The bus stopped on the side of a busy highway, right outside a drab looking building next to a bank. We all hopped out and followed the tour leader up a narrow staircase to a dull anti-room full of chairs.
A lean, thin cheeked man came out to greet us, smiling and shaking hands. Politely he gestured at the chairs on which we could sit, then behind in the direction of the bathrooms. Once everyone was ready, he told us how finding gems was very difficult and beckoned us through a mock-up of a mine. The floor rose unevenly and the ceiling dipped. Mannikins made up as miners chipped at the walls. Anyone over five feet tall was forced to stoop.
We emerged into a conference room set out with more chairs. After seating us, our host took orders for tea and coffee. Then darkening the room, he started the video. It was a little old, yet informative. We learnt how mines were excavated and shored up with timber. Then how sacks of earth were hoisted out, washed and sieved for gemstones.
The video ended and the beverages arrived. We sipped as we walked into the next room, its walls lined with display cases of gems from around the world. Then after marvelling and setting our cups down, we marched into the workshop where craftsmen cut and polished stones for sale.
“I hope you are enjoying yourselves,” said our host. “Now we can go into the showroom where there is no obligation to buy.”
Nevertheless, this was when the real business began. Salesmen with well-combed hair styles converged from all directions. They latched onto the women in the room, especially the ones with husbands.
“Would Madam like a bracelet?”
“What colour does Madam prefer?”
The nearest salesman opened a cabinet with several compartments filled with various stones. Kate shook her head and walked away. He followed us and opened another cabinet, this one full of bracelets.
“Hold this one, Madam.” The salesman picked out a bracelet comprised of elephants, Kate’s favourite animal. “It’s alright to try.”
For a moment, Kate wavered, her eyes tracing the form of each elephant. The bracelet was made of silver. It was bound to be expensive.
“No, I’m fine.” Again she walked away.
“How about some earrings?” Another salesman approached us as we strayed into his territory. He popped open another cabinet, this time filled with earrings. And now Kate truly was tempted, drawn to a light blue pair of earrings in the middle.
Following her gaze, the salesman picked out the desired objects and attempted to drop them into her palm. He knew that possession was nine tenths of the law, and that if she tried them on, a sale would be guaranteed.
Once again Kate resisted. Yet her willpower was weakening and as she studied the earrings – their smooth perfect shapes, the elegant silver casings, their adorable blue shade, I could tell she was matching them to her blue and white dappled top and to the empty spaces on her earrings rack.
“No.” Determinedly, she shook her head again. “My mother was here a month again and she bought me a pair just like those. I don’t think I need any more.”
Then as we walked rapidly to the exit, I gave silent thanks for my mother-in-law’s foresight.