One evening, in 1969, Dinis was at Café Suiça with his friends, and the group somehow started chatting with the two men who were sitting at an adjacent table. In the middle of the discussion one of the men turned to Dinis. He said, “You came to Lourenço Marques on the Pátria, didn’t you?” Dinis froze. “You came on the 13th of March 1965?” Yes. “You came with two friends?” Yes. It was clear that, despite all that he knew, the man hadn’t been on the ship with Dinis. The conversation fell back into place, and some time later the two men left.
In Portugal I’ve spent a lot of time in the archives of PIDE, the Portuguese secret police. These are the only secret police files I’m familiar with, and one of the things that stands out is all the official politesse you find on the thin, translucent pages. “Your Highest Excellence,” writes an agent to his director. “I come to you with the honor of informing Your Excellence…” that somebody was visited at his home by somebody. Someone’s father was a communist. Someone ought not get a passport. And always in closing: “A Bem da Nação.” To the Good of the Nation. The ranks of PIDE were filled with unschooled thugs who were nonetheless remarkably effective within a state bureaucracy that often wasn’t. One gets the impression that the typing of memos in triplicate was more a pleasure than a chore. The documents are full of color–red typeface and purple and green and blue stamps.
Dinis never knowingly came across the secret police again, and he never learned which one of his friends might have been the reason PIDE, or merely some informants working for PIDE, chose to give Dinis a fright. Dinis was no subversive. At the time he didn’t know what communism was, or fascism, or dictatorship. Maybe the cafe episode was just a couple of agents playing games.
After two years in the cantinas of Chamanculo, Dinis had finally moved to town. He hadn’t realized just how easy it was for a young white man to find a decent job in Lourenço Marques. If you didn’t like your job, you just quit and got another. He started working at a pastry shop, but it didn’t last long. “Working in a cantina out in Chamanculo, you were essentially black. Then you go to a pastry shop in Alto Maé, where all your customers were European. I was a little intimidated, a little ashamed. It was not my world. But I wanted it to be my world.”
He quit, but a few days later he had a job at an appliance store. He quit that job, too, after a tiff with the manager, but a day later the owner begged him to work for him in another business. He eventually learned the art of writing neat letters and figures then so necessary for bookkeeping. He never made much money, and some eighty percent of his income went to rent at a boarding house. But with food and shelter covered, he had just enough left over for the cinema, alcohol, brothels, and for regular payments on a motorbike.
In 1970, when Dinis was 20, he was drafted into the army. He scored well enough on the tests to get duty manning radio posts. This meant several years at quiet stations not far from the city, about 1000 miles from combat. He got in a lot of guitar practice, and he even had time to go to night school. But after three years in he was deployed to a base in Mueda, in the far north of Mozambique, the very heart of guerrilla activity.
The base in Mueda came under frequent mortar fire. After one particularly fierce bombardment, in January 1974, Dinis emerged from his shelter to find a large hole in the wall of the radio room and the consoles covered in debris. Despite the mess, the equipment had somehow survived intact. Dinis’s supervisor picked up a rock, ordered Dinis and the other operator to do the same, and they proceeded to finish the job. For the remaining three months of Dinis’s service, he didn’t have a radio to operate.
In April, Dinis flew back to Lourenço Marques as a civilian. The next day, April 25, he picked up the afternoon paper to find that a group of radical young officers had that morning rolled tanks into Lisbon and overthrown the dictatorship that had ruled Portugal and its colonies for almost 50 years.
(To be continued.)
More photos of Dinis’s army days: