Sunday, May 31, 2009

Chapter 1

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo
December 2004

"That’s her! That is Heart of Diamonds. She is tougher than steel to negotiate with," remarked a Belgian diamond merchant, in an undertone, to his colleague, a trader from Dubai.

She glided past them and made a slight acknowledgement of their presence. The folds of her white silk robe swished softly in the wind. The handle of her white leather handbag, which was studded with small F grade diamonds, glittered in the morning sun. She was shod in brilliant white leather sandals; its high heels carved in ebony wood, encrusted with gold dust here and there. Her sculpted head was turbaned in white with a large fancy gem adorning its center.

"Heart of Diamonds is a fitting name for the woman. Diamonds are the hardest substances on our planet,” murmured the Arab.

"She is spellbinding just the same," whispered the Belgian.

“In the Arab world our poets compare her to the Queen of Sheba,” added the trader from Dubai.

Diamanthe was her name, and she always dressed in white. She was aware of the effect it had on people, especially men. For Diamanthe was as black as the darkest night in blackest Africa – the Congo.

To quote Lord Byron, the mad, bad, and dangerous to know English poet, "She walked in beauty like the night."

Diamanthe was like a giant polished trunk of an ebony tree. She was proud of her Negritude.”

"I have often been told that I have an exquisitely sculpted head. I believe it. No wigs or any of that rubbish to straighten my hair. Jamais! Never. I think I will either go bareheaded with diamonds stuck here and there in my Afro- bob or wear white turbans studded with fancy gems."

Naked she was one meter and eighty-two inches in height. Round, wide shoulders, small and delicate bones with a tiny waist that glided softly into well-proportioned buttocks and a high derriere. Her fine bosom and cleavage was always adorned with tear shaped diamonds. She possessed a long torso and legs that never seemed to end. Intense hazel eyes, which appeared yellow against her black skin, reminded her friends and foes alike of a coiled serpent poised to strike when you least expected it.

"Only diamonds for me, ma Cher,” she always declared to anyone who listened.

Her tapered nails, painted in silver and white nail polish, contained the tiniest of diamond crusts. The Pythoness Mangana, who lived in Malemba Nkulu, hundreds of miles away from Kinshasa created the polish just for Diamanthe. It was said to contain incantations and omens. The diamonds gave of tiny lights detected only by Heart of Diamonds.

Whenever she was with clients the light told her if she had someone truly interested in acquiring diamonds and gems or if they were just bluffing and fishing. More importantly, their phosphorescent light warned her if the individual before her had a good or mal-intentioned heart.

I know that I am the best publicity and advertisement for all diamonds. I am in a position to show off the most fabulous gems, on my fingers, neck, wrists and toes. The mortal men, who are privileged to see my nearly naked body by my swimming pool, will swear that I wear a twenty-five carat blue diamond on my cleavage. A slim belt encircles my waist studded with baguettes. An inverted pendant of D flawless diamonds reposes majestically on my mound of Venus.

"If you truly wish to see the phosphorescence of a D flawless blue diamond, place it against gorgeous black velvet skin," thus spoke Baron Etienne Duvalier, over two hundred years ago.

Duvalier, a ruthless maven, represented all the interests of His Majesty, King Leopold ll of Belgium. Its absolute Master, the King, in the person of his minions, had the power of instant death. His rapacity for blood and gore, were outmatched only by his lust for diamonds, gold, emeralds, sapphires…anything and everything that the Belgian Congo, as it was then known, possessed. Legend has it that Baron Duvalier wore a belt buckle studded with D flawless square cut diamonds, which formed the letter P – for plunder.

"Most of all, my formidable nose for "les affaires" centered on the business of ebony. As you know my dear colleagues" Duvalier wrote to the British guilds," the word ebony is a double entendre for the rare, precious wood, which abounds in the rain forests and jungles and the slave labor, which always outruns the fertility of their soil."

Back to present day Kinshasa, at the Atelier “Heart of Diamonds”, Diamanthe would slowly and in a low pitched voice, tell her greedy clients,” You realize mon cher clients that you cannot hide your anxiety from me. You wish to buy the best diamonds but at rock bottom prices.”

She was facing Belgian and Arab dealers who were attempting to haggle over each and every gem endlessly. They hoped to tire her out. Never!

"Unless I take a decisive course of action, the meeting will run into the next one. My timetable and earnings will surely be affected, to say nothing of my image."

At this point of the meeting, Diamante would rise slowly from her straight backed gilded chair, like a majestic Venus from the diamond studded mines deep in the bowels of the earth.

"I am aware of my country’s bloody history and the plunder which continues to this day. You see before you, a smart black woman, lady, and cookie, whatever you wish. I know all the mark ups, and the tricks. The best crooks and criminals were my teachers. That is not a secret. So, you know and I know that we are both getting a good deal. If you are not convinced, I believe the expression is “take it or leave it"

Heart of Diamonds would not wait for the shocked customer’s reply; she would be on her way out of her austere atelier. She made them run after her.

"Bien Sure. Certainly. We accept!”

I feel a sense of poetic justice that the mzungis / rich foreigners – white, yellow, brown, and Technicolor, depend on the good graces and the smart ethical moves of a black woman, to obtain the best cut and uncut gems in the African continent, she mused contentedly.

Yes indeed! Diamanthe - Heart of Diamonds was a shining young black woman who by sheer force of will became the most successful dealer of cut and uncut diamonds as well as of other gems in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Congo is the heart of Africa. It has ever been thus.

Most certainly, in good and bad times Diamanthe used her acute and creative intelligence judiciously. She loved her brothers and sisters without measure, which, was also a driving force towards success. She was endowed with an uncanny knack for choosing the right lover, protector and partner. Loyalty in an extremely volatile and duplicitous business carried great financial rewards. Heart of Diamonds cultivated her clients with care and charmed them with an almost brutal candor.

"Heart of Diamonds had zenze,” pronounced the ancient members of the Baluba tribe.

Long before the Romans as the first white men in recorded history ever-set foot in Africa; the Baluba roamed the continent at will, conquerors, visionaries, and miners of diamonds, seers, magicians and sorcerers all. After many wars and expeditions they chose the Congo as their special region. The magicians and sorcerers had seen the whole continent of Africa in a series of visions.

"This is where we shall live and settle down, in the heart of our continent, where the heart would be if the land were human. That is how the Congo will come to be."

"Zenze meant that in addition to positive attributes which outshone your negative ones, all living creatures had the capacity to endure whatever the fates brought you. If you endured, you had zenze and emerged victorious. If you lacked zenze the Congo swallowed and re-absorbed you," so stated the Baluba.

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