, by all the bird shit on his shoulders.

“Welcome my friends, you are now in the hands of the Zambian Special Forces and my name is Colonel Chabala. I am sorry for the inconvenience Jock and Mac.”

He laughed at seeing the puzzled look on our faces, offering his hand in greeting. He reminded me of Denzel Washington and sounded like he was a Sandhurst graduate with impeccable English. We hesitantly shook hands.

“Follow me, where we may sit and have a cool refreshment.” He pointed towards the nearest tent.

I started to feel a little better, at least we weren’t being arrested and tortured and who knows what else, not yet anyway. I glanced at Jock, who just shrugged his shoulders and followed the colonel into what looked like the HQ tent.





I looked back at the aircraft to see soldiers climbing aboard and start removing the cargo. I was about to mouth off when Colonel Chabala waved a hand,

“Sit gentleman and I will explain.”

I looked around and saw that the HQ consisted of two tents joined together, with their sides folded halfway down to let in any breeze that might be blowing. The one half of the tent held several rows of seats, must be the briefing and lecture area, I thought. There was also a radio operator sitting at his radio in the one corner. A corporal brought us a couple of cold beers and all I could think of was that that would be the end of flying for the day.

“Please make yourselves at home, you are not under arrest or anything. Let me put you at ease by saying that this is connected to the takeover of Roan Antelope mine and we have been in contact with Executive Outlook, thanks to you two. A certain Conrad, no surnames please, reported your story and it was passed onto us. It was decided to handle this as quietly as possible due to a possible security leak within the government. Our neighbours loaned us some special equipment which is aboard your aircraft, thanks to Joshua your agent, who was willing to help but does not know the contents of the crates or of our planned hijacking of your flight.”





I didn’t know whether I should be cross or pleased and must have looked relieved because Colonel Chabala laughed and carried on.

“By the way, we have the mine under observation by one of our top marksmen, one Sydney Mutale.”

I burst out laughing.

“Well he certainly had me fooled with his Rasta looks and laid back attitude,” I said.

Jock had also unwound by now.

“Well fuck me George,” was all he could say, downing his beer in two or three gulps, whereupon we all burst out laughing, us more as a release of our nervous tension.

“As you may know, the DRC is a hotpot for revolution and we have been worried for a while now that they could cross over into our country, so we have all our strategic sites under observation.”





The crates had been off-loaded and stacked in the corner of the tent. The lids were being prised open revealing AK 47 rifles, RPG rocket tubes with ammo and several other pieces of equipment.

“Geez, no wonder the ‘Old Girl’ wouldn’t climb out of Lubumbashi,” I said.

“Mac I have one more favour to ask of you and of course you may refuse, but I need you to fly some of our paratroopers over the mine in a HaLo drop. We want to have the element of surprise and hopefully release the hostages without any loss of life.”

“Of course we will help,” I said, then quickly looked to Jock, “Sorry Jock, I jumped the gun there mate, what do you say?”

“My friend, you and I have fought together many a time why should now be any different, besides who is going to look after your lily-white arse?” he said, grinning broadly.

My heart swelled with pride; how often do you find a friend who is willing to put his life on the line for you.

“So gentleman, you are my guests. Corporal Mulenga here will show you to your quarters, where you can change and shower. You will join us in the mess for dinner tonight and tomorrow we will plan the rescue.”

We all rose and trooped out into the late afternoon sun.





Our tent was sparsely furnished, with two stretchers and a table holding a pitcher of water and two glasses.

“Feels like we’re back in the army, hey Mac?”

“Yeah sure does, just like in the ‘old days’. My how quickly things have happened since we saw Connie. How do you feel about the situation?”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way Mac, besides we have a girl to rescue don’t we?”

Again I marvelled at how easy he took the situation.

•••



I remembered the day we had bumped into each other after so many years. A friend of mine had been telling me about two of his mates who had purchased a Chinese Nanchang Airforce trainer based at Heidelberg Airport. So one day we decided to drive out there and check it out. We were rounding the corner of a hangar when I heard this infectious laugh and I knew only one person in the world who laughed like that. As we rounded the corner I saw these two guys wheeling out what I presumed was the Nanchang and the one guy was indeed Jock.

“Holy shit look what the cat just dragged in,” he said catching sight of us, grinning from ear to ear.

“Well I’ll be damned you old wanker,” I said in return. We hugged and patted each other on the back and shook hands.

“Hey Jock, long time no see. This is my buddy Clem. Clem this is Jock,” I said, introducing my friend.

“Hey pleased to meet you. This is Charlie. He was just about to go for a flip, so I volunteered to help him take his plane out of the hangar.”

We shook hands and took a look around the plane.

“She looks a beauty Charlie, almost like the old Harvard, hey?”

“Ja and she performs pretty well even at this altitude.”

•••



And that’s how we were reunited and soon we were back to being best friends, as if the past ten years had been just like a few weeks. After several piss-ups together we had finally decided to go into partnership and buy the Dak and do some charter work.





Chapter 11





A hand shook me by the shoulder, bringing me awake in a flash. It took me a few seconds to remember where I was and for my heart to stop beating like a bongo drum. A black face grinned down at me.

“There’s coffee on the table and breakfast is at seven, sir.”

It was 05:00. What the hell I thought, we’re civvies not bloody grunts but then I remembered the reason for us being there.

Jock was also stirring, letting off the longest and loudest fart that I’d ever heard.

"A bit more choke and it would have started," I said grinning.

“Morning world,” was all he said.

As I sat up, I noticed that someone, possibly the coffee bearer had put some army fatigues down on the table. I baulked at the idea of wearing army 'cammo' clothes again, but I suppose whether we were caught as mercenaries or as spies made little difference, the outcome would be the same.

Death.

I shuddered at the thought but then realized that Aimee and the mine management staff must be going through all kinds of hell right now. With my resolve strengthened, I made my way outside and climbed into the Dakota to fetch our washing and shaving equipment.





The surrounding forest was just lighting up as the sun rose and the chattering of birds emanated from the trees, getting ready for their day too. I just loved an African dawn in the bush, the air was cool and fresh, with sounds of animals foraging in the thicket. We could almost be on safari, maybe I should speak to Jock about starting something like that when this mess has been sorted out.





The camp seemed to be a special forces training one, as there were bullet riddled wooden buildings over to one side as well as the usual obstacle course for climbing and repelling down, much like the ones Jock and I had trained at in our early army days. The troops that I could see appeared well disciplined and smartly dressed, their uniforms ironed with perfect creases and boots shiny like mirrors. I guess Colonel Chabala ran a tight ship here, which gave me confidence.





I gave Jock his toiletry bag and left for the ablution blocks hidden amongst the trees. After one of Jocks triple S’s, I was ready to face the day. When Jock had finished dressing, we headed over to the mess tent.

“I wonder what food awaits us, I’m not into my African cuisine you know,” Jock said.

I grinned, knowing that breakfast could be anything from pap to some watery stew, but we were surprised with bacon and eggs. While we sat on our own and ate our breakfast, the troops were on parade, standing to attention as the flag was raised.





After a cup of coffee, we headed over to the ops tent just as Colonel Chabala dismissed the morning parade.

“Morning gentlemen, I hope you slept well?” he said, on entering the tent.

I nearly had the urge to jump to attention and salute but managed to restrain myself. Jock just stood there grinning. Usually when you’re out in the bush you don’t salute officers for fear of them getting shot by enemy snipers.

There was an easel to one side of the tent with a map on it depicting the surrounding area, showing Ndola between the mine and us. There were markings on the map in different colours, showing a stopper group behind the mine and two pincer patrols at the front. We walked over to it and Colonel Chabala began briefing us.

“Mac, you and Jock will drop two sticks about a kilometre from the mine entrance and they will glide in as close to the buildings over here as possible.”

He pointed to the recreational hall where the dance had been held, in what seemed like weeks ago, yet was only two days ago.

“With the element of surprise,” he continued, “we should overrun the place in no time. The stopper group will be dropped off near the mine and march into position during the night. They will stop any escape towards the border. The attack itself will start at dawn tomorrow which is at about 05:00, can you be ready for takeoff?”

“If you mark the runway with lights we could take off by about 04:30 and head out to an area where we could fly a holding pattern until it is light enough for your paratroopers to see where to land,” I answered.

“You could use old coffee tins as lamps,” Jock added, “just fill them with sand and pour in some petrol and when we’re ready to go, light them up. This will be more than adequate for us to steer down the runway by.”

“Good idea Jock, I’ll get a detail to scrounge around ‘Cooks’ storeroom. Corporal Mulenga, will you see to it and bring us some coffee?” Colonel Chabala looked at his aide, who promptly set off on his errand.

“What type of parachutes do you use Colonel. Do we need to rig up a static line in the plane?” Jock asked.

“No, we use the same ‘chutes as your Recce’s in South Africa, they are parasol canopies which allow us to glide from quite far and control our landing spots more accurately. The men will control their own ripcords, you will drop them from about 5000 foot AGL.”

Geez rather them than me, but I guess they must have trained for this.

“We have been trained by French paratroopers and have done many jumps,” Colonel Chabala added, seeing the scepticism on my face. “As you know, most countries have developed Special Forces for the very situation that we find ourselves in. I was approached directly by Executive Outlook who have aided us and worked with us in the past. We have our secret service trying to find out what government staff, if any, are involved.”





Jock nipped out to the plane to fetch one of our maps and when he returned, he spread it out on a table. After studying it for a while, we started to discuss our part in the operation.

“Jock, we could fly at about 10 000 feet ASL and at the five minute mark, cut the motors to idle and glide the rest of the way in,” I said looking at the map.

“Ja, that way we should be pretty quiet. Then after the drop we head west for a few K’s and then accelerate to max speed, loop around and head back here. The mine is about twenty minutes from here and if we fly slowly enough we should just get there when it is light enough for the guys to see the ground. If not then we can go into a holding pattern as you suggested, although it will still be dicey.”

Colonel Chabala agreed, but insisted that this was what they had trained for. He also felt our timing was about right.





The rest of the day was spent with preparations for the attack. Jock and I gave our plane a good going over, while the troops practiced their fire and movement techniques. The more I saw of them the more I realized how well disciplined and organized they were. I guess they had also been involved with ours and other countries peacekeeping forces deployed in various trouble spots on the continent, so they knew what they were doing.

“Hey Jock, do you want to fly tomorrow or shall I?”

He pulled out his magic coin and tossed it up.

“Your call Mac.”

Typical Jock, so I said, “Heads.”

“Sorry pal, its tails. I’ll fly, you can be jump master okay?”

I nodded, but would have preferred to be the pilot in command, only because it would keep me busy and my mind off the situation. I was wound up so tight that I didn’t even notice that I had lost the toss again!





That night ‘Cook’ held a braai in our honour and by seven thirty we were off to bed for an early night. I lay awake for what seemed like hours, tossing and turning, while over on the other side of the tent Jock snored away, fast asleep as if he didn’t have a care in the world. I tried to envision the flight in my mind, seeing if we had missed any details.

It felt like I had only just fallen asleep when an orderly woke me up with a hot cup of coffee. It was 03:30 on my watch.

Fuck, there was no rest for the wicked.





Chapter 12





It was still dark as we got ready for the pre-dawn take off, having done our ablutions and had another cup of coffee at breakfast. I was too nervous to eat anything and my stomach was knotted tighter than a jammed fishing reel. The sky was filled with stars and the crickets were still making their usual mating sounds as the paras went about checking their equipment, making sure that nothing rattled and that all the straps on their webbing were tightly adjusted. Jock had climbed up and strapped himself into the pilot’s seat, while I would remain at the door opening to give the signal to jump. The ‘Bats’ as we call our paratroopers back home after the term parabats or parachute battalion, filed aboard, each man in a pensive mood with his own thoughts, fears and rituals. We had removed the cargo door the previous day so that there would be no foul up’s, as this was what Dak’s had originally been designed for. I rubbed my hands together in the hope of warming them, as the morning air was quite crisp. The time was now 04:30, another fifteen minutes or so and the darkness would start fading to day.





As the first vestiges of daylight appeared, the order was given to light the lamps. Jock cranked up the first engine. The silence of the dawn was shattered as it burst into life and the airframe shuddered with its characteristic vibration. Birds flew from the thicket in panic. With both engines warming up, Jock turned to face me, glancing over the heads of the troops who were sitting down as best they could. I gave a nervous smile and a thumbs up. We taxied to the holding point.

With a roar of acceleration and the lamps flashing by the open doorway, we were airborne, skimming the treetops heading west towards our target. Jock soon had us climbing as quickly as possible to the assigned altitude.

It was now 04:40.

Hopefully the rebels weren’t that disciplined and that they would only start waking up at around five thirty.

After what seemed like ages, Jock held up five fingers and then the adrenalin started pumping big time as I showed the men ‘five minutes’ to the drop zone. They all scrambled to their feet, getting ready for the final moment, any stiffness from sitting cramped together soon vanished. The engines suddenly died down to a whisper and the noise of the air stream past the open doorway was quite loud. The plane held a nose up attitude as Jock levelled off.

He and I had agreed that he would flash the cabin lights on and off over the drop zone, signalling the time to jump. I glanced out at the trees down below. It was just light enough to see by and I hoped that the guys all made it down safely.





Suddenly the cabin lights flashed on and off.

“Jump, jump, jump,” I shouted as hard as I could, pushing each guy out of the door and soon the cabin was empty, all eight men out. I ran up to the cockpit and climbed into the co-pilots seat, nervously trying to latch the safety harness and donning the headset as quickly as I could.

“How’s it looking?” I asked, but Jock just shook his head, concentration etched on his face. We were still gliding at idle power in a gentle dive, with the ground looming closer and closer. The cockpit clock showed 04:58.

“Mac, you pull the flaps up while I get the engines up to power, we should be far enough away now to not give the element of surprise away.”





Jock pushed the throttles forward and with a surge of power we bottomed out of the dive and started heading east. By now I had the flaps up and soon we had 160 knots on the airspeed indicator, going like the clappers. The GPS showed our eta as 05:15.





The sun was just peeping above the horizon, so the landing shouldn’t pose any problems and as we approached the army base, I could see that some of the lamps were still burning, with their flames flickering in the early morning air. The runway was just visible in the half-light and after another textbook landing, we parked the plane and rushed into the HQ tent to find a silent and nervous Colonel with his senior staff. The radio was silent, almost ominous. It was now 05:20.

The radio suddenly burst into life and we all jumped.





“Sunray, Sunray, this is one zero, message over.”

“Sunray, send over,” our radio operator replied.

“One zero, we have secured the mine. We have two casualties with minor wounds. Mine workers locked in hostel, but no sign of mine management staff or rebels, over.”





Colonel Chabala grabbed the microphone.





“Sunray, is there any sign of when the rebels left, over?”

“One zero, negative but the kitchen stoves are cold, presume they left in the last two hours or so. We are ready to return to base, any further orders, over?”

“Sunray, leave one section behind to look after the mine and make sure that the miners are fed and in good health. The rest of you are to return to camp but try and locate any spoor on your way back. Out.”





He handed the mic back to the radio operator, but I paid little attention, as I suddenly felt sick and filled with dread.

The Colonel looked at Jock and I.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “I’ll send out the standby platoon as soon as the vehicles arrive back from the mine with the stopper group. The rebels could only just have headed back over the border and since our stopper group did not see or hear anything last night, we can presume they have crossed here.”

He pointed at the map, showing where the roadway ran close to the border just north east of Ndola.

“It appears as if they have spies in the area and may have seen your aircraft approaching yesterday. Our camp here is too far east for them to have noticed anything unusual in our training activities.”

I nodded, agreeing with his thinking.

“When the troops have returned back here and have cleaned up and eaten a good meal, they can return to protect the mine just in case the rebels return. For now the reserve platoon can go out.”

I suddenly had an idea.

“Colonel, permission for Jock and I to accompany your soldiers to the mine. Maybe we can find some clues or just look around?”

“Certainly, I don’t want to have you two moping around my HQ all day.” He grinned patting me on the back. “Try and grab some food yourselves, who knows when we might have another meal. I take it you also have a personal interest in this saga and are not wanting to leave just yet?”

Jock piped in before I could say anything, “It’s a matter of the heart Colonel, there is a young lady involved whom we would dearly love to see back safe and sound. The rest of the staff too obviously,” he added quickly.

“Alright then, but I suggest that you be seconded to my unit under my orders, is that understood?”

“Agreed, but we don’t want to be paid and please no early roll call,” I joked, “we can be your temporary Air Force reserve.”

“What about some weapons for us Colonel, we don’t want to bump into any rebels unarmed?” Jock enquired.

“Certainly, Corporal Kangwa here will see to it. Go with him to the quartermaster and take what you need. Obviously you will have to sign for the equipment you borrow. Then get ready to join my men when the others return from the mine.”





With that we were dismissed, so we made our way outside following Corporal Kangwa to the QM store. We grabbed some flak jackets, 9mm pistols and some spare mags, which fitted into our borrowed cammo clothing pockets. We also each took a pair of boots, as our casual shoes would never stand up to any bundu bashing. The quartermaster also thrust two water bottles into our hands and suddenly the reality of the situation hit home. We were now faced with the possibility of going into a foreign country. Jock had come to the same conclusion.

“Just like old times in Nam, hey Mac?”

Nam was our shorthand for Namibia during the border war. We also grabbed some bush hats and then signed the chit offered to us by the storeman.

“Good luck sir,” he said as we departed.

Yeah we certainly would need lots of that.





