Drip, drip, drip.
Michael stared at the peeling paint of the ceiling. The dripping tap the only sound not quelled by the midday heat. The surrounding bush was silent, wildlife sheltering in any available shade from the merciless glare of the sun.
She lay on her side, head on his chest, long beaded braids of black hair cascading across his chest. Her right arm lay limp across his belly. His arm held her to him, behind her back, hand resting on her full, firm buttock. His fingers slowly stroked the smooth dark brown skin of her ass.
He felt the need to wash, their recent exertion had left her asleep in his arms and him feeling the need to cleanse himself. He was also in need of a pee, but he didn’t want to disturb her, to break the divine magic of this moment.
Drip, drip, drip.
The damn tap wasn’t helping.
Drip, drip, drip.
The room began to slip into darkness. What? It couldn’t be that time already … then reality took him and the dream slipped out of his grasp, the damp darkness of the mine gallery had hold of him and the clammy fingers of despair held him again.
Drip, drip, drip water seeped unseen through the roof of the section of the gallery which they had called home for two days and hit the damp floor.
“Sir, are you awake?” asked Michael quietly.
“You tell me, and stop calling me Sir. My name is Peter” replied a voice from the dark. “Anyway, it’s bladdy difficult to sleep with half of Zambia on your leg.”
Michael turned on his helmet light, illuminating the prone Peter. Since the roof collapsed it had become clear that Peter’s left leg was trapped, covered, but unharmed, whereas the thigh and calf of his right were pinned. Michael scrambled across the loose rock on the floor of the gallery and examined Peter’s exposed right foot, it was blue-black and cold to the touch. Michael was sure he could detect a smell beginning to emanate from the leg.
“It’s looking OK … ” Began Michael.
Peter squinted back at him, blinded by the sudden illumination, “Oh, give it a rest mun. I haven’t been able to feel it for … ” He raised his watch into the light, ” … 36 hours now.” Peter paused for a moment, “But thanks for trying to cheer me up.” He settled his head back onto the rolled up bundle of sacks under his head. “So, finish telling me about her.”
“Not much more to tell, anyway I need to piss, hang on.” Michael knelt in the furthest corner of the galley, turned off his helmet light and a few seconds later filled the gallery with the sound of his splashing urine. He felt his way back to his own nest of sacking.
“I last saw her about a year ago. She was working on the east side of town, I didn’t approve of the job she took.”
“So she was a hooker, you didn’t mention that”
“She was no bloody hooker!” retorted Michael angrily, “That’s why I didn’t like the job she took, she was working in that bar, in that part of town and everyone thought she was a hooker. They’d treat her like one, offer her money. She said she could handle them, but no woman of mine puts herself in a place like that.”
“But she’s not YOUR woman now. And anyway, if you objected why didn’t you tell her to stop?” Asked Peter.
“On my wages? I’m a miner not a damn supervisor.” He spat out the word, filled it with contempt for the over-paid, self important bastards who lived in the air-conditioned houses outside the run-down dormitory town that the real workers inhabited. “We needed the money.”
“I tried to make her get another job, but she told me I didn’t trust her and we split up. I ended up sharing a room with six other guys. Her sister told me she got friendly with the bar owner and after that I didn’t ask about her any more. Her sister said they were going to get a big house and get married, all in three months …”. Michael sucked his teeth in disgust.
“Thanks, but that’s history now.”
“Well the present isn’t too fucking great is it. Stuck in a collapsed gallery 250 metres below ground with a bladdy supervisor.” He added with an unseen smile, “And a South African supervisor at that.”
“Are you calling me a bigot?”
“Oh come on laughed Peter. I know what the guys on the faces think of us. Overpaid, lazy bastards. Am I right?”
“Too bloody right. But you’re OK. If you hadn’t pushed me out of the way when the charges were detonated I’d have been under there not you. It should have been me under there.”
“So why were you here? The gallery had been cleared ready for blasting.”
“I saw something.”
“You saw something? … Let me guess, you spotted a diamond in the spoil?”
“A big one, as big as your fist. I saw it when I was loading one of the ore trucks, I hid it behind the roof support. I was collecting it when you arrived …”
“So how were you going to get it out of the mine? You know what the security’s like and what they do to the ones they catch.”
“There are ways.”
“I’m sure there are. Look we should rest. I know there’s air getting in here from somewhere, but it’s starting to smell a little stale, it’ll stay fresher longer if we rest and don’t talk.”
“OK” Agreed Michael. “We might hear the rescue team too eh?”
The complete darkness of the mine gave way to the cloudy grey prelude to a dream. Michael welcomed its coming, a sanctuary from the dark, damp deadly reality that his corporeal body now inhabited.
It was almost midnight in the east of the town. Michael was walking home after a night at the bar. He was drunk, sober enough to walk, but drunk enough not to care that his shift started in four hours and the blackest pit of Hades would be his workplace for the best part of the following day.
The sound of music from the bars began to recede into the distance as he walked toward his rented, shared room. It was still loud enough to mask the commotion in the next street, which is how he stumbled into the middle of the standoff.
She was literally backed against a wall, two muscular miners looming over her. Her dress was torn, eyes wide, not with fear but with anger. She waited until one of the pair came within arms reach then lashed out, nails biting into the skin of his face. He cried out, shouting at her, “Bitch!”, “Whore!”.
They both lunged at her, she screamed, kicked and punched as they wrestled her to the ground. Michael ran towards the pile of arms and legs, grabbing one of the miners and throwing him to one side. As he grabbed the second Michael felt an arm around his neck, pulling him viciously backward. A well aimed elbow to the solar plexus left his unseen attacker on the floor gasping for breath.
As he took hold of the second man the girl’s knee dealt a swift blow to the man’s groin. Michael dragged him away from the girl, where he lay on the ground, doubled up, vomiting from the burning pain in his testes.
Michael stepped backwards and felt the first assailant’s hand grasp his left ankle. He brought his right foot down hard across the man’s forearm, feeling a sharp crack followed by a howling scream from the arm’s owner.
Before her attackers could recover and take up the pursuit, Michael scooped up the girl and carried her the three streets to the communal kitchen of his rented room.
Image: Oppenheimer diamond, Smithsonian Institute.