#23 – Nothing ahead?!

It took him almost two weeks to cross the Karroo. More than once he was ready to give
up. He was not sure he could finish the journey. I’m a fool. I should have returned to
Klipdrift to ask Mr. van der Merwe for another mule. But what if Van der Merwe had called
off the deal? No, I did the right thing.
And so, Jamie kept moving, one step at a time. One day, he saw four figures in the
distance, coming toward him. I’m delirious,
Jamie thought. It’s a mirage. But the figures came closer, and Jamie’s heart began
to thud alarmingly. Men! There is human life here! He wondered if he had forgotten how to
speak. He tried out his voice on the afternoon air, and it sounded as if it belonged to
someone long dead. The four men reached him, prospectors returning to Klipdrift, tired
and defeated.
“Hello,” Jamie said.
They nodded. One of them said, “There ain’t nothin’ ahead, boy. We looked. You’re
wastin’ your time. Go back.”
And they were gone.
Jamie shut his mind to everything but the trackless waste ahead of him. The sun and the
black flies were unbearable and there was no place to hide. There were thorn trees, but
branches had been laid waste by the elephants. Jamie was almost totally blinded by the
sun. His fair skin was burned raw, and he was constantly dizzy. Each time he took a
breath of air, his lungs seemed to explode. He was no longer walking, he was stumbling,
putting one foot in front of the other, mindlessly lurching ahead. One afternoon, with the
midday sun beating down on him, he slipped off his backpack and slumped to the ground,
too tired to take another step. He closed his eyes and dreamed he was in a giant crucible
and the sun was a huge, bright diamond blazing down on him, melting him. He awoke in
the middle of the night trembling from the cold. He forced himself to take a few bites of
biltong and a drink of tepid water. He knew he must get up and start moving before the sun
rose, while the earth and sky were cool. He tried, but the effort was too great. It would be
so easy just to lie there forever and never have to take another step. I’ll Just sleep for a
little while longer, Jamie thought. But some voice deep within him told him he would never
wake up again. They would find his body there as they had found hundreds of others. He
remembered the vultures and thought, No, not my body—my bones. Slowly and painfully,
he forced himself to his feet. His backpack was so heavy he could not lift it. Jamie started
walking again, dragging the pack behind him. He had no recollection of how many times
he fell onto the sand and staggered to his feet again. Once he screamed into the predawn
sky, “I’m Jamie McGregor, and I’m going to make it. I’m going to live. Do you hear me,
God? I’m going to live….” Voices were exploding in his head.
You’re goin’ chasin’ diamonds? You must be daft, son. That’s a fairy tale—a temptation of
the devil to keep men from doin’ an honest day’s work.
Why do you nae tell us where you’re gettin’ the money to go? It’s halfway ’round the
world. You hae no money.


Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust

Read More


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s