Chapter 13





Soon the sound of the vehicles returning from the mine reached us and I was impatient to get going, but I knew that the incoming troops needed attention and feeding. It turned out that of the two casualties, one had resulted from the drop - a twisted ankle and the other a cut from flying glass as they entered a locked building. It only took ten minutes to get the troops de-bussed and off to the mess, with the reserve platoon loaded aboard one of the Unimog trucks, eager to get going. Jock and I had the privilege of driving up front with Lieutenant Banda in his Land Rover. We looked a bit scrappy compared to him, what with his neatly rolled up sleeves that looked like they had been ironed while on his body, his beret at just the right angle and boots shiny enough to reflect the morning sun. The distance by road was about thirty-five kilometres and at our average speed of forty kay’s an hour it felt like we’d never get there.





The dirt road wound itself through dense jungle and at last the entrance to the mine appeared and there to meet us was Sydney Mutale, grinning from ear to ear as we climbed out of the Landy.

“I told you’s guys we would meet again.”

We shook hands and followed the platoon into the mine admin building. The Lieutenant gave orders to his section leaders and when he was finished, I said that Jock and I would look at the staff sleeping quarters. He nodded his agreement and was soon on the radio reporting back to his HQ.





Jock and I set off in the direction that Aimee had taken that night when we had said our goodbyes. We found the sick bay just around the corner with what looked like her room located at the back of the building. I felt like an intruder going into her room without her permission but hopefully there were some clues as to their whereabouts.

Her room was neat and tidy with the typical trappings of a single female woman; pictures of her folks and a box of tissues next to her bed. Some flowers stood in a vase on her chest of drawers, still looking fresh. The table next to the door had several glossy women’s magazines on it; Huisgenoot, Fairlady, You, as well as some I didn’t recognize. We searched the room from top to bottom and found not a single clue. Jock looked like I felt, beaten and dejected. Suddenly I had an idea.

“Hey Jock let’s look at the rec hall. Remember I was sitting near the entrance to the toilets, maybe we might see something?”

“Good idea Mac, I’m feeling rather dejected right now.”

“Yeah, me too,” I said, leading the way to the hall.





It hadn’t been cleaned since the dance and there were papers and cigarette butt ends everywhere. I stood facing the bench that I had been sitting on when Aimee had first appeared. Nothing, the floor was clean, no papers or messages. I looked down the passage that led to the toilets.

Jock and I had the same idea at the same time as we both ran down the corridor.

“You take the men’s room while I check the ladies one, okay?”

“Okay you pervert,” he mocked.

I grinned at his sick humour and entered the ladies restroom. It appeared relatively clean with a dustbin in the corner which I emptied out onto the floor, but it held only tissues and some tampon wrappers. Urgh.

Next I looked into each toilet with the same result, nothing. I just stood there feeling like shit when I realized that I hadn’t checked the backs of the doors of the toilet cubicles. I immediately started going through each one pulling the door closed once inside - but nothing. Same result with the next three and then bingo the last toilet door had a message written with Aimee’s lipstick. Good girl I thought.

“Hey, Jock. I’ve hit the jackpot,” I shouted.

He came bursting into the room.

“What is it?” he said out of breath.

I showed him the message on the back of the door.





‘15 rebels armed with AK’s & 2 hand held radios. Seem to be from DRC. Speak to my assistant Martha. Aimee.’





“I’ll get the looty,” I said and ran outside and asked the first soldier that I saw to get the Lieutenant to the rec hall pronto.





He arrived within a minute and I showed him the message.

“Right, let’s find this Martha, she must be with the mine workers,” he said.

We hurried over to where the mineworkers were sitting in groups near the main admin building. He fired off some questions in his own language but no one moved. He seemed to repeat his request but with more authority. Slowly a young boy wearing overalls and a beanie stood up and shyly came forward. As he reached the Lieutenant he removed the cap to reveal that ‘he’ was a young woman. She spoke softly to the Lieutenant and after a while he turned to us.

“It appears that Miss Aimee told her assistant here to disguise herself as a miner and hide in case the rebels found out that she worked at the infirmary. She says that she overheard one of the rebels mentioning something about a river Moony or something like that. I’ll radio HQ that you’re on your way back and then you can update the Colonel in person. We don’t want to give away any information over the radio, as there seem to be spies everywhere. One of my men can take you back in my Land Rover.”

I nodded and thanked him for his help.





Soon Jock and I were bouncing our way back to HQ with the driver going like a bat out of hell. I didn’t mind, as the sooner we got back the sooner we could follow the rebels. We made it back to camp in record time and after briefing the Colonel and his staff we sat down to a well-earned cup of tea.

“The river that the assistant mentioned must be this one, the Muniengashi,” Colonel Chabala said, stabbing at the map with his finger. I looked and saw that there were no villages or any towns for miles, if this was where they were indeed headed then it looked like a good hiding place. But also hell to get to as there were no roads, maybe only some animal tracks. Also the whole area seemed to consist of small rivers flowing into the main river, reminding me of a child’s drawing of a tree. One in particular caught my eye, as it seemed to have a horseshoe bend in it.

“I bet my bottom dollar that this is where they have their hideout, Colonel,” I said.

Colonel Chabala nodded, “Yes I agree, it looks easy to defend.” He looked at his watch.

“Corporal Mulenga, go and tell the platoon leaders and NCOs’ that we will have an O-group in ten minutes time.”

“Yes sir,” replied the aide and left to summon the men.





Soon the tent filled with the two platoon commanders and their NCOs and when everyone was seated, the Colonel stood up to start the order group.

“Right men, it is now 12:30. We will leave by 14:00 and travel by vehicle to as near to the border as possible. About here.”

He pointed to a new map, which had been pinned to the easel, showing an isolated spot on the road nearest our current position.

“The rebels will be heading south east to get to this river bend where we think their hideout is located. We will approach from the opposite side by heading north east from our base here in the south.” He tapped a spot with his pointer. He turned to his senior platoon leader.

“Lieutenant Simambe, ‘A’ platoon will have the privilege of leading us. We’ll take one section only. Lieutenant Chomba, ‘B’ platoon and the two remaining sections from 'A' platoon will stay here at the base as back up, while Lieutenant Banda’s ‘C’ platoon remains at the mine. Lieutenant Chomba you will be in command here as I intend going with ‘A’ platoon.”

Colonel Chabala sure new his stuff and was a born leader and I was sure that he didn’t want to miss out on any action. This lifted my and I guess everyone else’s spirit.

He continued his briefing, “Issue the men with rations for three days and make sure their weapons are stripped and clean. Also issue each man with extra magazines. Kit must be held to a minimum as we need to travel light and fast.”

Heads nodded in agreement.

Turning to Jock and I, he said, “I suppose there is no chance that you two are staying behind?”

We nodded our heads.

“Colonel you can rely on us, we may be a bit on the old side but we’ve had a lot of experience with this kind of operation,” I said.

He nodded, “You realize that we have a march of about thirty kilometres through dense jungle and who knows how many rebels will be waiting for us.”

I looked at Jock and he at me. We both knew that we weren’t as fit as we were in our army days but I couldn’t sit around while Aimee needed my help.

“I’m in if you are Mac,” he said, so I gave him a high five.





With that decided, the order group finished up and we all left the tent to prepare for the hot pursuit. I just hoped that the DRC forces didn’t interfere or get in our way. We headed back to the QM store where we collected an AK 47 assault rifle each, ammo, a lightweight backpack with sleeping bag and poncho plus a few grenades. I would have preferred our South African R4 rifle, though based on the AK, was a far superior weapon. A couple of rat packs were the last items to be packed away. I then headed over to the water truck and made sure that my water bottles were full and clipped them to my web belt.





The cook had prepared a light meal of cold meats and potato salad for us and everyone sat around eating in silence. Our faces showed how strained our nerves were, as no matter how many times you go into battle you always have to bite back the fear of being killed. I was especially nervous as I didn’t want to let the squad down and my backpack already weighed a ton and we hadn’t even left the camp yet. After we had finished eating our meal, I quickly ran to the aircraft and grabbed the GPS unit from the cockpit, why I don’t know but my gut instinct was in overdrive.





Chapter 14





Then it was time to go, no shouting or orders being barked out, everyone knew what they had to do. I was glad to know that we were amongst professionals. We headed for the two Unimog’s that were parked next to the parade ground. Jock and I climbed onto the back of the second one. We were just one of the boys.

Jock had organized some black shoe polish for us two whiteys and he began camouflaging his face and I followed suit. We checked each other out and elicited some laughs from the rest of the men who didn’t need to cover their faces as they were naturally camouflaged. It was bloody hot and sweat dripped from every pore. The unfamiliar kit was already chaffing sensitive areas and as we moved off, dust billowed over us getting into our eyes and mouths.





At least it was a bit cooler now that we had a breeze blowing on our faces and as I wriggled to get more comfortable, I watched the road unwind behind us. The chunky tyre treads of our Unimog set up a hypnotic humming sound on the road and some of the men smoked while others tried to get some sleep.

My thoughts drifted back to the dance, when Aimee had first sat down next to me. The smell of her perfume still lingered in my mind and her face was etched deep into my memory and it pained me to think that she might not come out of this terrible ordeal. Please just don’t let them rape her. I had read stories of rebels stoned out of their minds running rampant in Sierra Leone killing and raping indiscriminately, and being compared to genocide. Rawanda was another story and one of the worst genocides in history.

Damn I’ve got to try and get my mind off this line of thought otherwise I was on a hiding to nowhere.

•••



A soldier develops a habit of sleeping anywhere, at any time because there may not be time in the heat of battle or when on a hot pursuit. I was too wound up to sleep, so I looked over at Jock to get my mind off these morbid thoughts but his head was down on his chest, fast asleep. The jungle flashed by on either side but there wasn’t really much to see and not knowing the area meant that it seemed to take forever to get to the drop off point. I was really anxious to get into action and remembered how things were much better when in the heat of battle.

•••



After an hour the lead vehicle pulled off the road and into a siding that had been cut a short way into the forest. Our truck pulled up behind it. We debussed and the platoon formed up for final checks and orders. Jock and I stood behind the Colonel, who wore battle fatigues with no insignia, again as a precaution against being targeted by snipers. I felt sorry for the signaller though, as he stood out like a sore thumb with the radio’s whip antenna sticking above his head saying ‘hey here I am shoot me’. I know, I had been one in my infantry days, plus you’re carrying the extra weight, which is energy sapping.

The time was 15:45, another three hours ahead of us before nightfall.





“Right men, we are near to the border and should cross it in the next hour or so. Be mindful that we are on our own on this and we must avoid any DRC or UN troops who might be patrolling the area. As you saw on the map this is a fairly isolated area so our chances of bumping into them is minimal. Secondly, as we approach the target area, lead scouts be watchful for booby traps, especially as we will be coming in behind the enemy camp. Any last minute questions – no? Right let’s go.”

Colonel Chabala waved in the direction of a footpath heading into the forest. While he had been talking I had pulled the GPS from my side pocket and punched in the co-ordinates of the suspected rebel base that I had written down on the back of my hand. It soon showed a distance to target of 29 kilometres, unfortunately as the crow flies, so it was probably going to be closer to 35 kay’s, depending on the terrain. Jock and I had trained in the desert dunes of Walvis Bay so our legs were strong, there’s nothing harder than hiking in soft sand and you build up a tough mentality to overcome the constant wish to just drop dead, especially on a twenty kilometre route march. The conditions here were different though, with the ground being hard and rocky, we’ll have to be careful not to twist an ankle or fall down a ravine. Also the jungle was denser than the Angolan Namibia border region where we had spent most of our time during those campaigns, so the march was going to be tough.





As we moved off, I looked at Jock next to me and nodded. No words were needed, it was just like old times. Now was the time to arm weapons and the sound of sixteen weapons being cocked and safeties moved to off sounded ominous in the quiet of the jungle. We were now ‘hot’. The tension rose palpably, causing a cold sweat to break out, especially now that we had a round up the spout. One stumble or fall was sure to cause an accidental discharge with possible disastrous results.

Patrols are always carried out in total silence, so you had time to think a lot and it’s amazing the lengthy conversations you can have with yourself. Heads scanned from left to right as we spread out in single file and that feeling of being watched only made things worse. The GPS showed the terrain features as well as the border demarcation and after about an hour of marching I saw that we were now in the DRC. The platoon leader had his own unit, which was smaller and had less features, but never the less a godsend in terrain like this. The jungle itself was quite dense but lots of light came in through the canopy overhead. We were marching on a narrow animal track that was probably headed down to the river where the animals drank. I just hoped that they were harmless antelopes because I would hate to come face to face with a gorilla or baboon in the dark, and I wonder who would get the bigger fright, them or us.



The creaking of webbing or footfalls crunching the occasional dried twig were the only sounds to be heard. The birds were ominously quiet. Soon darkness started setting in and at last Lieutenant Simambe signalled a halt. My watch showed that it was 17:30 and I was totally knackered.





We scouted around just off the track and found a nice rocky enclave that would make a nice temporary base for the night. We searched out spots where we could drop our kit, while the section leader deployed perimeter guards and set up the guard duty roster. Pushing beat was not fun in these circumstances.

I remember many a time when a firefight broke out in the dead of night only to discover the following morning that we had massacred a herd of cattle or a litter of pigs or wild boar. Very frustrating, especially if you had set up Claymore mines, which meant less protection the next night. On this occasion we didn’t require the mines as this was a hot pursuit and besides we weren’t at war. I was so tired that the possibility that the rebels might have protected their hideout with Claymores didn’t even cross my mind. Just as well, though, as I might have stayed awake the whole night.





As each guy settled down, it was time to eat a ‘rat’ pack, which consisted of a pack of dog biscuits, a tin of sausages that we called Owambo piele in our army days, or a tin of baked beans or spaghetti and if you were very lucky maybe a tin of sweetcorn. Soon there would be the inevitable swapping and bartering of food as the men got rid of unwanted items, and I smiled to myself as the thought came to my mind that they were like a bunch of school boys at the tuck shop. But in no time I was drawn into the squabble and it felt good to be one of the guys.





There was a deathly silence as everyone started getting stuck into their grub. After forcing the cold food down my neck, I took a swig of water to help get the last bit of food down. I was really tired and sore and didn’t feel like brewing up a cupper, so I scratched out a comfortable spot to put my sleeping bag down in and then draped my poncho over it. This was a trick we’d learned early on in the border war.

We’d assumed that the poncho was a ground sheet, which it was, and to be used us such. On waking the following morning you’d be soaking wet from the dew because most of the time we slept under the stars when on patrol. Glancing over at Jock I saw that he had his ‘fire bucket’ out and was brewing up, using the little Nesbit fire blocks that came in the ration pack. The rat packs also had these sachets of instant tea and coffee in them, which was which I don’t know, because they all tasted shit anyway. The fire bucket is the metal cup that holds the plastic water bottle in the canvass holder that clips onto your web belt and was very handy. I’ve even seen guys shaving out of them.

I snuggled deep into my bag and pulled it over my head because now was not the time to get mozzie bites, which could easily get infected. Who knows when we might see a shower or a bath again?

Silence drifted over us as the darkness crept in. I thought back over the events of the last couple of days. Boy, thank goodness one couldn’t see into the future, otherwise I would never have gotten out of bed that morning we’d departed from Rand. With all the aches and pains and exhaustion, sleep came easily.





Chapter 15





Dawn broke as the perimeter guards roused us from our deep sleep. The sky overhead was overcast and soon a light drizzle began to fall. Great, that was all we needed, as there is nothing worse than marching in rain, your clothing gets wet and the ground turns muddy, which becomes difficult to walk on. Jock and I were still dry thanks to us putting our ponchos over our sleeping bags and not underneath them. Several of the men who saw what Jock and I had done, nodded appreciatively as they had given us funny looks the night before. I rolled my sleeping bag up and hooked it to the clips at the bottom of my backpack and pulled out the leftovers from my ration pack. Breakfast was a miserable affair, as we sat huddled under our ponchos, with rain dripping from our bush hats.





As the light increased we could see the trail well enough, so it was time to get going. My feet ached as I’m sure Jocks did too, because we both had to ‘break in’ the new boots that we had drawn from the QM store. Jocks cammo’d face was smudged and he looked more like a stoker on a steam train and I guessed I looked just as funny. Real cammo paint doesn’t smudge as easily as shoe polish and we drew some grins from the rest of the lads.





The GPS showed that we had covered fifteen kay’s the previous day, which had been good going but we still had another twenty odd to go. We set off with the lead scouts setting a cracking pace and soon we were back in that mode of digging deep within our reserves to keep going. I had the image of Aimee in my mind and this was more than enough to keep me focused. My other worry was snakes; especially puff adders or the evil looking Gaboon adder, which camouflages its self well and hides amongst the leaves on the ground.

There are so many things a soldier has to remember: look for spoor, a broken branch, suspicious objects on the pathway, you almost have to have eyes in the back of your head. I really pitied the poor bastard bringing up the rear. Anyone could sneak up behind him and take him out, so he has to constantly look back, a tiring task at best.





The platoon leader stopped every half hour for a ten minute rest and a drink of water. We just plonked down on the ground wherever we stopped, as it was just too much effort to take our kit off and find a place to sit down. Then we would be off again and within ten metres you’d be back in the zone.





We were in the middle of the bunch, the signaller just ahead of me and the Colonel in front of him with Jock following behind me. Soon the gradient started changing, either we were going up or suddenly down, a sure sign that the river was getting closer and my GPS showed ten more kay’s. I was in a zombie like state plodding along putting one foot in front of the other and not noticing the sun moving overhead, hidden by the overcast weather.

Geez if we walked into an ambush now we’d be fucked I thought, or maybe it was just me, but it took all my concentration to keep going. The ground was becoming rockier and made the going tougher. The tops of my inner thighs were chaffing and felt raw and my feet were wet or sweaty, I couldn’t tell which, or maybe blisters were forming and bursting.

At one stage I glanced at my watch and saw that it was 10:25, geez this was taking forever, would we be in any fit state to fight? I glanced behind me to see how Jock was doing and I saw by the expression on his face that he was taking strain as well. The rest of the platoon looked fresh, this was probably just another day out for them.





