#22 – the journey

Banda turned and looked him in the eye, then silently walked away. Jamie unhitched the
reins and said to the mule, “Let’s go, partner. It’s mooi klippe time.”
They headed north.
Jamie pitched camp near a stream at nightfall, unloaded and watered and fed the mule,
and fixed himself some beef jerky, dried apricots and coffee. The night was filled with
strange noises. He heard the grunts and howls and padding of wild animals moving down
to the water. He was unprotected, surrounded by the most dangerous beasts in the world,
in a strange, primitive country. He jumped at every sound. At any moment he expected to
be attacked by fangs and claws leaping at him from out of the darkness. His mind began to
drift. He thought of his snug bed at home and the comfort and safety he had always taken
for granted. He slept fitfully, his dreams filled with charging lions and elephants, and large,
bearded men trying to take an enormous diamond away from him.
At dawn when Jamie awakened, the mule was dead.
He could not believe it. He looked for a wound of some kind, thinking it must have been
attacked by a wild animal during the night, but there was nothing. The beast had died in its
sleep. Mr. van der Merwe will hold me responsible for this, Jamie thought. But when I bring
him diamonds, it won’t matter.
There was no turning back. He would go on to Magerdam without the mule. He heard a
sound in the air and looked up. Giant black vultures were beginning to circle high above.
Jamie shuddered. Working as quickly as possible, he rearranged his gear, deciding what
he had to leave behind, then stowed everything he could carry into a backpack and started
off. When he looked back five minutes later, the enormous vultures had covered the body
of the dead animal. All that was visible was one long ear. Jamie quickened his step.
It was December, summer in South Africa, and the trek across the veld under the huge
orange sun was a horror. Jamie had started out from Klipdrift with a brisk step and a light
heart, but as the minutes turned into hours and the hours into days, his steps got slower
and his heart became heavier. As far as the eye could see, the monotonous veld
shimmered fiat and forbidding
under the blazing sun and there seemed no end to the gray, atony, desolate plains.
Jamie made camp whenever he came to a watering hole, and
he slept with the eerie, nocturnal sounds of the animals all
around him. The sounds no longer bothered him. They were
proof that there was life in this barren hell, and they made him
feel less lonely. One dawn Jamie came across a pride of lions.
Be watched from a distance as the lioness moved toward her
mate and their cubs, carrying a baby impala in her powerful
jaws. She dropped the animal in front of the male and moved
away while he fed. A reckless cub leaped forward and dug his
teeth into the impala. With one motion, the male raised a paw
and swiped the cub across the face, killing it instantly, then went
back to his feeding. When he finished, the rest of the family was
permitted to move in for the remains of the feast. Jamie slowly
backed away from the scene and continued walking.


Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust

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