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The Toy Plane

Patricia Mills

Harry awoke to the sound of heavy rain pounding on the panes of his bedroom window. This was not what he expected, or wanted, to hear. Where was the 'bright and sunny' weather predicted in yesterday's weather forecast?

The night before, on hearing the weatherman's promising prediction, Harry had visualised a relaxing day on the golf course. One of the perks of being a London cab driver - and in Harry's opinion there were very few - was that he could choose his own rest day. He lay there deciding what to do. He enjoyed golf, but the thought of playing in the rain held little appeal. At last he came to a decision - he would spend today in the cab - perhaps tomorrow would prove to be a better day for golf.

Harry had been a cabbie for longer than he liked to admit and, over the years, had established his own working routine. He always started his day's work at Heathrow cab rank - where, if he was lucky, he would get a London fare. On his way to the airport the weather suddenly changed - the sun came out and the rain stopped - it was going to be a nice day after all. 'Too late to change plans now' thought Harry ruefully, little knowing how memorable this day would turn out to be.

When he got to the front of the rank Harry's fare turned out to be a well-dressed, grey haired, lady with a strong American accent and a major problem - she wasn't quite sure where she wanted to go! She explained her predicament: Her father had been an American Airman stationed in Wethersfield and she had never forgotten her early years in Essex. Now that her family was grown and she had no ties, she wanted to take the opportunity to return and renew her childhood memories. Would Harry help her? Of course he agreed. An all-day, long distance job was a far better bet than battling through London traffic jams.

On the journey Harry learned that his passenger came from Colorado, was called Janice, and had been recently widowed. She explained that, although she hadn't got the exact address of the cottage, she felt sure that once they were there she would be able to locate the property. Although he had heard this story once or twice before, Harry could only take her there and hope that, this time, the customer knew best!

Harry had been to this part of Essex before and, after a pleasant drive, with Janice talking to him about the Essex countryside, it seemed no time before they passed the Wethersfield sign. When he glanced in his mirror though he could see from Janice's face there was a problem! She was obviously amazed by the changes that had occurred. What she remembered as a small hamlet - just a few shops and a pub - was now a thriving village with a new housing estate, school, restaurants and shops. She was upset and embarrassed, confessing to being completely overwhelmed and not having the faintest idea where to start looking!

Harry and Janice trudged the streets trying to find anyone who could give them a clue as to where the US Airmen had been billeted, but to no avail. A few hours later, after trying everywhere they could think of, a defeated and despondent Janice had to admit she felt it was a hopeless task. Together they decided to have a final drink in the local pub before making their way back to London to book into her hotel. Janice tried to hid her disappointment by putting on a brave face but Harry could see how upset she really was. He had enjoyed his day with her and only wished he could have been of more help.

Sitting at the bar Janice struck up a conversation with the barman and related the tale of her fruitless search. Overhearing them, the man sitting on the stool next to her said he thought he might be able to help. To her astonishment he said the not only knew where the Airmen had been billeted, he actually lived in one of the cottages. He went on to explain how his father had purchased the cottage just after the war and when his father died it had been left to him. Janice couldn't believe it - it had to be a mistake - however when he offered to take them to see his home she leapt at the chance.

The three of them set off on foot as the cottages were unbelievably only fifteen minutes walk from the High Road, at the back of the new housing estate. Walking through the roads of modern houses Janice was convinced this was going to be a waste of time - everything looked so new. It was only when she reached the end of the road and spotted the row of much older properties that a sense of familiarity enveloped her. THIS WAS the road she was looking for! Excitedly she hurried along looking at each and every property. One or two were exactly as she remembered them but others had been modernised beyond recognition. When she arrived at her old home she was delighted to see it remained just as she remembered it. She started fumbling in her bag, frantically searching for her camera - she had to have evidence to take back home to show her family. It was only then se realised her guide, the man she met in the pub, was opening the front door to the house - HER HOUSE. She could not believe it - to meet the owner of the very house she was looking for seemed too much of a coincidence.

Being shown over the house was a very emotional and almost dreamlike experience for Janice. Very little had been changed. The tiny bedroom she used to have, the old kitchen - still with its Butler sink, and the huge garden she remembered so well. She went from room to room - each one having its own memories - taking in every detail. She had been so happy here.

When at last it was time to go and she was thanking the house owner for his hospitality, he asked her to wait a moment - he thought he might have something that once belonged to her! Janice was mystified. On his return he placed a small brass aeroplane in her hand and asked if she recognised it. She could not believe it. She could still picture her father, looking so smart in his uniform, giving it to her. She also remembered how upset she had been when it went missing and how her mother had helped her search for it. After all these years the mystery had been solved - it had been unearthed in the flower bed!

At the end of a very special day a fulfilled Janice, still clutching her brass aeroplane, and with a host of memories she was itching to tell her grandchildren about, was driven back to London by a very contented and well-rewarded cabbie.

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