Suddenly the lead scout put up his hand signalling for us to freeze. We dropped to the ground, spreading out into a defensive ring, while the Colonel and Lieutenant spoke quietly with the lead scout. The platoon leader motioned for us to stay put and keep our eyes peeled. He sent two scouts forward to recce the area ahead. Soon I could hear voices and laughter in the distance, hopefully this was the rebel camp. Creepy crawlies were climbing all over me and flies were buzzing around my face as I peered into the dense bush. Sweat was running into my eyes and it was hard to wipe my face without causing too much movement which would be a dead give away to a vigilant enemy sniper. After what seemed like hours, the scouts returned saying that it was an isolated village. Damn that meant we had to skirt around it, which was going to delay us even more.





I wondered how the rebel group with the mine staff were doing, probably the same as us and hopefully hadn’t reached their hideout yet. Our plan was based on the hope that we could be ready in position before they arrived. There’s nothing like hitting an enemy as he arrives home. He would be the least alert and dying to have warm food and a drink and a well earned rest.

The platoon leader signalled for us to rise and head on out with the scouts leading, but at a much slower pace. Soon we were cutting away from the path and heading amongst the trees and bushes. The going was tough with branches whipping back and lashing me in the face, chest and forearms as the guy in front pushed through the dense bush.

A glance at my watch showed it to be 12:30. After a while I could hear running water and again the signal came to halt, with the scouts heading off on their own. After an even longer wait they returned with triumphant looks on their faces. They had found what looked like a hideout consisting of four huts around a central fire area, a typical African village scene, but there were no women or children or animals. There were no guards either, so the rebels must have thought that they had the perfect hideout. Also nearby was a field of dagga, the African name for marijuana, so obviously people must live here to cultivate the crop. Another thing in our favour was that we had arrived before the rebels, which gave us the time to set up an ambush site.





We huddled together in an impromptu ‘O group’ to discuss the strategy and the best place to put the sniper, who had a Russian Dragunov sniper rifle with a night scope attached. The base was located in the loop formed by the river, which was on its way to forming an oxbow lake, which I remembered from geography at school. We were about two metres higher so this gave us a couple of vantage points.

The colonel was saying, “We will wait until they return and see where they put the hostages for the night. I think they will be too tired to do anything other than post guards and go to sleep. We will attack at 02:30 when they should be at their least vigilant. Section One will dispose of the sentry’s, Mac you and Jock will take two men and free the hostages. The rest of us will attack the other huts. The sniper will cover us and take out anyone who tries to escape.”

We nodded in agreement. It all depended on the arrival of the rebels, if this was indeed their base. We worked out which routes to follow to the huts as well as arcs of fire and points of extraction and when we were satisfied with the plan of action, the section leader went off and briefed the men.





We planned on returning to this spot for the march back to the road where hopefully the trucks would meet us in a couple of hours. Unfortunately there wasn’t sufficient space for the chopper to come in and get the hostages out. The bush was just too dense and there was no level place to put down in either, so it had to be the long hard slog back.

“Spread out and have a meal then get your heads down and rest until sunset, then we have to be on our toes,” Colonel Chabala said as we took up our defensive positions. I managed to doze on and off getting some well-earned rest. I’d wanted to pull my boots off to let them dry and air a bit but was too afraid that my feet would swell and I wouldn’t be able to get them back on again, so I just left them on.





Chapter 16





The sun was just going down when we heard a commotion across the river. I suddenly felt wide awake and alert as several men burst into view carrying AK 47’s and then as the last of the stragglers came into view I saw Aimee and the rest of the mine management staff being herded like cattle by two rebels. Peter Falconer the mine manager looked almost done for, with Patrick and Frank supporting him on either side. Aimee was dressed in her white nurses uniform, which had taken on a dark muddy colour and was torn in places. Her hair was a mess. The hostages looked in a bad way, their faces also lacerated by the flailing branches of the bushes as they were forced through the undergrowth. They were immediately put in the hut nearest to our side of the river, while someone started a fire going. We could see that the rebels had no idea that we were behind them.

They posted their sentries facing the way they had come in from. This was just the luck we needed. All we had to do was head down the gully, cross the shallow river and free the hostages. The rebels hadn’t even put a guard at the hut door where Aimee and the rest were being held.

Now was time to get the mind into attack mode. It was getting quite dark and now that we were stationary, I realized how hungry I was. It was starting to get cold as well and the aches and pains returned, making me totally miserable. Then I thought of how Aimee and company were, no food, probably no water, cold and afraid, not knowing what the morrow might bring. I wished that the time would fly past but it was like watching a computer defrag, every time I looked at my watch it was only five minutes further on. After a while my head started to nod and fall and it took all my will power to stay awake. My eyelids felt as heavy as lead and my brain was drowsy.





After a while I must have finally nodded off because the next moment I awoke to the sound of people standing up. I felt guilty but no one seemed to have noticed, so I got up as quick as my aching body would allow and got ready for the coming battle. I checked that nothing in my pockets would make a sound and reminded myself which pouches held my spare magazines. It would be a major fuck up if you ran out of ammo in the middle of a firefight and you couldn’t remember where the spare mags were. I took a last swig of water and then checked my watch. It was 02:30 on the dot.





The section leader was now in charge and soon had his men ready for the advance. The lead scouts went off to take out the sentries at the front while Jock and I and our two men started off down the slope to the river. Even though there was no direct moonlight, it was light enough to see a metre or so in front of me, I guess the clouds were being lit by the moon above, bathing the scenery in a dull glow. We took our time making sure that we didn’t trip or fall. Suddenly I heard thunder in the distance so it was definitely still overcast.





Soon we were scrambling down an embankment to the water’s edge. I was about to start wading across when I heard a cough on the other bank. I froze and put my hand up, but Jock didn’t see it and bumped into me almost knocking me headlong into the river. He put out a hand and grabbed my webbing to steady me and stopped me from pitching headlong into the water. The bastards had put a sentry there after all, so I motioned to the soldier nearest me and pointed across the river making a slicing motion across my throat. He nodded and pulled out a wicked looking knife and quietly crossed to the other side. There was a scuffle and then the sound of a body falling to the ground. We froze, hoping that no one else had heard it.

A moment later a black face appeared motioning us forward, it was the soldier who had gone across and I silently let out a sigh of relief and then waded across the river. The water was cool but not that cold, coming up to about my knees, and very slow flowing. I treaded lightly, feeling for loose rocks or holes that could make me stumble and fall and give our position away. I got to the other side and paused, waiting for the others to join me.

By now I was pumped and feeling as excited as a schoolboy on a field trip, with the aches and pains disappearing as if by magic. One of the soldiers had a hand held radio with him and two clicks of the pressel switch got one in reply. We waited for more clicks from the other teams.

This was a nerve-wracking time, waiting for the others to get into position. We were lying on our stomachs at the water’s edge looking towards our target, the hut holding the hostages. My clothes were wet from the river crossing and I was getting bloody cold. I had to bite down on my bottom lip to stop it from shivering.

The mind starts playing tricks on one as well; was that a noise I heard or did I see movement over there? The urge to stand up and fire a couple of rounds at these apparent targets was strong and you had to be very disciplined in these situations because a false shot could have the rebels up in no time and a blood bath was the only outcome.

Then after what seemed like ages we heard the click clicks from the others over the radio as they finally got into their assigned positions. A final rapid click, click, click on the radio was the signal for the main attack to start. We were about ten metres from our target, when lo and behold it starts to bloody well rain, and big fucking drops too. We were on our bellies, leopard crawling forward, slipping and sliding in the mud. I got to the rear of the hut first, so I glanced back and saw that Jock and the other two were five metres away. I signalled that I was going around to the front and set off as quietly as possible. I could make out that the hut had a wooden jail-like door made from tree branches and rope. Peering inside I could just see the hostages lying huddled together to one side of the hut as a lightening flash illuminated the scene.

I hissed, but the rain was too loud for them to hear me so I scrabbled around in the mud till I found a stone and hurled it into the room. It skidded across the floor and hit someone’s leg. They sat up and nearly cried out in fear at the apparition at the door but I was waving frantically and holding a finger to my lips to keep them quiet. I just hoped that they could see well enough in the darkness. It was the mine captain who crawled to the door and the relief on his face was quite apparent when he realized who I was.





Jock and the two soldiers had joined me by now and it took only a few seconds to cut the rope that held the door closed. Everyone had scrambled to their feet, so I motioned them outside, when suddenly all hell broke loose. Exploding grenades blasted the air and several machine guns opened up. A couple of flares went off, lighting the scene with a ghostly white light. Someone tossed a phosphorus grenade into the smouldering fire and I could make out rebel soldiers running in blind panic. More machine guns opened up and they dropped like flies.

As we were about to set off towards the river, this huge roaring sound came echoing down from one end of the gorge. Suddenly a wall of water washed in and the river started rising.

“It’s a bloody flash flood,” Jock shouted, “we must get across the river now before we are all swept away.”

We ran like animals possessed but already the river was a raging torrent.

Out of nowhere I heard a bullet ricocheting off a rock and the next thing I know I’m lying on the ground unable to move. The pain was unbearable and I could hardly breathe, no words wanted to come out of my mouth as I tried to call out for help. I looked up to see the others running to the water’s edge and I couldn’t get their attention.





Suddenly there was a flash of lightening, illuminating the scene as if it were daytime. Jock and Aimee both turned around together and saw me lying in the mud, blood pooling and mixing with the muddy rainwater. They were both there in an instant. Aimee immediately turned me over and ripped my shirt open looking for the wound. Another rip and my shirt was being used as a makeshift bandage. Good girl she’s thinking fast and her training is taking over. Jock hauled me to my feet and we frog marched to the river’s edge only to find Peter Falconer there with the two soldiers, the other two miners having being swept down the river.





There were trees and debris flashing past in the raging torrent of muddy water and the river was rising fast. Soon the whole ravine could be flooded, so Jock turned around and disappeared back towards the hut. In a second or two he was back with the hut door. He must have pulled it off its hinges with sheer brute strength.

“Mac,” he shouted in my ear, “remember how we used to cross rivers by tying our kit together and using it like a huge float?”

My brain was fading in and out of consciousness and I battled to concentrate. Then I remembered and nodded my head, pointing to the ropes tied to our backpacks. He grabbed his rope, then mine and tossed his kit onto the door along with mine. The two soldiers realized what he was doing and joined in. The next moment I was being tied to the door like a bloody sheep on a spit.

Suddenly I was being dragged unceremoniously to the river’s edge, with everyone holding onto the rope tied around me and the kitbags. By now the river was a roaring wall of sound, drowning out all our commotion.

I felt like I was an offering to the gods.





After a few hesitant attempts, everyone jumped into the river holding onto the door for dear life. I have seen videos of people doing white water rafting but this was bloody ridiculous and all it needed was for the door to flip over then I’d be up shit creek without a paddle.

Soon we were being swept downriver, like driftwood, with every one screaming like girls. Luckily for us, as we came around the bend or was it ‘went around the bend’, in any case the river widened and the water slowed down. After about five minutes of clawing and paddling the guys managed to reach the far side of the riverbank. At last I was dragged out of the water and every one collapsed to the ground trying to clear their lungs or get their breath back. Meanwhile I was still trussed up like a Christmas turkey, so I started shouting for someone to untie me but all I could manage was a croak like a bullfrog. Eventually one of the black soldiers crawled up and slashed the ropes with his knife, allowing me to roll onto my good side to relieve the pain.

After a while Jock staggered over, blood streaming down his face where a branch or log or something must have struck him.

“You alright boet?” he said, then looked over to the others who were slowly getting to their feet.

“How’s everybody, any serious injuries?” he asked.

But luckily the worst were knocks and bruises. I finally managed to talk, if only softly.

“Hey Jock, breakout the rations from my pack, I still have some of those energy bars left over, dish them out, we need energy fast before we start getting hypothermia and we need to start moving to keep warm.”

Jock nodded and soon all the rat packs were being torn open and the dog biscuits and energy bars divided up into equal piles. Aimee grabbed my sleeping bag from my backpack and borrowed a knife from one of the soldiers and soon had a field-dressing cut from it. She tied it around my waist to stop the blood draining out of my side.





By some miracle my watch was still going and the time - 03:30 – what, I couldn’t believe that it was only an hour ago that the attack had started. Then I remembered the GPS in one of my pouches and prayed that it was still okay. I seemed to remember the pamphlet saying that the casing and keypad were slightly waterproof and not to be submerged under water.

Yeah right.

I struggled to pull it out of my pocket as waves of pain and nausea swept over me but eventually it came free and I switched it on.

Relief as it lit up and started to acquire satellites, but the battery indicator was showing only three bars out of five, so we’d have to switch it on and off to preserve the power that was left.

“Hey Jock I’ve still got the GPS and it is still working,” I managed to gasp.

His face lit up for the first time in hours and walked over bringing me a quarter of an energy bar.

“Great stuff Mac, how far to the rendezvous?”

Soon the screen had all the data downloaded from the satellites and showed forty kay’s. I knew we had a long slog ahead of us - if I could walk that is. One of the black soldiers walked up to me and stuck a bunch of leaves in my hand.

“You eat muti and pain goes away,” he said in halting English.

I seemed to remember from a survival course that certain leaves and plants gave you a slight high as well as a boost in energy, taking away pain and at this stage of the game I was willing to try anything, so I squashed up a bunch of leaves and started munching like a bloody rabbit, adding pieces of energy bar to take away the awful taste. I looked up at the two soldiers.

“I know it’s a bit late but what are your names? Mine is Mac, this is Jock, the girl over there is Aimee and that guy is the mine manager, Peter,” I said introducing everyone.

Everybody said ‘hi’ or ‘howsit’ as they introduced themselves as John and Paul. I almost felt like laughing, as the thought struck me that all we needed now was someone named George and Ringo, but the pain was too much.

I carried on, “Good job guys, you did well back there, thanks a lot.”

They grinned sheepishly and nodded, but I knew they deserved medals for this. Our water bottles were still attached to our web belts so we passed them around for everyone to quench their thirst and stop dehydration.

It wasn’t long before my head felt like floating off and I said that I was ready to depart. John walked over with a crutch that he’d fashioned from a tree branch with a fork at one end and gave it to me.

“Thanks mate, I’ll certainly need this.”

Aimee cut some strips off the remains of the sleeping bag and wrapped it around the forked end so that it wouldn’t chafe my armpit too badly.





With Paul leading the way, we set off in the direction that the GPS had calculated, ETE 72 hours. I nearly gasped but knew that it was because of our slow pace, we would definitely have to crank it up a bit.

I soon had a rhythm going; half walking, half stumbling along hanging onto the crutch for support. My kit had been distributed amongst the other three. Aimee carried my rifle and looked like Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. We were marching in single file because the path was too narrow and no one could be at my side to help me, so I plodded along as best as I could. Aimee was in front of me, so I fixed my eyes on her beautiful legs and kept grinning like an idiot. At one point she looked back and asked what the hell was so funny. But I was either too high or delirious to give a proper reply.





After about an hour, John, who was leading the way, called a merciful halt so that we could all have a swig of water and a piece of energy bar or a piece of dog biscuit. The sky was beginning to lighten, but it was still overcast with heavy clouds. All we needed now was another down pour and our spirits would drop even lower. I heard Jock say to someone that we were only a quarter of the way and that we needed to get back to the meeting point where the Unimog’s would be waiting before nightfall, as my condition was worsening.

In bouts of clear headedness I could feel blood seeping down my leg and knew that I could pass out at any moment if I lost too much blood. Looking at my watch I saw that the time was now 06:30. Surely we wouldn’t take all day, but I knew that we were getting slower and slower.

We set off again but after half an hour I staggered and fell. A halt was called and we rested for ten more minutes. I used the opportunity to stuff some more leaves into my mouth as they were definitely helping.

And so it went on with the stops getting more and more frequent and me getting more delirious. By this stage I was talking to myself and laughing my head off at whatever I was saying. The others just ignored me and battled on with their own exhaustion. At some point the path must have opened up because John then Paul took turns in helping me along. After an umpteenth stop we ran out of water. My mouth was parched and my tongue was sticking to the roof of my mouth. Then it was time to be off again.





I was feeling pretty NAAFI by now and I felt like I could drop down and die rather than carry on, as I was slowing everyone down. I just didn’t have the strength left and was about to fall to the ground again when suddenly without warning we came stumbling into a clearing and there waiting for us was one of the Unimogs. Soldiers jumped off the sides of the vehicle and came running up to give us water, which we greedily knocked back. They soon had us all aboard and I heard one of the soldiers say that the rest of the platoon had made it back at 12:30. My watch showed 15:30 and then I passed out.





Chapter 17





My eyes battled to open and when they did it took a while to work out where I was. I looked around and saw that I was in some kind of hospital and that there was a drip hanging from a hook above the bed with this huge fucking needle protruding from my left hand. My side ached like hell, and then I remembered the battle and suddenly lying face down in the mud and rain, with blood swirling around my head in the muddy water, unable to move. Geez but that had been the scariest moment of my life. I looked at my watch and saw that it was 07:40.

There was a pitcher of water and a glass on the table next to my bed but I was so thirsty that I didn’t bother with the glass, I just grabbed the jug and poured the water straight down my neck, nearly drowning in the process. My coughing and spluttering brought a nurse running into the room and boy was I glad to see that it was Aimee. It then dawned on me that I was in the mine’s infirmary.

“Hey big fella, how are you feeling?” she said, grabbing my wrist and feeling for my pulse while glancing down at her watch.

I waited till she had finished counting and replied, “Aren’t you a site for sore eyes? I feel like I’ve been in a rugby scrum, how are you and the others?”

