Jeffrey Whyte sat quietly in the small
cabin that passed for office, control room and general gathering space for the
small airfield and watched the outside world slowly disappear as the night drew
Just as the windows had started to show
the reflection of the room more clearly than the field outside, the door banged
open and the last of the scheduled arrivals burst in.
"Jeez, s'only five o'clock and it's
almost dark already!" The
pilot grabbed up a pen from the desk and startled scribbling in his logbook.
"Thought I was going to get a chance to brush up on my instrument
landings for a while there."
You're the last one down." Whyte
retrieved the pen as it bounced on the desk and waved it in a farewell as the
younger man hurried out again.
"Night, Steve," Whyte said to
the empty room. Slowly he stood up,
shaking his head. "Always in a
hurry." He gathered the papers
from the desk and limped across the room to file them away.
He checked the notices on the board, took down the two that had applied
only to today then swept his eyes across the room, looking for anything he'd
forgotten. Satisfied, he headed to
the door, clicked off the lights and made his way cautiously down the broken
steps. He really should ask one of
the lads to fix that before someone broke their neck.
The cooling air outside had brought with
it a light mist, turned into a yellowish haze by the marker lamps at the edges
of the airstrip.
Whyte walked slowly towards the hangar
where Steve had considerately, or forgetfully, left the lights on. Watery light spilled out from the open door, casting strange
shadows on the tarmac.
He made his way around the parked
aircraft, checking that no one had carelessly butted a wing up against someone
else's tailplane or overlapped props where they might tangle.
Suddenly the silence was broken by the
clatter of feet and Whyte turned in surprise to see a small boy running full
tilt along the hardstanding towards the hangar.
His shadow trailed long and dark behind him in the light from the hangar
and he held a small model plane high above his head.
He came to an abrupt stop when he saw Whyte. His cheeks were flushed red from his run and he stood and
stared, like a startled animal poised between curiosity and flight.
They regarded each other and the boy's
eyes strayed past Whyte's shoulder to the planes arrayed behind him. After a few moments it became apparent the boy was not going
to be the first to speak.
"Hello," Whyte said.
The boy stared at him.
"My nana says I'm not to talk to strangers."
"Very wise. What does
she say about running round airfields in the dark?"
The suddenly guilty expression on the
child's face made Whyte smile. He
was pretty sure he'd worn exactly the same one after being caught out as a
child. He nodded towards the model.
"I like your plane."
The child lowered the model in his hand to look at it.
"I used to fly one like that."
The boy's eyes widened and he gazed up
at Whyte with a searching look, as though he expected to be able to read all the
secrets of flight in his face.
He opened his mouth as though to speak
then closed it again and Whyte could almost see the questions tumbling behind
his eyes as he decided which one to ask first.
He saw him look down at his crippled leg, with a child's unabashed
inquisitiveness, then up to meet his gaze again as he settled on the most
"What's it like?" His fingers tightened about his toy as he spoke and the
longing in his voice made Whyte sigh for the idealistic child he'd once been
Whyte took a seat on a bench which had
once been a wing and the boy jumped up beside him, all rapt attention.
Whyte spoke slowly, considering his words, only half-certain himself of what he was trying to say.
"I can only tell you what flying is
like for me. You have to fly
yourself to know what it is to you."
The child nodded immediately at that, as
though it was something he'd already known.
Whyte watched him thoughtfully as he continued.
"It was something I always wanted
to do. Something I never stopped
wanting. I can't remember a single
moment I've been on the ground when I wouldn't rather have been in the
He saw the boy's eyes slide again to his crippled leg.
"I did that, landing with a big
hole in my engine. A deadstick
landing is no time to lose your concentration and I flipped right over when I
hit the deck. Flying doesn’t
"My nana says it's too dangerous
and I shouldn't keep on about it."
"Your nana may be right."
Whyte reached out his hand. "Can
I see your plane?"
The boy shrugged and held it out for
Whyte accepted it and gravely examined
it. "Did you make it
The boy nodded.
"It took a long time--I'm not very good with glue and things, I kept
having to start over. And the
painting went a bit wobbly. The
next one'll be better."
Whyte flicked the propeller with a
finger and watched it spin. "It's
a good model." He handed it
back. "You should be getting
home before your nana starts to worry."
The boy jumped off the bench then turned
back. His eyes wandered across the
hangar then back to Whyte. "I
do want to fly. More than
"Then if you work hard enough for
it, you'll get there."
The boy nodded once then spun and spread
his arms and chased his shadow back out into the evening, leaving the hangar
seeming oddly quieter than before.
Whyte sighed and closed his eyes,
wondering whether he'd done right. "Should
I have lied to him?" he asked the silent planes.
"Told him to listen to his grandmother and stay on the ground where
it's safe?" He shook his head.
"He'll fly through fire, that one.
He's got the passion for it."
Slowly he climbed to his feet and limped towards the door. He shut off the lights, and fumbled in the darkness for the handle to swing the heavy hangar door closed.
Based on First Things First by Gill Rob Wilson. The illustration is mine. The poem isn't.
Back to A-Team Fanfic