#41 – Land mine attraction

On the following Monday Jamie went into a cartographer’s shop and bought a map of
Great Namaqualand. There was the beach, off the South Atlantic Ocean between Luderitz
to the north and the Orange River Estuary to the south. The area was marked in red:
Jamie examined every detail of the area on the map, going over it again and again.
There were three thousand miles of ocean flowing from South America to South Africa,
with nothing to impede the waves, so that their full fury was spent on the deadly reefs of
the South Atlantic shore. Forty miles south, down the coastline, was an open beach. That
must be where the poor bastards launched their boats to sail into the forbidden area,
Jamie decided. Looking at the map, he could understand why the shore was not guarded.
The reefs would make a landing im-possible.
Jamie turned his attention to the land entrance to the diamond field. According to Banda,
the area was fenced in with barbed wire and patrolled twenty-four hours a day by armed
guards. At the entrance itself was a manned watchtower. And
even if one did somehow manage to slip past the watch-tower into the diamond area,
there would be the land mines and guard dogs.
The following day when Jamie met Banda, he asked, “You said there was a land-mine
map of the field?”
“In the Namib Desert? The supervisors have the maps, and they lead the diggers to
work. Everybody walks in a single file so no one gets blown up.” His eyes filled with a
memory. “One day my uncle was walking in front of me and he stumbled on a rock and fell
on top of a land mine. There wasn’t enough left of him to take home to his family.”
Jamie shuddered.
“And then there’s the sea mis, Mr. McGregor. You’ve never seen a mis until you’ve been
in one in the Namib. It rolls in from the ocean and blows all the way across the desert to
the mountains and it blots out everything. If you’re caught in one of them, you don’t dare
move. The land-mine maps are no good then because you can’t see where you’re going.
Everybody just sits quietly until the mis lifts.”
“How long do they last?”
Banda shrugged. “Sometimes a few hours, sometimes a few days.”
“Banda, have you ever seen a map of those land mines?” “They’re closely guarded.” A
worried look crossed his face. “I’m telling you again, no one can get away with what you’re
thinking. Once in a while workers will try to smuggle out a diamond. There is a special tree
for hanging them. It’s a lesson to everybody not to try to steal from the company.”
The whole thing looked impossible. Even if he could manage to get into Van der Merwe’s
diamond field, there was no way out. Banda was right. He would have to forget about it.
The next day he asked Banda, “How does Van der Merwe keep the workers from
stealing diamonds when they come off their shifts?”
“They’re searched. They strip them down mother-naked and then they look up and down
every hole they’ve got. I’ve seen
workers cut gashes in their legs and try to smuggle diamonds out in them. Some drill out
their back teeth and stick diamonds up there. They’ve tried every trick you can think of” He
looked at Jamie and said, “If you want to live, you’ll get that diamond field off your mind.”
Jamie tried. But the idea kept coming back to him, taunting him. Van der Merwe’s
diamonds just lying on the sand waiting. Waiting for him.


Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust

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