Nigel tossed the ball again and the little terrier ran after it, ears flapping. Taffy loved this simple game of fetch and would play it for hours if he could just persuade one of the Big People to throw for him. Sometimes it wasn’t easy being a dog. Yes, he felt appreciated, but why couldn’t he bring order to his life? Why must he wait for food, wait for a playmate, wait for a scratch behind his ears? It was puzzling.
Again, Nigel rose to his feet and paced around the ragged collection of folding chairs where his mates were loosely gathered, reading, playing chess, nervously smoking. The squadron phone sat silently on the little table just outside the communication room. Each of the small group took their turns glancing at it, staring at it, willing it to ring, or perhaps willing it not to ring. It was a warm autumn morning in England, not far from Cambridge at the little airfield of Debden, and it was the second year of the war, it was 1940.
This was his sixth week in the Royal Air Force and Nigel was excited to be a pilot, yet fearful that he’d not been trained well enough or his mechanics didn’t have the necessary skills to keep his Spitfire in tip-top condition. He knew the mechanics, if only slightly, but he made the effort to become closer so maybe they’d try a little harder to keep their pilot in the air.
Taffy was tugging at his pants leg again, growling playfully, willing him to pick up the ball and throw it. Nigel smiled and gave the ball a mighty heave. The little four footed creature bounded off in delight, seemingly trying to achieve airspeed in his pursuit of spherical pleasure.
The peace was interrupted by the sound of a bell ringing – the phone, no longer mute, demanded attention. Someone leaped at it, grabbed it up from its cradle. After listening for a moment he slammed it down, shouted, “We’re on! To the planes!” All the young pilots scrambled to their feet and ran toward the waiting engines of war, the beautiful Hurricanes and Spitfires that were just a short run away.
Nigel checked to make sure he was wearing his lucky shirt, the one his mother had sent along. He smiled as he looked at it, taking in the silly teddybear face. He re-zipped his flight jacket as he ran toward E17, his trusted steed of the air. Each young man was pumped full of adrenaline as he plopped down into the cockpit and strapped in. Engines roared into life, flaps and ailerons waggled as the planes lumbered out toward the tarmac, that thin strip of asphalt that was their path to the joust, to aerial combat, to try to knock down the German bombers now on their way.
Taffy stretched out on the grass, muzzle on his paws, and watched the flurry of activity. He didn’t understand what was going on, but he knew it was not for him and he must wait. He must wait for the Big People to return. He must wait again for his food. He looked forward to having his ears scratched.