Pebbles in a pothole: Part Three

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THE little pothole yawning at me reminded me of the reality of the potential tragedy that was unfolding.
And I was the main actor in the drama albeit very unwillingly.
I snapped open the bayonet of my AK and gently poked the shallow pothole that marked where the mine was.
It was about five centimetres (cm) below the gravel surface.
I do not know how it had escaped detection.
But several vehicles had hit the rut.
It was only that their pressure was not sufficient enough to detonate the mine.
The mine was already set.
It was safely protected by three layers of thick plastic paper that had been firmly tucked into its sides.
We filled the sides of the hole with some gravel and pressed it down firmly to ensure that there was no movement.
Now this new complication, these wheels showed that it had been run over several times.
I had no solution to this problem.
Time was running out and there was no one to turn to.
This was my own calabash, I could not share it with anyone.
One man, one mine.
I had a special relationship with this mine.
It was an odd one from somewhere in Eastern Europe, probably Yugoslavian or Rumanian – definitely it was not Chinese or Russian, I had worked on those and detonated them successfully on the road from Baradzanwa to Rugoi Camp.
This one was an odd contraption about 15cm in diameter and 15cm deep.
It was smaller than the other versions, which resembled a wide shallow frying pan. This one looked like a one litre tin, or a small cylindrical pot.
The more popular versions had a detonator which was screwed in on top after setting it.
They were easier and safer to work on once placed in the hole.
This one was a different kettle of fish altogether.
It had a mechanical detonator with a crude mechanism.
The detonator was on top and kept in place by two metal strips that crossed.
These two strips were attached to the top of the mine by some clips.
The slightest touch on any part of the strips would activate detonator and that would be Armageddon.
I had carried this mine on my back when I came into the front, fresh from training about 14 months before.
This had given me enough time to examine and study it.
It fascinated me, how did it work?
I had spent hours examining until it became my little toy.
It had gone several sections in the detachment until it was handed back to me.
Nobody wanted to use it.
No one could understand how it worked.
The Detachment Commander knew of my modest reputation as a mine layer, so he sent me with the instruction that I should lay it.
I would have done it successfully had it not been that little Cde Mao — now he did not want to come anywhere near it.
This was my problem.
“Bloody coward, son of a …,” I said.
I was interrupted by an urgent shout from a comrade safely under cover, well off the road.
“Motor vehicle!”
I stared at him paralysed by the urgency of his voice.
The sound of the truck galvanised me into action – it was approaching the bend.
I jumped to my feet and looked for the nearest cover.
There were two options, either I would scamper across the road and hide behind the bush.
The near side of the road was bare with the nearest cover 10 metres away.
I would not make it.
The approaching sound gave me the third option.
I would jump under the bridge.
But it was a big risk – if the mine detonated while I was under the bridge that would be the end of me.
I had two choices both of them not very pleasant, detection or detonation.
The truck put wings on my feet.
It was the immediate danger.
I took the third option and scurried under the bridge and held my breath.
Again, I found myself appealing to the ancestors.
The next 30 seconds were eternity to me.
I waited with bated breath as the rumble drew closer.
It was a heavy vehicle, probably with a trailer.
Some 24 wheels rumbled over the small bridge towards the mine.
The bridge shook and groaned under the weight of the vehicle.
I waited for the inevitable as twenty-four big wheels rolled towards the mine.

A version of this story was published in The Horizon in 1996. The norms deguerre in this story have been changed.

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