The Airplane Was Red

Illustrative Image: Photo by s96serg/iStock / Getty Images

Illustrative Image: Photo by s96serg/iStock / Getty Images

It was a red plane.

It was flying low that typical tropical summer day. It was vacation time, and schools were shut for summer after the year's final examinations. We were playing marbles, or perhaps we were spinning tops — I don’t remember — when we heard the drone overhead and looked up.

"It's coming down," somebody observed, and without any delay, we gathered up our game and put it in our pockets and started after the plane. We didn’t think to check the truth in the observation, the trajectory, or anything at all. We were ten-year-olds, wired at that age to leap with the impulse.

So we ran after the shiny thing above us, tracing its flight path on the rock-strewn ground below. We ran two hours, or perhaps three, it's hard to tell after all these years. We ran and ran, and we kept running in its general direction even after it disappeared from sight.

I do not think we even hoped to get to that thing. We'd seen something, and we were chasing after it. That's it.

The town of my childhood was very small. If there were sneakers in the world those days, our stores didn’t know of them. We got by with a pair of cheap black-leather shoes for school, and flip flops for all other times. We might’ve been wearing flip-flops that day we pursued the plane, but it is more likely our feet were bare, but that was all right because our feet were calloused enough from rough and restless daily use on rock and thorn and mud and gravel and concrete.

Our path went cross-country, of course.

And we came upon the plane. It didn't occur to us that day how improbable a thing had happened. Coming upon it, in a sudden flat clearing, we stopped and steadied our breathing and walked up a respectable distance to it, and considered our find. It seemed new, I remember, and was glossy like candy in the red parts — the fuselage, the tail. The rest of it was steel-grey, and it shone in those parts as well. It stood there all by itself, nobody inside it, none outside. No pilot. No bystanders. There was no sign of a village, or a lone dwelling in any direction around us — only a rough terrain full of stones and thorny shrubs and other scrubby greens. Not arable land, thinking back on the scene now. I cannot recall why, but a fear came over us, and we turned back, having spent no more than a few minutes before this first plane that we'd seen in our lives.

It took us the entire afternoon to cover the distance we'd run on the out trip. We were tired, and we weren’t running on the return.

Near the limits of the town, on a familiar street, we came upon a vendor of ice-candy. We had just-about enough coins to buy one of those sticky orangey things for each of us. They smeared their colour around our mouths, and we reached home looking like monkeys of a type. A new fear was now upon us: We'd all missed lunch, and we'd have been missed in our homes. There was explaining to do and beatings to take, by hands of those who loved us most, who’d have been anxious all day on our account.

Folks who know my town, which still doesn't have an airport, won't believe this story that I find implausible myself. Why was a plane parked on that scrubland with no one — not even the pilot — anywhere near it? But I can hazard a guess now: The airplane had developed a snag while flying, the pilot had made an emergency landing, and he'd gone looking for help and a phone.

Anyway, this happened. Really.