“Well let’s see, you have a clean bullet wound which required ten stitches. Luckily for you it entered from the rear through the fatty part above your right hip and exited at the front missing any vital organs or bone. You should heal just fine with a nice little scar to show off at parties. Jock and the others are recuperating from some minor cuts and bruises received while crossing the river and blistered feet. Me, I’m okay, just suffering from these scratches on my arms and face. At least I lost a few kilo’s from around my waist.”

I laughed. What a strong woman and not shy to rag herself either.

"How the hell did the rebels get you away from the mine so fast? We sent a stopper group in as quick as we could," I asked.

"They had a truck hidden nearby and bundled us in soon after the party ended. They then drove us to an abandoned school where we laid up during the day. Then when it got dark we were forced onto the truck and headed to a point near the border where we had to disembark and were forced to march the rest of the way to their hideout. Peter Falconer took ill along the way and passed out, so we had to rest up until he regained consciousness before we could carry on. They had been hiding in the kitchens, keeping an eye on us and had threatened us with death if we had tried to tell you what was going on at the party,” she replied.

"Damn, I thought there was something fishy going on the moment I saw a face peer through one of the kitchen door windows wearing a beret," I muttered. I then told her how we had been hijacked and how we had helped the Zambian Special Forces to find the hideout.

When I finished talking, she put a thermometer under my armpit and then grabbed the clipboard hanging at the foot of my bed. After checking my temperature and noting it on the graph attached to the clipboard, she looked up with sadness on her face.

“We lost Frank and Patrick in the flash flood and we will be having a memorial service tomorrow at ten.”

She wiped a tear from her cheek then lent over me and kissed me gently on the lips.

“By the way, you have been out cold for a whole day now, maybe later on you and I can take a walk in the garden, you need to exercise and get your strength back.”

I grabbed her hand and pulled her closer.

“Thanks Aimee, if it wasn’t for you I’d never have made it back.”

“Nonsense you did it all on your own,” she replied.

I grinned, “Remember when we were marching back to the rendezvous and at one point you turned around and asked me what was so funny? Well I was following the best damn pair of legs that I have ever seen in my life and I swore to myself that I would follow them to the ends of the earth.”

She burst out laughing, then hugged me till it felt like my side would burst.

“You incorrigible old man, wait till I get you walking around the mine, you’re going to wish you were in Timbuktu.”

She opened a cabinet in the medicine trolley standing at the foot of my bed and dished out some tablets.

“How is the pain? If it gets too much take these aspirin, and if you want to rest some more take this sleeping tablet, okay?”

I nodded and swallowed all three in one go. With that she went off to the outer office, leaving me with a warm feeling in my heart as I dozed off again.





I awoke around noon and was pleased to see Jock sitting next to my bed. He’d popped in to see how I was doing.

“How are you feeling, buddy? Aimee phoned the camp to say you're awake”

“Like I’ve had ten kinds of shit kicked out of me. My side hurts like hell and my feet have seen better days, but with Aimee’s help I’ll be up and about after tea. She wants me to walk around the gardens to try and get my strength back.”

“You lucky bastard, next time I’ll also do anything for some attention,” he teased. “I’ve just had word from Colonel Chabala that a cleaner at the Zambian Office of foreign affairs has been picked up for questioning. He had been caught going through some papers that were on the Ministers desk and is now squealing like a stuffed pig. Apparently he had been passing on intel to the rebels who were trying to stage a coup in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

“Great, I wondered how they were getting their intel,” I replied.

“By the way, we got a memorable mention in dispatches with regard to this whole affair but no medals I’m afraid,” he said, patting my leg. “Anyway I’m off to Ndola to get in touch with the people back home and to tell them that we’ve been delayed for a few days. Do you need anything?”

“Nah, I’m fine, although some biltong would go down well, but I doubt that you’ll find any here. I just want to get back on my feet and out of here as soon as possible.”





He left, leaving me with thoughts of home and our future. The safari idea was sounding better and better the more I thought about it, maybe we could start a flying safari. I was getting sick and tired of hustling cargo up and down Africa. The past few days had made me realize that it was time to settle down and enjoy life for a change. My daydreaming was interrupted as Aimee walked into the room, putting on a stern matron voice.

“Time to get out of bed and go for a walkies little doggy,” she teased.

I smiled and saw that she was definitely not letting me forget about her earlier threat. I eased myself out of bed and gingerly walked a few steps, but my feet were still tender and sore.

“Here Mac, try these slippers on.”

She dropped two of the most outrageously looking puppy dog slippers on the floor, you know the ones made to look like dog faces with those big floppy ears. Well I must have looked a right real idiot hobbling around the garden with these bloody ears flapping up and down and I drew chuckles from everyone who passed by. She really had got me back, wait I thought to myself, every dog has its day and I’ll get her back somehow.

After several laps of the garden, the pain in my side eased to a dull ache and my stiffness started to lessen. Some good chow in my stomach and some more exercise would have me up and out of here in no time.





Chapter 18





It was just on noon and people were leaving the recreation hall after an emotional service for Frank and Patrick. Their bodies had been recovered several kilometres downstream from the river bend. They had been top-notch men, in Peter Falconers words, who cared deeply for their staff and it was very apparent by the massive turnout for the service. The hall had been packed to the brim.





As I walked past the bench where Aimee and I had sat down that first night, it occurred to me that we would again be saying goodbye to each other and I felt even sadder than a few minutes ago. So I returned to the bench and sat down to rest, as my side still ached and to let the emotions settle a little bit. A few moments later Jock walked up and sat down next to me.

“Hey Mac, how are you feeling, are you ready to fly back home yet?”

“Yeah I guess so, it’s no use hanging around here any longer, besides we have a business to run.”

Suddenly Aimee appeared from around the corner and sat down between us.

“Hi guys, what’s up, did you enjoy the memorial service?”

“Yes it was very emotional and well attended,” Jock answered, “Frank and Patrick must have been very well liked?”

“I never knew them that well, but yes they were very popular,” Aimee replied, “what are your plans, when are you leaving?”

“Jock and I were just saying that it was time to head on back home, we need to carry on with business. Talking about business Jock, over the last few days I’ve had an idea going around my head of us maybe starting up a flying safari. I’ve had enough of this traipsing all over Africa and it’s time to slow down and enjoy life, what do you think?”

“Hey what a splendid idea, maybe we could buy an old farm somewhere, build an airstrip on it and build a game lodge with self catering chalets on it.”

“Gee guys that sounds excellent, do you need a registered nurse to help out?” Aimee asked optimistically.

Jock and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.

“Lady, you have caused us so much trouble already these last few days that we need to get as far away from you as possible,” Jock said, tongue in cheek.

“Ha, is that all the thanks I get for treating your wounds, we shall see about that.”

I laughed at our playful banter and thought what a great team we’d make.

“Serious people, think about my idea and maybe when you come back to South Africa, Aimee, you’ll look us up. That's if you don’t have any other plans?”

“Okay, I’ll see what happens when I return home. My contract here runs out in two months time. I must go and see my old folks down in Mpumalanga first, maybe spend a month or so with them on their farm.”

“Do you still have my business card? It’s got contact details on it for both Jock and I. We both stay in the same block of flats in Cape Town, so you can contact either one of us.”

“Yes I do. So is this it, another goodbye?” she said standing up.

I had that lump in my throat again, so I stood up and pulled her close to me and gave her a kiss that I hoped she would never forget.

“Hey common you guys, what about me?” cried Jock in mock disgust, “I feel all alone here.”

With that Aimee gave him a deep long lasting kiss and then waved goodbye and disappeared around the corner.

“Holy shit Mac, that woman sure knows how to kiss. No wonder you have your balls in a tangle over her.”

I grinned awkwardly and then said, “Let's go before I burst out crying.”





With that we set off to organize a lift back to the army base to collect our plane and head on down to Windhoek. We hadn’t gone more than ten paces when a familiar voice called out.

“Hey boss, you want lift mebbe back to da camp?”

There in front of us grinning from ear to ear was Sydney, minus the dreadlocks and in his best uniform, standing beside his old rust bucket, the Chevy pickup.

“I couldn’t let you guys try and hitch a lift all the way back to our camp, you might just get hijacked again.”

He burst out laughing at our expressions, as he had spoken in perfect English, the accent gone.

“Okay boet, let’s go,” Jock said grinning.



I was glad to see him and soon we were on our way back to the camp, having said goodbye to Peter Falconer and his staff. On arrival at the HQ we were met by a parade of honour, with the parabats forming two lines for us to walk through and getting patted on the back. Once inside the HQ tent, Colonel Chabala thanked us for our help and presented us each with their unit shoulder flashes and badges, as well as one of my most cherished gifts, a set of Para wings.

For the second time that day I had a lump in my throat as I accepted the gifts. Jock also had a tear in his eye when he received his. For once I didn’t give a damn and stood to attention and gave my best salute. Everyone clapped and we shook hands all round and I hugged John and Paul for their bravery and help in the field during the heat of battle. We were true comrades in arms.





We set off for the mess where cook had outdone himself and we were treated to a meal fit for a king. Finally after all the fuss of saying good-bye had died down, we climbed aboard our plane, started her up and taxied out to the runway holding point. It was my turn to fly this leg but Jock insisted that I rest.

As we took off, he kept the ‘Old Girl’ low and circled around to fly directly over the base, giving the guys a good old-fashioned shoot-up before heading for Katima Mulilo and then onto Windhoek.





I sighed, “Let's get out of here and back to civilization.”

“You won’t get any arguments out of me. Just sit back and rest, better still why don’t you grab our sleeping bags and make a bed in the back and have a sleep. The rest will do you good.”

I nodded wearily, as suddenly all the excitement of the past couple of hours caught up with me.

“I think I might just do that.”





Chapter 19





A week later we flew back into Rand Airport in Germiston. We had just delivered a cargo from Windhoek and had finished up all the paper work, including the final details and hours in our logbooks. Who would ever believe what we’d just been through, so we decided to not tell anybody at all about our adventures. Jock was going over to Maggi’s place later for the night, as he was scheduled to fly down to Cape Town the next morning, while I was off to Randburg to see my folks and maybe spend some time with them.

We were sitting in our office having a few beers with the guys. There was a fire on the go in our braai outside on the grass strip next to the hangar, with some boerewors on the grid. We usually had boerewors rolls with tomato and onion gravy and a couple of beers while catching up on all the gossip that is part and parcel of the flying scene.

“So how was the trip guys?” asked Charlie who owned the Chinese Nanchang, “I suppose you guys fucked all the good looking chicks up in Zambia and the DRC and left half a dozen fatherless kids behind?”

We all laughed.

“You know what’s it’s like flying over the border Charlie, nothing exciting ever happens,” Jock said, trying to keep a straight face, “except the usual crap, it’s like riding a restless wind.”

“Like hell it doesn’t,” piped up Mike, “trouble is your middle name.”

I tossed everyone a beer.

“What’s been happening here since we’ve been away?” I asked, steering the conversation away from our trip.

“It’s been nice and quiet with you two out of the picture,” said Fred, who owned a flying school in Springs.

It was great to be back amongst friends and the banter continued for the rest of the afternoon.

•••



After a week of being back in the rat race, I felt that I needed to get back to my flat in Cape Town. I really wanted a break from all the fuss and bother and to be on my own. I just hoped that Jock had remembered to open up the place and let in some fresh air and water my plants. I was scheduled to catch the 18:00 flight from O.R. Tambo Airport and should be getting home by about 20:00.

The flight left on time and it felt good to be flying in luxury for a change, with beautiful airhostesses serving food and drinks.





At last we landed in Cape Town and the weather was fine and warm, so I decided to take a taxi home rather than bothering to phone Jock. Who knows, he probably had some chick with him on a one-night stand, eating out someplace.

As I climbed out of the taxi outside our block of flats, I saw Neville our trusty newspaper vendor at the side of our building busy packing up for the day, so I walked over to buy a paper.

“Hello uncle Mac, good to see you home again, how was your trip?”

“Hi Neville, it went well and it’s good to be back again, how is business?”

“Nay master, things are alright, what can a man say?”





I paid for the newspaper and gave Neville a generous tip, then walked into the foyer of our building, pleased to be home after a long day. All I wanted to do was to kick my shoes off, grab a beer out of the fridge, put my feet up and relax, with some soft music in the background.

I took the lift up to my floor and walked down the dimly lit corridor to my flat. As I opened the door, I noticed that there was a noise as well as a dull glow coming from my bedroom. Instantly the adrenalin kicked in and I went into survival mode, ducking down as I ran inside. I grabbed my pocketknife from my trouser pocket, flicking the three-inch blade out in one fluid movement. I waited, crouching low next to the doorway of my bedroom, listening for any tell tale signs. But all I heard was soft music and the rustling of bed sheets and a sigh.

A female sigh?

I tiptoed into the room and the first things that I saw were the candles burning on my sideboard and bedside table. The music I recognized as Nirvana Lounge playing on my portable boom box on a stepped shelf on the wall. My heart skipped a beat or two as I glanced at the sleeping form lying naked under a single sheet on my Japanese Futon bed. Could this be happening, should I be so lucky?





She lay on her stomach, arms spread out above her head with one leg pulled up. She faced the window but her eyes were closed and her hair cascaded over her shoulder and across the pillow. The candles flickered in the soft breeze that was coming in from the open front door, casting shadows on the walls and dancing across her form beneath the sheet. It was like magic, so I carried on tiptoeing into my walk in cupboard, which also housed my bathroom. I think that must have been the fastest shower that I’ve ever had. After drying off, I put my velvet bathrobe on and then grabbed some Arnica massage oil from the cabinet beneath the washbasin, all signs of tiredness gone in a flash. I took three deep breaths to control my pulse rate and steady my nerves and walked back into the bedroom.





She still lay in the same position, so I knelt down on my side of the bed and gently bent over and kissed her on the cheek. She stirred and sighed, then opened her eyes and looked at me with that lost puppy dog look on her face. She was incredibly beautiful and her smile turned my legs to jelly.

I lay down beside her, pulling her hair over her face in a playful gesture then slowly pulled the sheet off her body, dropping it down at the end of the bed. Her figure was perfect and her skin the colour of bronze in the soft candlelight. I nuzzled my nose in her ear and she shuddered in anticipation. Her neck was slender and beckoning so I kissed her on the shoulder and then slid my nose down her into the nape of her neck and smelt her scent. She had this very fine ‘goose down’ hair on her shoulders and back that made her look so cuddly, so I blew gently on her exposed skin behind her ear and said, “Meow”. Goosebumps appeared on her arms and she sighed deeply. Encouraged by her response I gently rubbed her shoulders and felt her respond as if she had been looking for someone to touch her for a long time.

She had a beautiful back, arched and elegant, so I opened the bottle of massage oil and poured a line down her spine. She giggled as the cold liquid ran down towards a perfect bum. By now ‘old percy‘ was standing to full attention, saluting like a Gestapo general. I slipped the open bathrobe off my back and sat across her buttocks and started to give her a slow deep massage, kneading the muscles all the way up to her shoulders. She reacted like a sponge, soaking up the love and attention and I realized that here was someone who hadn't really been loved properly by anyone before, probably not even by her parents. Soon she was 'oohing and aahing' and her skin felt like silk beneath my fingertips. I rubbed along her sides up under her armpits and she moaned with desire, which turned me on even more. She half turned, exposing a breast, so I slid my hand under her arm and gently massaged her nipple, which grew hard to my touch. Bending down over her, I gently placed a kiss on her half open mouth and suddenly felt like a lion protecting a little cub.

To a spectator it would have been like an old black and white movie, as so far not a word had passed between us.

I slowly turned her over, with her hair cascading down her side and sat there for a few seconds taking in her beauty and once more realized that I was the luckiest man alive. I bent down and nibbled on each nipple, then slowly and softly ran my fingers over her stomach. Her muscles rippled like waves beneath the skin. I continued massaging her perfectly flat tummy, sliding my hand lower and lower, with her breathing getting heavier and heavier in anticipation of what was to come. And then I touched her neatly shaved Mount of Venus. Her back arched and her legs spread apart like hangar doors inviting me in. I reached down and spread her lips with my fingers and as I rubbed her clitoris she let out a deep shuddering sigh. I bent down and kissed the soft meaty part of her inner thighs before finally kissing her open vagina, my tongue exploring the inner depths. I looked up at her face, which had this dreamy look on it, and then she suddenly sat up and pulled me down beside her.

She gently grabbed my penis and did something that felt like she was caressing my inner soul and now it was my turn to whimper in anticipation. She sat up and lifted her leg over and sat on top of me, leaning forward so that her long black hair tickled my face and chest and then ever so slowly inserted my hot throbbing shaft into her soft moist lips. Oh fuck, it felt so nice and warm inside her, please don’t ever let this end, I prayed. The music was just right and soon she was moving in time to the rhythm, up down, up down. If I must die, please let it be now, oh god this must be heaven. I think I was murmuring like a little baby when she arched her back and suddenly I came with such force that I think I blew ‘old percy’s’ head right off.

She cried out and I shouted, “Oh Aimee, I love you, I love you, I love you.”

Her body shuddered and convulsed as she climaxed at the same time.

After a while she lay down beside me, her breath coming in great gulps.

”Mac, you definitely have been starved for a long time,” she gasped and we both burst out laughing.

All I could say was, “Meisie, that was the most amazing and intense half hour of my life.”

I turned onto my side and pulled her towards me with her back flush against my chest and put my arm across her breast and held her tightly until we fell into a deep blissful sleep.

I awoke with a cool breeze blowing on my back, suddenly remembering that the front door was still wide open, so I quietly got up. Glancing at my clock radio I saw it that it was 02:30, so I walked into the hallway and closed and locked the front door. I wondered what the neighbours must have thought with all the moaning and screaming, ah well I hoped they enjoyed the show.

