Many years ago I was serving in the Air Force of my native land.
We had a small war on that was, as is every war, bloody and futile. I was one of the lowest of the low, an Aircraftsman. I was new to both the Forward Air Field, or FAF, as we called them, and the Air Force itself for I had transferred over from the Army.
The entire Air Force experience was exciting. Helicopters flew in and out. Single engined recce planes came and went. Ancient twin-engined transport planes, the old C47's of WW2 or Dakotas as we called them, ferried in supplies and staff replacements. Casualties were brought in; and taken out to other hospitals. MASH - the American poignant comedy series about the Korean War was on television and it sort of conditioned my mind to see our own war in the same light although there was, in fact, no comparison.
One day, when I was off duty a chopper flew in and landed near where I was watching all that was going on. I walked quite near to it as the pilot and the technician left it. There in the back seat area was a black girl.
Brought up as I had been in Central Africa, I assumed that I knew most of the tribal types who one would come across. Just as in Europe or Asia, Africa has a diverse number of people. Mostly they are brown although are referred to as 'Black'. Mostly they have a particular cast of feature. This girl fitted none of the people of my experience. She was in fact a coal black colour with a healthy glow about her. Her face, as far as I could make out resembled those of an Egyptian Pharoah; more Caucasian than Negro. Her skin was like velvet and she sat upright with her back against the support of the bench at the back of the cabin.
I wondered why she had been left alone and walked closer. Then I saw the reason. Wrapped around her body, just below her naked, perfectly formed breasts was a white towel. It was soaked with blood and in the afternoon sun the red inside the cabin had become black. It was obvious to me that she had been shot though how badly I could not guess.
Her hands were still, folded on her thighs, which the towel hid. Only her eyes moved and they turned to me, without her head moving, and they looked at me with an ageless compassion, as though she were sorry for me, rather than expecting me to be sorry for her. Amazingly they were a dark and piercing blue that sent shivers up and down my spine.
She didn't speak but I felt her communication. "Do not be concerned for me, I will be alright. Feel rather concerned for yourself."
The thought communication, telepathy, call it what you will, startled me. I was standing there, my FN rifle in my hands and quite safe, whilst she had been wounded and was possibly dying, yet she thought I was the one who was worse off.
A couple of curses behind me brought me back to my senses. Some officer or other was telling me off for being in a restricted area. 'Need to know' was bellowed about and I left.
I didn't see her again and I was warned never to speak of the incident. But I did not forget her.
I was, at that time, a friend of the then Minister of Defence. One evening over drinks I told him of the incident and piqued his interest. He promised to look into it.
A few days later he telephoned. He was brief and somewhat brusque.
"That girl. Forget her. She died of her wounds before she could be taken to hospital. The Army were intrigued and sent her in for autopsy. They wanted to know where she came from and how she was so perfect physically although all her companions we captured or killed were in poor condition."
At first I thought he had been told to not divulge anything. Then he continued, returning to the friendly tones we always enjoyed. "One thing though. She was certified dead and had become exsanguinated. She was put into a cabinet overnight. When the orderly went to fetch the body it had gone. There was no trace and no forced entry had occurred."
There it rested. A mystery that I could not solve and with no channel for me to investigate.
Some years later I was driving along the dirt road from a place called Chisumbanje on one side of the Sabi River to an intensive farming area near the eastern Mountains called Middle Sabi.
It was a strange thing that I only carried a 1917 Parker-Hale .303 rifle with me, through the bush of a country at war with itself! And that was only to be used to put down an animal if I came across such a one. It only happened once and I had no weapon with me. Terrorists were simply not a consideration.
I made this trip once every month or so and carried the makings of tea and coffee with me together with a small gas stove. Just in case I wanted a drink or met someone along the lonely road. It was a 'road less travelled' and was about 100 miles long.
Numerous dry bed water courses crossed the road. It was one of the hottest parts of the country and water was scarce.
The day I recall so vividly was hot with a cloudless blue sky. My car, a Peugeot 404, purred along beautifully at about 65 kilometres or just on 40 miles per hour. It was almost midday when I left Chisumbanje and the air was hot and still. I do not like to listen to the radio and my tape player was out of action so I just ambled along contentedly thinking of the cold beers and a braai (barbecue to 'foreigners') that awaited me at the home of a friend with whom I was to stay that night.
The normal road maintenance was carried out by local people who were paid by government to look after a few kilometres of road. They were supplied with tools and did the repairs as and when necessary.
I approached one of these water-courses to find it being repaired and impassable temporarily. The 'gang' was about twenty strong and were busy levering boulders into the dry bed. I sat in the shade of a nearby tree and boiled a pot of coffee. I carried one of the old percolators with me and it was soon bubbling away nicely.
Calling the 'boss boy' over I invited him to have a mug full. The 'boss boy' is a colloquial term and simply means the foreman. He sat on a stool and we chatted for half a hour or so. Then he said that he must go back or the others would be complaining.
They had just finished and had moved away to let me pass when it happened.
I had just started the car. The windows were open and I could hear bird calls. The 'go-away' sound of the grey lourie was pre-dominant. I even saw him as he flew overhead. Something attracted my attention and there, in the bush some fifty or so yards away, was a girl. She was stark naked!
I was fascinated and then I froze for it was the same girl I had seen in the chopper several years before. The coal black girl who had died. As she approached I could see just under the left breast a shiny dark round patch of skin that looked alien in the velvet that was her norm..
As she passed me she turned her head and her eyes met mine; those amazing blue eyes that made the dark blue of the sky look pale by comparison.
The recognition was apparent. She smiled the same almost pitying smile that had captured me before. Then the thought came to me. "I am happy, you have learned. You are still learning. You will learn all eventually."
And then I knew. I had finally realised that war was never correct, never the way to go. It was the Final Aberration!
I was shaken and watched her figure move on into the thick bush. My eyes watched the gentle sway of perfect buttocks but just before she moved out of sight I saw with a shock that there, on her back was the shiny scars of a huge exit wound such as is caused by the .762 calibre bullet of our FN rifles. The perfection marred by an act of war.
I shook my head and called to the gang. "Did you see her? Who is she?" I asked.
They looked at me and then at each other. The boss boy moved his hand in that peculiar circular motion that indicates insanity the world over. "The boss* is penga," muttered one. Penga means mad. (* "Boss" is a term that, in those days was the colloquial for 'White Man'.)
I drove on, my mind in turmoil. Was I suffering from too much sun? Was I penga or out of my mind?
To this day I do not know. Maybe you the reader should decide!