It’s Saturday lunch time 4 March 1978 and I walk alone down Jamison Avenue, Salisbury, Rhodesia. The street is strangely deserted, not a vehicle or soul in sight. Tall skyscrapers flank my left with the duel carriageway to my right. The weather is perfect with the fresh, clean smell of an early autumn breeze, and overhead the vast iceberg-blue sky domes across the city.
I’m late and lengthen my stride, feeling the insignificance of my puny effort against the tall buildings and infinite space. The Avenue feels post apocalyptic in its emptiness, and with suppressed apprehension, I wonder where everyone is.
The boom and percussion ripples through the air the paving under my feet. Pressure batters my ears and I can’t get a breath into my lungs as terror clamps my chest. My blood stills as I halt in mid step, balanced on the strung wire of flight or fight.
Is that a bomb? My senses scream with shock. I don’t know what the noise is. I don’t know from which direction it came. I just know it’s big and very loud. It sounds like a bomb but I tell myself it can’t be terrorists don’t fly aeroplanes. Perhaps they are mortars. My brain spins with questions I can’t answer. Are there more to come, will they drop from the sky, where did that one land, should I hide, should I take cover? I remember my Mum telling us stories of bombs falling in the Blitz. She said they made a wailing noise as they fell. I heard nothing like that.
There is no further noise and the street is silent. It can’t be a bomb. I feel embarrassed by my panic and continue walking. I’m in Salisbury I tell myself, the war and its terrorists are in the bush not in the centre of the capital city. It must have been something else. But where is everyone?
I hurry on, turning into First Street and it too is deserted. My suppressed dread slips and I clamp down on it hard. Something’s happening I don’t know what, but I press on to Baker Avenue and turn right, crossing the road to the Winsor Hotel. The Blue Room door is locked. I don’t understand it and feel scared. They don’t lock the pub until closing time and it’s too early.
I stand looking at it with dismay, hoping something will tell me what I should do. As I stare, it opens.
A man with a big drooping moustache and beer in hand says, ‘what are you doing out there? Come in quickly.’
I walk through the half-opened door bemused. The bar is packed with people standing shoulder to shoulder. There’s little room to lift an elbow or carry a beer glass to your mouth. It’s heaving with noise, laughter and desperate drinking.
I stand crushed against the wall as the man locks the door. Then he looks down at me and smiles. ‘Can I buy you a drink?’
I shake my head and say, ‘I’m meeting my husband.’
‘Oh,’ he looks disappointed but says, ‘what’s his name.’
I tell him and he shouts it out, but only the people near us stop and look. The bar is too noisy. The people near me bunch-up to let me through. I squeeze passed until I find my passage blocked by the back of a uniformed soldier talking to his mates.
‘Excuse me,’ I say but he doesn’t hear.
I tug his shirt to let him know I’m there and he turns. His face breaks into a grin, and his great arm shoots out to encircle my waist. ‘Oh baby.’
I laugh and push him away. He begs me to stay. I shake my head and he lets me go. I jostle my way through his friends and push through the crowd to the bar. My husband leans elbows on the counter one foot raised resting on the brass foot rail. He’s with his friend from the same Police Anti Terrorist Unit or PATU Stick and his friend’s girlfriend. He sees me pushing through the crowd.
‘Ah you found us,’ he says. ‘I thought you might not make it.’
‘Ja, but why’s the door closed?’ I say.
‘Cops came and said to stay inside and keep the door locked.’ He turns to order me a drink from the barman.
‘There was a big noise like an explosion,’ I say.
‘Yep bombs, we heard.’
‘And there’s no one outside on the streets.’
‘Ja. Cops cleared the streets. The city’s a no go zone. Don’t know how you got here. No one’s can leave the buildings and no one’s allowed in or out until they give us the all clear.’
‘Oh.’ My drink arrives and I take a sip. ‘Where?’
‘Not sure. Several places I think. That last one was close. They reckon at the main post office down the block.’
The pub stays open long after closing time. We aren’t allowed to leave until the police tell us it’s safe. When they call time, people tumble out weaving down the road, heading to the next open venue to carry on their Saturday afternoon revelry, usually at a place with a live band.
We are meeting friends at the pub in Greendale, a suburb nine kilometres from the city centre. When we arrive, police officers stand around, their vehicle lights flashing. They have cordoned off the Post Office. The pub is behind the post office and we need to pass. My husband speaks to a policeman and he waves us through the cordon.
As we drive passed I see the damage, the blackened and jagged masonry and scattered shards of red pillar box where terrorists posted yet another bomb to another post office. I feel a bit scared and wonder how many more bombs will go off.
In the bar, we see our friends. More drinks are ordered and my husband goes to join a game of darts. Fear of bombs in post offices fades. I have better things to do and talk about with my friends. By the time we leave its dark, the police have gone, and in the gloom, I can’t see any evidence of terror.