I grabbed the duvet that was neatly rolled up at the foot of the bed and lay down again pulling it over our bodies.

Aimee stirred, murmured, “I love you,” and promptly went back to sleep.

I put my arm around her again and felt the warm touch of her soft skin. This I will treasure for my rest of my life, I thought.





Chapter 20





I opened my eyes and stared at the empty space next to me. Sunlight streamed in through the open curtains. Had I dreamt up last night’s passion with Aimee, surely not? Then I heard sounds coming from the kitchen and before I could get up, she appeared wearing my velvet bathrobe with two cups of coffee in her hands.

“Good morning sexy,” she said in that husky Afrikaans accent of hers.

“Hello you beautiful thing,” I replied, “for a minute there I thought that maybe I had dreamt the whole thing up.”

She laughed, “Mac, you can be in my dreams any time you like.”

She put my cup down on the bedside table next to me and sat down on the bed with her legs folded beneath her.

“What a nice surprise to find you here last night,” I said, “what are you doing here? I thought that you still had two months to go before your contract expired. Did Jock let you in?”

“My, my, all these questions,” she laughed, then continued, “I got to thinking about how you and Jock had thought that it was a good idea to start a flying safari business, so I thought that maybe you would need an air hostess to help out with the passengers. I managed to get out of my contract with the mine and here I am, hoping to be interviewed for the job. I telephoned Jock the other day and told him that I wanted to surprise you, so he found out when you’d be returning here and opened your flat for me.”

“Talk about sleeping with the boss to get the job, what will the other candidates say?”

“Ah gee, I thought that I was the only candidate,” she said coyly, head held to one side.

“Right then, you start as of now and the boss needs breakfast.”

She put her cup down and dived on top of me, giving me one of those long deep sensual kisses.

“I love you Mac, but you know what, I still don’t know what your real name is.”

“Well everyone calls me Mac because that’s the registration of my aircraft and my name is...”

Just then the telephone rang.

“I’ll finish telling you now now,” I said as I got up and ran into the hallway to pick up the handset.

“Hello, Mac speaking.”

“Hey bud, it’s me Jock, howsit? Just checking to see how it went with your surprise guest last night?”

“Hey you old bugger, that’s the kind of surprise I could come home to every night.”

I turned my head to see Aimee leaning against my bedroom doorframe with a cheeky look on her face and the bathrobe hanging open at the front. Fuck she was beautiful.

Jock chuckled, “Can you do me a favour bud, my computer has frozen while I was trying to logon to the internet to check my email. Can you spare five minutes and have a quick squizz at it?”

“Yeah sure, give me half an hour to shower and get dressed, and I’ll be right over, okay?”

“Ja that will be great, see you now now, cheers.”

I put the phone down and saw that Aimee had gone back into the bedroom. I popped my head around the corner and heard the shower running, so I went into the kitchen instead to get another cup of my daily fix and peruse the headlines of the newspaper that was lying on the kitchen table. Nothing but politics and backstabbing seemed the main topic, something to do with the arms deal. I turned to the sports page to see how the local cricket team, the Cape Cobras, were doing but as usual they were making heavy weather of their chances to reach the semi finals.





Just then Aimee came into the kitchen dressed to kill. She was wearing a long floral patterned dress and sandals with her sunglasses hooked into her hair on top of her head. She looked like a super model heading for a magazine photo shoot.

“Wow you look gorgeous,” I said, grabbing her around the waist, “where are you off to?”

“I need to get down to the bank to draw some money and then organize my trip up to my folks, I’ll be back later and then we can talk about the future, okay?” She placed a soft kiss on my forehead.

“Yeah that’s fine, Jock wants me to sort out his email on his computer, so I’ll see you here later then.”

She grabbed her handbag from the kitchen table and gave me a peck on the cheek before disappearing out of the door.

I took a nice long hot shower, shaved and then put on a pair of board shorts and a t-shirt. I nearly left without any shoes on but then decided to put my sandals on, you never know who you might just bump into.





Jock’s flat was on the ground floor, so I took the lift down. He opened the door as I was about to ring the doorbell a second time.

“You lucky bastard, I bet you had leg over the whole night?” he said.

I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face, so I replied, “Guilty as charged, that was definitely a nice surprise.”

We skirted around the half finished motorcycle in the lounge and headed into Jock’s study, which was on his enclosed balcony.

“Come on, give me details man, I want to hear everything that happened.”

“Later, later, let’s first see what’s wrong with your email.”

I sat down and tried to log on but there was an error screen showing that there was a problem with the IP address. Luckily it just needed a quick retyping and soon I was logged on.

“Mac, you know you’re a genius, now I can check if there is anything from Sandy,” he said looking over my shoulder.

“You bloody wanker, you never mentioned Sandy at all on our trip, do I detect a softening of the heart?”

“Well, I got to thinking of you and Aimee and how well you two got on, all of us in fact. I now realize that maybe Sandy and I also had some magic going and yes I think I would like to get to know her better.”

“Atta boy, go for it. It’s about time you settled down.”

“Hey I’m a bit nervous though, know what I mean?”

“Well Jock, how do you eat an elephant?” I asked, “in small chunks. So take it a bit at a time. Aimee and I haven’t even got to talking yet, so it’s early days for me too.”

“Ja and I’m sure you will love Sandy, she’s a down to earth girl and great fun and I know we’ll all get along just fine.” He sounded really happy.

I stood up and patted him on the back.

“You check your email so long bud, I’m heading back to my place. Aimee went out for a while and doesn’t have a key to get back into the flat. She’s heading up to her folks sometime today or tomorrow, so you and I can catch up later, maybe we can go and have a few beers, hey?”

“Okay, spot you later and thanks for helping to fix my email.” He let me out of the flat and I headed back up to mine.





Aimee hadn’t returned yet, so I put some music on and went out onto my balcony to enjoy the view of Table Mountain. The 'tablecloth' was laid out on top of the mountain and it looked to be a great day, maybe Aimee and I could go for a walk down to the V & A Waterfront, maybe catch a romantic dinner later on.

Just then the doorbell rang, pulling me out of my reverie, so I went back inside, had a quick look in the hallway mirror to see if I looked presentable and then opened the door.





Chapter 21





She just stood there, a ghost from the past. Her hair was longer than I remembered. No makeup on either, which showed up a few wrinkles around her eyes and mouth. She held a small suitcase in her left hand and a nervous smile on her face.

Her bottom lip quivered.

She wore a cheap plain dress and worn out leather sandals. My heart skipped a beat and then I went cold all over and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.

“Jacky, what the fuck?” I didn’t know what else to say. The last time I’d seen her, she was off to America, to the land of dreams and I was heading for a fall.

“Hello Mac,” was all that she could manage.

“What in heaven’s name are you doing here?” I said angrily.

“Aren’t you at least going to invite me in?” she pleaded.

“No. Yes, but but ...,” I couldn’t get any words out, so I just stood back and let her walk into the hallway and into my life. We just stood there for what seemed like an eternity, just looking at each other. It was hard to read what was going on in her eyes.

•••



It had been six years ago and I had been going through a rough patch, what with being divorced and then retrenched. After a month or so of hitting the bottle I had decided to pick myself up from the gutter and joined a local gym.

What do they say; a healthy body leads to a healthy mind. Well it worked and soon I was fit, lean and mean. Then Jacky joined the gym. She was much younger than me but that didn’t stop her from going after me.





One winters day she asked if I could help her move some cupboards around in the house that she rented. So I duly obliged and drove over and helped her to rearrange some furniture. It was getting dark by the time we had finished and as I was about to leave, she offered me a glass of red wine for all of my hard work. I felt pretty thirsty and thought, ja why not. We went into the lounge and I sat down on the couch, while she fussed over a wine rack that held several bottles of wine.

I looked around at the pressed ceilings, Oregon pine floors with the wide skirting boards and a cast-iron fireplace set into one wall. A wall-to-wall row of shelves held an array of books along the opposite wall. She got up from in front of the wine rack and handed me a bottle of red wine.

“Won’t you open this bottle for me, there’s an opener in the top draw in the kitchen and some glasses above the sink?”

“Yeah sure” I replied and I went into the kitchen to look for a corkscrew and the glasses. When I returned to the lounge she had lit some candles and turned the lights down and was busy making a fire in the fireplace.

Soon the room started to warm up and the flames cast a surreal light on the walls and ceiling. I felt a little awkward at first but the wine made me relax and I started to enjoy myself. We talked a bit about this and that, and then she went over to the hi-fi and put on some music. Not just any music, but some old Russian Cavalry ‘charge of the light brigade’ type of music. Soon the tempo and excitement of the music cast a magic spell over the room. I felt goose bumps on my arms and the wine was going to my head.

She came and sat on the couch beside me and gently massaged my head. I resisted as much as I could, but a man can only take so much and soon I fell under her spell and madly in love. After a while we lay on the floor in front of the fire and made passionate love. That was one of the most romantic nights that I’d have ever had in my whole life.

We’d been seeing each other for about six weeks and I was trying to pluck up the courage to ask her to marry me. Then one day I decided that this was the day. I had planned on taking her out to dinner that evening and had even bought a new outfit to look my best. When I got home that afternoon to shower and change, I found a note pushed under my door.





'Hello Mac, by the time you read this letter I will be on my way to America. A friend has offered me a free ticket and R50,000 if I take some money out of the country for him and go to Seattle and a new future.

I hope that you will find it in yourself to forgive me and to see that I still have my whole life ahead of me. We had some good times together and wish you all the best.

Love Jacky.'



•••



Suddenly I was jerked back to the present as she slowly lowered the suitcase to the floor and then stepped towards me as tears started streaming down her cheeks. Before I knew what was happening, she was in my arms. I held her tightly with her face buried in my chest.

“Now, now, take it easy,” I said soothingly.

She was shaking like a leaf.

After a while she looked up into my eyes and before I could do anything, she kissed me full on the mouth. Her lips tasted salty from the tears and then suddenly all the memories came flooding back at once. My emotions were running away like a wild fire. At last we pulled apart and only then did I notice that the door to my flat was still wide open and that Aimee was storming in like a hurricane.

“You bloody two timing bastard, who the hell do you think you are?” she screamed.

Now I really know what the saying ‘Hell hath no fury like a women scorned’ means. She slapped me through the face. I reeled backwards putting my hand up to my face.

“It’s not what you think,” I stammered, dazed and confused.

“Fuck you and fuck you too you little bitch.” Aimee was red in the face. She pushed past me and stormed into the bedroom and grabbed her suitcase. Before I could do or say anything further she stormed out of the flat.

“I hope you rot in hell,” she said shouting over her shoulder then slammed the door closed behind her.

I just stood there gob smacked, unable to move. Then suddenly my brain kicked into gear and I opened the door to run after her but the lift was already on its way down. So I ran down the stairs two and three steps at a time, but my sandals were a hindrance, nearly causing me to fall and break my neck so I had to slow down. By the time I got to the ground floor she was nowhere in sight.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” I shouted to an empty foyer. I was fuming as I caught the lift back upstairs. Geez, I thought, I’d rather take on a platoon of infantry than go through that again.





When I got back to my flat, I found Jacky sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for the kettle to boil. Two cups and saucers were placed on the kitchen table, each with a tea bag in it.

“Any one for tea?” she asked trying to relieve the situation.

I just stood there, too angry to say anything, so I sat down on my couch with my head in my hands.

“Who was that Mac,” she said and when I didn’t say anything she added, “your wife or girlfriend?”

I looked up shouting, “That was the best person I have ever met and now look what you’ve done.”

I felt like crying.

“Sorry, how was I to know what was going to happen,” she replied, starting to sob.

“What the hell are you doing here anyway,” I shot back at her.

“It’s a long story Mac and besides I had nowhere else to go. You always said that you would always be there for me no matter what.”

“Yes, but that was when we were still together. You can’t just come back and walk in here as if nothing has happened. Aimee was the first girl that I’ve been with ever since you left and now she’s gone.”

She was crying uncontrollably by now.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she begged, “My life’s a mess and I have no one to turn to. Both my parents passed away two years ago and you were the only one who understood or cared for me.”

Her shoulders were heaving up and down with huge heartbreaking sobs.

Suddenly the door to my flat flew open and Jock came storming in, “You stupid fucking cunt. What the hell are you up to?” he shouted, grabbing the front of my tee-shirt and hauling me to my feet in one fluid movement. He was as strong as an ox.

He stopped dead in his tracks on seeing Jacky sitting at the kitchen table.

“You. I should have known it, you were trouble right from the start,” he hissed.

“Take it easy pal, let’s all just sit down and remain calm,” I gasped, trying to breathe.

He let go of my shirt and sat down.

“Sorry Mac, I don’t know what came over me. Aimee was at my place a few minutes ago, sobbing her eyes out, telling me that she’d just caught you with another woman. Fuck, I feel like beating you into a little ball and kicking you into the gutter.”

“Where is she now?” I asked rubbing my throat where my shirt had choked me.

“I don’t know. She stormed out of my flat and grabbed a taxi to who knows where.” Jocks face was livid.

Now I was starting to shake like a leaf. I saw my reflection in the hallway mirror, looking as white as a sheet. Jacky stood up and came over and put an arm around my shoulder.

“Okay let’s all just talk like rational grownups and sort the situation out. Jock you phone Aimee and explain to her that nothing is going on between Mac and I. We’re just two old friends who haven’t seen each other in a long time, surely she’ll understand.”

“That’s the problem,” I wailed, “I don’t have her phone number or even know where she comes from. Or her surname for that matter.”

“Fuck Mac, who screws a beautiful woman like that without knowing her name?” Jock said angrily.

I just sat there feeling like shit. Jacky went back to the kitchen table and took out another cup and saucer and made tea for the three of us, putting plenty of sugar in mine.





My life felt like it was crashing to the ground in ruins again. Why does love have to cause so much bloody pain? One moment I was happy and carefree and then the next moment miserable and all fucked up. It was late in the afternoon and I was lying on my bed feeling totally useless. Jock had offered Jacky his couch, which folded out to make a bed, for the night, so she had taken up his offer and headed downstairs with her pathetic little suitcase containing her life’s belongings. They had both felt that it would be better if I was left alone and not to complicate things any further.

Yeah, like I needed to be all alone right now, like a hole in the head, but then I realized that it was for the best and that maybe things would be better in the morning. Maybe Aimee would have calmed down by now and return to my flat.





When I eventually did wake up the next morning I hoped that surely this time I had been dreaming, but no, the pain in my heart was real. I moped through the whole day, trying to remember any little detail that would give me an idea of where Aimee lived or came from. I could only recall her saying that her parents lived on a farm in Mpumalanga. I couldn’t bear to let the phone out of my sight, so I just sat there waiting in case she phoned. Every now and again I would also check my cell phone to see if there were any sms’s on it, even though it hadn’t let off a beep in ages.





Chapter 22





Weeks went by and still no word from Aimee. Life still went on though, with Jock and I doing a trip or two up to Angola, taking food supplies there for the UN. People say that time heals. Kak, they haven’t a clue what they’re talking about and I doubted if I would ever get through this.

Jacky had moved back into my flat because it was impossible for Jock to work on his motorbike, what with bras and panties hanging all over it as though it were a clothes horse.





I must be a real old softie to have let her back into my life, but things were never the same again. We had lost that trust that we once shared and no relationship could survive without it, so after a while she moved out and went up to Johannesburg.





She had told me about how she had arrived in America and stayed with the guy who had sponsored her ticket, but it soon became apparent that he was a drug addict and had only used her to take money out of the country for him. Her life became a nightmare of parties and cocaine snorting. Sometimes he would beat her up and not remember a thing about it the next day. After a couple of years of abuse she left him and started drifting from one relationship to the next. Eventually she couldn’t handle it anymore, so she stole money from some rich guy and high tailed it back to South Africa.

She had a cousin up in Randburg who offered to look after her and so one February morning we parted ways for a second time.

•••



Meanwhile Jock and I discussed ways of starting our flying safari business. We spent many a night planning routes and looking through newspapers and tourist guides, as well as looking for a farm to buy.

Jock had also remained in touch with Sandy and their relationship flourished, while I was going through all kinds of hell. It was difficult for them though, as she stayed two hundred kilometres away up on the West coast near Lambert’s Bay.

I finally got to meet her one day when Jock invited her down to stay at his flat for the weekend. She was a petite little blonde with a fantastic sense of humour and pulled all kinds of faces and poses while talking. She looked and acted just like Paula from the soapy ‘7de Laan’. We hit it off straight away and soon we became like the three musketeers, inseparable. She was just the tonic that Jock and believe or not, that I needed and soon Aimee was fading into the background but not out of my heart.

•••



One morning in March the telephone rang. I picked it up, “Hi Mac speaking.”

“Mac, guess who this is?” a voice said and it took a couple of seconds before it to came to me.

“Connie you old bastard, how’s it going buddy, where are you?”

“No I’m fine man, I’m here in Cape Town for a few days and would like to share a few beers with you and Jock, what do you say?”

“Fantastic. Where are you staying?”

“I’m here at the City Lodge right over from the harbour.”

“Let's meet at Berties Landing at the V & A Waterfront sometime, whenever it’s convenient for you,” I replied.

“How about this afternoon around 16.00?” he asked.

“Perfect, I’ll go now and tell Jock to get ready for a major piss up.”

“Till later then, cheers Mac.”

I put the phone down. I hadn’t thought of Conrad since we had been up in the DRC.

We took a taxi down to the entrance at the water front and walked the rest of the way to Berties Landing. Connie was sitting under an umbrella overlooking the harbour. Sea gulls swooped and screeched overhead as a pleasure cruiser entered the harbour heading towards our dock, with tourists laughing and talking. It was a glorious evening out.





