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Encounter With a Foot Mine Watson Works Blog 29

Encounter With a Foot Mine Watson Works Blog 29

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Published by James Watson
No. 9 in a series of literary encounters, selected by the author from his novels for Young Adults; plus regular Blog features including a review of Don McCullin's war photography at London's Imperial War Museum and the curious letters of Ned Baslow to celebrities such as Harold Godwinson, Homer & Nebuchadnesar.
No. 9 in a series of literary encounters, selected by the author from his novels for Young Adults; plus regular Blog features including a review of Don McCullin's war photography at London's Imperial War Museum and the curious letters of Ned Baslow to celebrities such as Harold Godwinson, Homer & Nebuchadnesar.

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Published by: James Watson on Feb 16, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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February 2012
 James Watson:
 A Writer’sNotebook 
Contents*Literary encounters (9)
Meeting with a foot-mine*Notes in Passing: ‘What a terrible way of earninga living’. Don McCullin at the Imperial War Museum*Poems of Place (6) French Lines*Correspondence: Dear Signore Giorgione
ENCOUNTERS (9) Meeting with a foot-mine
No Surrender
 , set during the Angolan civil war, Malenga is avolunteer at a medical centre in the bush; and she has also begun toteach in the local school. She is surrounded by dangers, but the worst lieunder foot.
Tomas possesses all the skills – trapping, dribbling, passing; and hecan shoot with either foot. That is why Malenga has two extraplayers on her side. She calls, ‘Pass it, Salu!’ Her six-year oldcentre-back attempts to speed the ball on its way by using both feetat once. Ball and player crash into the sand at the half-way line –between a string of washing, sun-scrubbed and dazzling, and theNew Medical Centre. ‘Okay, mine!’ The ball is with Malenga. She takes to the wing,overkicking a forward pass that threatens to run into the bush. Theshadows are emerald dark here, and the sand green with oncomingdusk.Tomas hurls out of his goal towards her. He collides with heroutstretched palm. ‘Foul – free kick.’  ‘For me, you mean?’ 
 ‘No, you fouled me, Sis.’  ‘Tell that to the referee.’  ‘We don’t have a referee.’  ‘Well then…’ They stand six paces apart, she tall, wide-shouldered, long-armed, in jeans cut to knee length, wearing aloose shirt of scarlet; he in khaki trousers too big for him, takenfrom a dead bandit by the river: Tomas of the Nine Lives.Tomas has no time for rules. ‘Okay, Sis – you try penalty.’ Hetakes up a crouching position between goalposts that also don’tconform to the rules one is his backpack (which containseverything he owns), the other is his hunting rifle.As Malenga wonders whether to slice her shot with theoutstep or curl it across goal with her instep, she is suddenly calledfor. From the fields beyond the village edge – an explosion. Theground quivers. One blast, everybody running. ‘Bandits!’ Malenga runs, then halts, uncertain. ‘Doctor Garcia – we mustfetch him.’ Brain and feet equally slow. Stupid. It’s shock. Tomashas retrieved his gun and back-pack. He comes towards MalengaNakale, trainee medic and schoolmarm. In English now, ‘We notdilly dally, Sis’.In the fields the women have been working the last hour of daylight. Now they converge upon a screaming. Until now there’sbeen singing, and the women’s voices have been answered by thetune of the cicadas and answered again deep in the bush by thefrog battalions along the river banks. ‘Ma-lenga! Ma-lenga!’ The crowd of women opens for her.Tomas checks her progress for an instant. His face is screwed up,one hand half-covering his eyes. ‘It’s Dédo!’ Stood on a mine.Salu’s sister; bright star of Malenga’s class.Beside a cluster of cedars, in their lengthening shadow,Déodora had been hoeing rich, red earth. Everyone knows – minesare to be expected: the last of the war. ‘Tomas – go get the Doctor. Salu – black bag, please, fromthe Centre – hurry!’ Malenga kneels in hot soil; red soil soaked withred. ‘Don’t let her look! Hold her head, and her hands. Good.Soothe her. Cool her.’ The women obey, all eyes on Dédo’s face,averted from her terrible injury.The girl’s left foot is a bloody pulp. ‘You stop bleeding, Sis,’ instructs Tomas. ‘I thought I told you…’ I fetch Garcia. Fast.’ She wishes she could do the racingaway, the plunging into the bush. She looks down at the leg,writhing.The foot’s severed. Stop the bleeding.
Malenga pictures Tomas go, sprinting down the slope from thevillage, down the burning yellow track which leads to the river,where Doctor Leon Garcia has gone – today of all days – to treat asick worker on the bridge project.She’s tugged off her shirt: red to red; places it over the leg,the stump. ‘Stretcher – we must get her to the centre. Dédo, listen.I’m doing what I can. You’ll be fine.’ Salu brings the medical case Garcia has been putting togetherfor Malenga, of worn black leather, wide-based with a tough steelclasp.Under the leg, fragments of mine. She scrapes them away.Treat for shock. In the past few weeks she’s watched over Garcia’sshoulder. ‘Your turn will come, Malenga.’  ‘I’m not ready.’  ‘You’ve the gift.’ But do I have the nerve? Dédo fights to sit up. Her face isstretched, swollen. Her scream is aimed at Malenga’s heart. ‘Keepher flat.’ From the medical case she takes a roll of cloth, strongerthan a bandage. Old Maria has hobbled up from the village. Thevery breath of her is a comfort. ‘See, Maria’s arrived. That’s goodnews.’ 
 As she has been taught to do by Dr. Garcia, Malenga applies a tourniquet.
Water has been brought. It is offered to Dédo, calm now,fading. ‘No drink. Doctor’s orders.’ Malenga works at the explodedleg, at the arteries. No to drink, no to antiseptic too. Not in a deepwound.…The tourniquet will have to be removed shortly. She is tyingoff. The stretcher has arrived. In the corner of her eye, a metallicglint. Salu is holding the leftovers of the mine.Malenga is up, stiff, swaying, steadied by Old Maria. For amoment in the turn of the light, the rectangle of steel held by Saluresembles one of those old catechisms hand-stitched and placedabove the bed. Salu traces the lettering with his fingers. He has justbegun to read.His catechism for the day shines clear and bronze in thefalling sun. In English, it says – FRONT TOWARD THE ENEMY.
In the story that follows, Malenga is taken captive by a squad of South African militia assisting Unita the rebel army of Angola. She meetsHamish, another captive, a young South African national serviceman, adeserter. Theirs becomes a journey of survival, friendship and love.

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