Death had sunk its claws deep into Kwesi’s mind. He sat in a dark room with one rocking chair and two other metal seats. He kept his eyes on the rocking chair; his grandfather was seated in it. His mind was oscillating in a similar fashion, rocking back and forth. His grandfather, Pa was not moving. Pa was seated so still, to Kwesi, he resembled one of the stone gargoyles from his alma mater, Princeton. Pa’s face was stern and every line from eighty-three year old face was drawn clearly.
The room they were in was something of a waiting room. In the room adjacent to theirs, Kwesi’s mother was unconscious, on life support. The two sat in the poorly illuminated room, facing each other but saying absolutely nothing. Then Pa broke the silence with the abruptness of a plate crashing to the floor with a loud clatter.
“I bet you didn’t know this but black people built planes.” His voice was loud. And it seemed to echo in the otherwise quiet room.
Kwesi rubbed his eyes. A desire for sleep was far from him but he had literally been up all night at this point. He had flown to Accra two nights ago after receiving a call about his mother’s illness. And he had not been on a plane to Accra for several years since Princeton, New Jersey had become his new home. He had never felt so much regret as he did when he boarded the flight. The moment he got to see his mother, looking nothing like he knew her to be, thick curtains drew over his mind. He felt a darkness in his soul unlike nothing else he had ever felt. Nothing mattered. Except his mother being close to death. What was death? How did it work? And then his thoughts began to race. How? Why? The questions were innumerous.
“They built aircraft that could leave the earth and fly into space, ” Pa coughed a bit and went on in a gruff voice.
Kwesi turned a bit in his chair and hunched down to squarely face his grandfather. His attention was gradually being caught.
“I call it the story of Black Aviation.” With that, their grandfather leaned back in the rocking chair. He was inhaling and exhaling slowly as though following an exercise. One would think he was preparing to give a political speech.
Dumbfounded, Kwesi was unable to say much. “Pa?”
Their grandfather cleared his throat. “Oh Kwesi, you don’t know a thing about Christian history.”
Christian history? Kwesi thought to himself. Had his grandfather mentioned Christianity or aviation because they were not the same thing and he had no time to listen to the former.
“What was I saying, Kwesi?” he asked. Had he forgotten what they were talking about?
Kwesi chuckled grimly and reminded him, “Black Aviation?”
“Yes. The Story of Black Aviation. It goes something like this. “It was a warm Sunday evening. The sun had inflicted its fair share of violence during the day. The humidity was almost visible with the naked eye but the ice cubes in my soda had done a pretty good job at preventing me from losing my mind. The carbonated fizzy drink made its way down my throat with a strain quickly followed by a comforting sensation-”
Was he kidding around? Pa had a terrific sense of humor but Kwesi was not in the mood for it.
“Umm, Pa?” Quick tempered Kwesi interrupted. “Wrong story perhaps?”
Pa scratched his head and cleared his throat. And then with a knowing, “Oh!” He came to himself. His eyes lit up.
“I’ve never seen the wind. Have you?”
On his last word, he enunciated emphatically. He squinted and looked at his grandson. A faraway look had entered his eyes. Then he continued, his voice rather shrill. Kwesi felt chills up and down his spine. He felt something had taken over his grandfather. Something was unnatural about how he went on speaking.
“I would be a fool to not believe in its existence. We all would be fools. If we decided to ignore the wind on the basis that we could not see it? Remember Psalm 14 goes on my gravestone.”
He sounded like he wanted to spit. But talking about gravestones though? When Kwesi’s mother was close to death? He was clearly not helping.
“Try ignoring the wind during a hurricane.
“There’s no need to wait for a hurricane to occur for you to acknowledge the existence of the wind.
“You won’t always have whirlwinds and hurricanes and tornados. No, you won’t.
“But you appreciate the winds. The winds brings us seasons.
“And birds of the air love the wind.”
He laughed. No, it was not a laugh. It was definitely more of a cackle.
“The birds of the air harness the power of the wind. They spread their wings and thrust into the air, gliding on the wind as though it were strong and firm like metallic rails. Planes do the same. The thrust is the aerodynamic force that overcomes gravitational force and shoots them off the ground into air filled with invisible particles.”
Kwesi scratched his head at this point. He was getting lost. His grandfather had been a physics professor and had stopped teaching over a decade ago. It seemed that, his physics lessons were still intact nevertheless. What did all he was saying even mean?
“The unseen things are so much greater. And so when Ghanaian men were called away from idol worship by Swiss missionaries, here’s what was put forth. Worship something you can see. Or, worship that which is unseen. Some jumped ship to this unseen God. They harnessed His power. And voilà.”
He clapped his hands together. He was applauding nothing in particular though.
“These men took off. Shot off into the stars. Like rockets or space shuttles. Whizzing past the average black man, attempting great things and achieving them. They became ministers of God. Lifting congregations of men out of darkness and into the glorious light of God. Like aircraft, they propelled men beyond geographical borders and across oceans. They birthed generational missionaries. These black aviators, so to speak, would deliver black men to towns and villages where the gospel is needed. Inspired by the Swiss men who lost their lives on black soil, these would find their lives’ purpose. There would be no more empty earthly gain and chasing the wind. They would only harness the wind, with the wings given them by the immortal invisible God. They would swoop and steer and turn every which way He sent them.”
Then his Grandpa leaned forward, obviously exhausted. His ramble was over. Kwesi was no less wiser. The nurse burst into their waiting, grief showing in her warm eyes. Kwesi’s mother had died.