Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Africa (03/05/09)
TITLE: Trail's End
By Virgil Youngblood
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The gold buyer racing his Chinese-made Power K motorcycle on a rough trail through the African bush country of Mali had been traveling for two days. He left the mine in Senegal, avoiding the public roads, with gold stuffed into his jeans pocket in a plastic bag; an ambush awaited the careless person. His sponsor in Bamako expected timely payment for the motorcycle and funds advanced. With the flat tire yesterday he was behind schedule. He could not know that this time he would not arrive alive.
Ahead on the trail thirteen year old Onani stumbled and steadied himself with an outstretched hand against a Baobab tree. The dizziness had caught him again and a racking cough tore at his lungs, causing him to hunch his shoulders and bend over at the waist. He stared at the scarlet tinged watery mess he spat on the ground and it confirmed what he believed: he was in trouble.
Six months ago he was working in his father’s peanut field. He and Paki and Sefu were stupid to listen to the stranger that said money was laying in the ground to be found in Senegal. He recalled their long walk of seven days with the man to reach a village of more people than he had ever seen. Cone shaped huts were everywhere and he learned he would sleep in one of them on a bare mattress between men and boys.
Soon he was trained to push a wheel barrow of dirt from a bush pit or shallow mine over the bumpy earth to a work station. Other days, at the station he pounded the dirt with a wood post until it was finely pulverized. Then, after washing it through a screen, he rubbed the mud with the silvery liquid called mercury mashing it with his hands. Gold flecks would stick to the mercury. When the tiny ball was evaporated over a charcoal fire by his boss a small speck of gold would be revealed, hopefully. He liked watching the speck appear but sometimes the swirling vapor of the mercury bothered him.
When a lingering cough began to sap his strength, Onani remembered his father’s peanut field had not been so bad and decided to go home. Paki and Sefu, having no better way to help their widowed mothers, refused to return with him. And so Onani slipped away at night. He hoped he was on the right trail and that it would soon take him home.
Onani was leaning weakly on his hand against the Baobab tree, vaguely aware of a roaring sound approaching when the red and blue Power K hurtled over a slight rise heading straight for him. His headache and slow comprehension of danger froze him swaying in the trail between two trees.
Later that day two Mandingo teenagers herding cattle found the bodies. Clutched in the young boy’s hand was a piece of yellow paper with black writing on it. The tallest Mandingo tugged the paper loose from the calloused fingers gripping it, flattened out the wrinkles, and read out loud: “Jesus loves me!”
Onani went home to streets of gold.
Author’s Note: Thousands of underage children, some only four years old, work in open pits and mines in violation of child labor laws. Tuberculosis, mercury poisoning, silicosis of the lung from abrasive dust, eye and other infections affect the health of many African mine workers. Many die prematurely.
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