Learning to Fly
An elderly man got off the bus at a bus stop just outside of town. He started to walk with, in spite of a slight limp, a good pace. He obviously hadn’t shaved for a couple of days and he was dressed in a clean white shirt with a button missing just where his stomach protruded over his blue jeans, and a sky blue seersucker jacket hanged over his left arm.
He walked along a row of small, well-kept half-a-century old villas. A fat, middle-aged man who was trimming the side of an already well-trimmed lawn, hailed at him.
“Hey Ben!” he hollered. “Welcome out of hospital! You feeling better?!”
“Yeah thanks Al! Feeling better!” Ben answered without slacking his pace. Then he looked grimly in the other direction.
What do you know about pain, you bastard.
The last house in the row was painted white and surrounded by a red wooden fence. Ben stopped and leaned against it. Panting, he wiped his forehead. A stout woman of around forty came out of the house and hurried towards him.
“Why Dad! Have you been walking too fast again?! Do you want to go back to the hospital when you’ve just got out of it?!”
He opened the gate and as she came up to him he stretched out his hand and messed up her well-sprayed hair.
“I’m okay little lady, I’m okay. I just needed to catch my breath a little.”
“Oh, you never can admit that you’re in pain, you adorable old shit!” she said and hugged him. “You sure you’re okay?”
“Yes! Yes! Where’s Billy?”
“You’re taking your pills?”
“Yes of course! Well, ‘cept for the blue ones, they taste like shit.”
“I’m taking them! I’m taking them!”
As they came up on the porch a beaming boy of around seven years of age, with windy brown hair came running from around the corner of the house.
“Hey Granpa! I thought it was your voice!”
Billy jumped up on the porch and gave the old man a hug. Ben smiled for the first time of the day and messed up Billy’s hair with his hand.
“Howdy big guy! Well I’ll say you’ve grown a couple of inches since last time! I think your mama’s feedin’ you well!”
“You brought any candy, Granpa?”
“Absolutely not. I can’t bring candy every time I come here! Well, aaalright! I got you this candy bar.” Ben said taking it out of his jacket pocket.
“My favourite kind!” cried Billy.
“And another one for your left hand, so that you’ll get an even weight.” Ben continued as he produced another one from his pocket. Billy yelled in triumph.
“But not right now hon, because the chicken’s ready, come in you two and dig in! I’ve made it just the way you guys want it!” Billy’s mother said.
Billy rushed in ahead of them.
“Martha taught you some good stuff anyways.” Ben said quiet to his daughter’s back as she went inside.
“So Lizzy, you and Larry okay?” Ben asked afterwards out on the veranda where they had coffee. Billy ate his candy bars while he tried to make a drawing of a Native American.
“We have sorted it out, Dad, we have a good life.”
“That’s really great little lady, really great.”
“Can a feather look like this, Granpa?”
“Yeah that’s fine Billy, maybe a little more red.”
“What kind of an Indian you think it is, Granpa?”
“Well, let me see, ah …yep, it’s a Pawnee alright!”
“Why don’t you two sit out here and talk about Indians while I pick up some groceries over at Limberton’s? Okay dad? Larry’ll be home any minute now, so he may be here before I come back.”
“You go on, we’re holding the fort.” Ben said.
“Your old man’s a funny fella, ain’t he?” Ben said to Billy after she had gone. “I mean, he’s working on a Saturday, isn’t that funny?”
“Yeah Granpa!” Billy giggled, “and sometimes he forgets to flush, tehee!”
“No kidding? That’s because he’s got his head full of them computers that he sells, heh heh. Well Billy, let’s not forget that your dad’s also one heck of a fine and decent fella! Though I’ll bet he never speaks about Indians with you?”
“No not really…but yesterday we talked about football!”
“Not bad, not bad. But you know Billy, I still think he ought to clear his head from them computers a while. A good, old Indian attack would do him good!”
“Well Granpa, we could always hide and scare him when he gets home.”
The old man’s eyes flashed.
“By God Billy! That’s a great idea! We could make an ambush for him! But we must hurry; your mama said he’d be home soon! Look Billy, we could hide in them bushes behind the garage over there!”
“That’s great Granpa! You and me can be Indians and attack him! I want to be Sitting Bull!”
“And I’ll be…I think I’ll be the great war chief Black Eagle!”
