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Diamonds And Dust: 52 - My 21st Birthday

Malcolm Bertoni tells of a birthday which was flooded with champagne.

To read earlier chapters of Malcolm's vivid account of diamond mining in Namibia please visit http://www.openwriting.com/archives/diamonds_and_dust/

To obtain a copy of his book click on http://www.equilibriumbooks.com/diamonds.htm

I turned 21 while working at Affenrucken and the guys got to hear that I was going to come of age so to speak. They decided to surprise me, so one Sunday morning I’m minding my own business and sleeping quietly in my room and at about 8.00 am there a loud banging on my door. I sleepily stumble to the door and open it. There are about 20 guys crowded in the corridor outside along with Ben the cook, who’s carrying a big cake. They all pack into my room and its pandemonium.

Some guys had bought a few bottles of champagne and proceeded to open them. Their philosophy was a: it was never too early to drink. Any excuse to have a drink was acceptable. Some other guys had brought me breakfast and plonked it down on the table.

I had to take a big glass of bubbly before I could say anything.

“Stop being such a woos, nek.”

“Ya, you have to have a drink now that you are officially a man,” someone else said.

I looked at the guy. He was only about 19 or 20 himself. Who the hell was he to talk?

So I down the bubbly which actually tasted ok and they all sing ‘Happy Birthday’ which must have sounded pretty awful as no-one had a clue on how to sing.

We proceed to cut the cake that Ben had baked while I rinse my face and try to firstly wake up and secondly recover from the kick that drinking champagne on an empty stomach has given me. I quickly have some breakfast before I fall over dead pissed and feel a lot better. It’s too early to be drinking. I manage to have another glass of champagne as we sit and talk about what it means to be 21. The guys are all impressed that I’ve actually managed not one but two glasses of champagne. I’m feeling really good at this expression of masculinity.

“F--- nek. There’s hope for you yet.”

“Shit. We’ll have to hide the grog from him now. He’s become a pisscat.”

I can’t remember what we did that day, but I was really touched by the guys taking the time to surprise me for my 21st. Even though we were young, came from diverse backgrounds and places, there was a friendship and bond that was indefinable and difficult to determine. The genuineness of the guys was heart-warming. It was a great birthday present.


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