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Kingsley Ndiewo Every opportunity in life has a catch, Bend with wind don’t be stiff as starch, For your will find the fortune to match, If loss be found best to start from scratch. Gems are lovely and they glint with gold, Gems were sought since the days of old, Fine luck to fall upon a stash of stones, Don’t fall too deep lest bare your bones. The rain pounded down heavily. If there was anything I hated it was this crazy rain. It never rained at Paul's place, but then again, nothing unfortunate ever happened at Paul's place. I don’t know, maybe Paul’s place was just too much out of the way from the path of misfortune. They say fortune knocks once but misfortune might bring down the door if you’re not careful - trust me, I know. I had to make it to the station before 2100hrs or I would miss the train; the only train on this route I might add. It was an old steam locomotive which tried hard to fit into the modern world without much success. From the fittings, upholstery, engine car and bodywork, it looked like something that would still have been old in 1910. That was the train I had shuttled in to and from home since I was twenty. And up until yesterday, from the looks of it, seventy would still have found me here with my battered briefcase, old T-shirt and jeans. The railroad owner didn’t look like he intended to buy another train – he calls this one ‘Old Sally’ and loves it more than his wife. So I was destined to ride an old train all my life to a job that I didn’t even remotely like. I wish to emphasize - up until yesterday. Silvers Engineering is a firm that deals in making tunnels – mechanical burrowing. The company has these giant machines we call rabbits – for obvious reasons – that can tunnel straight to hell if the customer puts his money where his mouth is. I don’t drive any of these machines of course, that’s for the technical personnel. I don’t even work for Silvers Engineering…….hmm…..now wouldn’t that be something. I’m a newsstand manager (okay, okay I just sell magazines and stuff) in the vicinity of the new Stratton development. You’ve probably heard of it, the big shopping complex with underground sections that is supposed to make this little village centre a city within the next two years. I’ve been selling news for years and up until yesterday that was my past, present and future. Silvers Engineering brought new customers – part-time office types, work gangs, bored executives (and I don’t mean board), even tourists coming to see the giant tunnels. I suppose you want to know what it is that happened yesterday. I’d want to know too if I were you. But first I have to tell you a bit about Paul and the legendary tranquility of Paul’s place. That guy must have a whole field of four-leafed clovers just radiating an
aura of luck around his place. Paul is my friend from the time we were small kids breaking people’s windows and climbing trees to the time we were big kids breaking people’s doors, breaking the people themselves and climbing a lot more than trees. I sell news while Paul makes news, so we’re kind of a team. Paul is not a journalist silly; he’s a crook, a robber, criminally inclined. I never join him on his escapades so don’t you start looking at me like I’m the embodiment of sin. Apart from being a crook, Paul is an extremely pleasant fellow, he wouldn’t harm a fly. And he has this big house someplace up north which stands on a twenty acre orchard. That’s his hideout when he has to lay low for a while. That happens every now and then. He calls that place ‘Paul’s Place’; I didn’t say Paul had any imagination. Anyway, Paul’s place is a great place to hang out and that’s where I was holed up this weekend poring over maps and plans. I usually help Paul with his homework – schemes for his next job. I don’t consider that being an accomplice so my conscience doesn’t have any right to whine. When I got back on Monday – that is yesterday, I went to work as usual. Usual means waking up at 0500hrs and being on the train at 0540hrs. From there I can psychologically prepare myself for a long day in the hot sun shouting “Man with two hearts discovered – read all about it” or “Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster seen together – read all about it.” Wouldn’t that be some news! Monday was a day like any other, and after lunch I decided to take a walk around the Stratton site while everyone was still wishing lunch hour was five or six hours long. There was a crater-like depression where the rabbits sat ready for another round of rock munching. Then there was the rectangular hole in the ground – maybe fifty by seventy meters. It was on the faces of this hole that several tunnels reached into the innards of Earth. The sight of it filled one with some inexplicable pride – perhaps pride to belong to such an intelligent species. Man has indeed outdone himself ever since the ancient Egyptians began building monuments several sizes taller than the tallest natural object they had ever seen (which was most likely a tree). I looked around and finding I was alone I decided to have a closer look at the mouth of one tunnel. Up to now I can swear I just picked a tunnel at random, I did not use any sort of selection criteria whatsoever. I say this because Paul and I have argued about that for hours today and I don’t want to go through that again. I thoughtfully picked up a miner’s helmet and clambered into the tunnel. I was being led by curiosity more than anything else. The miner’s helmet as you all know has a large and powerful lamp at the front. The tunnel was straight and not as large as some of the others. I intended to venture in only a little way and then get back out. I didn’t want to be in this burrow when the rabbit decided to get in again; I knew what titanium-tipped rock cutting teeth looked like and I’d rather be kissed by anything else. So I looked around very aimlessly and I remember wondering about evil scientists with secret labs and dangerous weapons. Don’t mind that, I wonder about many things that might not strike you as worth any time. Just as I was resolving to turn back I thought I saw a glint on the floor up ahead. It was easy to spot something like that in such a dark tunnel. Moving forward to investigate I discovered that the tunnel suddenly angled downwards and let’s just say I had a very ill-
