|PICTURE FROM PORTUGUESE SPECIAL FORCES SOLDIERS (STOCK PHOTOS)|
It was April and weather was as hot and humid as it can be on a month of April, in
Western Africa. I was 13 years old and my
world was breaking apart. Paul McCartney just announced, a few days ago,
he was leaving the Beatles. After lunch, I went to my room, upstairs, turn the
radio on and listened to “Rádio Comercial”, eager to know more about what was
with the Beatles.´ London
I heard a car driving fast in the street, something strange in that Samba’s quiet area, a residential neighborhood of middle-class people, with nice two-floor houses. I run to the window and saw my uncle’s Bento car. He had the door of the car open and he was just there, standing, both hands in his waist, head down. I also saw my mother, standing at the gate, and I hear her voice:
“Bento, what happened? You are not working? Why are you here?”
My uncle came to the gate, still silent, opened it and put both hands at my mother shoulders.
“Zé is dead. He was shot early this morning, during an operation near Maria Teresa’s village.” – he said, his voice no more than a whisper, I barely could hear his words. My mother was terribly shaken. She had to sit down on the stairs before the gate, unable to walk. She covered her face with both hands and cried silently for what seemed to be a long, long time, for me.
My uncle took her hand and help her to stand up. They walk back home and we came to the living room at the same time, as I went down from my room in the first floor. My mother looked and me and said what I already knew.
“Zé is dead, Paulo. He was killed this morning.” – Than, she stopped, as she remembered something even more tragic – “Oh my God! His mother! The other son was sent to
months ago! João is in Mozambique Pemba, is also a very
We stay there in silence, I can’t remember for how long. The mother of José Maçanita was my mother's cousin. My uncle and my mother were older than him. He was something like a younger brother for them. When he was drafted to the Colonial War, raging since 1961, he volunteered for the “Comandos”, the famous Portuguese Special Forces. My mother’s voice broke the silence.
“I’ have to call Quim, I have to tell him to call headquarters in
. They must send the
other boy to Mozambique ,
immediately. Imagine if he also dies!” Lisbon
“Quim” was the nickname of my father Joaquim. He was a civil servant and, at that time, he was working at SCCIA, the local military intelligence services in charge of counter-terrorism. He had access to the military communications system, so he could call people in charge at the Portuguese Army headquarters in Mozambique and explain them, quickly, the situation, in order to have our second cousin back home, alive.
My mother went to the dinner room to call my father. My uncle broke down, suddenly and start to cry.
“I saw him, one hour ago. They phoned me and asked me to go to the
, they flew him
there, by helicopter.” – he said. Mlitary
“How did he died? He was shot, how?” – I asked him, with that morbid curiosity that only kids can have, when facing this kind of situation.
“He had only one shot, a single shot over the heart” – my uncle answered, poiting to his own chest, with his finger – “It was a so small hole, smaller than a 50 cents coin.”
Talking about those details seemed to make him more comfortable. He kept on.
“They told me his company was sent to attack a village where they thought around 20/30 terrorists were hiding. They had to march for 10 km, before reaching the area. As they start to cross a small river, Zé was chosed to go first, because he had a big ‘shotgun’, good for firing dozens of pellets into the bushes, as a counter-attack.”
My mother came back, after talking to my father, on the phone.
“Quim is doing it, now. After, he will call his mother, it's better to be him to tell her.”
She broke again and started to cry. I went out to the yard, feeling somehow stressed. I still could remember very well the lunch last Sunday, on the big table we had at that same yard. The all family was there, together, my cousin dressing his “Commando” uniform, his red beret shining. After lunch, he went back to headquarters, as his company was scheduled to go on a operation the next day.
He was a young, tall and amazingly strong man. Whenever he came to my home, I had always doubts if his broad shoulders could go through the narrow door of the kitchen of my mother. I liked when he pulled me with both hands and just threw me up in the air, my heart full of fear, as I saw the ceiling so close to my head.
Never before, in my short life, I knew somebody who died. And I could not remember to see my mother crying like that, before. At the large yard in the back of my home, I called the dog.
“White’, ‘White’, come here!”
He was big, lousy, crazy and playful dog, a German Sheppard, all black – the reason for his name, “White”. He jumped over me, his head well above my head. I padded him and suddenly, it was my time to have tears coming to my eyes, as I could not control my feelings. A quick image came to my mind: my cousin sitting down at the table of my grandmother’s dining room, with a small silver plate, something like 10 centimeters long, three wide, with a chain.
He was using a large knife, his “Commando” combat knife, carefully, to scratch a name in the silver plate: “White”. It was his dog, he got it from a friend of my family, in