Banks couldn’t believe his ears and turned his head slightly. They were there. The Skipper looked shattered, and Kiwi had lost weight. With a wave of guilt, Banks realised that while he’d been wallowing in self-pity, they’d been facing the Luftwaffe day after day. How long was it since he’d been shot down? Three weeks, at least. Suddenly, he felt guilty for abandoning them. The tension of readiness surrounded him again. It felt as if any second, the squawking of the tannoy or the jangle of the telephone would shatter the stillness of the hospital. They would be gone instantly, running to their Hurricanes, leaving him here.
Then he remembered that he had to thank Kiwi for saving his life before they disappeared again. “Thank you,” he gasped.
“Surely you knew we’d come,” Colin replied with a smile, and Banks felt affection embrace him like a warm wind. Colin’s smile was what the nurse had failed to give him. It was a smile that saw past his visage to the person underneath. Kiwi was smiling too and cracking jokes about the English weather. The Skipper, on the other hand, looked shocked and distressed, but it was nothing like the nurse’s revulsion. The Skipper’ shock expressed sympathy and concern. That too was restorative, in a different way.
A sense of gratitude overwhelmed Banks. He felt privileged to have known these men, however briefly. He felt honoured they would take the time to drive all the way here to visit him. Their voices calling him “Banks” were a balm for the wounds left by those who’d called him “Jude.” He’d feared the RAF might nickname him “Jew” or “Hun” or “Jerry.”
Because he was emotionally incapable of saying much, however, his friends did most of the talking. Kiwi told him about the crazy things they’d done. The Skipper explained the military situation, the shifting of the attacks away from the airfields to essential war industries, particularly aircraft factories and London. Colin brought greetings from Hazel and another WAAF. Banks felt too weak to respond, yet he basked in the warmth of their presence like a lizard in the sun. It didn’t matter what they said; all that mattered was they were here.
Inevitably, however, someone looked at the clock and announced it was time to go. They promised to return. The Skipper said his fiancée would come to visit one day soon. They started for the door, and Banks realised he hadn’t asked about the others – Reynalds, Tolkein, Green and the rest. Suddenly he was afraid they might be dead. He called after his friends, “You aren’t hiding anything from me, are you? Is the rest of the squadron OK?”
“The squadron is a bloody wreck!” Kiwi retorted. “When I tell the others that you’re lying about being looked after by very pretty nurses all day, they’ll probably go on strike for equal treatment.”
“All of them?”
“Oh, I suppose you’re right, Sutton would oppose a strike on principle, but—”
“I mean are they all still with the squadron?”
The Skipper interrupted Kiwi’s nonsense and assured him seriously, “Yes, they are.” Their eyes met. The Skipper understood.
Banks reached out to this figure of authority like a drowning man. “I don’t want to be invalided out, Skipper. I want to stay in the RAF, and I want to fly again.”
“I’ll see what I can do, but first you've got to get well.”
They were gone. Banks sank back on his pillows, but he felt better. He felt the bonds of belonging, and he trusted the Skipper. Maybe he was right about getting well first and then worrying about being passed fit to fly.
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