#71 – perspiration

At two a.m. they met at the warehouse. There was an eagerness in both of them, and an
unspoken fear. They were embarking on a journey that would either make them rich or
bring them death. There was no middle way.
“It’s time,” Jamie anounced.
They stepped outside. Nothing was stirring. The night was still and peaceful, with a vast
canopy of blue overhead. A sliver of moon appeared high in the sky. Good, Jamie thought.
There won’t be much light to see us by. Their timetable was complicated by the fact that
they had to leave the village at night so no one would be aware of their departure, and
arrive at the diamond beach the next night so they could slip into the field and be safely
back at sea before dawn.
“The Benguela current should carry us to the diamond fields sometime in the late
afternoon,” Jamie said. “But we can’t go in by daylight. We’ll have to stay out of sight at
sea until dark.”
Banda nodded. “We can hide out at one of the little islands off the coast.”
“What islands?”
“There are dozens of them—Mercury, Ichabod, Plum Pudding .. .”
Jamie gave him a strange look. “Plum Pudding?”
“There’s also a Roast Beef Island.”
Jamie took out his creased map and consulted it. “This doesn’t show any of those.”
‘They’re guano islands. The British harvest the bird droppings for fertilizer.”
“Anyone live on those islands?”
“Can’t. The smell’s too bad. In places the guano is a hundred feet thick. The government
uses gangs of deserters and prisoners to pick it up. Some of them die on the island and
they just leave the bodies there.”
“That’s where we’ll hide out,” Jamie decided.
Working quietly, the two men slid open the door to the warehouse and started to lift the
raft. It was too heavy to move. They sweated and tugged, but in vain.
“Wait here,” Banda said. He hurried out. Half an hour later, he returned with a large,
round log. “We’ll use this. I’ll pick up one end and you slide the log underneath.”
Jamie marveled at Banda’s strength as the black man picked up one end of the raft.
Quickly, Jamie shoved the log under it Together they lifted the back end of the raft and it
moved easily down the log. When the log had rolled out from under the back end, they
repeated the procedure. It was strenuous work, and by the time they got to the beach they
were both soaked in perspiration. The operation had taken much longer than Jamie had
anticipated. It was almost dawn now. They had to be away before the villagers discovered
them and reported what they were doing. Quickly, Jamie attached the sail and checked to
make sure everything was working properly. He had a nagging feeling he was forgetting
something. He suddenly realized what was bothering him and laughed aloud.
Banda watched him, puzzled. “Something funny?”
“Before, when I went looking for diamonds I had a ton of equipment. Now, all I’m carrying
is a compass. It seems too easy.”
Banda said quietly, “I don’t think that’s going to be our problem, Mr. McGregor.”
“It’s time you called me Jamie.”
Banda shook his head in wonder. “You really come from a faraway country.” He grinned,
showing even white teeth. “What the hell—they can hang me only once.” He tasted the
name on his lips, then said it aloud. “Jamie.”
“Let’s go get those diamonds.”
They pushed the raft off the sand into the shallow water and both men leaped aboard
and started paddling. It took them a few minutes to get adjusted to the pitching and yawing
of their strange craft. It was like riding a bobbing cork, but it was going to work. The raft
was responding perfectly, moving north with the swift current. Jamie raised the sail and
headed out to sea. By the time the villagers awoke, the raft was well over the horizon.
“We’ve done it!” Jamie said.
Banda shook his head. “It’s not over yet.” He trailed a hand in the cold Benguela current.
“It’s just beginning.”
They sailed on, due north past Alexander Bay and the mouth of the Orange River,
seeing no signs of life except for flocks of Cape cormorants heading home, and a flight of
colorful greater flamingos. Although there were tins of beef and cold rice, and fruit and two
canteens of water aboard, they were too nervous to eat. Jamie refused to let his
imagination linger on the dangers that lay ahead, but Banda could not help it. He had been
there. He was remembering the brutal guards with guns and the dogs and the terrible
flesh-tearing land mines, and he wondered how he had ever allowed himself to be talked
into this insane venture. He looked over at the Scotsman and thought, He is the bigger
fool. If I die, I die for my baby sister. What does he die for?
At noon the sharks came. There were half a dozen of them, their fins cutting through the
water as they sped toward the raft.
“Black-fin sharks,” Banda announced. “They’re man-eaters.”
Jamie watched the fins skimming closer to the raft. “What do we do?”
Banda swallowed nervously. ‘Truthfully, Jamie, this is my very first experience of this
The back of a shark nudged the raft, and it almost capsized. The two men grabbed the
mast for support. Jamie picked up a paddle and shoved it at a shark, and an instant later
the paddle was bitten in two. The sharks surrounded the raft now, swimming in lazy
circles, their enormous bodies rubbing up close against the small craft. Each nudge tilted
the raft at a precarious angle. It was going to capsize at any moment.
“We’ve got to get rid of them before they sink us.”
“Get rid of them with what?” Banda asked.
“Hand me a tin of beef.”
“You must be joking. A tin of beef won’t satisfy them. They want us!”
There was another jolt, and the raft heeled over.
“The beef!” Jamie yelled. “Get it!”
A second later Banda placed a tin in Jamie’s hand. The raft lurched sickeningly.
“Open it halfway. Hurry!”
Banda pulled out his pocketknife and pried the top of the can half open. Jamie took it
from him. He felt the sharp, broken edges of the metal with his finger.
“Hold tight'” Jamie warned.


Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. Kurian says:

    Nice narration and use of caption ‘perspiration’
    And the best is British harvesting bird dropping for fertiliser!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Bhagyashri says:

      Thanks for sharing the thoughts :-)..

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Kurian says:

        You are welcome and thanks

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Bhagyashri says:

      Thanks 🙂 hope u doing good 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. da-AL says:

        you as well — fortunately, I am 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Bhagyashri says:

        I do!.. thank you…:-)

        Liked by 1 person

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