Go ahead, shoot, I thought, because I was thirteen and desperate and anything, absolutely anything, was better than the fate to which my parents were leading me.
The policeman sat astride his growling motorbike, one hand on his holster, anonymous behind shades. He was one of the outriders for the new prime ministers motorcade, signaling for cars to get off the road. If drivers didnt stop quickly enough he was entitled to shoot. If they didnt move right off the tarmac, he could shoot. If they did stop but the policeman thought the passengers inside looked shifty or saw them messing around, hed shoot. He was nothing like the policemen back home.
Home, I thought. An old ache swelled in my stomach. England. Britain. So far away. For me, this Africa was another world, and as we sat there watching the rider watch us, Britain felt farther away than ever.
My father completely misinterpreted it and tutted as he showed me his watch against a sunburned wrist.
Weve plenty of time; I made sure you wouldnt be late on your first day, he said.
And instantly the fear came charging back. It was here: The day Id prayed would never come. Any hope that my father might have a change of heart and take us back to our country flickered and finally died.
The policeman didnt move. With sweat glistening on his black-brown skin, he just glared at my mother and father and me as we sat rigidly in silence. It was getting hotter and hotter now that the air wasnt rushing through the open windows. Beyond the car, insects clicked and buzzed in the dry grass. We were miles away from anywhere. Anywhere but here.
A moment later the motorcade rushed by at a million miles an hour, the cars all secretive and dark. I didnt know which one was the prime ministers because you couldnt see behind the tinted glass, though I guessed it was the biggest and sleekest Mercedes in the middle with the flags.
You see that? My father spoke with the look of a child gazing through a toy-shop window. There goes a great, great man. Hes given the people freedomwhat could be a greater achievement than that?
He caught my confused look in the rearview mirror.
Didnt you read the book I gave you?
I nodded, lying, but he knew perfectly well I hated history.
For generations, Europeans have treated Africa like a playground. Weve carved it up among ourselves, stolen its riches, and not given a damn about the poor people who live here.
My mother sighed, but my father was in full swing now.
Britain claimed this land and called it Rhodesia, but the black Africans have fought back at last and tipped the balance of power, son. White minority rule is over, thank goodness. Rhodesia no longer exists. This is Zimbabwe. And, now that the fighting has finally finished, that man theres going to do tremendous things for this country, you mark my words. Hes a hero.
I nodded subserviently while inside I was chewing over his words: tipped the balance of power. It seemed a strange expression to me because it gave me an image of a seesaw, and when one end was up the other was always down. It was never actually balanced.
The tail of the motorcade whooshed by, followed by yet more policemen on motorbikes, sirens wailing. Our man joined them and left us in a cloud of red dust that filled the car and made a mess of everything.
Yes, indeed, a hero. Do you know something, darling? My father spoke to my mother. If I could meet him, just to be in the same room as him, I would consider it the greatest moment of my life.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...