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Rough Diamond-a short story from the South Africa Diamond Fields - chapter 1
Rough Diamond –a Short Story from the Kimberly Diamond Diggings.
As Susan walked down the dusty road towards the Longlands off-sales, the dark brown mud house on her left caught her eye. It looked like something from another age and yet it was well kept and neat. The tightly closed windows with no curtains indicated that it was no longer in use. She made a mental note to ask someone about it. At the moment however, there were more important questions on her mind.
Approaching the rather derelict off-sales with, “Licensed to Jan Lombard”, displayed clearly above the door, she heard the laughter of children. In a side street next to the bottle store, a group of children were playing a game with flat stones. A game she was not familiar with. Her world in the Eastern Cape town of Port Alfred seemed far removed in distance and culture from this area in the diamond diggings on the edge of the Kalahari.
She tasted the dust and salt on her lips as a big drop of sweat ran down her forehead before making a detour across her mouth and chin on its way to the ground. The dry ground which had not felt any moisture for a long time, accepted it gratefully.
The fly-screen door creaked in protest as she pushed it open and it closed with a bang as she entered the store. On the wall was a poster advertising Jamaican Rum and another promoting a Castle Lager competition that was way past its sell by date. Behind the counter lounged a young man, or perhaps he was still just a boy, staring at her with a slightly puzzled look on his freckled face. She was not one of his usual customers and she could see his mind asking the question, “Who in the world is this attractive, 20 something young blond lady who has just walked through the door carrying a rather large backpack?”
Longlands is not on the tourist map; in fact it is hardly on any map, unless you are searching for a diamond claim in the municipal offices in Kimberly. The road stops here as it gets to the Vaal River and the few shanty houses behind the Bottle Store do not qualify as a settlement, except in the lives of the couple of families who work for the owners of claims in the area.
“Hello, how can I help you?” She was surprised by his voice that seemed more mature than she had expected. “Ja, maybe - I hope so”, she replied, immediately embarrassed that she had said “Ja” instead of the more correct, “Yes”, but then shrugged it off in her mind. “Do you know where I can find Jacque van Zyl? I think he is in this area.” The evidence that had brought her here was so thin that she really expected a negative answer.
To her amazement his answer was promising, and she felt her heart leap with hope. “Why do you want to find him?” “He is a friend”, she lied, “and I would really like to see him again”, she continued her counterfeit. “Well I have not seen him for a week or so, but until then he had been working a couple of claims down the river”. “Let me show you his place when I close the store in an hour or so”, he volunteered surprisingly and very kindly. “Perhaps Piet Swart can help you”. “Who is Piet Swart?” she enquired. “His worker on the claim”, came the answer. “Thanks”, she replied gratefully. “Can I have a cold Savannah Dry?” she asked and then took the cold drink outside to wait for closing time. She had declined his offer to sit on the bench against one of the walls because right now she needed to be alone to clear her mind and her racing heart.
The only place that looked as if it had a bit of shade was a rather sorry looking thorn tree across the road. Resting her back pack against the trunk of the tree, she in turn leant against the pack, sitting on the thin blue foam mattress she had unstrapped from its place next to her sleeping bag. Her mind was in turmoil; she had not expected it to be so easy when she climbed on the bus that took her from Port Alfred; first to Port Elizabeth, then Bloemfontein and then on to Kimberly. At the same time doubt kept clouding her hope, because why had this man she was coming to find seemingly disappeared? He had disappeared once before, and that was exactly 18 years ago.
The idea of this journey had started shortly after the money draft arrived at the Post Office in Port Alfred. She had just completed her degree in Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Port Elizabeth and had begun to look for a post in the newspapers. Work in any area in the Easter Cape seemed difficult to find. She would need to search wider and also contact some of the people she had met during her studies, once her final results came out.
Her Mom, who had worked so hard to put her through school and then university, wanted to have nothing to do with the money that arrived so unexpectedly in the post. Anger and resentment still burnt strong in her heart, even after all these years. She had been devastated when her husband Jacque had simply walked out of their lives. The feelings of confusion, anger, helplessness and resentment still lingered like a slow burning flame in her soul. Susan however, could not feel that same anger. Although she could hardly remember her father because she had been so young when he left, she against all logic yearned to meet him again. There were questions she needed answers to and no one else could answer them. When she had confided this to her mother, she was not exactly encouraged to take the money that had suddenly arrived out of the blue and to go and look for him. At the same time her Mom knew that if she set her heart on something it was pretty useless trying to stop her. Her Mom wanted nothing to do with the money and so it went directly into Susan's bank account.
When she boarded the bus in Port Alfred they had hugged and the tears had flowed freely down their cheeks. The bank card with the extra R 4000 in it was safely stored in the inside of her back pack. Now she sat here under a tree in the remote diamond field area of South Africa. The envelope bearing the post mark, “Longlands”, had been the only clue to follow. “Could it have been so easy?” she thought as her new friend Danie came through the door across the road and began to lock the security gate that would, hopefully, keep any thirsty souls with no money, out of the off sales for the night.