#52 – odyssey of agony

They were in a smothering, gray vacuum that made it impossible to see anything. At any instant they could
bump into a guard, a dog or one of the land mines. Jamie forced all this out of his mind. Their progress was
painfully slow. Both men were shirtless, and the sand scraped against their stomachs as they inched
forward. Jamie was aware of how overwhelming the odds were against them. Even if by some chance they
did succeed in crossing the desert without getting shot or blown up, they would be confronted by the barbed-
wire fence and the armed guards at the watchtower at the entrance. And there was no telling how long the
mis would last. It could lift at any second, exposing them.
They kept crawling, mindlessly sliding forward until they lost all track of time. The inches became feet, and
the feet became yards, and the yards became miles. They had no idea how long they had been traveling.
They were forced to keep their heads close to the ground, and their eyes and ears and noses became filled
with sand. Breathing was an effort.
In the distance was the constant echo of the guards’ voices. “Kruger… Brent… Kruger… Brent…”
The two men stopped to rest and check the compass every few minutes, then moved on, beginning their
endless crawl again. There was an almost overwhelming temptation to move faster, but that would mean
pressing down harder, and Jamie could visualize the metal fragments exploding under him and ripping into
his belly. He kept the pace slow. From time to time they could hear other voices around them, but the words
were muffled
by the fog and it was impossible to tell where they were coming from. It’s a big desert, Jamie thought
hopefully. We’re not going to stumble into anyone.
Out of nowhere, a large, furry shape leaped at him. It happened so swiftly that Jamie was caught off guard.
He felt the huge Alsatian’s teeth sinking into his arm. He dropped the bundle of diamonds and tried to pry
open the dog’s jaw, but he had only one free hand and it was impossible. He felt the warm blood running
down his arm. The dog was sinking its teeth in harder now, silent and deadly. Jamie felt himself begin to
faint. He heard a dull thud, and then another, and the dog’s jaw loosened and its eyes glazed over. Through
the mist of pain, Jamie saw Banda smashing the sack of diamonds against the dog’s skull. The dog
whimpered once and lay still.
“You all right?” Banda breathed anxiously.
Jamie could not speak. He lay there, waiting for the waves of pain to recede. Banda ripped off a piece of his
trousers and tied a strip tightly around Jamie’s arm to stop the bleeding.
“We’ve got to keep moving,” Banda warned. “If there’s one of them around, there are more.”
Jamie nodded. Slowly he slid his body forward, fighting against the terrible throbbing in his arm.
He remembered nothing of the rest of the trek. He was semiconscious, an automaton. Something outside
him directed his movements. Arms forward, pull… Arms forward, pull… Arms forward, pull… It was endless,
an odyssey of agony. It was Banda who followed the compass now, and when Jamie started to crawl in the
wrong direction Banda gently turned him around. They were surrounded by guards and dogs and land mines
and only the mis kept them safe. They kept moving, crawling for their lives, until the time came when neither
man had the strength to move another inch.
They slept.


Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust

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