“Hi guys, take a seat,” Connie said as we approached his table. We shook hands all round and then ordered a couple of Windhoek draughts from the waiter hovering nearby.

“So, you’re looking great Connie, how was your time up in the DRC?” Jock asked, breaking the ice.

“It was great man, especially after you guys had helped with that hostage drama. I eventually finished the risk analyses and helped implement one or two changes to their way of thinking about security. And you guys?”

“Nothing much,” I replied, “we’ve done a couple of more trips up North but nothing as exciting as that DRC trip.”

“Well here’s to old army buddies, those past and present.” Connie raised his beer mug and we joined in.

“Do you see many of the old guys Connie?” Jock asked

“No not really, my job takes me all over the country and across the borders as well. I guess a lot of them have left the country or settled down and faded into obscurity.”





Several rounds later we ordered some grub. I was feeling light headed and thought to slow down a bit. These days I couldn’t drink like we did in the old days, the hangovers took longer to get over and left me feeling ragged for days afterwards.

“Jock and I want to start a flying safari business based on a farm somewhere up in Limpopo or Mpumalanga,” I said, once we had finished eating and the plates had been cleared away.

“That sounds great, funny you mention that, some old friends of the family live on a farm in Mpumalanga and they want to sell up and move down to their holiday cottage on the South coast. You should look into it. It’s isolated, has lots of wide open spaces and lots of potential.”

Jocks face lit up, “Is there room to build an airstrip on it. We also want to build some guest cottages and maybe stock it with some game?”

“Ja, there’s a nice piece of land on a river bend that would make an ideal place for rondawels or some chalets, and if I remember correctly there is a flat piece of ground heading up a valley that could make a lekker runway.”





I was getting excited by now, so I ordered a last round and said, “You must give us a phone number or an address where we can contact these people, do you know what price they’re asking?”

“No sorry Mac. It’s been a while since I visited them, but you know the market is down at the moment, so you might score a bargain there. I think all they really want is enough to refurnish their cottage down in Margate and live off the rest. Give me a call later during the week and I’ll give you their details.”

I took my cell phone out.

“Give me your cell number so that we can stay in contact Connie.”

I typed it in as he recited it, and then stored it.

“I’ll give you a missed call and you can save my number okay?”

“Ja no fine, I’ll probably get it all wrong if I try and type it in now, I’m feeling quite pissed.”





Just then the bell rang “Last round, gentleman,” shouted the barman.

“Let'sh have an ABF Mac,” Jock slurred, “an absolute bloody final.”

I was feeling ecstatic so I nodded, “Yeah why not, I’ve got a good feeling about this and it’s so good seeing you again Connie. What are your plans by the way?”

“I’m down here to buy a little bed and breakfast place on the west coast, called Linga Longa.”

“No way,” said Jock, “that’s where I stayed when I met Sandy, wow that’s a goldmine Connie, best of luck man.”

We ordered a double round before the bar closed and toasted our evening together. Eventually we had to part ways, promising to visit Connie and support his new venture.





Chapter 23





I groaned, then forced my eyes open. It felt like a dog had slept in my mouth and someone was panel beating a car bonnet in my head. My radio clock next to my bed showed 12:30 on its digital face and I wondered if this was how you felt when waking up from the dead. What day was it? My mind was blank, so I forced myself to get up and head into the shower. The clothes that I had worn the previous night lay strewn all over the floor. After ten minutes of standing with my hands propping up the shower wall and the cold tap on full blast, I started to wake up. When I had finished drying off and put my gown on, I staggered through to the kitchen and managed to get the filter coffee machine on the go.

Finally, after a hot strong cup of coffee down my throat, the details of the previous nights piss-up started coming back to me. Connie and Berties Landing. Why do I do this to myself?

'Cause its lekker’, answered my alter ego.

And how the hell did we get home?

I needed something to eat but couldn’t face standing over the stove and cooking, so I cleaned up my bedroom and nearly fell back onto the bed to sleep some more, but decided that I had better go and see how Jock was doing.

His door finally opened after the fifth ring of the doorbell. He looked exactly as I felt, like he’d just been hit by a tornado. His hair was sticking up and he could hardly open his eyes to the bright light. All he had on were his scants.

“Fuck, what happened last night, I feel like shite?” was all he managed to say.

“Yeah, serves us right for not eating before starting to drink,” I said, pushing my way in, “Have you got any aspirin, my head feels like it’s going to burst?”

“Check in my medicine cabinet in the bathroom. What time is it?”

“After one, get showered and dressed then we’ll go and grab a bite to eat.”

“While you’re doctoring yourself pop me a beer will you, it’s the best ‘regmaker’, geez I need a pee,” he said as he headed into the bathroom.





Half an hour later we walked over to the Wimpy nearby and had some lunch. By now I was feeling a bit better, at least I could see straight.

“What do you scheme about the farm Connie mentioned last night, Mac,” Jock asked, with a mouth full of burger.

“It sounds too good to be true, hey,” I said wiping my mouth with a serviette, “we’ll have to go and check it out before we can make any concrete decisions.”

“That’s what I was thinking, maybe the break will do us good. I’ll ask Sandy if she wants to join us.”

“Ja, good idea, we could turn it into a long weekend holiday break,” I said.

We continued eating in silence, each thinking about the big changes we were about to make.

“Let's have a party at my place on Saturday,” Jock said, “The Super14 rugby season has just started, we can watch the Stormers game and then play some music later on in the evening, invite some friends and neighbours over, what do you say bud?”

Jock loved parties and I was feeling a bit down.

“That will be cool Jock, I need a bit of cheering up,” I said perking up a bit.

“Okay, leave it to me, I’ll organize everything, just bring some c.d’s with.”

“Fantastic, in the meantime I’ll phone Conrad and get the details about the farm and then get on to the Internet and book us a chalet each at the nearest resort to the farm,” I said finishing my coffee.

“Great, I can’t wait. I’m just going down to the bike shop to see about some spares for the bike. I’ll catch you later.” Jock got up to pay for our meal.

“How can we hold a party in your flat with the bike in the lounge, you twit?” I asked.

He just laughed, “Don’ta worry, for you I killa da bull. Lucky for you, you don hava da seester,” he said in a mock Spanish accent, “I feex everything for you. No it’s assembled boet, I can just wheel it outside.” With that he went on his way.





I headed back to the flat to organize our trip. It was too late for this weekend so we’d have to make it for the following one. I phoned Connie.

“Hey bru, how are you feeling?” I asked.

“Nee fok, I’m feeling a bit shattered, you ou’s are dangerous,” he replied.

“Don’t worry I’m also feeling a bit stukkend. Have you got the phone number for your friends in Mpumalanga?” I asked.

“Ja let me see, it’s here in my diary, you ready?”

“Ja, shoot.” I jotted down the details.

“Okay Connie thanks a span and have a safe trip back hey and best of luck with the B&B.”

“Cheers Mac, you and Jock must look me up sometime, the fishing is good up there.”





The Internet is amazing; I managed to find a guest lodge and booked everything online. What is this world coming to, one of these days we won’t have to get out of bed to cook anymore, just go online and order in.

My next problem was how to get us to Joburg, since my car was still up at Rand. Luckily we still had certain privileges with SAA and free travel was one of them, so I phoned and organized two tickets for Jock and I, as we hadn’t used our annual free passes yet. I then remembered that Sandy was going to possibly go with us so I had to get back onto the Internet and book her a seat too. Things were looking good, I just hoped they’d stay that way.





The rest of the week flew by and Saturday arrived with clear blue skies. The rugby was a bore with our team, the Stormers, losing to the Natal Sharks. As evening approached, the place started to fill up with neighbours and friends. I was the DJ for the evening and soon had everyone dancing.

Later on in the evening Sandy grabbed my arm.

“Hey Mac, come and dance with me.” Jock was taking a breather and having a beer.

“I’ll DJ for a while Mac, have a turn to relax.”

As we got onto the dance floor Jock put a slow song on, so I had to hold Sandy close to me. She smelt great and felt so soft and cuddly. Jock gave me a wink.

“How are things Mac?" she asked, “Jock told me about Aimee and what happened between you two.”

“I don’t really know, it was all a terrible misunderstanding and I miss her badly, but she needn’t have run off like that.”

“Maybe she was feeling vulnerable or insecure or maybe this has happened to her before,” Sandy said, “she got a shock and just jumped to the wrong conclusions.”

She held me tightly for a moment.

“Thanks Sandy, I don’t know if you realize it but you have been just what the doctor ordered for Jock, and for me by the way. I love you and hope that things get stronger between you two.”

“Thanks Mac, I love you too and if you ever need to talk you know I’ll always be here for you. Things are going great with Jock and I. He has asked me to move down here to Cape Town, so we’ll see.”





We danced a while longer, then Jock grabbed her back from me. I had just put another CD on when a nice looking girl with short brown hair cut in a pageboy style, came over to talk.

“Hi I’m Elaine, nice party,” she said.

“Thanks. Jock and I do this every once in a while to liven the place up and to try and get to know our neighbours better. Everyone calls me Mac by the way, are you new here?” I asked, leaning close so that she could hear me above the music.

“I’m friends with Andrea in flat 42. She invited me over.”

She was very beautiful and when I caught a whiff of her perfume, I felt like dancing some more. I swear there must be a secret ingredient in perfume that just grabs us guys by the balls.

“Care to dance?” I said putting my hand out.

“I thought you would never ask,” she laughed.





The party fizzled out by about 23:30 and only Jock, Sandy, Elaine and I were left.

I don’t know what came over me, as I said, “Do you want to come up to my place for a cup of coffee Elaine?”

“Yes why not, I’m dying for some,” she replied.

Jock and Sandy had disappeared into the bedroom, so we headed to my place to leave them in peace. Now I’m not a one night stand type of guy, so I felt rather nervous taking her up to my pad. As we walked into my flat, I pointed to the couch.

“Kick your shoes off and put your feet up and relax.”

“Hey, cool view of the Mountain, Andreas flat doesn’t have such a nice view. I also like your open plan kitchen. Did you do it yourself?” she asked, sitting down on the couch.

“Yes I did, I like doing woodwork and trying to be creative,” I replied. “Why don’t you put some music on while I finish up here?” I said, heading into the kitchen.

She got up and put on one of my Greatest Hits of the Sixties CD’s and sat down again.

“I’m not very good at this one night stand stuff,” she said rather nervously.

“Me neither, let’s just sit and admire the view and enjoy our coffee and some music,” I said, pointing at the lounge window with the view of the city lights below, “Does Andy know where you are?”

“Yes, she saw us heading up to your flat and she looked rather astounded.”

“Do you take milk and sugar?” I said, smiling at her reference to Andrea, who had been charfing me for years, trying to get me out on a date.

“Yes, make it two sugars for me please.”

I returned to the lounge and pulled the coffee table closer to the couch and put our cups down.

“Do you stay here in town?” I asked, sitting down next to her.

“No, I’ve got a flat down in Simons Town, but I’m having problems with my ex-boyfriend. He’s a sailor you know and Andrea said I could stay over until things cool down.”

She wrapped her arms around her midriff and tried to suppress a sob. I could feel her pain and impulsively put my arm around her and gave her a squeeze.

“Thanks Mac, it was a long relationship that ended badly and I don’t want to get involved with anyone right now, so what now?”

“Don’t worry, I‘m also trying to get over someone and am not sure about my feelings either.”





We spoke about love, life and relationships and felt quite relaxed in each other’s company. After a while she put her feet up onto the arm of the couch and lay back with her head in my lap and looked up into my eyes. She had a nice easy going kind of face but her eyes showed the strain that she was under, so I gently stroked her hair and then leant down and gave her a gentle kiss. She responded slowly and then suddenly all our frustrations took over and we were embracing madly, ripping off each other’s clothes.

She stood up naked and beautiful, pulling me to my feet. We headed for my bedroom and lay on the bed in the dark, holding and stroking each other. Suddenly I felt like I was being dishonest towards Aimee but right now I really needed someone and Elaine was obliging and I think the same things were going through her mind. We kissed and fondled each other some more, then I rolled over on top of her and we made love slowly and gently, unsure of each other, but fuck it was beautiful. Afterwards we lay in each other’s arms and fell asleep, forgetting about the coffee.





I’m a late riser and on this occasion it was no different. I woke to the sound of the curtain flapping against the window. A strong wind was blowing and it was overcast and grey outside. The bed next to me was empty, so I got up and went into the kitchen for some water. There was a note on the table.





‘Thanks Mac for being so kind and gentle last night. It was just what I needed and only wish we could have met under different circumstances. Phone me if you need company again or want to chat. Love. Elaine. 0856913334.’





Just then my door opened and Jock walked in.

“Don’t you ever knock, what if I was on the job and you walked in on us?” I said indignantly.

“Morning to you too Mac,” he said grinning, “you never have one night stands so it’s quite safe for me to walk in.”

I just shook my head, he was right though and Elaine had been my first.

“Great party last night hey Jock, we had quite a turn out.”

“Ja and Sandy said she saw you hooked up with a nice looking bird, what happened?”

“So you’ve just come for some skinner hey?” I said, “Well forget it, her name is Elaine and what a nice girl and no nothing came of it,” I said blushing. I had my fingers crossed behind my back.

“We were hoping that you had found someone to get you out of the doldrums. You have to get over Aimee and let her go, you know.”

“I know Jock,” I sighed, “but Aimee was special. Elaine has also come out of a long relationship, so we decided that we didn’t want to get involved on the rebound.”

“Ah well, let’s hope time heals. How’s it going with the travel plans?”

So I updated him on our itinerary and flights for the coming weekend.

“Sounds great. Sandy and I are going to visit friends this week, so we’ll meet you Friday morning at the airport?”

“Ja that’s cool, enjoy it and I’ll see you on Friday.”

After Jock had left, I felt down in the dumps again, so I crawled back into bed.





Chapter 24





Friday dawned bright and breezy. After breakfast I pulled my travel bag out of the cupboard and started to pack some clothes and shoes for the trip. As I finished packing, I realized that I was short of some toiletries and so had to go down to the Spar on the corner to do some shopping.

As I walked towards the lift, Andrea from flat 42 came out.

“Hi Mac, nice party on Saturday, this place needed livening up.”

“Hello Andy, you going down?” I pointed to the lift, “Yip, it was a lekker party, how are things with you?” I continued.

“So, so, battling along, but hey you made a big hit with Elaine by the way,” she replied, as the lift doors closed and whisked us down.

“Yeah, what a sweet girl. I really like her, how’s she doing?”

“She’s still battling with her ex. He just won’t accept them breaking up, so I guess she’ll have to be strong and just tell him to get stuffed.”

“Well I hope things work out for her. Tell her I say 'hi' and that I’m thinking of her.”

“Will do Mac, take care now.”

We exited the lift and went our separate ways.





I got to the airport an hour and a half before departure time and found Jock and Sandy in the bar having a beer.

“Hi guys, you ready for the trip?” I asked greeting them.

“Hi Mac,” they chorused, nodding.

“Let’s check in and then come back and finish our beers,” Jock suggested, “will you stay here lovie?”

“Yes, and I’ll order Mac a beer so long,” Sandy replied.





We arrived at a sunny and clear O.R Tambo International Airport in Kempton Park and were met by a friend of mine who had volunteered to give us a lift to Rand Airport. We headed out of the multi story car park and headed for Rand and it wasn’t long before we had transferred our bags to my car and drove out of Germiston and onto the N12 to Mpumalanga.

•••

After a while we drove past Benoni with its beautiful lakes on our right. It seemed like ages since driving out of there that overcast morning in November, not knowing what the future had in store for me.

Once I had passed the Springs turn-off, I put my foot down and the Jag gobbled up the kilometres. Our destination was a resort half way between Machadodorp and Waterval Boven in Mpumalanga.





As we left the Highveld behind, the forests and mountains of the Lowveld appeared with some breath taking scenery. My GPS showed the exit coming up and after turning off the highway we found the resort ten or so kay’s away, nestled in between the forests and orange groves in a mountain gorge.

“This place is beautiful guys, it feels so romantic and enchanting doesn’t it?” Sandy said excitedly.

“It sure does look nice,” I replied, “let's check in then go grab a bite to eat. We can then see what develops later on.”

“Ja there’s not much of the day left. We can explore tomorrow,” Jock added.

•••



After a peaceful night’s sleep, we headed for the dining area and had a scrumptious breakfast. We then decided to head straight out to the farm without delay as by now we were too excited and wanted to get there as soon as possible.

“Doesn’t look like an area where one puts wildlife on his farm, hey Mac?” Jack noted.

“Ja it looks more like hiking and outdoor camping country to me,” I replied.





The GPS had us travelling back towards Machadodorp, then down south on the R36, finally branching off onto the R541. After another twenty kay’s or so, we were suddenly there. It was stunning, with beautiful views of low mountains and pine forests shrouded in mist. I drove down the long and winding driveway lined with tall pine trees and as we drove up to the house, Jannie and his wife Betsie came out to meet us.

After introductions were over, we found ourselves sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee and eating melk tert. It was one of those real old farmhouse style kitchens with a massive fireplace and Aga stove. Copper pots and pans hung from a low framework that was suspended from the heavy wooden beams of the ceiling. We were seated at this large solid yellow wood table.

“You know Mac,” Jannie said, “after you told me over the phone about what you were looking for and your plans for the place, it got me thinking; Nelspruit is only a hundred odd kilometres from here with a beautiful airport, maybe you can keep your aeroplane there and save yourself the trouble of building a runway here.”

“Wow that’s an idea, we will certainly look into it,” I said.

“Who are your neighbours Jan?” Jock asked.

“We have only the one farm bordering on ours,” Betsie answered for him, “and it is owned by the Le Roux’s. They are about five kilometres down the road. Nice old couple, you’ll like them. They have a son and a daughter who are both overseas at the moment.”

