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'Come on Sandy,' she'd say, when he'd finished, and they would both disappear into the bushes, the dog's tail bobbing behind.
She was poor, I could see that. Put us side by side and how do we look? I'm six feet tall in a smart airman's uniform and I have a strong grip and steady eyes. She's about five feet high and threadbare. I could lift her with one hand.
But when she met my gaze one day I dropped my eyes and blushed like a teenager. I was walking past her in the opposite direction and I smiled and said, 'How are you?'
She looked at me with eyes that have long since pierced through the cloud cover and as we talked, I realised she was happy. Happy. The kind of happiness that comes from a steadiness inside. This was genuine. This was not someone who had turned away from the bolted door. It was open. She was on the other side.
For some years, early in my Air Force days, I did not bother myself with the single simple question that is the hardest in the world. How shall I live? I was living wasn't I? I was adventure, manliness, action. That's how we define ourselves isn't it?
Then one day I awoke with the curious sensation of no longer being myself. I hadn't turned into a beetle or a werewolf and my friends treated me in the same way as before. I put on my favourite well-worn clothes, bought newspapers, took a holiday, went to Milan, walked in the park. At last I called on the doctor.
'Doctor I'm not myself anymore.'
He asked me about my sex life and prescribed acourse of antidepressants.
I went to the library and borrowed books from the philosophy and psychology sections, terrified in case I should be spotted by someone who knew me. I read Jung who urged me to make myself whole. I read Lacan who wants me to accept that I'm not.
None of it helped me. All the time I thought crazily, 'If this isn't me then I must be somewhere else.'
That's when I started travelling so much, left the forces, bought my own plane. Mostly I teach flying now, and sometimes I take out families who have won the First Prize in a packet soup competition. It doesn't matter. I have plenty of free time and I do what I need to do, which is to look for myself.
I know that if I fly for long enough, for wide enough, for far enough, I'll catch a signal on the radar that tells me there's another aircraft on my wing. I'll glance out of the reinforced glass, and it won't be a friendly pilot that I'll see, all stubble and brown eyes. It will be me. Me in the cockpit of that other plane.
I went home to visit my mother and father. I flew over their village, taxied down their road and left the nose of my plane pushed up against the front door. The tail was just on the pavement and I was worried that some traffic warden might issue a ticket for obstruction, so I hung a sign on the back that said 'flying doctor.'
I'm always nervous about going home, just as I am nervous about rereading books that have meant a lot to me.
My parents wanted me to tell them about the places I've been and what I've seen, their eyes were eager and full of life.
Bombay. Cairo. Paris. New York. We have invented them so many times that to tell the truth will be a disappointment. The blow-up globe still hangs over the mantelpiece, its plastic crinkly and torn. The countries of the Common Market are held together with red tape.
We went through my postcards one by one. I gave them presents; a sari for my mother and a Stetson for my father. They are the children now.
Time passes through the clock. It's time for me to leave. They come outside to wave me off.
'It's a lovely plane,' says my mother. 'Does it give you much trouble?'
I rev the engine and the neighbours stand in astonishment in their doorways as the plane gathers speed down our quiet road. A moment before the muzzle breaks through the apostal window in the church, I take off, rising higher and higher, and disappearing into the end stream of the sun.