Kafue 23 – Danger

There is something special about danger…and the emotions it triggers and engenders.  What is even more unusual are the feelings experienced upon its resolution.

This is especially true when the consequence of the danger is as binary as a coin toss, with life or death being the only options.  There are very few people willing to engage in endeavors with such dire odds, and if they do, generally longevity is not part of their future.  However there are those that do play with the extremes of danger as if it were a game of dice, which has odds slightly more favorable than that of a coin, but with the consequences of a fateful roll just as calamitous.

One may ask why anyone would return, again and again, to roll the dice, and of course it is because the emotion of relief from dodging death is so intense that it borders on the euphoric.  But, like everything that can produce euphoria, drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc., it can become addictive, because the euphoria is due to a dopamine flood intoxicating the pleasure centers of the brain. If the floods of relief are too frequent it is not long before addiction is knocking at the door, bearing its suitcase full of dangerous dice.

The intensity of the pleasure finding oneself still alive after each extreme gamble is difficult to describe, and even harder to understand.  Those who have never experienced such a sensation cannot comprehend the power of its motivation. The utter exhilarating ecstasy of going from the almost certainty of death to life. The faster the transition, the more intense the ecstasy.

Such as, in classical hull-down position, firing at an enemy tank, also in hull-down position, 4000 meters away, waiting the interminable seconds for the spotting tanks correction to my last fired round..  ‘Kod-Kod Short, half left.’

Then as my loader slaps in the last APDS round of the salvo bracket, my command to the gunner,  ‘Up a quarter, right half.’

As the other tanks shell snap-cracks the sound barrier a few feet from my head and kicks up the dust behind and slightly to the right, I clench my soul and pray to a God unknown to let me see my baby daughter one more time. It has my range. I feel the almost imperceptible swivel of our turret and cannon, as my gunner lays the sight on, always bringing the cross-hairs of his NATO sight in a circle, from right to left, top to bottom. (when firing at a tank turret less than a meter high and 2 meters wide, 4000 meters away the accuracy requires that the slack between the sight and the gun need to be compressed in the same direction for each shell-fire adjustment).  ‘Fire!, Fire’!  I hiss through clenched teeth at the gunner. I am sure he can detect the unbearable tension in my voice from knowing that the dice have been cast, and within seconds they will stop rolling and either we, the crew of my tank, or the crew of the enemy tank, will be dead!

Then there is the smacking kick of our cannon which rocks the 65 tons of our chariot, with a muzzle flash and discarded Sabots of the APDS round kicking up the dust on the slight ridge behind which we are sheltering our hull.

And Then I do not need the spotting tank to tell me that we have scored a hit. There is such a flash of light that it penetrates even the thickness of the dust. It can only result from an arrow of depleted Tungsten traveling at 1426 meters a second punching its way through 2 feet of steel and armor.

‘Target, Target, Stop fire, Driver back, Fast!’

I scream into the intercom, to get us all the way down sheltering behind the ridge before the missiles arrive, after all we have been up in firing position for 50 seconds and fired 3 rounds, which is plenty of time for an enemy helicopter to pick us out and fire at us, as they did a short while ago, hitting tanks to the left and right of ours.

Ahhh.. the utter euphoric ecstasy of being alive!

The taking of life, in this fashion, is so much more intense than the clasping shudders and lurches involved in its making.

All of that was so long ago!

If the politics of Africa had been different, today I would most probably be a farmer, having inherited the family farm situated between the Munyati and Sebakwe rivers. But that’s not how things turned out. The changing of the names of the rivers, of the roads, of the towns, of the country, of the regime, with its sub-text that the white man was not part of Africa, had so dispossessed me of my identity, that it had allowed me, at times, to wash up and be tumbled across the virtual beaches of distant shores like so much flotsam, even those awash with the acrid smell of burnt cordite.

And now, as I looked down on the tracks leading up towards the Shalamakanga dambo, the shivering echoes of those almost forgotten pleasures, tickled at my mind and gave me virtual goosebumps. It was like a recovered alcoholic finding himself in the middle of a desert with nothing else to drink except a bottle of red wine. The alternating waves of excitement and trepidation of giving chase and going on the hunt to seek out the possibility of something potentially dangerous.

The best tracks to follow are fresh tracks. I could feel a sense of urgency begin to take hold of my being.  The sun was already clambering vertically up over the rim of the gigantic African sky.

With such bright, almost glaring light it was going to be a hot day. The vague hint of coolness, left behind like a faint echo from the darkness of the night would soon be overwhelmed by the light pouring from the golden orb as it moved to assert its dominance overhead.

I could already detect the humidity lurking in the air. It being early summer it was the portent of a tumultuous late afternoon.  The sun would pour its vitality into the sky heating the air, thereby buoying up its invisible moisture.

As the hot pillars of air rose heavenwards at astounding speeds, they would cool and no longer be able to bear their moist burden.

The thunderheads would rear up, darken, and dissipate their liquid life in paroxysms of sound and thunder. There is nothing that will wash away tracks as quickly as a big African thunderstorm. I only had a few hours to decipher the taunting signs in the sand.