“Well let’s get into my bakkie and I’ll show you around, hey?” said Jan standing up.





So off we went, all of us squashed tightly into his Toyota 4 by 4. As we wound down a bumpy track, the river came into view.

“What a perfect spot to build the chalets and camping site,” Sandy exclaimed with delight.

I agreed, looking around at the scattered trees and bushes on the riverbank.

"Might even make a nice caravan camping site," I answered.

Soon we came upon the second farmhouse, which was just as nice as the main house, secluded with its own outbuildings, overlooking the valley and a trout filled dam.

“We use this as the guest cottage for family when they come and visit, so it is in good condition.” Betsy was saying.





But she needn’t have said anything further because I knew that this was where I wanted to be. It’s amazing how one instinctively knows that a certain place is just right.

Once we had finished touring around the whole property, we returned to the main house and had another round of coffee and milk tart. We then bade them goodbye, with the promise of letting them know of our decision as soon as we had finished discussing the pros and cons.

We arrived back at the bed and breakfast in time for lunch, which was an ‘optional extra’ but well worth it after seeing what the breakfast had been like.

“Well, what do you guys think?” I said once we had taken our seats and been served our drinks. “What are the plusses and minuses?”

All Jock could say was, “Where do we sign, bud?”

I grinned, because I had been holding back not wanting to appear too eager, so I burst out laughing.

“Give me a pen,” I said, “and I’ll do it right now.”

Sandy joined in, “Guys that was the most romantic setting I’ve ever seen. Who’s going to stay where?”

Suddenly there was silence.

I looked at Jock and he at me.

“I love the guest cottage and you?” I ventured.

He looked relieved, “I was going to fight you for the main house, but if you’re happy then I am.”

We shook hands and hugged all round. I grabbed my cell phone and let Betsie and Jannie know the good news. We planned to meet again later to discuss the price and other details that go with buying and selling of a property. Soon we were served roast beef, baked potatoes with vegetables and rice covered in thick brown gravy. I couldn’t wait for dessert.





And that’s how we ended up deciding to relocate to Mpumalanga. All that was left was to see Nelspruit and it’s airport and to see if the Dak would be able to land there, really all we had to do was to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.





That night back at the B&B, we had a candle light dinner in the dining room, with a warm cosy fire crackling away in the hearth in the corner. When we had finished eating, we moved over to the fire and ordered a round of sherry and just sat there soaking up the atmosphere. Suddenly Jock got down on one knee.

“Sandy Botha,” he said taking her hands in his, ”you are the most beautiful, wonderful and caring person that I have ever met. Your sense of humour and easy nature is like a tonic to me, and with Mac as my witness, I ask if you will give me your hand in marriage.”

Tears of joy were streaming down Sandy’s face and I must admit I had a lump in my throat as well.

“I do, Jock Monroe, you old romantic fool. I love you to bits.”

Jock hadn't purchased a ring yet, so I broke the pull ring from a Coke tin on a nearby table and gave it to Jock. With much pomp and ceremony he slid it onto Sandy's slender finger. The other guests applauded, with smiles all round.





Thus ended the perfect day. Well almost, because I felt a tinge of sadness in my heart, thinking of Aimee and then remembering the lovely evening with Elaine. We raised our glasses and toasted our future prospects.

The next morning we set off for Nelspruit and while Sandy and Jock shopped around for an engagement ring, I drove over to the airport. The first problem stared me in the face, the bloody runway was far too short. Oh well, things couldn’t carry on being perfect, so I scouted around and soon found some guys working in a hangar tinkering on a microlight aircraft. I walked over and introduced myself.

You can walk into any small aerodrome and always find two or three experimental aircraft builders or microlight guys working on their aircraft and who are always friendly and only too willing to show you around. They seemed nice down to earth guys and I found out a lot about the small community of pilots based there. One or two hangars were available to rent but nothing big enough for the Dak, but that was of no relevance as the runways were just not long enough.





We had agreed to meet at the local steakhouse at 13:00, so I headed back into town. Jock and Sandy were just walking up to the door of the restaurant as I pulled into the parking lot. We grabbed a window seat and ordered a couple of beers while we waited for our meal.

Sandy was sporting a sparkling diamond ring and she couldn’t stop admiring it and the smile on her face told it all.

I grabbed her hand to look at the ring.

“Geez Jock what bank did you rob. Looks like you’re getting paid way too much,” I joked.

“Whatever, boet. It’s worth every penny, hey love?” he said hugging his bride to be.

“How was your trip to the airfield?” Sandy asked.

“Our first problem has come up. The runways are way too short for the ‘Old Girl’. It’s really only a small community of fliers, the usual microlights, some Cessna’s, a couple of Piper 140’s and one or two experimental jobs. Other than that everyone seems very pleasant and helpful.”

“Maybe we will have to downscale and sell the old bird and get something smaller. Or how about we keep her based at Rand and buy a Cessna or something small to commute back and forth?” Jock was forever coming up with schemes.

“Hey good idea, I didn’t think of that. We can thrash out the details later.”





We decided to drive around and investigate the town, checking out where the main shopping areas were and if we were going to be having to drive further afield to do shopping. But all the main shops were represented there, Woolies, Spar, Edgars as well as the usual fast food joints. All in all it was like a perfect little village in a perfect setting and I was very pleased. I don’t think that I was going to miss the big cities after all.





Chapter 25





Today was the day of the big move and I was pleased to be going at last. The past two weeks had been non-stop misery. It’s only when you move house do realize how much shit you’ve collected over the years. I had thirty-five boxes of absolute necessities and the rest of my junk was now sitting in Joe’s Pawn Shop down the road. And how the heck does one collect so many books and bloody magazines? I must have every flying magazine under the sun going back at least ten years. Well they’re now also down in Joe’s Pawn Shop, in the newly created magazine section. I also donated half my wardrobe to the Red Cross; shirts and trousers and shoes for Africa that I hadn’t worn in months. Now I feel lean and mean, who needs a gym?





In fact the last six weeks had been topsy-turvy, starting with the negotiating of the price for the farm and arranging of the finance. Jock and I weren’t the world’s wealthiest blokes and we’d had to take out a loan using the ‘Old Girl’, our Dakota, as collateral. Then of course there’s the never-ending quest of signing documents and endless requests from the conveyance attorneys for this and that, and then the final wait for the deeds office to register everything properly. The main problem was the fact that Jock and I were buying the property as part of our business.

Jannie and Betsie had it easy as they already owned the holiday cottage down in Margate, so all they had to do was move as soon as they felt sure that everything was going to be okay and the deposit had been paid. We had purchased the farm lock, stock and barrel, so they only had to take their clothes and a few personal items with them.





Jock and I had decided in the end that we would keep the Dak and lease it out for a very low rate to some young budding pilots wanting to build up their hours in their logbooks. It was a good way of getting the necessary time while doing their COMM licenses. In essence they were taking over from us, still flying our contractual obligations to the mines and whatever they could make on the side they kept, which paid for the lease of the plane and a bit leftover for themselves. So all round everyone was happy.





I was sitting on the floor in the entrance hall of my flat waiting for the furniture removal company to arrive. They would take both of our stuff together as it would all fit into one truck, then we would each make our own way up to the farm.

The lift doors opened and I watched as Jock came walking down the corridor. He also looked like he’d had enough of boxes to last a lifetime.

“Hey bud, you ready, the truck’s just arrived and they are busy loading my stuff first, then they’ll come up for yours. Fuck but I’m knackered and you?”

“Same here mate,” I replied, “I don’t want to see another bloody cardboard box ever again. Where’s Sandy?”

“She’s getting ready to go back home. She wants to clear things back home first then come over to the farm. Sounds funny saying it hey?”

“You know Jock, it hasn’t sunk in yet that we’re moving, I guess once I’m there it will.”

“Ja it feels weird. I’ve been here what, six years now and it feels like it’s been forever. I just want to take a last look at the view from your porch.”

I got up off the floor and we both walked out onto the balcony.

“I’m gonna miss it all Jock. We’ve a lot of friends here and just look at the mountain, who could ask for more. Are we making the right decision hey?” I asked with a tinge of sadness, staring up at Table Mountain.

“It’s too late for tears now Mac, it’s a done deal. Come on, we’ve got a chance to start our lives all over again and wait till we go fly fishing, we’ll be like lords of the manor.”

“I guess you’re right Lord Muck.” I chuckled.





Just then the doorbell sounded, so I went back inside to let the movers in and show them where all my boxes were. As I walked into the hallway I found Elaine standing there looking fresh and beautiful.

”Hey you,” I said walking up to her and giving her a kiss and a hug, “what a wonderful surprise. And wow you’re looking great, how are things?”

“Hi Mac, I’m fine. I just thought that I would pop in and give you a going away present and wish you well.” She handed me a carry bag with a present in it.

“Hey thanks, you shouldn’t have. How are things going with your relationship, Andy told me the other day that you were having a hard time.”

“I finally plucked up the courage and left him. I have also applied to rent your flat, by the way, so hopefully I can be just down the passage from Andrea and I’ll treasure our one night of bliss here.” She really sounded excited.

“That’s fantastic, I wish you everything of the best. Come here and give me another hug.”

We embraced and I held her tightly not wanting to let go.

“You’re a special lady Elaine and I’ll never forget you, you know that?” I said.

She nodded, biting her lip and I could see that she was close to tears.

I bent down and kissed her on her forehead. She looked up and I could see a tear forming in the corner of her eye.

“Oi Mac, you’re very special yourself and don’t think you’re walking out of here and never going to see me again. If ever you need a break you can come and stay here with me – no strings attached, okay.”

“That’s a promise girl, and you look after yourself now. Once I’ve settled in, you and Andy must come up for a weekend or whatever.”

She nodded, said goodbye and then left.





Jock came in from the balcony, grinning. “You slimy bastard, so something did happen that night.”

“Well if you must insist yes, my first ever one night stand, so put that in your pipe and smoke it,” I replied.

“Well she’s a beautiful woman Mac, I was just hoping that you two would hook up?” Jock said shaking his head.

“I know that she’s great and who knows now that she has finally split from her ex, but we both said right from the beginning that we didn’t want to get involved on the rebound.”

Just then the lift opened and the packers came walking in and started taking my stuff down to the truck.

“I’ll be off then Mac, I’m driving Sandy back home and I’ll see you in a week or two. Have you got your set of keys for the farm? You don’t want to rock up there and find you can’t get in?” he asked.

I shook my jacket pocket and it jangled with keys, “Yip, I’ve got them. I should get there well ahead of the truck and will get them to offload your stuff into the main house so don’t a worry,” I said, ending with a Spanish accent.

We shook hands and he disappeared into the lift. Suddenly I remembered Elaine’s gift in the carry bag in my hand, so I pulled it out and tore off the wrapping paper. It was a lovely portrait of her and it would take pride of place on my mantelpiece above the fireplace. I put it into my briefcase which was going with me in the car. Then I walked through each room to make sure that nothing had been left behind, and with a heavy heart, I closed the door on one chapter of my life.....





The End.





..... ‘Dead Mens Gold’ continues the saga.





Postscript


I am an African, I love Africa and all of its people. I was born here and I will die here, as the very salt of the earth runs in my veins.





This is a fictional story loosely based on fact. The characters have been changed to protect the names of the not so innocent. While there is definitely a mine called Roan Antelope in Zambia, there never was any attempt at taking it over. I have however changed its size and appearance to suit my story. The description of the mine probably appears as it did when it first started mining operations many years ago.





The characters in the story are based on all of the many friends that I have made over the years and I have used the stories that they have told. I am sure that many of them will recognize some of the situations described because many of them actually took place. I have also used my own life experiences and to a certain extent my alter ego at times.



Berties Landing has since closed, but I have wonderful memories of the place and Bertie Reed was one of our great heroes so I have used the name to keep his memory alive.





As a tribute to their memory, I have used the surnames of some of the eighteen Zambian National Football Team players who died in an aircraft accident on April the 28th, 1993, for my Zambian characters.





Mike MacLeod.



South Africa.

2009.





ps I wrote this novel just before the 2010 Soccer World Cup, but was unable to get it published, hence the added section on South African English. I also wrote it using our everyday language as an example to any foreigners visiting our beautiful country and to give them a taste of our unique way of talking, which is really a mixture of all the languages spoken here.





Synopsis


The time now. The place Africa. Two friends who grew up together and have gone to war together are now charter pilots flying mining spares up into the heart of Africa. Their lives have become boring and they are stuck in a rut. They embark on another boring flight up to Lubumbashi in the DRC when their aircraft develops mysterious engine problems and they are forced to land in Zambia in the middle of nowhere. The only place nearby is a copper mine which happens to be holding a dance that night for their staff. The two tag along and out of the blue Mac meets the girl of his dreams. Unknown to them however is that the mine has been taken over by a group of rebels from the Democratic Republic of Congo who need money to stage a coup in their own country. The two pilots are unwittingly drawn into the drama and end up putting their own lives on the line to rescue some hostages that are taken. One of the hostages is the girl that Mac has fallen in love with, which adds urgency to their rescue efforts.





Character sketches





Mac: Is fifty two years old and is the main character. The story is written from his perspective in the first person. He is loosely based on my personal life experiences and fantasies. He is honest, shy with women and very conservative when it comes to taking chances. On the other hand he is very easy going and laid back and usually gets on with anyone from young kids to elderly people. He sees himself as dull and uninteresting and has no confidence when it comes to women, especially after his wife has an affair and they get divorced. He is a genius when it comes to troubleshooting and fixing things. His main passion is collecting Jaguar cars and he currently owns three. An XK120 that he inherited from his father, an E-type that he got from Jock and a newly purchased XFR F type.





Jock Monroe: Is fifty two years old and the secondary character. He is based on my alter ego as well as every friend that I have ever known. He is completely different to Mac in that he is outgoing, relatively handsome from the female perspective and is willing to try anything. Not very technically minded but he loves to entertain and party. He is also a ‘player’ and only believes in one-night stands after a disastrous marriage. He built up a motorcycle in his flat's lounge.





Georgia: Is twenty five years old and Mac's daughter. She studied palaeoanthropology at Wits University under Professer Phillip Tobias . She heads off to London to further her studies and gain experience. She never wants to see her father again after blaming him for the divorce from her mother.





The ‘Old Girl’, ZS-MAC: Our fifty two year old trusty Douglas Dakota DC3 cargo plane with two Pratt & Whitney R-1830 radial engines. Range 3420 km, fuel 2286 L, useful load 4560 kg, cruise speed 161 knots or 298 kph.





Aimee Le Roux: Is thirty five years old and a nurse who comes from a very conservative Afrikaans family that didn’t allow her to blossom into womanhood. She has left her country to get away from a failed marriage that she was forced into. She feels vulnerable and doesn’t trust men anymore. She meets Mac and falls for his easy going character.





Sandy Botha: Is thirty six years old and a girl from the West Coast who finally brings Jock under control and allows him to trust women again. She fulfils a dual role in that she loves Jock but also bonds with Mac.





Jacky da Suza: Is twenty nine years old and a money grabber who entices Mac to fall deeply in love with her. She is twenty three years younger than Mac and suddenly dumps him for a guy who is willing to sponsor her a ticket to America in exchange for her taking money out of the country for him.





Elaine Coetsee: Is thirty five years old and a friend of Mac’s neighbour Andrea, and is busy breaking up with her long time boyfriend. Mac and her meet at an impromptu party thrown by Jock and she becomes Mac’s first one-night stand. Neither of them wants to get involved on the rebound but she steals a part of Mac’s heart and he finds himself in love with both her and Aimee.





Connie Durand: Conrad is fifty five years old and an old infantry soldier from Mac and Jock’s army days who now works for Executive Outlook, an outfit that employs mercenaries in various roles around the globe.





Peter Falconer: Is the General Manager for the Roan Antelope Mine in Zambia.





Patrick Chola: Is the mine maintenance manager.





Frank Chitalu: Is the mine captain or supervisor.





Colonel Chabala: Is the commanding officer of the Zambian Special Forces, who deviously gets Mac and Jock to help with a hostage drama.





Lieutenant Simambe: ‘A’ Platoon leader.





Lieutenant Chomba: ‘B’ Platoon leader.





Lieutenant Banda: ‘C’ Platoon leader.





Sydney Mutale: Is an undercover Special Forces operator who is tasked to keep an eye on Roan Antelope Mine.





John Changwe: Special Forces operator.





Paul Soko: Special Forces operator.





Corporal Kangwa: Special Forces operator, radio operator.





Corporal Mulenga: Special Forces operator, the Colonels aide.





Steve Makinka: Fuel bowser driver.





Joshua Chansa: Our freight agent in the DRC.





About the Author





Michael MacLeod was born and educated in Benoni, South Africa. After completing his military training as an infantry soldier at the 2nd South African Infantry Battalion in the deserts of Walvis Bay, Namibia and seeing action in the ‘Border War’, he became an aircraft maintenance engineer and worked for one of the world’s leading international airlines before retiring. He has travelled South Africa extensively. Among his other interests are designing and building of aircraft, electronics, clock making, woodworking and is also a part time inventor.





Bonus material





Kleinfontein mine dump





The Great North Road





Flt





Douglas DC3





The 'Old Girl'





Sunset





The Chimes Tavern





The Big Five





Buffalo




Elephant


Leopard




Lion




Rhinoceros





Mac's Jaguar collection





XK120





E type





XFR





South African English




For visitors coming to South Africa.



