- For Teachers
This is the third and the last part of my short story "The Parachutist". Please, would you proofread it.
Before we parted, Ahmed asked me if I would like to be a pilot one day and fly like he did, and I answered that of course, I would, although I knew that I was too anxious to sit alone and soar in the sky. I went home believing my coughing would return, but I was breathing normally and when the next day and the day after I did not have any symptoms of illness I knew that I was cured.
Was that because of the flying or some other reasons, I would never know, but life had taught me that sometimes a wonder could occur or a strange combination of circumstances beyond our understanding of reality.
On summer mornings I would sit on the balcony and watch parachutists jumping from the plane and slowly descending to the ground. They reminded me of flowers. I saw first a dark spot, like a seed plummeting for a few seconds towards the ground and then the “seed” would flare up into a flower. Small children used to call them “falling mushrooms” and they were in all kinds of colours: red, green, white, blue. Sometimes they had competitions and the sky was filled with dozens of parachutes from early morning until late in afternoon.
One day I was sitting on the balcony watching an old grey plane soaring above the airfield. I did not know the name of the plane, but from the previous occasions, I knew that it could carry only two parachutists. When it reached the height, the pilot switched off the engine and soon I saw dark spot plummeting towards the earth.
After a few seconds the bright red canopy appeared on the sky and slowly sailed downward. Then the second spot fell from the plane, and I expected to see his canopy bloom, but instead he continued to fall. Finally something appeared above his head, but the canopy looked rather like a wilted flower which was simply thrown at one side by the wind and that piece of crumpled fabric could not slow down his fall.
I knew that my eyes were witnessing something terrible. These few seconds of struggle between life and death which outcome had been already decided shook me like nothing before.
I did not see his crash into the ground, but I knew that now he must be lying dead with multiple injuries all over his body and blood gushing out of his orifices. I started to panic and wanted to talk with someone of my family, but they all were at their jobs and I was a shy fearful child who had not much experienced in his life.
I had seen people dying in films and on TV, but they would usually die slowly, fighting even when they were wounded and almost always they had enough time to say something before their final breath. Here I saw death coming faster than a human brain can grasp, extinguishing life of the poor parachutist as if he was nothing but a speck of dust.
I asked myself what did he think in those last seconds. Did he pray to God to stay alive, did he remember his girlfriend or his parents? Was he afraid of the unknown awaiting him after his death? I saw my neighbour in the house across the road. She was hanging her washing on a clothes line in her garden.
“Fatima,” I shouted I saw a parachutist plunging into death. His parachute won’t open!”
“Are you sure? It could be a ghost." she said without taking her eyes from her washing.
I knew that she saw me still as a little child who could imagine things and even lie like children used to do, so I went back into the house and turned on the local radio station hoping to hear the news. But it passed four hours until the news was being read by a female newsreader who read it without any feelings, as if it was a party communiqué.
A 20 year-old man. A tragic accident. His both parachutes failed to open. It was his fifth jump. He died as a brave communist and the Communist party would never forget his name...They turned his tragic death into propaganda, his red party member card more important than his life.
After witnessing his cruel death, I could not sit and watch parachutists jumping or planes flying above my head without having a sickening feeling in my stomach. I was not interested any more in flying and did not want to go to the airfield any more.
When my friends or my father went there to enjoy free flight with a plane or a glider, I would always find some kind of excuse to avoid being reminded of my experience. Even if I told them they would certainly not understand that when a child’s eyes see a tragedy, it stays for ever somewhere inside his brain.
Once I asked my father why death sometimes comes so fast that a man cannot even think about it. He was reading his magazine and gave me just a glance. At the same moment a fly settled on grains of sugar on the table. With a swift movement, he hit it with the magazine killing it on the spot.“You see,” he said and continued to read. I did not dare to ask him again.