There is probably a certain degree of poetic justice in the fact that the 'black sheep' of many of the better English families often end up upon the Darkest Continent. Possibly that is why Africa is so called.
I was probably not aware of this fact on that warm morning in 1965 as I alighted from the Viscount aeroplane at Salisbury Airport -- and I would almost certainly not have been concerned by the implied insult.
For life was good. I was young, fit and healthy, and had almost eleven pounds in my pocket.
My portable wealth could have been significantly greater, however, had I not experienced considerable ill luck in a game of poker with a wise old silver-haired gentleman during the course of the flight from Johannesburg, but I have never been one to bemoan inadversity. It is always better, I have found, to seek the silver lining that invariably gilds any dark cloud of misfortune.
And the silver, in this particular case, became evident when, as a result of avionic turbulence, I dropped a card, and in retrieving it, I noticed several other cards at the feet of the silver-haired gentleman with whom I was engaged in wager. Two cards -- both Aces -- had actually (by some miracle) become trapped between his shoe and his sock.
It fleetingly crossed my mind, then, that he might, possibly, not have been totally forthright with me.
And this sudden insight may have led me to reach beneath his seat and to shuffle the little leather bag that he had there secreted, to a new position, beneath my own seat.
Although I felt a certain justification in my actions, I was, even in those days, not sufficiently innocent not to realise that my parents would not have approved. But now, I was to stand alone and be unprotected in the wild world that is Africa. Undoubtedly, things had changed considerably: and so must I.
As a result, having terminated my continuing wager with the silver-haired gentleman -- on the grounds of regrettable impecunity -- I shuffled the little black bag towards me, secreting it into my pocket and, presently, wended my casual way towards the toilets that were situated at the rear of the Air Rhodesia Viscount aeroplane.
The silver lining within this particular little black leather bag was, in fact, golden.
For the little leather bag held four gold Kruger Rand coins, a gold Dupont cigarette lighter, some cigarettes, some white powder (in a plastic packet), a set of keys, and a small revolver (this was in the days before airport searches, metal detectors and assorted 'Freedom Fighters').
I think that it must have been at that precise moment that I realised that the 'Dark Continent' held forth spectacularly bright lights for at least one English sheep of a particularly dusky moral disposition.
I put the medicinal powder on the shelf which held other airways toiletries, stuck the cigarettes down the toilet (with that intimidating 'wooosh-roar' which is common to all aircraft loos) and secreted the articles of value about my person, in locations which would be unlikely to be discovered by any casual observer.
Upon my return to my seat, I purchased a drink for the gentleman by whom I had been robbed ... and a double for myself. I would not have wished him, later, to have considered me to be a bad loser.
The remainder of the flight progressed uneventfully, and I was grateful when Silver Hair pointed out to me several notable landmarks as the aircraft circled the Rhodesian capital of Salisbury during our descent to the aerodrome. He was actually most pleasant.
Nevertheless, I have always been bored by the disembarkation process, and did not wait whilst he gathered his possessions, but rather, hurried to the gangway, making haste across the tarmac to the arrivals terminal. And all would probably have been well at that stage, had I not mislaid my passport.
It was, actually, not lost: but temporarily unavailable, rather; and in this particular instance, Silver Hair's small revolver must partly be blamed. For my father had always told me that the safest place to carry anything valuable, was beneath one's hat. And that is where I had secreted Silver Hair's small revolver.
But it was also the location (in a special interior pocket within the body of the hat, that had been constructed by my dearest Mother) of my passport.
In a matter of a few minutes of arriving upon African soil, I was presented with my first 'Dark' dilemma. Hindsight is a fine tutor, and had I known then what I know now, I should have been totally unconcerned; but at the time, I was terrified. To be apprehended -- upon one's first entry into any country -- with a weapon (however small), for which one had no license, would have elevated embarrassment to an art form ... and probably encouraged an unwelcome period of penal servitude, to boot.
My extended embarrassment came, however, not from the black gentleman who was extant in his Customs and Excise capacity, but rather in the form of a degenerate silver haired poker player whom, for some reason, held me personally responsible for his own lamentable inability to maintain control over his personal possessions, and who had, uninvited, rushed to join my conversation with the immigration official.
During the heated conversation that followed, I was able, surreptitiously, to doff my hat, producing my passport and, in one continuous movement, replacing the hat upon my head: which left the small revolver un-viewed by anyone it might have concerned.
'Silver Hair' was still making rude noises, but desisted abruptly when I advised him (in the ever-growing company of airport Customs Officials) that his medicinal powder was still in its plastic packet, and resting upon the vanity locker in the toilet of the Viscount aircraft that we had so recently vacated.
Silver Hair left soon thereafter, still arguing with those elements of officialdom which had, fortunately, lost interest in my own cause. Silver Hair went off in order to locate his own baggage, and I was allowed to expedite my own precipitate departure.
From the remaining eleven pounds of my imported wealth, I offered the taxi driver a pound to convey me with all alacrity to one of the better hotels in Salisbury, and to permit no one to overtake us on the way. The driver took me at my word (and took my money with similar speed), depositing me at the Jamieson Hotel with an huge grin of enormously white teeth. He even carried my suitcase up to the imposing steps.
I considered my investment well expended.
Another set of perfect white teeth (in a crimson suit) showed me to my room on the fifth floor, and after a quick shower and change of clothes, I repaired to a splendid dining room. The bar that was attached to the dining room (for the convenience of awaiting diners) was most plush: I basked in the feeling of 'arrival'.
I was glad that I had taken the trouble to put on my blazer and grey flannel trousers, because everyone present was well attired in suitably fashionable manner, and after a drink or two, I began to feel that I was fitting well into the general ambiance.
The barman had (after a couple of generous tips) a few kind words for me, and then the large red-headed gentleman sitting next to me enquired as to my purpose in Salisbury. "Oh! I deal in gold ... " I informed him, fishing into my pocket, and displaying upon the bar counter the Kruger Rands that I had acquired upon the Viscount that afternoon.
He did not seem to be as impressed as his lovely blonde lady friend, and left soon thereafter, but that did not concern me in the least ... because he left the golden Angel behind.
"Is it not dangerous," she asked, timorously, "to carry all that value with you ?"
"Aha ! I'm not worried," I replied bravely, furtively opening my blazer a little, to display the small revolver in my belt. "I can look after myself !"
I bought the Blonde Angel (her name was Trudie) two more drinks, but I had the impression that she was not really concentrating upon the plans that were passing through my mind now that Big Red had left. It seemed to me that her constant glances over my shoulder heralded the demise of my lecherous plans.
And so it was to be.
For Big Red returned shortly thereafter, and my proposed evening's entertainment was irretrievably ruined.
I could have forgiven Big Red for having taken Blondie away with him.
But why, first, did he have to bring an angry, silver-haired hotel owner to spoil our private little conversation ?
And why did the police need to be involved, anyway ?
-- KK Brown
Article © KK Brown. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-01-08