advised descent. The helmet probably saved me from serious head injuries. Falling isn't very interesting whether it's falling into a hole or from the arrow of a certain winged baby of very dubious intellectual composition; both ways there's a lot of spatial and chronological disorientation. Finding my feet again I could tell that the rabbit hadn’t made this particular section of the tunnel. It looked like some geological discontinuity in the rock and distorted the otherwise perfect shape of the tunnel. When I had made sure nothing was broken I looked around. The thing which caught the light of my lamp was a glassy thing peeping out of the rock. It made the light play inside it like the twinkling of a star. I found it mildly fascinating and the sounds of machinery reminded me that I had to be on my way. One final glance around and I noticed another protuberance of glassy manifestation, this time a fairly huge one. It looked like an iceberg Great, Paul gets to have a big house with an orchard and I’m here staring at glassy rocks in a tunnel. I got out of the tunnel and joined the group of sightseers looking around. I noticed that the rabbits were working on another face of the hole so I shouldn’t have worried. At around 1400hrs I was back at my stand doing my idea of earning a living. Somehow I couldn't stop thinking about the glinting rocks that I had seen. Yeah, maybe that's how bored I was. So I decided that I would close up early and pay a visit to Paul at his place. That meant a ride on a bus for a change, a form of transportation that had some suggestion of modernity. Let me tell you a bit about visiting Paul in case you have the good fortune of being invited to his castle. There's the approach, the identification and the protocol; miss something and you'll probably find the content of lead in your body in a sharp increase. And that's not a threat, Paul and I never deal in threats. You approach Paul's place with a reverent caution and pray to God that he knows you and remembers your face. The man’s instincts are honed for defense of his hideout and unfortunately they are wired directly to his trigger-finger. When it comes to identification don’t do pleasantries, that’s for snobs and normal people trying to be snobs. Paul finds people an unavoidable delay in the hurry of life; he tolerates society, never welcomes it. So get to the point and talk straight, lest he becomes suspicious. For some reason or another you won’t like Paul if he becomes suspicious. And lastly there’s protocol: don’t ask questions. If you get to Paul’s and find a giant koala bear roaming his living room, act dumb okay. Same thing if you stumble upon a skeleton in his closet….as in a real skeleton. Having appropriately procured admission and executed an entrance to Paul’s I soon had him filled in on the day’s proceedings. He seemed very, very interested in the glassy rocks I talked about. I was always trying to get his mind to more important things but he came back to the rocks time and again. After much questioning and prodding and prying he finally told me what he thought….I had fallen upon a cache of diamonds, quite literally too. Natural geological processes had brought this fortune within reach and I had thought it boring. Of course I was cynical, can you blame me? I mean, what did Paul know about gems (besides processed jewels that he borrows from people)? But as usual, hope is something that once ignited will grow against all odds. Paul might not be a university graduate but he knows enough to play mind games. Within no time
he had managed to impart to me an excitement and commitment to a project that was really absurd. Diamonds! So there we were with Paul, discussing how I was going to go to the tunnel again and confirm that there was indeed a diamond deposit there. He fed me with information on how to tell, lots of information. I know this sounds a lot like that story called It Glinted Black by one of those famous authors but there’s very little chance of me getting all worked up about a few pieces of glassy rock. I told Paul as much, I was only going to look at the rocks again with a passing interest. So where were we? Oh, I was rushing to the station to catch the train before 2100hrs. I had spent exactly six hours in the tunnel with stolen geological equipment doing analysis of rocks. Mind you, I have never even dreamed of analyzing rocks or working with such complex equipment. But sometimes I guess we have to do a lot of what we never thought we could. Had I found anything out? Well, I’ll tell you one thing….Paul is a genius. I don’t care about IQ tests and such arcane and irrelevant things; if you can tell diamonds exist from a simple narration, I’ll call you a genius anytime. So yes, I knew the location of what was probably the world’s largest diamond and in addition the world’s newest cache of diamonds. I had a few samples I hand, and the knowledge of that made me all warm and fuzzy inside. I was light-headed with glee; this meant I would be rich, maybe I could even save Paul from a life of crime. I don’t know how I ended up at Paul’s place that night but I think it had something to do with my great impatience. I wanted to share the news with him; to tell a thief that I had indeed found a cache of diamonds. He was very excited, especially after seeing the samples I brought. Mining diamonds is a process that is both cumbersome and disheartening yet here were diamonds literally for the picking! I said I would work on the large diamond tomorrow, to free it of the rock that held it. Paul was already thinking of a buyer and means of transporting it without detection. We did not want detection; the government would probably steal our find and leave us as we were. I won’t lie; I imagined holidays and high living too, Easy Street with all the trimmings. Wednesday morning found me at the Stratton site with a backpack full of digging implements and some small amount of homemade