In many words derived from Afrikaans, the letter "g" is pronounced in the same way as the "ch" in the Scottish "loch" or the German "achtung" - a kind of growl at the back of the throat. In the pronunciation guides below, the spelling for this sound is given as "gh".

amanzi (pronounced a-marn-zi) - Water. From the isiZulu.

ag (agh) - Generally used at the beginning of a sentence, to express resignation or irritation, as in: "Ag no man! What did you do that for?"

babbelas (bub-buh-luss) - A hangover.

bakgat (buck-ghut) - Well done, cool, awesome.

bakkie (buck-ee) - A pick-up truck.

bergie (burr-ghee) - From the Afrikaans berg, mountain, originally referring to vagrants who sheltered in the forests of Cape Town's Table Mountain and now a mainstream word for anyone who is down and out - a tramp or homeless person.

biltong (bill-tong) - This South African favourite is dried and salted meat, similar to beef jerky, although it can be made from ostrich, kudu or any other wild game.

bioscope - A cinema or movie theatre, originally a defunct international English word that has survived longer in South Africa because of the influence of the Afrikaans bioskoop.

bliksem - To beat up, hit or punch - or a mischievous person.

Bloody, blimmin - A variation on ‘very’, as in: "That new bakkie is blimmin big." or “I had a bloody hard time.”

bobotie (buh-boor-tee) - A dish of Malay origin, made with minced meat and spices, and topped with an egg sauce.

boerewors (boor-uh-vors) - Literally, farmer's sausage. A savoury sausage developed by the Boers - today's Afrikaners - some 200 years ago, boerewors is South African food at its most traditional.

boet (like book, with a t) - A term of affection, from the Afrikaans for brother.

boma (bow-mah) - An open thatched structure used for dinners, entertainment and parties.

bonsella - Surprise gift, something extra, or a bribe. From isiZulu.

bosberaad (borse-bah-raad)- A strategy meeting or conference, usually held in a remote bushveld location such as a game farm.

braai (br-eye) - An outdoor barbecue, where meat such as steak, chicken and boerewors are cooked, served with pap and tomato & onion gravy.

bredie (brear-dee) - A traditional South African mutton stew, first brought to the country by Malay immigrants. It now refers to any kind of stew.

bru (brew) - A term of affection, shortened from Afrikaans broer, meaning "brother". An example would be "Hey, my bru, howsit?"

bunny chow - Delicious and cheap food on the go, bunny chow is curry served in a hollowed-out half-loaf of bread, generally sold in greasy-spoon cafés. Perfect for eating on the side of the road while backpacking across South Africa.

bushveld (bush-felt) - Taken from the Afrikaans bosveld ("bush field"), the bushveld is a terrain of thick scrubby trees and bush in dense thickets, with grassy groundcover between.

café (kaf-ay, kaff-ee) - The ubiquitous small neighbourhood convenience store, often found on street corners and stocking cigarettes, cold drinks and newspapers.

Charf – pretend. Also means to chat someone up.

china - To most people China is the country with the largest population in the world, but to a South African it can mean something entirely different. China means good friend, as in "This oke's my china". It's one of the few Cockney rhyming slang words to survive in the country, coming from "china plate" = "mate".

chommie - Friend, from the English chum.

cooldrink, colddrink - This is the common term for a soda, such as Coca-Cola or Pepsi. Ask for a soda in South Africa and you will receive a club soda.

deurmekaar (dee-oor-muh-car) - An Afrikaans for confused, disorganised or stupid, as in "He's a bit deurmekaar.

dinges (ding-us) - A thing, thingamabob, whatsit, whatchamacallit or whatsizname: "When is dinges coming around?"

doek (like book) - A head scarf worn to protect a woman's hair.

dolos - Interlocking blocks of concrete in an H-shape, with one arm rotated through 90º. The dolos is a South African invention used to protect seawalls and preserve beaches from erosion. The name comes from an Afrikaans word for the knuckle bones in an animal's leg. The plural is dolosse.

donga - A natural ditch resulting from severe soil erosion. From the isiZulu for "wall".

donner (dor-nuh) - Beat up. From the Afrikaans donder, meaning thunder.

dop (dawp) - An alcoholic drink: "Can I pour you a dop?" It can also mean failure: "I dopped the test."

dorp - A small town on the platteland.

droëwors (droo-uh-vors) - Dried boerewors, similar to biltong.

dummy - A baby's pacifier.

dumpie - A South African beer served in a brown glass 340ml bottle.

Durbs - The city of Durban.

dwaal (dwarl) - Lack of concentration or focus: "Sorry, I was in a bit of a dwaal. Could you repeat that?"

eina (ay-nuh or ay-nar) - Ouch! Can also mean "sore".

eish (aysh) - Used to express surprise, wonder, frustration or outrage: "Eish! That cut was eina!"

Fixed up - Means "that's good" or "sorted". Example: "Let's meet at the restaurant." The reply: "Fixed up."

flog - No whips implied. South Africans use flog to mean sell, as in "I've had enough of this old car. I think it's time I flogged it."

frikkadel (frik-kuh-dell) - A traditional meatball.

fundi (foon-dee) - Expert. From the Nguni umfundisi, meaning teacher or preacher.

fynbos (fayn-baws) - "Fine bush" in Afrikaans, fynbos is a vegetation type unique to the Cape Floral Region - a Unesco World Heritage Site - made up of some 6 000 plant species, including many types of protea.

gatvol (ghut-foll) - Taken from Afrikaans, this means fed up, as in "Jislaaik, china, I'm gatvol of working in this hot sun." Translation: "Gee, my friend, I'm fed up with working in this hot sun."

gogga, goggo (gho-gha or gho-gho) - Insect, bug. From the Khoikhoi xo-xon.

gogo (goh-goh) - Grandmother or elderly woman, from isiZulu.

graze - Eat.

hang of - Very or big, as in: "It's hang of a difficult" or "I had a hang of a problem".

hanepoot (haa-nah-poort) - A sweet wine made from the muscat blanc d'Alexandrie grape cultivar.

hap (hup) - Taste, bite, as in "Take a hap of this".

hey - The popular expression hey can be used as a standalone question meaning "pardon" or "what" - "Hey? What did you say?" Or it can be used to prompt affirmation or agreement, as in "It was a great film, hey?"

homelands - The spurious "independent" states in which black South Africans were forced to take citizenship under the policy of apartheid. Also known as bantustans.

howsit - A traditional South African greeting that translates roughly as "How is it?", "How are things?" or simply "Hello". How are you?",

indaba (in-daa-bah) - A conference or expo, from the isiZulu word meaning "a matter for discussion".

inyanga - A traditional herbalist and healer.

is it (as one word: izit) - An expression frequently used in conversation and equivalent to "Is that so?"

ja (yaa) - Yes.

jawelnofine - Literally, "yes, well, no, fine", all scrunched into a single word and similar to the rhetorical expression "How about that?"

jislaaik (yis-like) - An expression of outrage or surprise: "Jislaaik, I just saw Elvis!"

jol (jawl) - A versatile word with many meanings, including party, disco, having fun, or great time.

Jozi (jo-zee) - The city of Johannesburg, South Africa's largest city, which is also known as Joburg or Joeys.

just now - If a South African tells you they will do something "just now", they mean they'll do it in the near future - not immediately: "I'll do the dishes just now."

kasie (kaa-see) - Shortened form of lokasie, "location" in Afrikaans, the older word for township - the low-income dormitory suburbs outside cities and towns to which black South Africans were confined during the apartheid era.

khaya (k-eye-ya) - Home. From the Nguni group of languages.

kif - Cool, neat, great or wonderful. From the Arabic kayf, meaning enjoyment or wellbeing.

knobkierie (k-nob-kee-ree) - A fighting stick with a knob on the business end. From the Afrikaans knop ("knob") and the Khoi-San kirri or keeri, meaning "stick".

koeksister (kook-sister) - A traditional Malay - and now also Afrikaner - sweet, made from twisted yeast dough, deep fried and dipped in syrup. The right-wing enclave of Orania in the Northern Cape even has its own statue to the koeksister. The word comes from the Dutch koek ("cake") and sissen, meaning "to sizzle".

koki (koh-key) - A coloured marker or felt-tip pen.

koppie (kor-pie) - A small hill.

kraal - An enclosure for livestock, or a rural village of huts surrounded by a stockade. The word may come from the Portuguese curral ("corral"), or from the Dutch kraal, meaning bead, as in the beads of a necklace - kraals are generally round in shape.

kugel (koo-gell) - An overly groomed materialistic young woman, from the Yiddish for a plain pudding garnished as a delicacy. A bagel is the male variety.

kwaito (kw-eye-toe) - The music of South Africa's urban black youth, a mixture of South African disco, hip hop, R&B, reggae, and a heavy dose of house music beats.

kwela (kw-eh-la) - A popular form of township music from the 1950s, based on the pennywhistle - a cheap and simple instrument taken up by street performers. The term kwela comes from the isiZulu for "get up", though in township slang it also referred to the police vans, the kwela-kwela. It is said that the young men who played the pennywhistle on street corners also acted as lookouts to warn those drinking in illegal shebeens of the arrival of the cops.

laatlammetjie (laart-lum-et-chie) - The youngest child of a family, born (mostly by accident) to older parents and many years younger than its siblings. The word means "late lamb" in Afrikaans.

laduma! (la-doo-mah) - A popular cheer celebrating goals scored at soccer matches, from the isiZulu for it thunders.

lappie (luppie) - A cleaning cloth.

lekgotla (lek-ghot-lah) - A planning or strategy session.

lekker (lekk-irr with a rolling r) - Nice, good, great, cool or tasty.

Madiba (muh-dee-buh) - An affectionate name for former President Nelson Mandela, and the name of his clan.

mal (mull) - Mad, from the Afrikaans.

mampara (mum-puh-rah) - An idiot, a silly person. From the Sotho languages.

mampoer (mum-poo-er) - Extremely potent brandy made from peaches or other fruit, similar to the American moonshine. See witblitz.

Marmite - Trade name of a dark-coloured spread made from vegetable extract and used on bread or toast.

mealie (pronounce mih-lih) - Maize or corn. A mealie is a maize cob, and mealie meal is maize meal, the staple diet of South Africa, which is mostly cooked into pap. From the Afrikaans mielie.

moegoe (moo-ghoo) - A fool, buffoon, idiot or simpleton.

mossie (morse-ee) - common name of the Cape sparrow, also applied to the house sparrow, and sometimes used to refer to any small undistinguished wild bird.

muti (moo-ti) - Medicine, typically traditional African medicine, from the isiZulu umuthi.

Mzansi (m-zun-zee) - A popular word for South Africa.

naartjie (nar-chee) - The South African word for tangerine, Citrus reticulata.

nappy - A baby's diaper.

nca - Fine, beautiful. Pronounced with a downward click of the tongue.

nê (neh) - Really? or is that so? Often used sarcastically.

now-now - Shortly, in a bit: "I'll be there now-now."

oke, ou - A man, similar to guy or bloke. The word ou (oh) can be used interchangeably.

pap (pup) - The staple food of South Africa, a porridge made from mealie meal (maize meal) cooked with water and salt to a fairly stiff consistency - stywepap being the stiffest. Pap can also mean weak or tired.

papsak (pup-suck) - Cheap box wine sold in its foil container, without the box. Also called a ‘vyf man kan’ meaning ‘a five man can’.

pasop (pus-orp) - An Afrikaans word meaning "beware" or "watch out".

pavement - South Africans walk on pavements and drive cars on the road (at least that's the idea). The pavement is the sidewalk.

piet-my-vrou (peet-may-frow) - The red-chested cuckoo (Cuculus solitarus). The name, an approximation of the bird's call, literally means "Peter my wife" in Afrikaans.

platteland (plutt-uh-lunt) - Farmland, countryside. Literally flat land in Afrikaans, it now refers to any rural area in which agriculture takes place, including the mountainous Cape winelands.

potjiekos (poi-chee-kors) - Traditional Afrikaner food, generally a rich stew, cooked in a three-legged cast-iron pot over a fire. The word means "little-pot food" in Afrikaans.

puffadder - A viper or adder of the species Britis arietans. From the Afrikaans pofadder.

rand - The South African currency, which is made up of 100 cents. The name comes from the Witwatersrand (Dutch for "white waters ridge"), the region in Gauteng province in which most of the country's gold deposits are found.

robots - Traffic lights.

rock up - To arrive somewhere unannounced or uninvited. It's the kind of thing friends do: "I was going to go out but then my china rocked up."

rooibos (roy-borss) - Afrikaans for red bush, this popular South African tea made from the Cyclopia genistoides bush is gaining worldwide popularity for its health benefits.

rooinek (roy-neck) - English-speaking South African, from the Afrikaans for red neck, but without the connotations given the term in the US. It was first coined by Afrikaners decades ago to refer to immigrant Englishmen, whose white necks were particularly prone to sunburn.

rubbish bin (alternatively dustbin or dirt bin) - Garbage can.

samoosa (suh-moo-suh) - A small, spicy, triangular-shaped pie deep-fried in oil. Originally made by the Indian and Malay communities, samoosas - known as samosas in Britain - are popular with all South Africans.

sangoma (sun-go-mah) - Traditional healer or diviner.

sarmie - Sandwich.

scale, scaly - To scale something means to steal it. A scaly person is not to be trusted.

shame - Broadly denotes sympathetic feeling. Someone admiring a baby, kitten or puppy might say: "Ag shame!" to emphasise its cuteness.

sharp - Often doubled up for effect as sharp-sharp!, this word is used as a greeting, a farewell, for agreement or just to express enthusiasm.

shebeen - A township tavern, illegal under the apartheid regime, often set up in a private house and frequented by black South Africans. The word is originally Gaelic.

shongololo - Large brown millipede, from the isiZulu ukushonga, meaning "to roll up".

sjambok (sham-bok) - A stout leather whip made from animal hide.

skelm (skellem) - A shifty or untrustworthy person; a criminal.

skinner (skunner) - Gossip, from Afrikaans. A person who gossips is known as a skinnerbek: "Jislaaik, bru, I'm going to donner that skinnerbek for skinnering about me." Translation: "Gee, my friend, I'm going to hit that guy for gossiping about me."

skollie (skoh-li) - Gangster, criminal, from the Greek skolios, meaning crooked.

skop, skiet en donner (skorp, skeet en donner) - Action movie. Taken from Afrikaans, it literally means "kick, shoot and beat up".

skrik - Fright: "I caught a big skrik" means "I got a big fright".

skrik vir niks - Scared of nothing.

slap chips (slup chips) - French fries, usually soft, oily and vinegar-drenched, bought in a brown paper bag. Slap is Afrikaans for "limp", which is how French fries are generally made here.

smaak stukkend - Love to bits. In Afrikaans smaak means like, and stukkend means broken.

smokes - Cigarettes. Also skuifs.

snoek (like book) - A popular and tasty fish, often eaten smoked. If you're lucky you may get to experience a snoek braai - a real South African treat.

sosatie (soh-saa-tee) - A kebab on a stick.

spanspek (spun-speck) - Cantaloupe, an orange-fleshed melon. The word comes from the Afrikaans Spaanse spek, meaning "Spanish bacon". The story goes that Juana Smith, the Spanish wife of 19th-century Cape governer Harry Smith, insisted on eating melon instead of bacon for breakfast, causing her bemused Afrikaans-speaking servants to coin the word.

spaza - Informal township shop.

spookgerook (spoo-ahk-ghah-roo-ahk) - Literally, in Afrikaans, ghost-smoked. Used jokingly, the word means "mad" or "paranoid".

stoep (stup) - Porch or verandah.

stompie - A cigarette butt. From the Afrikaans stomp, meaning "stump". The term picking up stompies means intruding into a conversation at its tail end, with little information about its content.

stroppy - Difficult, uncooperative, argumentative or stubborn.

struesbob (s-true-zz-bob) - "As true as Bob", as true as God, the gospel truth.

takkies - Running shoes or sneakers. Fat takkies are extra-wide tyres on a car or bakkie.

tannie (tunny) - An Afrikaans word meaning "auntie", but also used for any older female of authority.

taxi - Not a metered car with a single occupant, but a minibus used to transport a large number of people, and the most common way of getting around in South Africa.

to die for - An expression popular in the affluent suburbs of Johannesburg and Cape Town, denoting enthusiastic approval for an object or person: "That necklace is to die for."

tom - Money.

toppie - Old man.

townships - Low-income dormitory suburbs outside cities and towns - effectively ghettos - to which black South Africans were confined during the apartheid era.

toyi-toyi - A knees-up protest dance.

tsotsi - A gangster, hoodlum or thug - and the title of South Africa's first Oscar-winning movie. Although Will Smith thought otherwise at the awards ceremony, the word is not pronounced "sossy".

tune grief - Cause trouble. “Don’t tune me grief hey.”

ubuntu - Southern African humanist philosophy that holds as its central tenet that a person is a person through other persons. (See box on the right above.)

veld (felt) - Open grassland. From the Dutch for "field".

velskoen (fell-skun) - Simple unworked leather shoes.

vetkoek (fet-cook) - "Fat cake" in Afrikaans, vetkoek is a doughnut-sized bread roll made from deep-fried yeast dough. Mainly served with a savoury mince filling, it's artery-clogging and delicious.

voetsek (foot-sak) - Go away, buzz off.

voetstoets (foot-stoots) - "As is" or "with all its faults". The term is used when advertising, for example, a car or house for sale. If the item is sold voetstoets the buyer may not claim for any defects, hidden or otherwise, discovered after the sale. From the Dutch met de voet te stoten, meaning "to kick".

vrot (frot) - Rotten or smelly.

vuvuzela (voo-voo-zeh-lah) - A large, colourful plastic trumpet with the sound of a foghorn, blown enthusiastically by virtually everyone in the crowd at soccer matches. According to some, the word comes from the isiZulu for "making noise".

windgat (vint-ghut) - Show-off or blabbermouth. Taken from the Afrikaans, it literally means wind hole.

witblitz (vit-blitz) - Potent home-made distilled alcohol, much like the American moonshine. The word means "white lightning" in Afrikaans. See mampoer.

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