memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Life in the Sahara (II)

One morning, stepping out from my cabin door I noticed three little Arab boys crouching intently in the sand each one holding a little stick. I drew nearer to see what they were up to and saw that they had captured and were tormenting with their sticks a small scorpion. Now I, like many people, was quite fascinated by these creatures. ­The North African scorpion has a fearsome reputation being, like the great white shark or the peregrine falcon, one of nature’s killing machines – a walking weapon. Its sting which is disproportionally large carries venom which can often be fatal, even to humans, unless treated quickly with an anti-serum. All the stations kept a stock of this. That’s why the steps to the cabin doors had a gap that you had to mind; that’s why the cabin doors were sealed with metal strips and finally that’s why every morning I would up-turn my scuffed and dusty leather boots before putting them on. Imagine that someone manages to capture a scorpion alive and then places it within a ring of fire – the creature sensing that it has no escape will arch its back and sting itself to death.

MOON - PAINTING BY THOMAS MILNER

I told my two colleagues about the kids and the scorpion. One of them told me about a guy down on the site whose hobby was collecting bugs (an entomologist in fact), one of them a baby scorpion and then encapsulating them in transparent plastic moulds which then could be trimmed, riveted and worn as a pendant on a chain round the neck. I lost no time. First I arranged with the kids to get me a baby scorpion but with its sting still extended; then I got the guy to do the whole business for me, setting the scorpion in plastic, putting it onto a thin chain and so on. I then wore the thing round my neck from time to time. I planned to give it to a certain girl up in Algiers. I reckoned that as girl-puller it couldn’t really go wrong.  One day however the ring broke loose and I went to the machine-shop and asked the machinist, Taffy, a rather garrulous Welshman, if he could repair it for me:  sure, no problem, but it might take a bit of time, you see; I’ve got rather a lot on at the moment etc. etc. A few days later my neighbour said to me at lunch have you heard about Taffy? He’s just dragged up. He took a taxi out of here this morning … After lunch I hurried down to the machine-shop and hunted everywhere for it but it had gone. That bloody Taffy, I thought bitterly, the swine’s pinched my scorpion! (I have never completely trusted the Welsh since).

 

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