explosives that would help the cause. I walked to the great rectangular door into the earth where I found a demolition crew wiring up dynamite. Feigning indifference I asked one of the workers what was going on. It turned out that they were preparing to collapse the tunnels that had structural problems, fill them up with rock and leave little trace of their existence. And yes, the diamond tunnel was marked for caving in. I immediately knew what I had to do and with the greatest self-control I sneaked into the tunnel. After getting in I rushed to the site of interest and began digging like mad. At the very least I had to get this particular diamond out. It was interesting being in there digging like my life depended on it – and knowing Paul, maybe it did. The giant diamond was still just peeping from the floor of the tunnel, I reckon not much more than an eighth was out. The thought of what magnitude remained to unearth was greatly disconcerting, especially considering this tunnel was facing obliteration. I had lost track of time in digging and I can’t be sure I had overstayed
my own critical deadline. Diamonds are nice but not worth being blown up about. My feeling then was similar to that of a pilot suffering from hypoxia – an overwhelming conviction things were getting progressively better. My mind was rather delirious I must admit, and I had little real understanding of the danger that loomed. So you must understand I did not really mind having lost track of time. I must have been digging for hours before I heard the initial blast, far enough for me to appreciate that they had started at some other tunnel. I grabbed at the diamond and tugged with every sub-atomic particle of my existence. It shook slightly, like a tooth that isn’t really sure whether it wants to be evicted from the gums. Then I remembered the explosives and working frantically I set one beside the twinkling rock. BOOM! The second dynamite explosion, this time closer home. The next blast was my small fireworks display which managed to cover the gem in soot and hardly helped at all. So I set two more and lit the fuse. BOOM! Third explosion practically knocked me off my feet. I scrambled up just in time to see the diamond finally dislodged. If you had seen it then you wouldn’t guess it was a diamond, what with all the soot. I realized then that it was either the backpack or the gem. No prizes for guessing which I decided to lose. It was an exhilarated human being that emerged from the tunnel with a large mass of what looked like tarred obsidian. The demolition crew looked at me in shock and amazement – you’d think I had emerged from hell itself with a souvenir. One of the workmen had the presence of mind to signal me to run; theirs was a timed explosion, not manual. I obliged wholeheartedly and made sure I ran right out of the site. I stopped only when I reached the station. And what a sight I was, not that I cared much. I held in my hands enough wealth to move me the whole way up the socio-economic ladder. And providence had provided me with an effective cloak for it, for who knows what the authorities would say if they saw a scruffy-looking man walking around with the largest diamond in the world. For the second time this week I found myself at Paul’s place with little idea of how I had got there. After a shower for both of us (the diamond and I), we sat down with Paul to talk business. He had already sold my samples and he gave me half of the proceeds (at least what he made me understand were the proceeds). It was the first time in my life I had held anything more than 10000 denarii. Paul watched my reaction keenly and I did not like that feeling of being a lab rat. I knew I had to keep a straight head; this diamond should get me no less than four hundred million denarii and I told Paul as much. He suggested that I let him sell it within the next two weeks and he would return to split the stash. He had to close such a deal from an out of country location. You must understand that it’s very hard to trust a crook and I was adamant that I should accompany him. Thus it was settled, we would leave for Azania at dawn. My first flight and it was going to be first class. Paul took me shopping for some suits and several items that I thought would become a person of means. It was a new start in life; I might even begin to think of a wife. Speaking of which, Paul has been married severally and divorced as many times. I don’t suppose it’s hard to imagine why, though I still think anyone without too many
pretensions and airs can live with Paul well enough. When I suggested to Paul that he should have a new start like me he just looked very amused. I suppose in crook-speak that means ‘been there, done that’. Ah well, I wasn’t going to let anyone spoil my good fortune – that’s why I was going to Azania in the first place. I visited the Stratton site in the afternoon with a new suit and dark sunglasses. Coupled with a neat haircut I don’t think anyone would imagine I was the same individual who had dashed out of hell that morning. I toured the area, paying attention to several places so that no one would notice my inspection of the diamond tunnel. Of course it was all gone now, a cache of diamonds, a backpack and some explosives. I think I left some part of me there too, the life that used to be mine, the life that was lived by train. Once the Stratton development was complete there would be no hope of ever getting the rest of the diamonds. But I didn’t mind that, I had plans now and I finally had more luck than Paul’s place. Thursday morning found us at the airport. I had done the booking and we were both very excited at the prospects. The diamond was safe in my new backpack and I would carry it in the plane. I boarded the plane with a smile on my face that hid a lot. I knew Paul would kill me if he found out what I had done, but this was my new start, providence had given him enough of those already. His flight left a few minutes after mine and by the time he managed to get to Azania from where he was headed, I would probably be well placed to stand my ground.
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