“I like that name Billy! Imagine learning how to fly! To fly like an eagle! You know Billy, some people believe that if you treat other people good all your life, then, after you’re dead, as a reward you can come back again as whatever you want! Some animal or, or whatever you like!”
“That could be cool,” Billy said, “I’d come back as a lion and scare the teachers at school! What would you be, Granpa?”
“I’d be an eagle, Billy.”
“Well, see when I was ‘bout your age I saw a great black eagle in our very own backyard!”
“Oh yes! Sat there he did on the ground, and then he lifted! I still remember how beautiful he looked when he flew up in the sky, higher and higher! I guess it’s since then that I wanted to learn how to fly. Fly like an eagle!”
“Well I sure don’t want to be a stupid bird,” Billy said. “I want to be a lion!”
“Hey hey, I’m sitting here talkin’ when we have our Indian ambush to think about! And we got to hurry before your dad gets home! Let’s get ourselves a little war-paint from your colors there, Billy, and then we get goin’!”
A few minutes later the two Indian chiefs Sitting Bull and Black Eagle sat behind the bushes on the slope behind the garage of the Mitchell family. Black Eagle watched with keen eyes down towards the garage. His whole body, senses and mind were bent upon his task.
“How will we do the attack, Granpa, I mean, Black Eagle?”
“What? Aah, well I guess we’ll just attack him when he shows up.”
“Yeah, but how?”
“How? Well, maybe we should make a rehearsal.”
“We pretend he’s down there and make an attack anyway, so that we’ll know how to attack when he really gets there!”
“Okay Granpa! We do it now?”
“Sure, count to three and we’ll attack!”
“One, two, three!” Sitting Bull yelled in a high note.
Black Eagle and Sitting Bull made a furious start. Under wild screams they bolted down the slope. After ten yards they were still side-by-side. After fifteen, Sitting Bull was a little ahead, and after twenty he was more ahead. Black Eagle started to stumble and stagger and after twenty-five yards he fell like a rock.
Black Eagle laid on his back with a peaceful expression on his face and his eyes shut. Sitting Bull came slowly back, disappointed.
“Hey, I attacked all by myself! What happened Granpa, I mean Black Eagle? Did you fall? Are you restin’, Granpa?”
Ben opened his eyes and focused on Billy.
“I got to go, Billy.”
“Where to, Granpa?”
“Up there Billy, I’m learning to fly.”
“Can I fly too, Granpa?”
“Stay good Billy, and you’ll get wings too.”
Thirty-seven minutes later Billy overheard his father talking to a paramedic.
“Sorry, Mr Mitchell, he’s dead. We couldn’t bring him back. Will you follow the ambulance in your car?”
“Yes, my son and I. My wife is on her way to the hospital right now. But tell me, do you think … he was in pain?”
“No, Mr Mitchell. He had a peaceful expression on his face. Death was probably instant, I think he was dead before he hit the ground.”
The ambulance was ready to go and Larry made Billy hurry up to get into their car.
“Dad, I heard them say Granpa was dead before he fell?”
“Yes Billy, now let me fasten your seatbelt here.”
“But he talked to me Dad, when he was lying there.”
“That’s impossible, Billy.”
“He did! But he did!”
“Yes of course Billy, of course he did.”
Larry started the car when the ambulance took off, and was just about to follow when Billy called out.
“Stop, Dad, stop!”
“What’s the matter, Billy!” Larry screamed as he hit the brakes.
“Don’t ya see there in front of the car! You almost ran over a bird!”
“Well I’ll be – ! An Eagle! Here in our driveway!” Larry said as he stared wildly at the gigantic black bird that had emerged in front of their car.
“A black eagle.” Billy said in wonder.
They both stared in amazement at the huge black eagle, as it flapped a little as to check its wings, and then wiggled its big tail feathers as to check the rudder. Then it tried to lift, clumsily, and came down again. It tried a second time, but down it came again. At the third attempt, getting the hang of it, it stayed in the air. First flapping furiously, flying in small circles. But the circles got wider and wider as the wing movements grew more powerful. Soon it was way above the car and finally disappeared into the great wide-open sky.
Halfway to the hospital Billy said smiling:
“Dad, he was a quick learner!”
Billy didn’t answer. He just looked out of the car window, glancing happily upwards.